Switzerland without an army in a world of massive armament

by Gotthard Frick

The title “Switzerland without an army” in the “Neue Zürcher Zeitung” from 10 December 2019 on two letters to the editor summed it up: Switzerland no longer has an army. It now has 6 combat battalions (2 tank battalions and 4 mechanised battalions) and 4 artillery divisions. If one believes the comprehensive report of the Federal Department of Defence, Civil Protection and Sport (DDPS) on ground troops, their outdated equipment has no chance against an enemy with modern equipment. Furthermore, the army also has 17 infantry and 2 grenadier battalions. The infantry battalions are primarily intended to support the civilian authorities, e.g. against landslides, for guarding tasks etc., and do not have any heavy weapons for tank and air defence or fire support. The territorial divisions – formerly known as regiments – to which they belong also have no means to support the infantry battalions with artillery fire at least. All large units still have support and special forces (logistics, medical, genius, etc.), but these are not capable of fighting. Air force and air defence do not have modern, long-range means to protect our airspace and ground forces. They therefore have no chance at all for the time being. It is rather questionable whether the current procurement procedure will lead to a strong air force and air defence. In any case, it will be many years before, in the best case, a reasonably credible renewed air force and air defence system is ready for deployment. By then, the next war – in which we are involved from the very beginning (see below) – may already be over. On the modern battlefield our soldiers are cannon fodder without a strong presence of their own in the airspace. 

“Why has the richest country in the world abolished its army?”

I’m sure all the Joint Chiefs of Staff are aware of this state of the army. Even in faraway China, a cadre friend of one of the largest Chinese corporations asked the author quite abruptly at a dinner in 2015: “Why has the richest country in the world abolished its army?” And the Indian “Business Standard” began an article dated 21 February 2014 about the Swiss army, which it described as once so powerful, with the sentence: “Making fun of Switzerland is so easy that it’s almost unsportsmanlike.”

Massive armament among the great powers

The Federal Council considers a war and the inclusion of Switzerland in one to be unlikely. In his cute war picture, it only sees the cyber war, in which some special troops would also be deployed (“green men”). It says that “heavy means, deployed en masse” can no longer be expected. A government can probably not be further away from the vision and preparations of the great powers, i.e. from reality. The global powers are improving and strengthening their numerous large, very powerful mechanised units, because they know that the decision is made on the ground. Of course, they have several airborne units, powerful air forces and strong fleets. In addition, they will use a whole range of new weapon systems below the nuclear threshold in the future “Battle of the Connected Weapons” as required, making war even more diverse, even “deadlier than all the wars of the last 70 years”, (as General Mark Milley, now promoted to the rank of highest US officer, said on 4 October 2016). Missiles of all ranges with a wide variety of warheads, cyber-, space-, hypersonic-, Prompt Global Strike-, radiation-, perhaps biological and chemical weapons, new sensors and partly space-based targeting devices, methods of psychological warfare and others we have not yet thought of will be used. Drones and various automatic weapon systems, for example the self-guided Chinese submarines without crew, will complete the picture.

Even a nuclear war cannot be ruled out

All powers are aware that nuclear war would lead to the end of the modern world. But since certainly none of today’s great powers would accept an unconditional surrender after a lost war, but would then rather resort to nuclear weapons, there is a possibility that great powers might find their way back to a form of war that does not demand unconditional surrender, total submission from the loser, but instead demands greater concessions, but allows him to survive on his own and to keep his face, comparable to the behaviour of the European powers after the Peace of Westphalia (1648), which made them more civilised in their dealings with each other for a while.

“Only with a strong army can a country be truly safe”

