Switzerland National Defense

Interesting blog post about this book about Switzerland’s national defense.

To make a long story short, McPhee describes two things: how Switzerland requires military service from every able-bodied male Swiss citizen—a model later emulated and expanded by Israel—and how the Swiss military has, in effect, wired the entire country to blow in the event of foreign invasion. To keep enemy armies out, bridges will be dynamited and, whenever possible, deliberately collapsed onto other roads and bridges below; hills have been weaponized to be activated as valley-sweeping artificial landslides; mountain tunnels will be sealed from within to act as nuclear-proof air raid shelters; and much more.


To interrupt the utility of bridges, tunnels, highways, railroads, Switzerland has established three thousand points of demolition. That is the number officially printed. It has been suggested to me that to approximate a true figure a reader ought to multiply by two. Where a highway bridge crosses a railroad, a segment of the bridge is programmed to drop on the railroad. Primacord fuses are built into the bridge. Hidden artillery is in place on either side, set to prevent the enemy from clearing or repairing the damage.


Near the German border of Switzerland, every railroad and highway tunnel has been prepared to pinch shut explosively. Nearby mountains have been made so porous that whole divisions can fit inside them. There are weapons and soldiers under barns. There are cannons inside pretty houses. Where Swiss highways happen to run on narrow ground between the edges of lakes and to the bottoms of cliffs, man-made rockslides are ready to slide.


McPhee points to small moments of “fake stonework, concealing the artillery behind it,” that dot Switzerland’s Alpine geology, little doors that will pop open to reveal internal cannons and blast the country’s roads to smithereens. Later, passing under a mountain bridge, McPhee notices “small steel doors in one pier” hinting that the bridge “was ready to blow. It had been superceded, however, by an even higher bridge, which leaped through the sky above—a part of the new road to Simplon. In an extreme emergency, the midspan of the new bridge would no doubt drop on the old one.”

The book is on my Kindle.

Posted on June 20, 2012 at 7:27 AM59 Comments


swiss guy June 20, 2012 7:42 AM

Do not take this information too seriously, all the stuuf is at least 30 years old and nobody in switzerland respects the military forces because everything is that old!

Wayne Conrad June 20, 2012 7:44 AM

This is not new. The Swiss didn’t maintain their neutrality during WW2 merely by declaring it. They went to lengths to enforce it. Stephen Halbrook tells the story in The Swiss and the Nazis.

Essjay June 20, 2012 7:44 AM

“To interrupt the utility of bridges, tunnels, highways, railroads, Switzerland has established three thousand points of demolition.”

That’s three thousand weak points that enterprising terrorists could blow up!

Mabbo June 20, 2012 7:48 AM

I find it interesting how a country with mandatory military service has managed to avoid wars. Perhaps when they know that war means everyone’s children are going, politicians are less willing to ‘preemptively strike’.

MikeS. June 20, 2012 7:50 AM

I would be curious as to what they have done to prevent a third party from detonating one of the charges or triggering a landslide. The Swiss are not dummies, so I assume they have taken such precautions. But I would still be concerned, especially now that the system has received much more publicity.

Alex C June 20, 2012 8:04 AM

Interesting, sounds like a ripe extortion target to me. We used your own toys to disrupt a small area around your banking sector. We’ve subverted some other areas too though won’t say which ones.
Give us $xBn or kiss your skiing industry goodbye.

I imagine some bright spark within their military spotted this some decades ago and quietly dismantled the majority of it.

Reader June 20, 2012 8:22 AM

In case of a short-lived or failed invasion, someone will have a lot clean up to do. I suppose it is worth it. And good luck getting supplies to your own people and troops.

By the way, surely all their computers will probably also corrupt their own data in case of a hacking attack?

Gorgasal June 20, 2012 8:28 AM

Note that the book was published in 1994, right after the Cold War. The Swiss (along with everyone else) downsized their military afterwards. There are still lots of installations left, but many have been abandoned or handed over to museums.

http://www.festungsguertel.ch (in German) discusses the fortifications built before the Second World War around the German bridgehead across the Rhine at Konstanz. Lots of reinforced houses disguised as barns, but with cannon commanding entire stretches of road. But all of them not in use any more.

wumpus June 20, 2012 8:29 AM

Sounds like they need to rethink their vulnerability. All these defences seem to be to keep out Germany (and presumably Austria, before the treaty of Versailles).

As noted, it now sounds like 3000 weak points. Which seems more likely, a German invasion or something that resembles more of a gang war with a group with interests in the Cayman’s?

Rookie June 20, 2012 8:34 AM

It sounds like they’re well-prepared to fight a WWII style war, but I doubt a serious invader in 2012 would be deterred to any significant degree. It compares to the “bunkerization” program that Albania’s Hoxha implemented during the decades of his communist dictatorship there.

