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Switzerland TravelSwitzerland guide / Military of Switzerland

Military of Switzerland

Switzerland has a long history of neutrality. Its armed forces do not participate in armed conflicts outside Switzerland, but they do participate in peacekeeping missions worldwide
Switzerland has a long history of neutrality. Its armed forces do not participate in armed conflicts outside Switzerland, but they do participate in peacekeeping missions worldwide. In Switzerland's militia system professional soldiers make up about five percent of personnel and the rest are conscripts age 20 to 34. Soldiers must keep their own military equipment at home. This includes personal weapons. Swiss males are required to serve in the military, and women can serve voluntarily. Most conscripts start their service at age 19. Most young Swiss people are found to be suitable for service, but for those medically unfit for military service, there are alternative service jobs.

In 1989 the Group for Switzerland without an Army attempted to pass a referendum on whether the country should abolish its armed forces. Though the measure was defeated, it had a fairly high level of support. A similar vote came up shortly after the 9/11 terrorist attacks on America, and was soundly defeated that time. However, in 2003 a measure called "Army XXI" reduced the active military from 400,000 to 200,000 or thereabouts, with approximately 120,000 active and 80,000 in reserve units.

The Swiss military started with the Old Swiss Confederacy's cantonal troops. They could be called on in the event of external threats or another canton in need of military help. The cantonal troops were made into a Bundesheer, or federal army when the 1848 constitution was implemented. After that it became illegal for cantons to declare war. The federation was forbidden to keep a standing army and each canton could only have a standing force of 300. The constitution also declared that every Swiss citizen had to serve in the army if conscripted.

The Franco-Prussian War of 1871 was the first complete mobilization of the Swiss military. In 1875 the military stopped a workers' strike at Gotthard tunnel, and four workers died in the melee. The constitution was revised in 1874 extending the definition of Switzerland's army to every able bodied citizen. This drastically increased the size of the army immediately, and with Switzerland's growth during the 20th century the Swiss army became the second largest after that of Israel.

Switzerland dodged invasion in World War I by convincing European leaders, particularly Kaiser Wilhelm II of the strength of Swiss defenses. Internally, the army suppressed a strike in 1918, killing three workers. Several of the troops also died from the worldwide Spanish flu epidemic at that time too. In 1932 the Swiss military suppressed an anti-fascist demonstration in left-leaning Geneva. The troops sent in were mostly from rural areas and inclined to be much more conservative, making the confrontation all the more tense.

Today there are approximately 135,000 Swiss on active duty, the vast majority of them as conscripts. Women make up less than 1% of the armed forces, though they make up 25% of career soldiers. They may join combat units or any other service. Conscripts are taught in the official language they speak, but Romansh speaking conscripts receive instruction in German.

The officer rankings in the Swiss military are not the same as those used in other military forces. However, when Swiss officers are deployed in peacekeeping missions elsewhere in the world, they may be given temporary ranks that don't actually exist in the Swiss Army so that they will be integrated smoothly with military of other nations. The basic form of the Swiss army today includes armored brigades 1 and 11; infantry brigades 2, 4, 5, and 7; and mountain infantry brigades 9, 10, and 12.

The Swiss Air Force, including its pilots, is militia based. The service has approximately 450 aircraft in its inventory. The Swiss Air Force separated from the Army in 1996 and has been downsizing ever since. Now some 270 aircraft - both fixed wing and rotary wing - are in use. Its primary air defense fleet includes about 30 F-18 Hornets and 50 F-5 Tiger IIs. The Swiss Air Force is not operational at all times, but rather keep ready-to-deploy aircraft available during regular business hours on working days. Swiss air space is not easy to defend because of the country's small size and mountainous terrain, and because of the country's military neutrality, they are hardly likely to be dispatched to other parts of the world.

Because Switzerland is landlocked it doesn't have a navy, but it does have a military patrol boat fleet that patrols the major lakes, including Lake Maggiore, Lake Constance, Lake Lugano,Lake Lucerne, and Lake Geneva.

The building codes in Switzerland include mandatory radiation and blast shelters for bomb safety. There is enough bed space in the many Swiss shelters to accommodate 114% of the Swiss population. Command centers and hospitals are also equipped to keep the country running during national emergencies. Every family must pay a tax to support these shelters or own a personal shelter in their home.

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