Swiss Army Doctrine: Security Through Cooperation

Posted in Europe | 21-Oct-04 | Author: Peter Forster

Checkpoint in Kosovo manned by Swiss soldiers.
Checkpoint in Kosovo manned by Swiss soldiers.
According to Swiss Army doctrine, three features characterize the range of threats: Rapid change, complexity and the reduced significance of geographical distance.

Range of threats

Switzerland’s gain in military security as a consequence of the end of the Cold War is considerable. Nevertheless, we have to recognize that armed conflicts are being waged again in Europe. While the military effects of these armed conflicts are limited to individual regions, a geographical escalation directly involving Switzerland can never be ruled out entirely.

Most contemporary armed conflicts take place not between states or groups of states, but between national governments and groups within the same states. Local disputes can escalate into international large-scale conflicts involving armed combat, flows of refugees, internal tensions in third countries and the disruption of the international economy. As a result, both neighboring states as well as countries that are geographically more distant, such as Switzerland, can be affected by the consequences of an internal conflict in another state.

Despite international endeavors to prevent it, the proliferation of nuclear weapons continues. In addition, there are still chemical weapons programs under way and military use of biotechnology is becoming possible for an increasing number of states.

Long-range ballistic missiles are becoming more important as delivery systems for weapons of mass destruction. Especially threatening is the possibility that weapons of mass destruction would slip from government control and fall into the hands of terrorists.

The threat from terrorism, especially that of an Islamic fundamentalist nature, has increased dramatically in recent years. The primary target is the United States, but other targets that generally symbolize Western civilization and Western groups of people in Islamic countries are also threatened.

Organized crime has taken on global dimensions. It has infiltrated business life through money laundering, corruption and the acquisition of companies and real estate. It endangers economic and social stability. Even states themselves - including Switzerland - are targets of such infiltration.

Swiss soldier fighting against tanks in an exercise.
Swiss soldier fighting against tanks in an exercise.
Technological developments have a considerable influence on Switzerland's security. This is not just the result of developments in arms technology, but also because of new areas of vulnerability or protective instruments arising from the spread of new technologies in industry and commerce, society and government. At the same time, there is increased vulnerability to hostile interference.

Security through Cooperation

According to the Federal Constitution, the Swiss Confederation protects the liberty and rights of the people, and it also ensures the independence and security of the country. It strives to promote a just and peaceful international order. It is from the Constitution and these interests that Switzerland derives its security policy objectives.

Switzerland pursues these objectives with a strategy of national and international security cooperation. Thus, the strategy is based on the one hand on Switzerland’s will and capacity to counteract threats and dangers through civilian and military means and on the other hand, where these means are in themselves insufficient, on cooperation with other countries and international organizations.

This strategy gives rise to 3 strategic missions: Area protection and defense, subsidiary missions to prevent and manage vital threats and peace promotion in the international context.

National security cooperation must be comprehensive because it requires the employment and cooperation of various bodies, areas and elements from several federal departments and several levels for the prevention of, and defense against, forces of strategic magnitude. It must be flexible because only the most appropriate combination of measures and resources will be employed, based on the real needs.

The present and foreseeable threats and dangers cut across borders. They can primarily be countered successfully through international cooperation. This results in a need for bilateral and multilateral security cooperation between Switzerland and foreign partners. Cooperation covers military training, arms procurement, and participation in peace building missions and supporting humanitarian aid missions.

The limits to this cooperation are basically set by two factors. Firstly, Swiss participation in peace-building missions must be legitimate under international law (mandate from the UN’s Security Council or from the OSCE). In addition, constraints imposed on the country by the neutrality law must be respected. No permanently neutral state may enter into any commitments during peacetime that would prevent it from observing its obligations to neutrality in the event of conflict. In particular, this means that Switzerland is prohibited from establishing military bases abroad and from entering into any military alliance.

Elements of the defense concept

Specific defense concepts – such as the Swiss armed forces basic combat disposition during the Cold War – only make sense when there is a concrete military threat. From today’s viewpoint, elements of a defense concept for the Swiss armed forces against an opponent with similarly modern equipment might be:

SWISSCOY camp "Casablanca" in the vicinity of Suva Reka.
SWISSCOY camp "Casablanca" in the vicinity of Suva Reka.

  • An active and mobile defense by the army and air force, based on a combination of attacking, defensive and delaying operations by tailor made combat formations. These formations possess long-range weapons as well as battlefield-mobile combat resources capable of conducting combined arms warfare.
  • The opposing force’s command and control, combat and combat support resources, as well as its logistics would be targeted by operations in-depth so as to rob the opposing force of initiative, freedom of action and to delay its operations or ideally frustrate them altogether. By employing operational elements (firepower, reconnaissance), the army and air force would create favorable conditions for direct operations.
  • Once worn down by attrition, the opposing force would be contained by direct operations and destroyed by offensive action. Screening forces, in advanced positions, would identify the opponent’s intentions early, would deceive it and - by employing firepower and aggressive tactics - would create favorable conditions for the main defense forces.
  • These latter forces include mechanized infantry brigades that conduct containing operations to delay and canalize the opponent. By carrying out attack operations, the armored brigades, as the main land-based combat instrument, would force a decisive outcome at the operational level. The artillery would knock out sources of hostile fire in area depth and support their own combat formations. The air force would support ground operations.
  • Rear operations would be directed against enemy operations deep in Switzerland, protecting the population and important targets. Rear operations would ensure that those forces that are not immediately involved in operations are supported, supplied and protected. This would be achieved by systematic area surveillance and by deploying reserve forces as well as air defense resources.

Seen from an operational and tactical point of view, Switzerland’s land area has traditionally been regarded as difficult military terrain, but it has comparatively little operational depth. Modern military operations take place over increasingly larger areas and particularly in the third dimension as well.

Command and control, communications and logistics facilities of strategic and operational importance that are adapted to the needs of the slimmed-down armed forces are to be retained and modernized where necessary.