Now that the debate about the choice of a new airplane is over (Swiss citizens have rejected it), at least for a while, I think that Swiss governement and our politicians have to really think about the future of Swiss Army. It’s one thing to say that Switzerland needs new airplanes. It’s something else to redefine a real mission for this organization. And to improve its efficiency.
For people from abroad: Switzerland has a system where young men are obliged to serve their country, either with a militarian or civilian (1.5 times longer !) duty. For the ones who choose the military duty, they engage themselves for 21 weeks (for the ones going to university, they will miss at least 6 weeks in the begininng of the cursus!), followed by 7 yearly « repetition courses » of 3 weeks. Or 10 months in a row, if you choose to experience a unique service.
Beeing a soldier myself (I’ll do my last week in August… finally !), I’ve been living what Swiss Army really is. It’s kind of working, even if we can question the sense of the mission and it’s efficiency. I think there are a lot of things to improve… I’m a fanatic of efficiency and using people’s energy and motivation the right way !
Army in Switzerland is something that people still do want. There were many votations in the last 10-20 years to reduce or reject it. I think it’s more complex than pro or contra Swiss Army. I’m not for, but I’m not against. I’m disappointed by the way it is currently done. There are ways better to have an efficient military force in Switzerland.
I’ve always been chocked by what Swiss Army costs to the country (it also generates hundreds of jobs, but that’s another story). Almost CHF 4.5 billions a year, for the normal budget (without investments). And it’s only the visible part of the real cost. It is estimated there’s an additional cost of 2-3 times this budget (that is, between CHF 9 and 14 billions per year !) to compensate employers for the absence of the soldiers during their military duties (the famous APG/EOG (“Allocations Perte de Gain”)). Every one is paying for this. The employers get 80% of the salary of their employees during their absence. They are not forced to pay 100% of the salary, but most do. So as an employer, you pay 20% of your employee salary during 3-4 weeks a year for not beeing there. The monetary cost is something, but I think there’s a bigger loss: for a lot of workers, you cannot replace them that easily for 3 weeks. Imagine what it means for a small startup: you’re a 4 people team, you’re developing your product and you have 2 of your software engineers who are absent for their military duty. In the same time. Or even worse, one after the other. As a startup founder, it’s clear: if your potential future employee has no more military duties, it’s ways better! For young people considering to become an officer and working in a startup afterwards: think about it twice!
But let’s come back to the point: what is the mission of Swiss Army ? Protecting the country, OK. But can’t we fill this task with a more efficient system? A bit more than 50% of Swiss citizens are somehow against a professional army. The biggest argument against it is that we cannot find enough people to be a professional soldier. I think it’s a weak argument and we can find a solution, if we really want it!
Currently, there is something like 150’000 soldiers in Switzerland, and more than 35’000 starting their military duty each year. And around 5’000 engaged on a daily basis, on average. It represents a lot of people, finally, Can’t we motivate a portion of them to engage as professionals?
In my humble opinion, we should completely reorganize Swiss Army and adapt it to the world we are living. The attachment of Swiss citizens to Swiss Army is not guided by a militarian perspective (we haven’t really be involved in a war since… 500 years). The philosophy, I think, is more to serve the country.
I think Swiss Army could be even more than that : a way to encourage social mobility (« ascenseur social », as we name it in French). It’s kind of working in the USA (OK, the probability to come back from military duty is ways lower!) and we should inspire from it. Everybody going to the Army has the same grade, no matter what his social standing is, and that can open perspectives!
The future of Swiss Army lies in a mix between a professional force and a militia army.
I’ve been thinking a lot on how to modernize Swiss Army during my different stays at Swiss Army (well, I needed to keep my mind busy!). I think that there a compromise to be found between the 2 extrems (for or against Army). Here is what I would propose, as a humble Swiss citizen who cares about his country :
- Every young man has to serve his country for 28-32 weeks (either at Swiss Army or civilian duty). Engaging young women into such a duty could also be an option, but it’s another story;
- After this service, young men would have the choice to leave definitely Swiss Army (without any tax or anything else to do) or engage themselves as a professional soldier;
- For those engaging themselves, they would sign a job agreement for 6 months, 12, 24 or 36 months… or even longer. And that can be renewed;
- As everything in life, there’s a need for a reward to motivate (the best) people. It could be grant for the ones who want to pursue their education (at University, high school, etc.) or the ones who want to start a business. For instance, if you accept (and are accepted) to become an officer and you engage for 2 years, you’d receive a higher grant (than the ones engaging for 6 months);
With such a system, I’m convinced that we could have a Swiss Army with something like 10-15’000 well-trained, efficient professional soldiers. In addition to this permanent force, we would have on average 20’000 new soldiers (each year, there are currently around 40’000 new soldiers, doing their traditional military service). Compared to the fact there is currently on average 5’-7’000 soldiers permanently, there would be enough people to fill the missions (whatever they are! It would be a topic for another post).
I think such a solution would also be more economical, for the simple reason that a young man costs less in term of APG/EOG (who are paid the minimal, something like CHF 1’500.-/month – in comparison to someone aged 30 who can easily earn CHF 5’000.-/month, for whom the APG cost reaches CHF 4’000.-)).
It would be interesting to evaluate this idea and make some simulations… I’d welcome any feedback on this topic and, promised, startupolic will go back to more startups-related content soon again 😉 !
Don’t hesitate to share this post and… if politicians are reading this post… please ACT !