The war in Ukraine has forced Switzerland to reflect on its neutrality. Alongside rising pessimism is a growing willingness to cooperate with international agencies. A study published this week shows that 55% would like to see greater Swiss alignment with NATO.
The study, published by the Military Academy (MILAK) at ETH Zurich and the Center for Security Studies (CSS) at ETH Zurich, shows Swiss were significantly less optimistic about the future in January 2023 than they were in January 2022. 81% (–5 percentage points) are optimistic about the future of Switzerland and 24% (–7) are optimistic about the future of the world. This decline in optimism is almost certainly due to the outbreak of war in Ukraine in February 2022, said the report.
Expectations about the future and security
However, despite the war, the public’s general sense of security remains high. In January 2023, 94% of respondents felt secure, which corresponds to survey results in January 2022 and June 2022.
Trust in institutions
Trust in institutions remains high. None of the institutions surveyed lost trust compared to last year. Switzerland’s neighbours continue to enjoy a high level of trust. This year Swiss trusted the USA significantly more than they did four years ago. The loss of trust in the authoritarian states of China, Iran, North Korea and Russia was particularly striking and in some cases significant.
Greatest perceived threats
When asked an open question about the three greatest threats to Switzerland the top three were wars and conflicts (42%), climate change and environment (34%) and financial and economic crises (31%).
Foreign and security policy
Purely economic relations with the EU continue to be desired by most but accession to the EU is only preferred by a minority.
UN affairs rose in popularity. And a narrow majority (55%), +10 percentage points compared with January 2021, of respondents called for closer ties with NATO. NATO membership was only favoured by a third of those surveyed.
Compared with January 2022, the neutrality principle is less strongly supported, but still receives very high approval at 91% (–6 percentage points). While “differential” neutrality – taking a clear stance in political conflicts but remaining neutral in military conflicts – continues to be supported by a narrow majority (57%). The wish to also take a clear stance in military conflicts abroad has risen from 18% to 27%. Membership in a European defence alliance is called for significantly more (35%, +12 percentage points compared to January 2021).
Regarding the characteristics of neutrality, it is very important to the Swiss that neutrality is internationally recognised, exhibits humanitarian concerns and is part of Swiss identity. The characteristic of neutrality being armed is the least important.
Sanctions against Russia
A clear majority continued to believe that sanctions against Russia are compatible with neutrality. 75% of respondents were convinced that the sanctions are justified and 70% saw them as compatible with neutrality. However, around a third shared the opinion that Switzerland can no longer offer its Good Offices as a result of the sanctions.
Compared to January 2022, the Swiss want to strengthen the defence capabilities of the armed forces. A clear majority believes that the armed forces should be fully equipped and 78% consider the military to be necessary. The view that Switzerland spends too little money on defence is currently more widespread than it was in the January 2022 survey, however, support for an increase in defence spending has fallen. And, Switzerland’s system of male-only conscription is still supported by most.