At present, anyone can watch on the Internet the video films of the great Russian parade on the occasion of this year’s celebrations of the victory over Hitler’s Germany, then the likewise very large march of the Chinese armed forces to celebrate the 70th birthday of the People’s Republic of China, and get an idea of the mass of heavy means at the disposal of these powers, just like the USA. Even more remarkable is a longer, very meaningful video commissioned by the Central Committee of the Communist Party of China and posted on the Internet in September 2019, which shows President Xi Jinping visiting troops throughout the country. There he announces that the armed forces will be reduced by 300,000 men [and then still comprise some 1,800,000 men and women, the author], but also that they will be comprehensively modernised and strengthened. What we have forgotten is said there: “Only with a strong army can a country be truly secure.”
China is on its way to becoming a world power and obviously has no illusions. The President of the Republic, who is also the Chairman of the Military Commission, ordered every soldier, regardless of rank, to concentrate his efforts on “fighting ability and readiness for war”. He already demanded to concentrate everything on “readiness for war” during his troop visit to the South China Sea in October 2018. The video shows various troops in sharp combat, including tank attacks, landings on a coast in floating tanks, mountain troops in high mountains, rocket artillery units in sharp fire, infantry attacking through flames, etc.
The video clearly shows that China has learned its lessons from 100 years of subjugation to Europe, Japan and the USA. But President Xi’s call to the troops also signals that China will assert its interests militarily if necessary. It already has the ability to do so and is continuing to expand it. The video ends with the music of a symphony orchestra and ballet dances, while a choir sings to the astonishment of the author: “God bless China, God bless China … I sincerely pray that God bless China.”
In other words, all major powers are upgrading and modernising their armed forces. Not everyone is aware that Russia is working closely with China militarily because of its marginalisation by the West. Both powers are repeatedly carrying out major joint manoeuvres, in 2017 even a joint sniping of the Chinese and Russian fleets in the Mediterranean, and in 2018 both fleets were practising, still on a modest scale, in the Baltic Sea – virtually in our neighbourhood.

Just surrounded by friends?

From our politicians, who are responsible for the destruction of our army, one hears time and again, that Switzerland is only surrounded by friends. Such statements can only be made by those who do not know or deny reality. Of course, our neighbours will not suddenly attack Switzerland. But in the foreseeable future only a war between the great powers is conceivable in Europe. Switzerland with its airspace lies in the middle of NATO territory and has highly efficient north-south and east-west corridors, numerous very vulnerable infrastructure objects such as the nuclear power plants, the reservoirs, power stations and switchgears, the major transport hubs and airports and much more. In addition, there are numerous gateways in border areas or areas suitable for air landings, and finally a population that should also be protected. But we can no longer protect our country, we no longer have the means for the “prevention of war” required by the Federal Constitution.
In the event of war, which for the powers involved is a matter of victory or defeat, i.e. everything is at stake, the USA and NATO – almost all our “friends” are members there – will immediately take over our airspace and territory for their own purposes. (Today, Switzerland is already flown over thousands of times a year by aircraft of the US and NATO air forces – with Switzerland’s permission). The primary goal will not be to take over Switzerland, but to be able to use our transport network, airports, territory and airspace for the displacements and operations of their own air forces and units.1 At the same time, their enemy should be prevented from including our country in their military plans.2 Since we can no longer fulfil the obligation imposed on us by the Hague Agreement in return for the recognition of neutrality, to deny any party to the war the use of our territory, if necessary by force, they themselves will defend their interests with us. The enemies of the USA/NATO, for example Russia, will then intervene with us quite legally, for example by destroying our airfields with rocket or air attacks or by taking over ourselves with air landings. So both warring parties will fight each other on our territory and we will be at war, with all its casualties, wounded and destruction.

Experiences from the Second World War

During the Second World War, all the powers fighting in Western Europe, including the USA, examined whether they could attack their enemy through Switzerland or, conversely, whether the enemy itself could attack them through our country. They all came to a negative conclusion because of our army. Here too, the priority was to use our territory for the military operations of the warring parties, or rather to prevent their enemies from taking over our country for their own purposes. The occupation of Switzerland for its own sake was not the central issue.


“Interoperability” means cooperation with NATO

In the documents of the Federal Council one can read that we should be able to fight an aggressor at least for “a short time” and would then be free to cooperate with one of the warring parties. Since the Federal Council repeatedly emphasises that the prerequisite for such cooperation is interoperability, it is quite obvious that for it only cooperation with NATO comes into question – although NATO will probably be the first to use our country for its military purposes, i.e. it will be the aggressor. Switzerland is only a member of NATO’s interoperability platform and participates with its members in joint manoeuvres and interoperability events. The fact that on 16–17 February 2016, at the invitation of the Federal Council in Zurich, a major NATO meeting was held with 100 officers from NATO command, and all its members and partner organisations such as Switzerland, was concealed by our leading media, probably at the request of the Federal Council. This has nothing more to do with strict neutrality.

