BERN --- At its meeting of 4 September 2019, the Federal Council instructed the DDPS to negotiate with France access to high quality satellite images. A treaty could be submitted to Parliament for approval.
High resolution satellite imagery is playing an increasingly important role in safeguarding the interests of Switzerland's security policy. With no satellite capacity of its own, Switzerland relies on images and data from commercial suppliers.
France is one of the European leaders in earth observation satellites. It is developing a new military observation satellite system, called “Composante Spatiale Optique” (Optical Space Component, CSO), which meets very high requirements. The first of the three satellites planned was put into orbit at the end of 2018. The system and its ground stations should be fully operational in 2022. France offers European countries, including Switzerland, the opportunity to participate in this system.
Importance for security policy
Such an approach would allow Switzerland to obtain satellite images of regions or objects of specific interest that it wishes to analyze. In combination with other information, satellite imagery is ideal for confirming or invalidating a state of affairs, for example in the context of Switzerland's efforts on the non-proliferation front. This type of optical recognition enhances independence in security policy decisions. In addition, these data can be used in support of peace promotion and humanitarian aid missions, or in the event of a natural disaster.
Compatible with neutrality
The latest research has shown that participation in such a system serves the interest of Switzerland's security policy and is feasible in a format that is compatible with neutrality.
The Federal Council instructed the DDPS to enter into negotiations with France for access to the CSO. A possible treaty will have to take into account the principle of neutrality, which implies in particular a suspension clause allowing to stop immediately and at any time the collaboration for requirements related to the neutrality of Switzerland.
Even better than Copernicus
The Federal Council also examined a use of the European Copernicus Earth Observation Program. While this program provides security-related services, it focuses on environmental issues. The CSO is a system developed for intelligence purposes, and the Federal Council has concluded that satellite imagery intelligence will be much better covered by the latter.
The DDPS will regularly inform the relevant parliamentary committees on the progress of the project. If necessary, the Federal Council will submit a treaty to Parliament for approval.