Swiss newspapers have called on the army to shape up and modernise despite voters rejecting a call to end compulsory military service. The initiative was quashed by a majority of nearly three quarters of ‘no’ votes on Sunday.
Media across the country questioned whether a long running political campaign to scrap the militia system had now run out of steam.
But they also rammed home the point that a growing number of men are finding ways of wriggling out of the system while the army itself was criticised as employing outdated tactics. Most media outlets said the military should not rest on its laurels despite the apparent ringing endorsement by the population.
“The peace movement has stopped moving” trumpeted the Neue Zürcher Zeitung, usually a conservative voice for tradition. The newspaper noted the miserly 26.8 per cent support for the initiative, that pales in comparison with 35.6 per cent of people who backed a similar vote in 1989.
The NZZ said the campaign had been weakened by splits between leftwing political parties who could not present a united front. But the newspaper also laid the same charge at the door of army supporters, a weakness that could have negative future consequences.
“The ‘no’ vote against the anti-compulsory military service initiative can be viewed as no more than a fleeting success,” the NZZ editorial said.
For 24 Heures and the Tribune de Genève, the extent of the rejection of the initiative is a slap in the face for the Switzerland without an Army group, but the vote does highlight a legitimate issue: only every second Swiss male fulfills his military duties.
Army supporters have failed to provide solutions to this problem and politicians on the Right must propose something to replace a system that in time will partially disappear.
For Fribourg’s La Liberté, those demanding an end to conscription did not consider how volunteers would be recruited for the army, helping defence minister Ueli Maurer and his friends. “So why not seriously consider the idea of a civil/citizen service open to women or even foreigners?” it added.
For Geneva’s Le Temps, the vote result is a plebiscite for the militia system, not for the army. Switzerland without an Army underestimated people’s fear of instability and their need for security in an uncertain environment.
The paper added that the initiative’s backers failed to recognize the role the army plays in helping forge Swiss identity. However it said that it would dangerous to consider the vote result as a reason to leave the army frozen in the past.
The Zurich-based Tages Anzeiger also recognised that the vote was a rejection for leftwing political groups that brought the initiative to the table, but it nevertheless remained sceptical about true public support for compulsory army service.
The newspaper believes that voters are “no longer emotional” about the subject because it has become too easy for young men to duck military service obligations with the help of a few “white lies”.
While 80 per cent of young men undergo military service in Canton Appenzell Inner Rhoden, around half of their peers in Zurich find a way of dodging the draft. The ease with which eligible conscripts can evade military service has watered down the whole debate, the newspaper pointed out.
Furthermore, the Tages Anzeiger editorial scolded the army for failing to adapt fast enough to current security threats, such as terrorism, opting instead to equip itself against a conventional armed invasion. Unless it addresses the issue of modernisation, the armed forces could be shooting themselves in the foot.
“The less prepared the military is to adapt to the modern security situation, the greater the likelihood that one day a similar vote for reform will gain a majority,” the newspaper stated.
The English-speaking press largely chose to ignore a vote that changes nothing in Switzerland. The Wall Street Journal, however, also takes on the theme of inconsistency and apparent inequality in the recruitment process.
The United States newspaper pointed out that revered tennis ace Roger Federer was passed unfit for compulsory military service with “an unspecified back condition”, but was still able to rack up a record number of Grand Slams victories.
“Mr Federer’s agent didn’t respond to requests for comment,” the WSJ dryly noted.
By Matt Allen, swissinfo.ch