In a sleepy village on the French border, Swiss soldiers rode down a dusty road on a Leopard 2 tank, an armoured vehicle that has spurred debate around Switzerland’s role in European defence.
Switzerland has 134 Leopard 2 tanks in service, some of which were used in training exercises by the country’s Tank School 21 in the northwestern canton of Jura this week.
But the Leopard 2 tanks that have drawn attention in Switzerland are, in fact, the 96 it keeps in storage.
Germany has asked Switzerland to sell mothballed Leopard 2 tanks to arms maker Rheinmetall (RHMG.DE), which would help fill the gaps in the armaments of European Union and NATO members that have been sending the tanks to support Ukraine in fighting off the Russian invasion.
Under its neutrality laws and a separate arms embargo, Switzerland is prohibited from sending weapons directly to a country at war. The German government assured Bern that if it decided to sell its Leopard 2 tanks, these would not be used in Ukraine.
Switzerland’s foreign policy of neutrality and the conditions it sets on selling weapons abroad pose no obstacle to the sale of the tanks. Parliament, however, must approve their decommission from military service before they can be sold.