Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Swiss military service

In 1984, former PM Goh Chok Tong said he targeted to bring the Swiss standard of living , of that year, 1984, to Singapore by 1999. He claimed to have achieved that goal in the year 2000, delayed by the Asian Financial Crisis. Apparently, he was just talking about GDP growth. But some time after 1984, HDB flats brought a Swiss feature to us too: bomb shelters. Even today, the Swiss still braced for nuclear war.

There are a few other things Singapore and Switzerland shares. Like Singapore, Switzerland has four official langauges: German, French, Italian and Romansch. Also like Singapore, Switzerland has compulsory full time military service for the men, followed by many years of reserve training.

At about age 20, every Swiss male goes through 118 consecutive days of recruit training in the Rekrutenschule.

Even before required training begins, young men and women may take optional courses with the Swiss army's M57 assault rifle. They keep that gun at home for three months and receive six half-day training sessions.

From age 21 to 32, a Swiss man serves as a "frontline" troop in the Auszug, and devotes three weeks a year (in eight of the 12 years) to continued training. From age 33 to 42, he serves in the Landwehr; every few years, he reports for two-week training periods. Finally, from ages 43, to 50, he serves in the Landsturm; in this period, he only spends 13 days total in "home guard courses".

Over a soldier's career he also spends scattered days on mandatory equipment inspections and required target practice. Thus, in a 30-year mandatory military career, a Swiss man only spends about one year in direct military service. Following discharge from the regular army, men serve on reserve status until age 50 (55 for officers).

Members of the armed forces keep their rifles and uniforms in their homes for immediate mobilisation, as well as 50 rounds of ammunition in a sealed tin, to be used for self defence while traveling to the mobilisation points. Additional ammunition is kept at military bases where the militia are supposed to report. Swiss military doctrines are arranged in ways that make this organisation very effective and rapid. Switzerland claims to be able to mobilise the entire population for warfare within 12 hours.

During World War I, both France and Germany considered invading Switzerland to attack each other's flank. In World War II, Hitler wanted the Swiss gold reserves and needed free communications and transit through Switzerland to supply Axis forces in the Mediterranean. But when military planners looked at Switzerland's well-armed citizenry, mountainous terrain, and civil defence fortifications, Switzerland lost its appeal as an invasion target. While two World Wars raged, Switzerland enjoyed a secure peace.

Can a Singaporean dare to dream that one day, the Singapore's national service can catch up with the Swiss?


1. The Swiss and their Guns By David B. Kopel and Stephen D'Andrilli

2. Wikipedia


  1. then again, the swiss are also much better than us in chao keng.

    Switzerland has the largest militia army in the world (220,000 including reserves). Military service for Swiss men is obligatory according to the Federal Constitution, and includes 18 or 21 weeks of basic training (depending on troop category) as well as annual 3-week-refresher courses until a number of service days which increases with rank (260 days for privates) is reached. Service for women is voluntary, but identical in all respects. Conscientious objectors can choose 390 days of community service instead of military service. Medical deferments and dismissals from basic training (often on somewhat dubious grounds) have increased significantly in the last years. Therefore, only about 33% of Swiss men actually complete basic training.

  2. It is interesting to note that Albert Einstein left Germany for Switzerland to avoid German military service. He renounced his German citizenship and was stateless for a while in Switzerland. Not sure if it is kelong, but he was called up for Swiss military service but was found to be physically unfit due to flat foot.

    When the service period is so short and the staggering size of the reserves, I guess the country can tolerate a lot more chao keng. Furthermore, the chao keng pay 3% more income tax.

  3. Hi. By "catching up", I presume that you meant, (a) shortening the total length of time a citizen spends in NS and Reservist during his lifetime, and (b) allowing citizen-soldiers to keep their weapons at home to increase operational readiness.

    For (a), I'd strongly agree for all the obvious, well-documented reasons.

    For (b), I hope that weapons will continue to be locked up. A society that's still grappling with basic etiquette issues is not ready to bring assault rifles home.

