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Switzerland's Security 2020: The Federal Intelligence Service presents its annual report

Berne, 27.10.2020 – In today’s international system, there are several actors competing for spheres of influence. The Federal Intelligence Service’s (FIS) anticipation and detection capabilities play a leading role in identifying and assessing threats in advance so that preventive measures can be taken in time. The FIS annual report presents the most important developments in the intelligence scene over the past year.

Although we cannot yet know what the full impact of the COVID-19 pandemic will be on security policy, the FIS’s findings suggest that the pandemic has reinforced and probably accelerated existing tendencies in the international system. The pandemic has provided further indications that the future world order will no longer be dominated by the US, its system of alliances, and institutions under strong American influence.

The currently evolving changes in the international system will continue. It is uncertain whether this will lead to a new stable order in the foreseeable future. A new bipolar system dominated by the US and China is one possible outcome, but is not yet clear that this will happen. The emergence of a multipolar system is another possibility, but this is a more unlikely development.

Strategic rivalry between the major powers

Switzerland’s strategic environment is shaped by the rivalry between the USA and China, Russia’s ambitions to consolidate its sphere of influence in Europe, and a range of conflicts and crises at Europe’s borders. While the US will remain the most influential global power beyond 2020, the importance of transatlantic relations and the American presence in the Middle East will continue to decline. The US’s challengers on the geopolitical stage will attempt to benefit from this and will seek to expand their power and assert their own interests in areas of waning US influence.

China sees itself as a rising great power on a par with the US. The gulf between the Western-style liberal model and authoritarian state capitalism will continue to widen. There are growing indications that the international system could be increasingly shaped by strategic competition between the US and China – to the extent that each establishes its exclusive zone of strategic influence.

Russia continues to pursue its goal of acting on an equal footing with the US and seeks to establish and strengthen its sphere of influence. This policy is yielding success, but it is striving for more. Ukraine remains at the centre of Russia’s strategic interests, as does Belarus; following the protests in the wake of the country’s presidential election on 9 August 2020, the Kremlin has warned the US and the EU not to interfere in any way. The Black Sea and the Mediterranean are further areas where Russia is competing for influence with other actors. Russia also uses military force in order to achieve its goals.

Espionage as an instrument in power struggles

Espionage is an expression of the tensions described above. States use espionage to strengthen their position in competition with political, military or economic rivals. Tensions of this type are also reflected in espionage activities by foreign states on Swiss soil, which are damaging to Switzerland’s image as a host state for international diplomacy. Moreover, Swiss interests are directly threatened when foreign spies target Switzerland’s financial and trading centre, innovative companies and political institutions in order to gain competitive advantages and opportunities to exert influence. Certain states also use espionage against their own nationals as a tool for consolidating their own power, and may engage in surveillance and intimidation of opposition figures residing abroad, including in Switzerland.

Espionage and international competition for power and influence in general also take place in cyberspace. Switzerland’s critical infrastructure has yet to be the direct target of state-sponsored acts of sabotage. However, in an attempt to reach their target, perpetrators sometimes also target Swiss business partners and suppliers, and this is considered acceptable collateral damage. Swiss interests could thus fall victim to conflicts carried out in cyberspace.

Violent right-wing and left-wing extremism: attempts to instrumentalise demonstrations

In the context of jihadi terrorism, Islamic State continues to be the dominant force. Further attacks in Europe are likely – inspired first and foremost by this terrorist group. In Switzerland, the terrorist threat is heightened, but while it is among the countries viewed as legitimate targets by the jihadists, it is not top of their list.

In left-wing and right-wing extremist circles alike, the potential for violence persists. In the left-wing extremist scene, more serious forms of violence, such as arson, are mainly targeted at buildings seen as being linked to alleged repression. At demonstrations, broader participation in acts of violence and increasing levels of aggression have been observed. The left-wing extremist scene, in particular, is trying to take control of newly emerging broader movements, such as the recent Black Lives Matter demonstrations in Switzerland, and to exploit them for its own purposes.

Members of right-wing extremist groups are currently exercising restraint in their use of violence. However, in the right-wing scene training in martial arts is popular, and usable weapons are available. The greatest risk of a right-wing-extremist-motivated attack in Switzerland comes from lone actors with right-wing extremist views but no firm attachment to established violent extremist groups.

Further information

Address for further inquiries

Isabelle Graber
FIS Head of Communication
+41 58 462 76 98
isabelle.graber@fis.admin.ch

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