Special session in the National Council – armaments debate: more money for the Swiss army? – News


Today the National Council is debating whether the Swiss army should get more money. The request has a good chance.

The National Council is debating today, Monday, whether the Swiss army should receive more money in the future. Because of the war in Ukraine, the issue currently has good prospects. The question therefore arises: What will the army do with the extra money and does it need to reconsider its procurement strategy?

Topics of the special session of the National Council

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At its special session beginning on Monday, the large chamber will debate, among other things, higher army spending, the modernization of the code of civil procedure and a reform of the value added tax. The session ends on Wednesday afternoon.

It is interesting to look at the history books in this situation. This shows that past crises have given the Swiss army a boost in terms of budget. According to military historian Michael Olsansky, the foundations of today’s procurement strategy for the Swiss army were basically laid in 1874.

Michael M Olsansky

Military expert and historian

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dr Michael M. Olsansky is a military historian and since 2012 Lecturer in Military History at the Military Academy (Milak) at ETH Zurich. His research focuses on the comparative history of warfare and armed forces development as well as the transnational history of knowledge of the military in the age of the world wars.

At that time, with the revision of the federal constitution, the army was centralized and its function redefined. Namely as follows, says Olsansky: “Switzerland has an army that is trying to mobilize and prepare for war, just like the surrounding foreign state-of-the-art armies are doing.”

Under the influence of the world wars

This means that the army wants to be broadly based and that old material should be renewed as regularly as possible. So it was always about closing the so-called gaps that are opening up in the security apparatus. Up until the end of the 1980s, this was less questioned in politics and society, says the military historian.

Olsansky explains: «After the Second World War, for example, you didn’t have to explain it to people. One had in mind the warfare of that time with strategic air or tank warfare. That is why, after this world war, there was actually a consensus in domestic politics that this development now had to be caught up on.”

These major phases of threat in the First and Second World Wars and then especially in the Cold War were also reflected on the Swiss Army’s shopping list. In the 1950s and 1960s, for example, a large number of tanks were purchased, some of which were still produced in Switzerland. The purchase of the Mirage fighter jets also bears witness to this.

Crises such as the beginning of the Vietnam War, the Hungarian uprising or the Cuban Missile Crisis repeatedly reinforced Switzerland’s rearmament strategy. «In the 1980s we again had a massive rearmament of the Swiss army. There was a very large procurement of armaments at the forefront, »says Olsansky.

But the military historian also says that the Ukraine war in particular shows how difficult it is for an army to always plan correctly.

Certain expenses go to waste

Olsansky says: “I am a historian and I have only very limited belief in the ability of security policy forecasting. The topicality has refuted all that.” One could now say: “There are military investments that ultimately fizzle out almost uselessly.”

But you just don’t know exactly in advance and now you suddenly see that war in Europe is still possible. According to the ETH professor, a lot is now also closely related to political decisions. These include, for example, how Switzerland wants to position itself vis-à-vis NATO or the EU in the future.

Or also to what extent, for example, a division of tasks with other countries is even an option for Switzerland. “As long as this decision is not made, the army will have no choice but to be prepared for as many threat scenarios as possible in the future and to invest more accordingly,” says Olsansky.

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