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Swiss army

A listicle of ideas how to spend surplus half billion

High-stepping Greek guard: how about an alphorn-blowing Swiss one? (Keystone)

High-stepping Greek guard: how about an alphorn-blowing Swiss one?


No new planes. No new anti-aircraft defence system. Money not spent on the latest technology could instead be used to create value in other sectors. Why not a crowd-pleasing changing-of-the-guard pageant?

Thousands of tourists are drawn to Buckingham Palace in London each day to admire the spectacle of marching soldiers in red tunics with tall bearskin hats. The Greek version – high-stepping, pompom-shoed guards – has an average four-star rating on TripAdvisor.

Swiss soldiers have no fancy uniforms, nor do any stand guard in front of parliament. But why not? Parliament on September 20 approved a four-year military budget of CHF5 billion ($5.13 billion), about CHF1.2 billion more than cabinet had asked for. Good news for the army, if the defence minister could only spend it. Voters don’t want new planes, and the minister himself, Guy Parmelin, has put an upgrade of the air defence system on hold.

And maybe that’s where the problem lies. Army chiefs should shift from defence to offence, and think outside the box. What better way to make people forget the embarrassing situations of late: a 9-to-5 air force, how to explain the disappearance of several kilograms of explosives and headlines about the antiaircraft system. There has also been a series of F/A-18 fighter jet crashes.

Perhaps a colourful guard wouldn’t be a bad investment after all. How? The latest tourist figures are not encouraging. People are avoiding Switzerland because it’s considered too expensive and less value for money compared to its neighbours. Buckingham Palace guards have their bearskin hats, Greek soldiers have their slow-motion waltz. Why can’t we have alphorn-blowing servicemen to encourage a friendly invasion of tourists?

There is a Swiss precedent. Unfortunately it’s not in Switzerland. The Pope’s Swiss Guard, colourfully-costumed Renaissance men, are one of the Vatican’s many attractions.

If in Rome, why not Bern?

That’s just one proposal. How do you think armies should spend their money? To give you an idea, here are a couple of other suggestions I believe are worth reviewing.

Immigrant integration

Integration of foreigners, especially asylum seekers and recognised refugees, is no easy task. Switzerland, with a long history of sending its soldiers to fight abroad, could integrate these ‘mercenaries’ into its armed forces to help with purely non-combatant tasks such as disaster relief, or providing logistical support as soldiers do each year for the Lauberhorn World Cup ski races. What better opportunity for immigrants to learn a Swiss language – or dialect – and get their first taste of skiing!

School discipline

Swiss schools don’t have enough male teachers. Approximately 80% of primary school teachers are women, and for that reason it’s been lamented that children don’t have enough men as role models in the formative years of their lives. Instead of shortening basic training, recruits could do extra duty in the classroom, sharing some of the gentler lessons from boot camp with the young (for example, how to make your bed). The odd soldier or two may like it so much that they decide teaching children is the career for them.

Your idea

How would you spend the money? We posed the question to our Facebook fans. Here are some of their suggestions. Tell us in the comments below if you can add to this list!

Zachariah W. “Switzerland isn't going to be invaded by its neighbours. Perhaps spend it on the Swiss intelligence agency, counter terror forces, and special operations.”

Andreas B. “The cost of health insurance in Switzerland is absurd. There should be a cap on how much a person must pay on a general insurance. This money could for example be used to cover the difference.”

Dike V. “Put the money into free education from primary to university level for the next thirty years and see the tremendous achievement. Upgrade the standard of education.”

Sacha B. “You want to keep the money in the army? Invest it in equipment that can be used in real life situations in Switzerland for rescue and support whenever there are natural disasters.”

Follow the author on Twitter @dalebechtel

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