National Security, Swiss Style

Nick Bradley |
June 11, 2007

Contrary to popular belief, history has repeatedly shown that societies do not need full-time, government-funded militaries to defend themselves – a heavily-armed populace will suffice. Let us look at Switzerland. Since 1291, Switzerland has defended itself through the use of a heavily-armed populace and a robust militia. Throughout the past 800 years, the Swiss citizenry has defended their liberty against threats both foreign and domestic.

A Revolt against Taxes and Inflation

During the Thirty Years’ War, the Swiss Confederation was the only major power to abstain from hostilities. As a result, the Swiss economy boomed from the wartime drop in productivity, selling agricultural products at high prices to war-ravaged countries (similar to the US agricultural boom during World War One, with agricultural output almost doubling). However, Swiss cities spent much of their resources building fortifications, such as bastions, to protect from invasion. The redirection of resources away from productive, commercial endeavors towards security reduced the tax base for the Cantonal governments. Additionally, the war’s heavy financial burden caused France and Spain to suspend payment to the Cantons for mercenary services rendered.

In order to maintain revenue, the Cantonal governments began raising taxes. In order to keep wealth local, the city governments responded by debasing their currencies to reduce the real amount of tax payments to the Cantonal governments; Berne, for example, arbitrarily reduced the value of the copper Batzen by 50%, while other areas practiced coin clipping. At the same time, European agricultural prices plummeted with the economies of southern Germany returning to pre-war production levels. Swiss monetary authorities reacted to the price reductions by further debasing the currency.

In reaction, the Swiss peasantry demanded a return to previous levels of taxation and an end to inflation, which Swiss authorities refused to do. As a result, an armed Swiss peasant revolt swept through the country, forcing authorities to eventually accede to their demands.

The Helvetic Republic

During the French Revolution, radical French ideology infected much of the Swiss elite, particularly in the French-speaking Western Cantons. Swiss leadership acceded to French demands in 1798 and established the Helvetic Republic. The Radicals, backed by the occupying French Army, abolished the Cantonal governments and established a centralized state. The citizenry, particularly in the Catholic Cantons, rose up and challenged the centralized state and the French military presence through both armed and passive resistance. In 1803, Napoleon introduced the Act of Mediation, which restored the Cantons and removed all French troops from Switzerland.

20th Century

In the 20th Century, Switzerland deterred invasion and forced involvement in both World Wars with its rugged terrain, a heavily-armed populace, and a policy of relative non-intervention. Prior to WWI, the German Kaiser asked in 1912 what the quarter of a million Swiss militiamen would do if invaded by a half million German soldiers. In response a man from Switzerland replied: “shoot twice and go home”.

During the Nazi invasion of France, the Luftwaffe violated Swiss airspace over 200 times; the Swiss responded by forcing down Luftwaffe aircraft and even shot down 11+ Luftwaffe aircraft. The Third Reich responded by sending in saboteurs to destroy Swiss airfields, an unsuccessful endeavor. Shortly thereafter, Hitler called the Swiss “the most despicable and wretched people, mortal enemies of the new Germany” and began immediate plans for the invasion of Switzerland, known as Operation Tannenbaum.

Hitler abandoned Operation Tannenbaum after it was realized that an invasion of Switzerland was untenable, with 20% of the civilian population voluntarily mobilized to defend the country – including old men and young boys, with Swiss women manning anti-aircraft artillery (AAA) pieces and running the civil defense corps. The Third Reich also realized that there was no central government to target, nullifying the strategy of blitzkrieg; most Swiss citizens did not even recognize the authority of the Federal President, and any surrender by the Federal Government would have been ignored in the Cantons.

The Swiss also defended their sovereignty against Allied aggression as well. After US aircraft began accidentally bombing Swiss towns near the German border, the Swiss Air Force enacted a policy of forcing down single Allied aircraft and shooting at Bomber Formations (some have speculated that the bombings were not accidental and were designed to force Switzerland in the Alliance; during the war, the Swiss flaunted Allied and Axis sanctions by smuggling to the surrounding Axis powers). As accidental bombings persisted, the Swiss government declared that any further accidental bombings would be declared acts of war. Although Switzerland never declared war on the Allies, the Swiss Air Force forced down 23 aircraft in a three-day period in July of ’44. In total, 1,700 US airmen were interred during the War and a few US aircraft were even shot down (this chapter of WWII history is entirely missing from US textbooks).