  4. From the Garman point of view:
    Swiss military service a straight NO. Swiss cost of living YES!!

  5. I be tired of living if I want Singaporean NSmen to bring their rifles home with ammo today.

    But it is nice to know that there is a government that totally trusts her citizens and treat them like adults.

  6. You are being disingenuous again, Jimmy.

    The Swiss can have short NS, so why can't we?

    We both have 4 offical languages!

    What is the relevance of that bit of trivia?

    As I have written on your earlier post on NS length, every country's defence strategy is based on its political and diplomatic circumstances, and no two nations are the same.

    Switzerland could do what it did to deter an invasion in WW2 partly (as you noted yourself) it has a mountainous terrain and a size which permitted a prolonged defence, something which is not available to Singapore. But instead of looking at our own political and diplomatic circumstances and looking at our defence strategy and needs, you choose to continue this meaningless exercise of comparing our NS length with that of Switzerland!

    Surely if I raised the fact that the IDF has a 3-year NS you will object on the grounds that they have a different situation from ours, so why the continued comparison to Switzerland?

    Come now, Jimmy: make a stand!

    You started off the previous post using the deaths and injuries of servicemen as a launching point against training in Taiwan, which you then used as a reason for why we should cut the length of NS, even though the accident is just an accident that could have occurred anywhere and involve civilians too, and the fact is that overseas training and NS length can be varied without having an impact on each other (i.e. we can theoretically have 18-month NS and overseas training).

    So is NS just too long? If that's the case, what do you think is the optimal length and on what do you base your judgement?

    Or should NS be abolished (which you also stated in a comment on your earlier post) altogether and our defence trusted solely on our air force and navy? If so, what is the basis of that judgement? What is your understanding of their potential opponents that makes you decide our air force and navy are adequate?

    Or is it just about your sons not having to serve a long NS and end up like Ike See, which you also revealed in earlier comments? In that case, that is a purely personal decision, so why the need for all the other arguments to argue about whether NS is too long or required at all?

    Do let us know, because your constant shifting of stand is very confusing to a reader.

    Thank you.

  7. random,

    1) if you have been faithfully reading my comments, you will notice that I mentioned that Israeli military service is 3 years for males, while the South Korean military service is 27 months long, well before you did. Every thinking individual have a right to challenge the status quo. Blindly defending MINDEF's position that 2 years is perfect shows a lack of independent thought.

    2) My opinion is that NS is a waste of time, conceived in an era of extreme paranoia, and outlived its usefulness. We be better off if we have an all professional army. But that may not be acceptable to most Singaporeans. So I suggest we start with baby steps. 18 months. One year delay for university for my sons is far more acceptable than two that I had to endure.

    3) I wrote one line expressing my condolences to the family of the servicemen on my blog. I do not see how I am exploiting the situation.

    4) I presented the facts about Switzerland for the reader to judge. Yes, Singapore is not in the Alps. But Singapore was not caught in the middle of France and Germany in the two world wars either.

  8. 1) Yes, I noted that. But my point is that comparisons are meaningless if not seen in the context of the nation's diplomatic and strategic situation. You can challenge the status quo, but you have failed to show how our situation resembles that of Switzerland.

    2) Now that's a stand! I hope you will elaborate on how you arrived at this conclusion, and how our air force and navy are already adequate.

    3) You are exploiting the situation because you use their deaths to lend an emotive element to your position.

    You used their deaths as a lead-on to your argument that we shouldn't train in Taiwan, which subsequently became 'we should shorten NS', and when your arguments were questioned, you brought on other irrelevant arguments including the fact that the Swiss get to bring their rifles home and that our generals are young.

    You refuse to admit the fact that their deaths has nothing to do with NS length, and when challenged you used the excuse that this event should make us do some 'soul-searching', but as I mentioned earlier no amount of 'soul-searching' can prevent an accident where a fighter-jet crashed into a building. They were inside a building!

    Your post was never about their deaths, you just used their deaths to draw attention to your own agenda.