Also, I have a hard time believing they actually have explosives in place at these sites. The potential for accidents from human error, decaying equipment, and malicious acts would be far too high. I’m assuming they would need some ramp-up time to get the actual gear in place.

wumpus June 20, 2012 8:35 AM

On second thought, considering how long terrorism has been used in Europe and how long a delay it takes between mobilizing an army and invading, I suspect the Swiss have long since taken to pulling out the live charges and replacing them with dummy charges (presumably with hidden safe doors to change them out).

In any event, if they had live charges strewn throughout their infrastructure, they would have to be changed regularly (I’m guessing at least every decade or so, meaning they have had plenty of specific times to think it over). I really doubt that many of these “3000” charges are in place waiting a button to be pushed.

Paeniteo June 20, 2012 8:54 AM

Regarding demolition preparations and compulsory military service, (West) Germany had taken very similar measures during the cold war.
Not sure about hidden artillery, though – but that’s kind of the point of it being hidden 😉

A Swiss June 20, 2012 8:59 AM

My belief is that there are no explosives in place in peace time, they would just put in place in case of mobilization (last mobilization was during WWII). But all the fuse wiring and master plans are there to do that in a organized and efficient way if we need to.

The main issue with the Swiss army is that it has a hard time to adapt to new threats (all those infrastructure blowing was to prevent/detere a sovietic invasion), but I imagine that most armies have the same issue…

Helge June 20, 2012 9:15 AM

Of course there are no explosives deployed – bridges, tunnels and roads are simply designed and prepared for demolition. As Paeniteo points out, West Germany had these elements in place during the Cold War as well. They were maintained by somewhat low-key Bundeswehr (armed forces) engineers called “Wallmeister” who usually went about their duties in civilian dress, looking for all the world like road maintenance crews. This page has a photograph of a Wallmeister squad both in civilian and in uniform:




is an article about road demolition installations (in German, with images).

Fixed artillery was not used in Germany because 1) everybody thought a Soviet invasion would be too fast for those to be of much use (see also Maginot Line, WW2) and 2) because it’s much more difficult to hide a bunch of guns in flat or hilly country than it is in the Swiss mountains.

No One June 20, 2012 9:30 AM

I didn’t see this noted elsewhere in the comments, but I imagine that the reason this Self-Assured Destruction (no pun intended) defense is “reasonable” is that Switzerland isn’t an area you want to own for its own sake. It’s an area you want to own so you can travel through it. The Swiss just have the option of making it easier to trek through the mountain than through their back yard.

Clive Robinson June 20, 2012 9:36 AM

@ Bruce,

It is not just the Swiss we have very good reason to believe the “Channel Tunnel” between the UK and France is similarly “mined”.

Back at the end of the cold war the UK had lots and lots of strange places and even “under ground cities” including “The Box Tunnel” complex.

Well a group of people decided to hunt out these “secret places” and somebody I used to know (Nick Catford, founder of Pirate station “Radio Jackie”) has taken a very large number of photos of these places and there have been three or four books published with some of them in. If you are interested I can dig out the ISBN’s of some of them but I don’t think any of them will go on your eReader as they are “last century” publications.

mcb June 20, 2012 10:33 AM

@ Essjay

That’s three thousand weak points that enterprising terrorists could blow up!

Interesting, a terrorist attack that makes Switzerland more secure…

Tomasz Wegrzanowski June 20, 2012 10:33 AM

This is all for the show. Switzerland has a lot of mountains, but all the important population centers are in easily accessible lowlands, which could be conquered in a few days by any modern army.

Nazis could have taken over Switzerland with ease if they weren’t too busy fighting on so many other fronts – they actually expected Swiss capitulation to an ultimatum if there was ever any need, not a prolonged fight.

And none of these preparations would matter to any air force, even fully conventional one.

SnallaBolaget June 20, 2012 10:41 AM


Good point. But the “scorched earth” approach that this (kind of) is, is usually not a very good outcome for either side. The “if I can’t have it, no one will” idea is pretty sound when it comes to sabotaging the enemy, but it cripples the land that is exposed to it as well.

As far as being terrorist targets… Helge has a good point – there wouldn’t be explosives deployed in peace time. That’d be stupid, only one of the reasons for that being that explosives deteriorate over time, possibly rendering them useless when the time came to set them off.

The fact that these structures are prepared for this final measure don’t make them any more of a terrorist opportunity than anything else.

djn June 20, 2012 11:32 AM

Another sensible reason not to leave three thousand explosive packages unattended across a whole country is that somebody might think he has a better use for the stuff and pick it up for free. This has already happened in the seventies in North-East Italy, where weapons and explosives from hiding places purposedly to be used in case of Soviet invasion ended up in the hands of right-wing extremists.

yet another swiss guy June 20, 2012 12:47 PM

Most interestingly some of these hidden bunkers, whose only a few are still used by the army, have been sold to private companies that usually store servers and databases inside…

bph June 20, 2012 1:14 PM

The book is excellent, one of McPhee’s best.

