Swiss Cold War unit exposes neutrality myth

Swiss Cold War unit exposes neutrality myth

A 126-page report into a secret Cold War Swiss army detachment has been published 27 years after it was written, exposing the depth of Nato cooperation in the supposedly neutral country. 

The Cornu report, which has been heavily redacted by the Swiss government, concerns P-26 or “Projekt 26”, named for the 26 Swiss cantons, a 400-strong Swiss force designed to “stay behind” and resist invading Soviet forces. 

The document was the result of an administrative enquiry launched after the existence of P-26 was made public in 1990.

The report is named after the Swiss judge Pierre Cornu who wrote it.

When the existence of P-26 was revealed, it sparked controversy because of rumours of close ties with British security services, MI5 and MI6.

The first government probe into P-26 in 1991 found the lack of civilian oversight “intolerable” and said it was “alarming that the British services knew more about P-26 than the Swiss government did”. 

The Swiss troops regularly travelled to Britain, where its members, often using fake ID, were trained in guerrilla warfare, including sabotage.

Exercises involved blowing up oil refineries or jumping from a moving helicopter on to a surfacing submarine, although P-26 members reportedly chose not to perform this manoeuvre.

P-26 planned to relocate its command centre to Britain if Switzerland was invaded with equipment stored at the Swiss embassy in London and in Ireland. 

It was officially dissolved in 1992.

The unit would have used the “Harpoon” encrypted communication system used by “stay behind” military units across Nato, meaning “neutral” Switzerland was preparing to co-operate with the alliance.

P-26’s controversy partly comes from its secrecy. 

The Swiss parliament, which is supposed to have oversight of all military expenditure, was not informed when it was set up in 1979 and the government received only vague details.

But the UK security services, who regularly visited Switzerland to assess P-26, knew everything about the force. 

The names of those involved and specific locations have been censored and 27 files related to P-26 have disappeared. 

Some observers fear they may have been destroyed because they contained sensitive information.

“It’s a good idea [to publish it]”, Cornu told Swiss RTS radio this week. “Light should be shed on this.” He said the censorship by the government was justified by the fact that some of the people mentioned were still alive.

The full report remains subject to a 50-year secrecy rule, meaning it cannot be published until 2041.


Switzerland is peppered in defensive positions. Picture credit: Wikimedia 


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