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jeudi, 10 janvier 2013

Neutrality and Militia army are going hand in hand


Neutrality and Militia army are going hand in hand

“Serving together creates bonds of friendship across cantonal and language borders”

Interview with National Councillor Jakob Büchler (CVP)

thk. On Monday and Tuesday the National Council will debate on how to respond to the GSoA-Initiative (17/18 December) (GSoA: Group for a Switzerland without Army) calling for the abolishment of the militia army. Similar to most NATO armies, the initiative proposes to get rid of compulsory military service and reorganise the army as a volunteer force. In the long run, the aim is a professional military. Former president of the National Council Commission for Security Policy Jakob Büchler explains in the following interview what that means and which consequences this decision would have regarding not only the security, but also the very stability of Switzerland as a nation of consensus.

Current Concerns: Which consequences would the end of the militia army have for our military?

National Councillor Jakob Büchler: If we no longer had a militia army, the enormous amount of knowledge would be lost which our militia men feed into the army from their private and professional lives. Every militia soldier serving his time carries a lot of expertise in his “rucksack”. There you have craftsmen such as builders, butchers, carpenters, operators, road engineers, but also architects, physicians, teachers and other academics or professionals who bring with them all their experience and skills from their civilian lives into the army. This is enormously important. All of that would be completely lost.

Instead of the milita army, the initiants demand a volunteer force of just 30,000 men. What does that mean for security in our country?

No security can be maintained with 30,000 men. This army would fit into a football stadium. This is inconceivable. This would be a catastrophe for the security of our country. In case of a natural desaster or other catastrophe the cantons demand that we can mobilize 35,000 men immediately. For floodings, landslides and the like, we have to have many soldiers available on short notice. An army of 30,000 men is not ready on demand. Part of the personnel would be absent at any given time, because they are abroad, on holiday or otherwise unavailable. The smaller an army is, the smaller gets the core of those who are actually ready on demand. This would create an enormous security gap. We must never allow that to happen.

Is it possible to protect strategically important items such as bridges with 30,000 men in a state of terrorist threat?

No, by no means. That is impossible, to maintain security with such a small number of soldiers. Depending on the severity of the threat it could become necessary to protect potential targets such as train stations, bridges, tunnels, airports, nuclear power plants, concrete dams, water supply facilities etc. around the clock. That means, military personnel would have to work in shifts. One part is on duty, one is on stand-by and the rest is on leave. With such a small number of men this system collapses. There would be no security any longer …

… the very security our constitution demands for our country and our citizens.

Yes, absolutely. Our constitution states that the army has to protect our people and our country. With just 30,000 men this cannot be guaranteed. With 30,000 soldiers on payroll, we would have to reimburse them with 100,000 francs per year according to the current social system. That amounts to 3 billion francs just for personnel costs, with no single piece of equipment, infrastructure etc. We must prevent that.
Moreover, since they are quite often at their limits regarding police force capabilities, the cantons tend to call for the army in such circumstances. As compared with other countries, Switzerland has not enough police officers.

Doesn’t the militia army play an important role for our body politic, too?

Yes, of course. If the initiative were successful, this would be the end of the militia army. A voluntary militia is just an illusion. It woldn’t work. For our state which is actually organised according to the militia principle, this would be an enormous loss. Again, this would create huge additional costs. You can study this in our neighbouring countries.  Wherever compulsory military service has been abolished, it turns out that there are not enough volunteers. And many of those who do volunteer are just not qualified. From a state political point of view this is alarming and would be a big set-back. We would have to actively recruit people, this alone is a new expense of uncertain dimensions. Who would actually volunteer for longer time periods? For one or two short missions, this does happen, but for several years – not many people will do that, except those who are out of work or socially marginalized and find it difficult to be accepted anywhere else. We can’t integrate all those people into the army. This would severely affect quality standards for the army and would actually be a big insult.
Solidarity within our country would be in danger, too. We would have an autonomous system which is no longer rooted within the citizenry and all parts of the country alike, while soldiers serving today know what is worth fighting for and create bonds of friendship across cantonal and language borders.

What does abolishment of the militia army mean for the social cohesion in our country?

Sooner or later a volunteer militia would end up as a professional army. Those 30,000 men would be continuously on “duty”. They would be stuck in the barracks. What to do with them? What happens if there is no emergency? Today, we have about 5,000–8,000 men on duty per year. They are in the military school, in refresher courses, and all the others are at home. In a professional army, all soldiers are on duty all the time, and one has to find something to keep them busy. This is an impossible situation.  

In how far is the militia principle an important factor for our body politic as such?

Should we abolish the compulsory military service, there would be no firefighting obligation either. The same applies to civil defense. I am no longer obliged to do anything, if there is no compulsory service, neither for military or civil defense. Today I can either join the firefighter units or pay the firefighting tax. Once all that is just voluntary, who would still pay those taxes. This would lead to huge unfairness, and many tasks would no longer be fulfilled by our militias within the society as it is today.

You have already mentioned the difficulties of recruitment.

Experiences abroad show that there are much fewer people interested to join a professional military than one had hoped for. While they had estimated some 9000 volunteers there, in truth and reality they have 5000 and many of those are not suitable. Many had found no work elsewhere, had criminal records or were just plain criminals. Partially they were welfare cases hoping for a regular payroll in the army. This would be a catastrophe for a volunteer militia. That would be a total disaster for the army …

… and therefore for security.

Indeed, compulsory military service is written in our constitution and is a matter of law. This initiative to abolish the militia army wants to have that cancelled. In other countries the conscription has just been suspended. That means, it can easily be reintroduced by the parliament or government. Should we abolish it by a referendum and cancel it from the constitution, it would not be so easy to reverse.
Who would actually fight in a volunteer militia, if things get into trouble? In case of a political or military emergency, who would rush to the warzone? Read my lips: nobody, not a single one. This we cannot afford to happen. An army which would cost us 3 billion in wages per year but would not guarantee security of our people and country is out of the question, therefore this initiative has to be declined by all means.  

Isn’t there also the danger that one might consider keeping the volunteer army busy with missions abroad? Especially part of the left tends to be quite active in that regard.  

That is an important point. If one doesn’t know what to do with those soldiers it might occur to them to send them abroad to keep them busy. Most bizarre ideas could be put on the table including even more foreign missions. Parliament would be locked in endless discussions. The foreign missions we are engaged in today are just big enough as they are. We cannot send men abroad just because we happen to have them in the army and have no better idea what to do with them. NATO and EU would pressure us into providing more soldiers for foreign missions. This stands against our neutrality and against our firm belief that the army is there as a defense force and not to wage wars somewhere in the world for foreign interests.

Mr National Councillor Büchler, many thanks for this interview.    •

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