How good is the Swiss Army

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Switzerland is known for its neutrality. But that does not mean that it has no military power. The tasks of the militia army are the defense of the country and internal security.

This content was published on January 21, 2020 - 3:00 p.m.

Neutrality is an important identification feature of Switzerland. It still enjoys great popular support and has contributed to the cohesion of the Swiss Confederation for centuries.

Neutrality is part of tradition, history and the way Swiss citizens see themselves.

neutrality

In the world of states, neutrality means above all non-participation in an armed conflict between other states. Today three features shape Switzerland's neutrality: it is self-elected, permanent (no longer permanent as it used to be) and armed.

This also explains why the country has always tried to keep its armed forces at a respectable level, and why military service is compulsory for Swiss men, which is enshrined in the constitution.

In principle, the Swiss armed forces may only be used for self-defense and internal protection. In international conflicts, Switzerland is not allowed to take sides and grant foreign troops no right of transit.

Neutrality is an instrument of the country's foreign and security policy. International law sets clear limits to the policy of neutrality. The country is not allowed to join a military alliance such as NATO, but cooperation within the framework of the NATO Partnership for Peace is possible.

Switzerland has repeatedly adapted its neutrality policy flexibly to international needs and its own interests, even after the end of the Cold War, when the geopolitical situation fundamentally changed - and with it the importance of neutrality in an increasingly networked world.

In the 1990s, for example, Switzerland - like the other neutral states - declared that it was fundamentally ready to support economic sanctions by the UN, the EU or other groups of states against lawbreakers in solidarity.

Further official information on Switzerland's neutrality policy can be found on the website of the Foreign Office External Link.

Member of the United Nations (UN)

In 2002, Switzerland joined the United Nations (UN) as a full member - it was the only country to take this step on the basis of a referendum. Around 55% of those who voted had approved the popular initiative for membership.

Even before joining, Switzerland had been actively involved in many sub-organizations of the international community such as WHO, Unicef, UNESCO, FAO, ILO and others for decades.

UN membership is often referred to as a big step forward in the league of nations. However, Switzerland had repeatedly supported international peace efforts since the end of the Second World War, and its neutrality leaves room for maneuver.

It has been involved in monitoring the armistice on the Korean peninsula since 1953 and has been deployed in the Middle East since 1967.

With the increase in new dangers (terrorism, illegal arms trade, organized crime), the importance of international cooperation has come to the fore. Switzerland also consistently expanded its international cooperation.

This includes the deployment of Swiss army units for international peace missions and Swiss participation in NATO's Partnership for Peace (PfP).

Further official information on Swiss peacebuilding missions abroad can be found at the Defense Departments external link.

Switzerland was also one of the first members of the Council of EuropeExterner Link and later also became a member of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) External Link, which it presided over in 1996 and 2014.

Militia Army and General Conscription

The Swiss Army is a militia army, there are only a few professional soldiers. For Swiss men there is a general compulsory military service - to this day, the recruiting school (basic military training) is part of the process of growing up for most Swiss men, even if this and the role of the army as a whole have been increasingly questioned and even vehemently discussed in recent years.

After the recruiting school, the Swiss soldiers have to complete a several-week refresher course for a few years. Soldiers in uniform with their weapons on the move in cities and trains are not uncommon, but visitors from abroad or new immigrants often notice.

The soldiers take their weapons home with them, which has caused increased controversy in recent decades, as army weapons often play a role in murders, especially within families, or in suicides. Army weapons were also used in deadly conflicts at work or with authorities.

A popular initiative wanted to counteract this: It proposed a ban on taking army weapons home and also severely restricting the availability of firearms in private households. The initiative was clearly rejected in February 2011. The government and parliament were against the referendum.

Anyone who did not want to do military service but rather community service had to explain their reasons for years in a conscience examination. It was only abolished in 2009. Since then, it has been proven that people doing community service have to complete an assignment that lasts one and a half times longer than military service.

Further official information on the Swiss Armed Forces can be found on the website of the Ministry of Defense, external link

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