In my mind, the most interesting parts are the discussions of how the military works in Swiss society and the different attitudes towards service. It seems pretty clear that younger generations take the issue far less seriously than the older ones, which has interesting long term implications.

Gweihir June 20, 2012 2:51 PM

Living in Switzerland, but having grown-up in Germany, I should add that these demolition-points are a standard feature in Europe. The Germans even have fixed nuclear demolition points or used to.

Of course, from a PoV of the US, domestic demolitions points do not make sense in an infrastructure that is already crumbling. You can just blow that up directly. (Sorry, could not resist…) I should also say that these points still require quite a bit of industrial explosives and that they are not attractive targets for terrorists. That amount of explosives can give you numerous bombs to be used directly against people or softer infrastructure, e.g. power transmission lines or water and gas pipelines.

I should also add that the few Swiss I have discussed the bunkers in every house with (yes, there is one here too) found them pretty ridiculous. One elderly gentleman even gave me something that sounded suspiciously like a parody on Dr. Strangelove when I looked at a flat.

Pifort June 20, 2012 3:01 PM

A former commander of a Swiss fortress pioneer battalion, having been in charge of such prepared destructions within a sector of Switzerland, I can give you some unclassified information about this decommissioned weapon system.

Those prepared destruction systems were called “Sprengobjekte (German) / ouvrages minés (french)”. Most of them were loaded with explosives, encased in concrete. A secret code, describing the precise location of a detonator, ensured that no one could blow the bridges but the commanders in charge of the sector. Devices to assess the quality of the TNT were fitted in the construction.

The first goal of the system was dissuasion. Switzerland’s alpine roads and railways are strategic axis between Southern and Northern Europe; threatening to destroy them in case of an attack was part of a greater strategic conception.

Mc Phee has written his book in 1983. A generation later, the Swiss army has changed a lot. Yet it is still a conscript army that helps integrate a fragmented country (4 languages, 3 religions, urban vs rural populations, and a lot of different cultures) into a single citizenship. A recent study shows furthermore that naturalized foreigners serving in the military experience a more successful integration into the Swiss society.

QnJ1Y2U June 20, 2012 6:57 PM

South Korea has some similar structures, or at least they did when I visited in 1994. Driving north of Seoul, you could see blocks of concrete that could be dropped on roads to slow down tanks, and the forests were filled with pre-dug fighting trenches. Highways had stretches that could double as runways just by clearing out the cones in the median.

Since the perceived threat from North Korea hasn’t diminished, chances are they still have measures like this in place.

Agate June 20, 2012 11:03 PM

They’re basically going for the “medieval castle” strategy, and you counter that pretty simply: via siege.

A blown-up bridge works in both directions, and I rather doubt Switzerland has enough farmland to grow all its own food.

So you take your massive army and you make a feinting attack at Switzerland. No need to actually do any damage: they’ll blow up all their infrastructure for you, sealing themselves in. No muss, no fuss. Then you invade someone else, and wait for Switzerland to starve and freeze to death. If you’re impatient, a little Agent Orange will make that go faster.

Anybody know if Switzerland keeps strategic food and oil reserves?

Agate June 20, 2012 11:17 PM

I think Pifort has singled out the most important aspect of the Swiss defense strategy: it’s not about the guns or the bridges rigged to blow, it’s all about national identity. If you don’t want your country to become part of France, Germany, or Italy, you’d better make damn sure your people think of themselves as Swiss, rather than French, German, or Italian. National service makes that happen.

Gabriel June 21, 2012 12:14 AM

Could this be the ultimate in scorched earth “security theater”? I just checked, and Switzerland is only ~15,000 square miles. And as others have mentioned, population centers are more concentrated due to the rugged terrain that most of the country is composed of. Yes, that terrain would be excellent for hiding a government in exile along with some core military, but you can’t hide and feed over 7 million people in the mountains. Even the limited range of German WWII bombers would have been sufficient to carpet the landscape. And since Switzerland is landlocked, then there is no way to escape out of Fortress Europe (or a cold war version should the Soviets have succeeded in an invasion through western Europe). It seems the only value is that such a system could make Switzerland a less valuable and strategic target in the midst of a war, not worth the resources to conquer when there are greater enemies. So, while they did not participate in the Allied war effort, they certainly benefited from it, since they would have been subjugated had the Germans won.

AC2 June 21, 2012 12:56 AM

“Stand down or… or… I’ll blow myself up!!”

And we now get fondue everywhere so what’s the point?

Maybe it made sense once upon a time, now it’s just silly.

