War in Ukraine leads Swiss to rethink security issues

NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg and Swiss Defence Minister Viola Amherd meet for bilateral talks in Davos in May © Keystone / Laurent Gillieron

A stronger army, closer ties with defence alliance NATO and a more critical view of neutrality: the war in Ukraine is changing the way the Swiss public thinks about security, according to a government survey.

This content was published on July 14, 2022 - 12:22

“The war in Ukraine has a more special meaning for the population than other major disasters in the past,” said Jacques Robert, an author of a follow-up surveyExternal link to the government’s “Security 2022” study, published on Thursday.

‘Security 2022’ survey

The follow-up telephone survey of about 1,000 people was conducted by the polling institute Link at the beginning of June. The sampling error is plus/minus 3.2 percentage points in the worst case. The results are published by the Military Academy (Milac) and the Center for Security Studies (CSS) at the federal technology institute ETH Zurich.

The reason for the follow-up survey was that the survey date of the “Security 2022” study was before the Russian invasion of Ukraine on February 24, 2022. Using the data from the follow-up survey, it is now possible to map the reactions of the voting population to subsequent domestic and global political developments.

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For the first time most people (52%) support closer cooperation with NATO; in January 2021 the figure was 45%.

Although a clear majority of Swiss voters are still against becoming a formal member of NATO, some 27% support NATO membership, which is significantly higher than in previous years.

The belief that membership of a European defence alliance would bring Switzerland more security than maintaining neutrality is on the rise, the study authors wrote. This comes as security fears mount in the wake of the war in Ukraine.

In general, respondents view neutrality more critically since the Russian invasion of Ukraine in February. Only 58% thought neutrality protects Switzerland from international conflicts; in January the figure was 69%.

Overall 89% still support the principle of neutrality but this is eight percentage points less than in January – the first time in over 20 years that there has been a decline in support for Swiss neutrality, the authors said. More and more people also see difficulties in the implementation of neutrality.

The study further shows that 77% of Swiss feel it is right for Switzerland to support sanctions against Russia.

More pessimistic

“Security 2022” also found that there have been major changes in the public’s assessment of defence spending. Swiss citizens who rate army spending as “too low” now account for 19%, a record high since the survey began in the 1980s. Conversely, fewer people than ever believe that Switzerland spends “too much” on defence.

Overall, the Swiss are more pessimistic than they were in January 2022, both with regard to the near future of Switzerland and of the global political situation. A majority of 58% assume there will be more armed conflicts in Europe. Every third person reports becoming more anxious because of the war in Ukraine.

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