    4) Again, I ask: why Switzerland? Because they have a shorter NS? Yes, Singapore is not caught between Germany and France, so how is Switzerland's situation relevant to us?

    Jimmy, I am not defending status quo. As I wrote earlier I would be happy if I didn't have to serve and a professional standing army capable of meeting our defence is guarding over us, so I will be overjoyed if you can present to your readers why you think that is a viable option, and maybe how we can arrive at that reality. But so far all I see are poorly constructed arguments lauched from someone else's tragedy, arguments which seem not to stem from knowledge of the military and diplomatic situation in the region and logical thinking, but from a personal agenda.

  9. random,

    I'm sorry if I cannot live up to your expectations of blogging.

    I will continue to blog about NS, so if you enjoy reading my half-baked thoughts, I welcome you back. But please forgive me if I just ignore your smears and your ad hominem attacks.

  10. Jimmy,

    If you want to ignore my opinion that you used the servicemen's death aas a lauch-pad for your agenda, fine.

    If you think I should stop bringing up the fact that your concern is with the length of NS your sons will have to serve (a fact which you brought into the discussion), fine.

    But I don't see how asking you to back your statement that NS can be abolished (and our defence committed to our air force and navy alone) with facts and proper analysis can be considered an ad hominem attack or a smear.

    I don't see how questioning the relevance of some of the arguments you chose to use to back up your main argument can be considered an ad hominem attack or a smear.

    Do ignore those statments I made which you consider unworthy of your response, but don't try to dismiss the relevant ones by calling them ad hominem attacks and smears.

  11. hmmm... papanon strikes again...

  12. amazing, these papanons!

    after jimmy has kwai-kwai followed the bhavani's principle of offering alternative solutions, he is now expected to back up with detailed analysis. LOL LOL.

    sure, why not? first, ask your minitoots to release more info hor. then we can work on it, wat. and oh, remember to throw in some remuneration for our work ok. one or two of mrs goh's peanuts will do... LOL LOL LOL

  13. Jimmy, thank you. I support your stand whole heartedly. I suppose if NS is shortened, some people will be affected monetarily, so they will continue ad nauseaum about why NS must not be reduced, ignoring what other countries are doing, because we are Uniquely Singapore. And we can afford to use our reserves via Temasek Holdings to support other Pan Asian Causes but cannot afford to pay the insurance for our NS men - our Sons of Singapore.

  14. in some sense, i dun understand how there shld be so much angst against ns. frm the point of a normal singaporean female, our boys totally need ns. why? coz they are over protected in the current society and therefore learning to "survive" and "follow instructions" seem important. i have indeed, only accidentally stumbled upon this blog.. but i do feel that going for ns, facing reality and stop being so sheltered comes before uni education. i feel so because when boys are still immature in both physical and mental aspects, they will not maximize their tertiary education. also with regards to your entry on comparing our system to the swiss, u have not clearly examined the various factors and circumstances we have in common and in difference. maybe it is best to not launch a debate when all u have is angst and biasness.

  15. leonie,

    1) First of all, there is nothing barring you from knowing NS a little better by serving NS. If not NS, what have you done for your maturity before further education?

    2) If NS is so good for maturity and physical development, then the girls should benefit too.

    3) We should bar foreigners and girls from uni education before they serve NS as well, or it will be a waste of resources.

    I'm done with angst long ago. As a father of two boys, I am concerned, among other things, the financial impact of having to feed them for an extra two years.

    Instead of spouting government propaganda, let's state the simple truth: NS is a very steep tax imposed on a very specific section of people residing in Singapore, a group of people forced into cheap labour so that the women and foreigners can enjoy safety and low tax rates.

  16. the swiss avoided being invaded by the germans by signing a well known document, thus making themselves hitler's "mistress". the swiss role was as banker for the axis, thus they came out way ahead at the close of the war.
    the swiss themselves even still wish to think this never happened.
    if hitler wanted switzerland no peasant with round of amo would have stopped him