Authorities intervene to halt exports of nuclear weapons material

Two shipments to the US were halted last year because they contained goods that could be used to develop nuclear weapons. Kcna Via Kns

Federal authorities are stepping up efforts to prevent the sale of Swiss machinery that could be used to develop nuclear weapons. The latest interventions concern direct sales to the US and France.

This content was published on May 26, 2019 - 18:18
NZZ am Sonntag/Keystone-SDA/jdp

According to reportsExternal link by the German-language newspaper NZZ am Sonntag, the federal export group halted the export of suspicious machinery to the US two times last year. Livia Willi, spokesperson for the State Secretariat for Economic Affairs (SECO), told the paper, "There was reason to believe that the goods would be used for the development of nuclear weapons”.

In the past six months, the US has ordered three laser markers worth a total of almost CHF 250,000 from Swiss companies. There have been other interventions as well including in October 2017, when Swiss authorities intervened to stop the export of machine spindles to France. 

The NZZ am Sonntag writes that halting deliveries to Western nuclear powers is a highly unusual measure. According to the paper, there are no comparable cases like this in Swiss export history.

The decisions were based on the Goods Control Act External linkand theExternal link OrdinanceExternal link, which clearly prohibits the export of goods used for the construction of weapons of mass destruction. The challenge is that many of the goods are dual use in that they can be used for civilian and military purposes.

+ Why Switzerland hasn’t signed the nuclear weapons ban treaty

Swiss attractiveness

In an interview, Intelligence Chief Jean-Philippe Gaudin explained why countries are increasingly interested in technology in Switzerland.

"Switzerland has an industry of cutting-edge technology. There are many highly specialised companies here, "says. "These companies are very interesting for states with nuclear weapons and other weapons of mass destruction."

A federal report on security risks released Friday found that Swiss technology is sometimes procured through third parties. In the area of missile technology, the report notes that Iranian procurement transactions of goods from Switzerland through third countries have been identified.

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