Swiss split on compulsory military service

Should military service be compulsory? French-speaking Switzerland doesn't think so. DDPS

French-speaking Switzerland is distinctly less keen on conscription than the German-speaking majority, a survey has revealed.

This content was published on May 15, 2005 - 13:11

The principle of compulsory military service is inherent to the militia system, which plays a large part in Swiss tradition and identity.

According to the survey in Le Matin Dimanche, 50 per cent of Swiss French are against conscription compared with only 27 per cent of Swiss Germans.

Reversing the question, 45 per cent of French speakers want to maintain conscription, but this figure rises to 69 per cent in the German-speaking part of the country.

If all the responses are merged, 63 per cent of people in Switzerland support conscription and 33 per cent are against it.

The survey was conducted over the phone by érasm, a research institute in Geneva, over May 12-13 using a representative sample of 1,000 people.

Getting defensive

When asked "Would you feel less safe if Switzerland didn’t have an army?", 18 per cent of respondents said "slightly", 38 per cent said "a lot" and 41 per cent said it wouldn’t change the way they felt.

Here too the differences between the linguistic groups are marked: the "no changes" amount to 50 per cent in French-speaking Switzerland against 38 per cent in the German-speaking part.

What’s more, 24 per cent of Swiss French say they would feel much less safe without an army, whereas 43 per cent of Swiss Germans would.

Finally, 59 per cent of Swiss support the new army reforms presented by the defence minister Samuel Schmid last week. Twenty-six per cent disapprove of the plans and 15 per cent don’t know.

Army reforms

On May 12 Schmid and Christophe Keckeis, the head of the armed forces, presented measures to improve the "Army XXI" reforms.

On May 18, 2003, Swiss voters approved the military reform project "Army XXI" to reduce the size of the country’s militia army by a third from 350,000 to around 220,000 soldiers.

Schmid said last week that the core soldiers assigned to standard territorial defence would be halved to 18,500 and the emphasis would be put on internal security supporting civil authorities.

The total number of soldiers – 120,000 active soldiers, 20,000 recruits and 80,000 reservists – would not change, thus preserving Switzerland’s militia system and conscription.

Schmid hopes these measures will save SFr150 million ($123 million) a year.

swissinfo with agencies

Key facts

During the Cold War, the Swiss army numbered 600,000 men who could be called up at short notice.
In 1995 the army was reduced to 400,000 and today it is 220,000.
Today, able-bodied males between the ages of 20 and 36 must serve 260 days of military service.
Military service is optional for women and Swiss living abroad.

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In brief

50 per cent of Swiss French are against conscription compared with 27 per cent of Swiss Germans.

45 per cent of Swiss French want to maintain conscription compared with 69 per cent of Swiss Germans.

Swiss German is spoken by 63.7 per cent of Swiss, French by 20.4 per cent.

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