«Security Switzerland 2019»: Federal Intelligence Service presents its annual report

Bern, 24.05.2019 - The security environment is becoming increasingly fragmented and complex. The Federal Intelligence Service’s (FIS) anticipation and detection capabilities play a leading role in identifying and assessing threats in good time, thus ensuring that the required preventive measures are taken. Published in a new, simplified form, the FIS annual report presents the most important developments in the intelligence scene over the past year.

The crisis situations in Europe that the FIS has highlighted in its annual reports for several years now are characterised by the marked increase in non-State actors and the opportunities offered by hybrid warfare. The return of power politics, sometimes with pronounced unilateral features, increased tensions between western states and Russia, and political and economic challenges in European countries form part of a constantly changing picture. The old order is changing under pressure from new forces that are not only political, economic and military in nature, but also technological, social and cultural. It is not clear where this change is leading us. In this world of insecurity and growing uncertainty, the FIS makes a vital contribution: the overall picture compiled from intelligence findings is an essential element in the decision-making process for security policy makers.

Increasing rivalry between the major powers

Plagued by its own crises and power struggles, Europe’s political stability and economic ro-bustness has declined. As a consequence, the negative effects on Switzerland’s security of the return of power politics and the growing rivalry between the USA, Russia and China are becoming ever more clearly visible. The rise in uncertainty in its region is of increasing signifi-cance for Switzerland’s security policy.

The USA is relying heavily not only on military strength but also on economic pressure in order to safeguard its security and its national interests in the face of global strategic competition. Secondary sanctions that have an extra-territorial effect are an important instrument. Third countries and major multinational companies are being forced to accept the demands that the USA makes, in particular in relation to its policy on Iran.

Russia’s increased self-confidence is based primarily on its rediscovered military strength and the tightly organised power structure under President Putin. It wants to be perceived as a su-perpower on the same level as the USA, yet there are still limits to its military capabilities. As a consequence, Russia is also relying on influence operations, i.e. on activities ranging from information campaigns, manipulation and propaganda to overt political, military and economic pressure. Extortion and, in specific cases, acts of violence also remain possible.

China will continue to do everything in its power to grow economically and militarily: a funda-mental shift from the current course remains very unlikely. Iran will attempt to sit out the Trump presidency, and not to capitulate. It remains unlikely that North Korea will completely renounce its nuclear weapons and their delivery systems, even if it sends out selective signals that it wishes to disarm.

Espionage has gained in importance – as a means of gathering information it is on the in-crease around the world. Russia with its superpower ambitions and China with its primarily economy-driven agenda come first and second among its exponents. The broader trend, which involves numerous other states, of trying to enforce interests through power rather than by legal means or through multinational bodies could increasingly lead to states sanctioning seri-ous crimes, such as abduction or murder. Foreign intelligence services may well play a role in preparing, carrying out and following up on such activities. The use of cyber-resources as a key instrument in exercising national power may gain in importance.

In relation to proliferation, there is still a considerable attraction in weapons of mass destruc-tion, while technical advances make their acquisition easier. In the field of civil nuclear tech-nology, China is now the world leader. This has brought a shift in the centres of gravity relating to non-proliferation obligations and preventing the emergence of new nuclear weapon states. In the target countries for non-proliferation measures – Pakistan, Iran, Syria (possible re-placement for a chemical weapons programme), North Korea – the situation has not changed.

Terrorism remains a threat despite the collapse of the Caliphate

The Middle East, North Africa and the Sahel remain the theatres for numerous wars and armed conflicts. Although the Syrian regime and its Russian and Iranian allies have inflicted a strate-gic defeat on the insurgents, they have yet to achieve victory. The so-called Islamic State and other jihadist groups, despite sustaining massive losses, remain capable of major attacks. Jihadist groups and the individuals and small groups that they control or inspire still pose a serious terrorist threat to Europe. Because Switzerland is part of a western world that is re-garded by jihadis as hostile to Islam, our country still faces a considerable threat. One chal-lenge for Switzerland and for its European neighbours is dealing with jihadis who have been released from detention or persons who have become radicalised in prison. Switzerland will also be confronted with jihadist travellers who wish to return home, including persons who are currently in detention in Syria or Iraq.

The far-right on the rise

The far-right scene is on the rise and several groups now have publicly-accessible websites. Despite this new trend towards a certain degree of visibility, extreme right groups continue to behave in a secretive manner. The potential for violence, however, remains present, as it does in the left-wing extremist scene. This benefits from having an international network, which may be one reason for the partial intensification in the use of violence that has been noticeable since 2017. Left-wing extremist groups concentrate their activities in campaigns, in particular against alleged repression and in Switzerland notably against the expansion of the Bässlergut prison in Basel. They have also declared their solidarity with the PKK in support of the Kurdish autonomous zone in Northern Syria. The return from this region of left-wing extremists who have received weapons training is a serious concern for European security services.

Address for enquiries

Isabelle Graber
FIS Head of Communication
+41 58 462 76 98


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