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Adolf Ogi previews army reforms

The defence minister, Adolf Ogi, has been outlining plans to reform the Swiss army. Ogi, who is this year's Swiss president, was speaking at Army Day at the Muba consumer fair in Basel.

The new army is due to be cut from a 360,000-strong force at present, to 200,000 soldiers. Conscription will be retained, but new service models such as reservists, and fixed term soldiers are proposed.

Ogi's blueprint is not new, even though it has yet to be finalised, and voters will have the last word in a referendum. But it is clear that the defence ministry wants to retain conscription - the bottom line tenet of Swiss defence since time immemorial.

In recent weeks, the economics minister, Pascal Couchepin, and the main business lobby have caused a stir by calling for a smaller and cheaper army. Couchepin wants to save money; the employers don't want staff to take time off for military service, or officer careers.

Ogi upbraided critics for not knowing the facts of life. An effective professional army costs more than a conscript army does, but clearly the army will for the first time have a degree of professionalism, as has long been the case in the air force.

by Peter Haller


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