The “Swiss Model”, American Revolutionary Principles, and Private Antiterrorism

The Founding Fathers of the American Revolution were inspired Swiss freedom. John Adams praised the Cantonal system, which prevented a despotic central government from emerging, gave citizens the right to vote in local elections, and where every citizen had an inalienable right to bear arms. Patrick Henry applauded the Swiss militia system for preserving Swiss independence with the need for a “mighty and splendid president.” In fact, some argue that the Swiss militia system was the inspiration for our own Second Amendment.

Impressive efforts by the Swiss public over the years just goes to show that voluntary self-defense efforts by a population can deter even the most aggressive of enemies. What if we applied Swiss-style defense here in the United States?

The US government could arm all 90 million adult males, age 18–64 with an M-16 and 1,200 5.56mm rounds (40 30-round magazines) for a one-time cost of about 1% (7 1/2 billion dollars) of the cost of our current annual combined security budget ($750B+). Terror threats could by quickly identified by private intelligence agencies such as Total Intelligence Solutions; voluntary civil defense corps would begin patrols of neighborhoods and offer assistance/protection to any victims if an attack actually occurred. If foreign retaliation was necessary after a terrorist or military attack, private military companies (PMCs), such as Blackwater USA or Triple Canopy, could rapidly expand their force strength by hiring local militia units and collecting financial contributions from corporations and patriots. Fourth-Generation Warfare expert and creator of the Global Guerillas blog, John Robb, envisions a future privatized security apparatus:

Then, inevitably, there will be a series of attacks on U.S. soil. The first casualty of these will be another institution, the ultrabureaucratic Department of Homeland Security, which, despite its new extra-legal surveillance powers, will prove unable to isolate and defuse the threats against us. (Its one big idea for keeping the global insurgency at bay – building a fence between Mexico and the United States, proposed in a recent congressional immigration bill – will prove as effective as the Maginot Line and the Great Wall of China.)

But the metaphorical targets of September 11 are largely behind us. The strikes of the future will be strategic, pinpointing the systems we rely on, and they will leave entire sections of the country without energy and communications for protracted periods. But the frustration and economic pain that result will have a curious side effect: They will spur development of an entirely new, decentralized security system, one that devolves power and responsibility to a mix of private companies, individuals, and local governments. This structure is already visible in the legions of private contractors in Iraq, as well as in New York’s amazingly effective counterterrorist intelligence unit. But as we look out to 2016, the long-term implications are clearer.

Security will become a function of where you live and whom you work for, much as health care is allocated already. Wealthy individuals and multinational corporations will be the first to bail out of our collective system, opting instead to hire private military companies, such as Blackwater and Triple Canopy, to protect their homes and facilities and establish a protective perimeter around daily life. Parallel transportation networks – evolving out of the time-share aircraft companies such as

Warren Buffett’s NetJets – will cater to this group, leapfrogging its members from one secure, well-appointed lily pad to the next. Members of the middle class will follow, taking matters into their own hands by forming suburban collectives to share the costs of security – as they do now with education – and shore up delivery of critical services. These “armored suburbs” will deploy and maintain backup generators and communications links; they will be patrolled by civilian police auxiliaries that have received corporate training and boast their own state-of-the-art emergency-response systems. As for those without the means to build their own defense, they will have to make do with the remains of the national system. They will gravitate to America’s cities, where they will be subject to ubiquitous surveillance and marginal or nonexistent services. For the poor, there will be no other refuge.

This is what the Founding Fathers envisioned when they called for a robust militia, strong protection of the right to bear arms, and warned against standing armies. With the removal of the false assurances provided by the security state, Americans will need to take responsibility for their own security – personal security; we should follow the fine example the Swiss have set, an example that inspired our own revolutionary founders.

Perhaps this is what Ron Paul–style national security would look like.

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