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  • Swiss Argue Over Numbers
    Posted by Christina Mackenzie 4:13 PM on Oct 05, 2010

    The Swiss populist party, confusingly called the Union for the Democratic Centre (UDC), says the Swiss army should employ at least 120,000 active soldiers instead of the 80,000 recommended by the Federal Council, Switzerland's parliament, in a report published last Friday. That report also says defense spending should be capped at 4.4 billion Swiss francs ($4.6 billion).

    Toni Brunner, the UDC leader, complains that this is the Alpine nation's third restructuring of its armed forces in less than 10 years and “the report on the armed forces is headed in completely the wrong direction.” The UDC believes that Switzerland's compulsory national service and militia system should be maintained at all costs. They say that 120,000 is the minimum number necessary to be able to mobilize quickly and that of these 40% should be combat troops.

    The Federal Council thinks differently. In its report it says the 80,000 should be allocated as follows: 22,000 combat troops, 35,000 to support civilian missions, 22,000 for basic missions (whatever that means) and 1,000 to be deployed abroad... which is odd given that the Swiss army has had no combat troops involved in a foreign war of any kind since 1815! It does have a special commando unit, DRA10 (Détachement de reconnaissance d'armée 10), whose main function is to rescue Swiss citizens trapped overseas. And, yes, it did send a total of 271 troops abroad in the 2005-09 timeframe of which 220 were in Kosovo and 27 in Bosnia. The remaining 24 were deployed elsewhere in groups of under 20 troops.

    Daniel Möckli and Valentin Misteli are the co-authors of an interesting 3-page policy paper (translated into English from the German by Christopher Findlay) entitled “Swiss Military Operations Abroad: Challenges and Options” published by the Center for Security Studies, Zurich. You can download a pdf version here.

    Switzerland has a population of 7,733,000. If my arithmetic is correct that means the UDC wants 1 soldier for every 64 inhabitants. France has a population of 64,700,000 and an army of more or less 224,600 (not counting the gendarmerie). That makes one soldier for every 288 inhabitants, just to give you a comparison.

    For those of you interested in a bit of history, the last conflict within Swiss borders was in 1847 and that was a civil war between Catholics and Protestants over a special treaty for the Catholic cantons. It lasted less than a month and caused fewer than 100 casualties.

    Tags: ar99, Switzerland

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