Requiring foreign residents to undertake military service is one option explored in a government sponsored report published last week.
The current system requires all able young male Swiss citizens to do military service. In 1985 there were around 45,000 eligible men. By 2014 this number had dropped to about 37,000. Estimates for 2035 are between 36,000 and 38,000. At the same time the number of foreign residents went from 960,000 in 1985 to close to 2 million by 2014. The report estimates numbers could swell to nearly 3 million by 2035.
In the face of declining numbers of eligible male Swiss citizens, the report suggests considering requiring Swiss women and foreigners to serve in the military or civil service.
The current system
Currently, the obligation for Swiss men to do military service starts at the beginning of the year in which they turn 18. Service must start before or during the year they turn 25. Training starts with an 18 to 21 week course, followed by 6 to 7 annual three-week follow up training sessions normally served by the age of 30. Service completion dates can be extended for those who haven’t completed full military service by this age, and for those of certain rank and specialisation. Alternatively military service can be compressed into a single intensive 10-month training period.
Those deemed unfit for service must pay a supplemental tax of up to 3%. Swiss women can voluntarily sign up and pay no tax supplement if they don’t.
The new proposal
The report sets out four options for the Swiss government to consider while singling out it’s favorite option: the “Norwegian model”. Under this proposal both men and women would be required to serve. However, the military and civil defense would select only those it needs. Everyone else, with a few exceptions, would have to pay an extra tax.
Another option called the “General service obligation”, would add women and permanent foreign residents to the ranks of those serving the community. According to the authors this could improve integration and promote gender equality.
Short term recommendations
Over the medium term, the report’s authors propose several changes. They suggest tax incentives for those who serve, and certification of skills learned. They also suggest making exemption from service more difficult, and ensuring the duration preference in favour of military service remains – currently, there is an option to choose non-military civil service. Those who choose this alternative must spend 50% longer doing it.
Finally, they stress that all measures set out in the report should be considered if the number of educated recruits falls below 18,000 over the next few years.