“In the documents of the Federal Council one can read that we should be able to fight an aggressor at least for “a short time” and would then be free to cooperate with one of the warring parties. Since the Federal Council repeatedly emphasises that the prerequisite for such cooperation is interoperability, it is quite obvious that for it only cooperation with NATO comes into question […]. This has nothing more to do with strict neutrality.”


A new world order on the verge of emerging

The people here are clearly not aware of the fact that a New World Order is currently emerging and that all major powers are competing for their future position. Without going into details, it should be remembered that NATO was originally directed against the Soviet Union and subsequently against the Warsaw Pact. When the Soviet Union, and with it the Warsaw Pact, perished and the Russian Army also experienced an “unprecedented decline”, according to the 2016 Security Report of the Federal Council, one could have assumed that NATO would also disintegrate. On the contrary! It moved closer and closer to the borders of Russia militarily, admitting one former member of the Warsaw Pact or the former Soviet Union after another, thereby increasing the military pressure on Russia.

Russia, China and the United States

The Russian political and military leadership has pointed out several times in recent years – like President Kennedy in 1962, when the USSR had launched 50 nuclear missiles in Cuba, at the doorstep to the United States – that they could not accept this threat, and would take military action against it as there was no peaceful agreement in sight. After the rearmament of recent years, they should again be able to carry out such operations.
China has border disputes with all of its neighbours down to India. Many are allies of the United States who would have to assist them militarily in the event of a conflict. In addition to this there are the threats against Taiwan and the military presence established by China in the South China Sea to enforce its territorial claim to the world’s most important waterway.
The tensions among the major powers mentioned here are supplemented by numerous regional and local tensions (e.g. those in the Middle East to Turkey and Iran) that could easily become regional wars. If the great powers intervene – in some cases this is already the case – a global war can easily arise. Finally, we must not overlook the fact that large-scale, violent breakdowns in our environment are conceivable. Should there be a China-US conflict, Russia would probably seize the opportunity to end the threat installed at its border by the West. So, Europe would be involved in a US/NATO conflict against Russia/China and, as already stated, Switzerland as well – defencelessly and self-imposed.

What does the survival of states depend on?

Anyone who knows something about history is aware of the fact that there is no guarantee that states will survive forever. On the contrary, many once great powers have perished or sunk to insignificance. Often the then ruling classes had slipped into luxury decadence, causing their states to perish. The survival of states mainly depends on whether they can maintain a sensible realism and credibly carry out their main task – guaranteeing security against the exterior. In Switzerland, with its democratic system, the whole people are responsible for their future. It appears to be drowning in prosperity and to be no longer interested in its long-term security, i.e. the country’s survival. The downfall of Switzerland would be unimportant in world history and not worth more than a side note in history books. But for a Swiss citizen who would have liked his grandchildren to have a secure future, this prospect is painful.   •

1  In 1944, when the Allies got stuck on the German front in France for a long time during the Second World War, Stalin asked them to attack Germany from France through Switzerland. The military leadership of the USA examined this, but came to the conclusion that because of the difficult terrain and the small but “acknowledged efficient Swiss Army” the success of such an undertaking was “doubtful”.

2  This was precisely the aim of the last German plan of attack of August 1943: it was important, it was argued, to deprive the Allies in due course of any hope of being able to include Switzerland in their military speculations, even by means of a German attack. The planners ruled out the possibility that Switzerland could attack Germany. Nobody had such “absurd plans”, nor could the Swiss mentality be accused of such intentions as an “armed incursion into a foreign country, etc.” The Allies were also aware of this, but would perhaps force us to do so.

(Translation Current Concerns)

Gotthard Frick studied civilisation française, economics and business administration at the University of Paris (Sorbonne and “Sciences Po”). For many years he was involved in large infrastructure projects (power plants, high-voltage lines, roads, tunnels, irrigation systems) in Switzerland and overseas. From 1968–2004 he dedicated himself to the establishment and management of a consulting, management and training company with an affiliated, English-speaking university of applied sciences, which worked worldwide for all development banks, UN organisations (ILO, WTO, UNDP), OECD, the Swiss and several other governments and companies.. He often stayed in China. Frick was an Infantry battalion commander. Thanks to his visits to foreign armies (Germany, Pakistan), NATO and the US Air Force bases in Germany and Panama, he has a broad military background. Gotthard Frick is a member of the Swiss Social Democratic Party.

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