Swiss to vote on scrapping social 'glue' of military draft

Tue Sep 17, 2013 8:32am EDT
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By Caroline Copley

ZURICH (Reuters) - Switzerland hasn't fought a war with an external enemy in 200 years, but its military may now face the biggest battle of its existence - from within.

Many Swiss have questioned over the decades why Switzerland needs a military, given the lack of direct threats and long-standing position of neutrality. With 150,000 troops and six percent of the budget, the armed forces are the size of those of Austria, Belgium, Norway, Finland and Sweden - combined.

The critics have recently found support from an unexpected quarter - the increasing number of multinational firms who are not happy to see local staff disappear into the conscription militia for around 9 months over the course of their 20s.

"Not everyone has time to play war," declares the campaign poster from the pacifist Group for Switzerland without an Army (GSOA).

The GSOA has collected the 100,000 signatures needed to force a referendum on September 22 that proposes to scrap conscription and replace it with an all-volunteer army.

The armed forces has responded with its own "information offensive".

Conscription has long been considered an essential character-building experience for Swiss males. Those selected to serve as officers not only learned discipline and leadership skills, but also made connections that lasted a lifetime in Switzerland's rarefied business world.

In early July, executives and human resources managers from foreign companies were invited to watch a military training exercise near Zurich to observe how recruits learn to think strategically, prioritize and work precisely under pressure.   Continued...

Recruits from the veterinary troops of the Swiss Army play traditional cow-bells during an official visiting day at a Swiss army base in Sand bei Schoehnbuehl, outside Bern September 7, 2013. REUTERS/Ruben Sprich