Swiss voters reject proposal to abolish mandatory military service
A Swiss police officer stands guard at the entrance of a civilian heliport the day before the start of the annual meeting of the World Economic Forum in Davos Tuesday, Jan. 22, 2013. (AP / Michel Euler)
Published Sunday, September 22, 2013 8:38AM EDT
Last Updated Sunday, September 22, 2013 11:22PM EDT
BERN, Switzerland -- For the third time in almost a quarter-century, neutral Switzerland has overwhelmingly voted to maintain its conscription army.
By a margin of 73 per cent, voters in all 26 Swiss cantons (states) rejected a referendum Sunday that pacifists and left-wing parties had put forward to do away with mandatory service in the army, Swiss public broadcaster SRF reported.
Swiss voters turned down a more radical plan to scrap the army altogether in 1989 that was put forward by the Group for Switzerland without an Army (GSoA). More than a third of voters approved that plan, causing an uproar despite its defeat.
A second nationwide vote on a similar initiative brought by the group in 2001 drew 22 per cent approval.
Swiss voters have a close attachment to the military. In a nation of 8 million, farmers, watchmakers and bankers alike undergo basic training for 18 to 21 weeks, then keep their uniforms and weapons at home to be ready for tours of duty and rapid mobilization.
The Swiss have prided themselves on their army, which requires part-time service from each Swiss man between the ages of 18 to 34, but left-wing and humanitarian critics have said too much is spent on the military and the end of the Cold War eliminated the need for large-scale forces with fighter planes, tanks and artillery. Women can serve voluntarily.
Even though Switzerland kept a stance of armed neutrality during World War I and World War II, many Swiss believe their military -- including mandatory service in it -- remains a strong deterrent that has kept the small Alpine nation out of Europe's wars.
In recent decades, scholars have questioned the widely held belief that the Swiss military, with an elaborate complex of underground Alpine bunkers, deterred an invasion by the Nazis, instead arguing that Adolf Hitler left the neutral Swiss alone because he wanted to use its banks and other services that would have been cut had he invaded.
The Swiss government had urged voters to retain the conscription service -- counter to what most Western European nations have done since the Cold War. About 20,000 soldiers a year attend basic training for 18 to 21 weeks.
Military reforms have reduced the army's reserve of troops to 155,000, down from about 625,000 just over a half-century ago.
Along with the conscription proposal, the ballot Sunday had referendums on mandatory vaccinations and longer shopping hours at night. There also are elections and votes among local communities and cantons.