Russia’s war of aggression against Ukraine continues to have a lasting impact on national and international security policy. Switzerland’s security continues to be shaped in particular by the growing rivalry between major powers. The Federal Intelligence Service’s (FIS) abilities to anticipate, identify and assess in time threats and developments that are of strategic importance to Switzerland are crucial for taking preventive measures. The latest FIS situation report presents the main developments in intelligence over the past year.
Russia has destroyed the rules-based order for peace in Europe. The effectiveness of international forums for maintaining peace and security, such as the UN or the OSCE, has continued to decline; there are no signs of a stable new world order. The rivalry between the great powers is leaving its mark on the current period of transition. There is a shift toward a bipolar world order shaped by the systemic rivalry between the USA and China. For now, Russia’s war against Ukraine will remain the focal point in Switzerland’s security environment.
An increasingly bipolarised world
The war is accelerating the trend back to a more bipolar world in future: Europe and the EU remain strategically dependent on the USA. China is in the process of establishing itself as the pole among states opposed to “the West”: Russia’s role in Chinese-Russian relations is steadily weakening.
In the USA, a return of Donald Trump or the election of another isolationist candidate could re-ignite uncertainties about commitment to Europe in 2025.
China and Russia want to transform the status quo of existing institutions, rules and norms. Regional powers such as Türkiye, India and Saudi Arabia are seeking to expand their scope for action. In the Indo-Pacific region, Japan defines China as “the greatest strategic challenge in its history”. In Africa, the struggle for influence between the Western states and Russia and China is intensifying.
Taiwan will continue to be the focal point of geostrategic tensions between China and the USA. It is highly unlikely that China will initiate an armed conflict with Taiwan in 2023.
The threat posed to Switzerland by illegal intelligence activities remains high
The threat to Switzerland posed by foreign (mainly Russian and Chinese) espionage remains high. In Europe, Switzerland is one of the states with the highest numbers of Russian intelligence officers operating under diplomatic cover, in part due to its role as a host to international organisations.
Switzerland’s membership in the UN Security Council increases the espionage threat for Swiss individuals who are responsible for UN Security Council dossiers and topics and who are involved in making decisions and in presenting these decisions publicly and in committees.
As far as proliferation is concerned, the focus is on Russia. The FIS aims to prevent the transfer to Russia of goods which it might put to use for sanctioned military activities. Because Russia uses companies in the Eurasian Economic Union and in Türkiye and India for procurement, monitoring activities have to be extended to regions which have received little attention in the past.
Violent extremism and terrorism still relevant
Social polarisation and fragmentation bring with them the risk of violent extremism. Terrorist attacks motivated by right-wing extremism, like those in Christchurch (New Zealand) and Halle (Germany) in 2019 or in Hanau (Germany) in 2020, could become more frequent in Europe.
Violent left-wing extremists will remain largely preoccupied with anti-fascism and the Kurdish question. Direct violence against individuals, especially against persons perceived as belonging to right-wing extremist circles or against security force personnel, is also expected to increase.
The terrorist threat in Switzerland remains elevated. The threat emanates primarily from the jihadist movement, in particular through “Islamic State” sympathizers and people inspired by jihadist propaganda. “Islamic State” and al-Qaeda are the major exponents of the jihadist movement in Europe and are thus also central to the terrorist threat in Switzerland. The terrorist threat is becoming more diffuse in Europe since 2020, because it is increasingly emanating from individuals acting autonomously and who have no direct links to “Islamic State” or al-Qaeda. Psychological problems or personal crises are increasingly significant factors in precipitating the use of violence.