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Ogi calls for army to take more international role

The Swiss president and defence minister, Adolf Ogi (pictured), has urged the Swiss army to abandon its purely defensive role by helping Switzerland open up to the world in the course of the next decade.

This content was published on February 14, 2000 - 22:14

The Swiss president and defence minister, Adolf Ogi (pictured), has urged the Swiss army to abandon its purely defensive role by helping Switzerland open up to the world in the course of the next decade.

"The army allowed Switzerland to cross the 20th century, a century of blood and war. Now the army must help Switzerland open up to the world", he told journalists in Geneva.

Mr Ogi said Switzerland could no longer afford to be detached from international affairs, and should build on the controversial deployment of unarmed Swiss soldiers in Bosnia and Kosovo to become involved in other missions as a matter of "peace, solidarity and honour".

In a detailed presentation of his army reform programme, Mr Ogi listed three major challenges to Swiss security. They include conflicts and refugee crises such as the Balkans, as well as the growing likelihood of natural disasters.

Both, he said, demanded active engagement alongside the international community beyond the country's borders, partly to help out in situations that would otherwise send thousands of refugees heading for countries like Switzerland.

The defence minister said Switzerland would also be unable to defend itself from the growing threat represented by medium-range missiles without seeking Nato's help. He hinted that other developments outside Switzerland would force the country closer to the western military alliance, even if he ruled out membership as "politically unacceptable" within the next decade or two.

The statements put Mr Ogi completely at odds with the more isolationist policies advocated by the Swiss People's Party, his own political grouping.

However, he said the "Army 21" programme of reforms would not challenge neutrality, and defence would still rely heavily on the traditional militia army system. "In Switzerland, where the people have the last say, you have to do everything one step at a time", he added.

Most of the reforms have been dictated by spending cuts of four per cent a year. By 2005, the army will be unable to recruit enough soldiers because of demographic change brought about by the ageing population.

Mr Ogi also said plans were going ahead to set up a a new international military think-tank, a centre on the democratic control of armed forces, in Geneva by 2003.

The Swiss president bucked the trend of recent speeches by Europe's political leaders, by saying he would be willing to receive the new Austrian chancellor, Wolfgang Schüssel. But no date was set for the visit. Mr Ogi said he wanted to maintain the tradition of good-neighbourly relations despite the controversy over the inclusion of the far-right Freedom Party in the Austrian government.

By Peter Capella

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