Lack of external threat brings reorganisation of Swiss army

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Switzerland is having to remodel its army to take into account that today's threat comes from terrorism at home rather than any attack on its borders.

Switzerland is having to remodel its army to take into account that today's threat comes from terrorism at home rather than any attack on its borders.The Swiss government wants retain the current militia system, whereby every young man is obliged to perform military service, but in future only 18,500 men will be trained in the direct defence of the country - half the previous number.The reorganisation does not require a referendum. The move comes amid fears - expressed recently by the "Basler Zeitung" among others, that the move risks a popular "loss of backing" for the army.Tradition-conscious critics accuse the government of adapting Switzerland to the defence doctrines of the European Union and NATO in order to ease future membership.A year ago the Swiss military had already been remodelled into the "Army XXI" (Army 21), reducing its numbers to 220,000 from 400,000 men. Until 1995, as many as 600,000 soldiers could have be mobilised.The departure from the concept of comprehensive defence of the country has also been prompted by the tight state of finances.The emphasis will now shift to infantry security forces from mechanised brigades - that is, rapid reaction troops will replace tanks. The army will remain at 220,000, including 80,000 reservists.The plan has been put forward by Defence Minister Samuel Schmid whose own conservative nationalist Swiss Peoples Party (SVP) has been highly critical.It maintains the government wants to intervene more strongly abroad, where several hundred Swiss are engaged in peacekeeping, with the goal of joining NATO - leading to giving up Swiss independence.But Schmid counters: "The security forces are concentrating on threats that are likely today, and thereby protect both populace and infrastructure."It was not planned to build up any special police unit. The infantry would now include among its tasks protecting key transit routes and watching over sectors of border.The "sale" of the army has been under way for some time. Battle tanks, of which Switzerland had 600, as well as fighter jets, are available at knock-down prices.Army reorganisation is expected to bring annual savings of 150 million francs (97 million euros). Switzerland allocates some four billion francs annually to its defence budget."Security is not to be had any cheaper," according to Schmid. Now parliament is being asked that the army should adopt its new form by 2011.

Heinz-Peter Dietrich, dpa

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