Winter June 21, 2012 3:53 AM

In the 1980s or so, I saw some news report about this. Some Swiss general explained the aim was simply to dissuade any party to use the roads and bridges of Switzerland. They were never intended to actually defend Switzerland against some major power.

As was already written above.

Paeniteo June 21, 2012 4:07 AM

@Gabriel: “you can’t hide and feed over 7 million people in the mountains.”

You don’t have to and they didn’t want to.
It is better to have an invader feed millions of hungry mouths.

You have to keep your army intact so that an invader has to keep your fortress under permanent siege to prevent you from counterattacking, thereby increasing his costs for the invasion to the point where it becomes not worthwile anymore.

Also consider No One’s point “that Switzerland isn’t an area you want to own for its own sake. It’s an area you want to own so you can travel through it”.
While you may be able to conquer the population centres fairly quickly, what would it actually buy you if all major tunnels/passes through the alps were still held by fortified enemies?

Dirk Praet June 21, 2012 5:46 AM

It makes perfect sense to me in a context of deterring uninvited guests to travel through your country or using it as a bridgehead. There’s also no need to blow up everything.

Unless your name is Hannibal Barca, there’s little point for any military strategist in invading Switserland. Even if you’re desperate for a thriving clock and Swiss army knife industry, the costs will always outweigh the benefits. Terrorists may prefer other targets if they don’t want to have their local bank accounts frozen.

There are some considerable differences between the Swiss and the Israeli army, though. IIRC, in Israel, every man and woman serves a 3 year compulsory military service. In Switserland, eligible males get a one time basic training of 4-5 months, then take their equipment home to receive further periodic training until a certain age. Women can serve voluntarily. I suppose this basic training and maintenance is just enough to prevent them from shooting themselves and blowing up the wrong stuff.

Nik June 21, 2012 5:47 AM

As some readers already realized… it looks like very old information, not anymore relevant to the today’s situation.

I haven’t read the book but to me it looks like it is built on myths and out-dated facts. Most of the fortification that was built in cold-war is now being sold, decommissioned (even the nice guns hidden in the mountain).

If one watches Swiss politics, one quickly realizes what Swiss army is really about…

The reason why Switzerland stayed out of war for so long is most probably due to the myth (which is probably what this book is about) and diplomacy, not due to fortifications and a big or even an efficient army (I talk from experience).


Paul Friday June 21, 2012 6:14 AM

So you could make a denial of service attack against the whole of Switzerland by pretending to invade?

Clive Robinson June 21, 2012 7:04 AM

I’m surprised that nobody has yet mentioned the “Swiss Gnomes”.

Switzerland has always had a fairly serious army of one form or another for the past millennia. Often it was “for hire” and brought home considerable wealth. The Swiss over the years ammased quite a stock of “treasure” in one form or another and went on to become “trusted bankers” not just to individuals but nations as well.

The Swiss know that having much of Europes and now other nations wealth under their control makes them both a target and a threat. However the threat is greater than the target potential.

That is they are a bit like a gold watch prize at a pick-pocket convention. Nobody in their right mind is going to try and steal Switzerland because they would have most other nations on their neck within a very very short time.

But it’s not just the Gnomes in their banks, as others have pointed out Switzerland is the “cross-roads” or “hub” of Europe, and that means a lot of trade goes through, and in the process the market migrates to the point of conveniance. Thus Switzerland is also the center for trading in certain commodities. This is helped by the Swiss Government attitude that “trade is King” and cut their laws to suit.

If you want to set up a “market” for things other nations have a downer on for “political reasons” (munitions, crypto, weapons of mass destruction, etc etc) then Switzerland is quite friendly to such things and on a more general case is perhaps the place you should consider going first if you want a world wide patent.

The Swiss know that they are very vulnerable and thus have developed a very effective symbiotic relationship with not just their immediate neighbours but their neighbours all across quite a few continents.

Thus the “weak points” are not just to keep “foreign boots” off of the “door mats” but also to buy time for other countries to put considerable preasure on any nation fool enough to try.

Quite a few years ago I had reason to be in that part of the world on business and my host had the usual under the building hardened shelter, however below this he had an even stronger vault which was his personal (not Gov issued) armory. When he found out I used to be MilSpecComms he showned me around his vault and to put it mildly I was impressed. He had a range of equipment that would adequately supply a specialised regiment or two in most small nations. He invited me down to “the range” to try some of the more fun stuff out. So next morning there we were driving down the road with quite a bit of 50cal and above in the back when we were pulled over by the police. I thought “Oh 54it, how the **** are we going to talk our way out of this”.

The first officer was very polite and asked for the usual documentation whilst his colleague walked around the vehical and noticed one of the tires was going a little bald and asked to see the spare. My host said certainly and opened up the back and I nearly died on the spot. The Pollice officer did not blink an eye and helped move the hardware to get the spare out which he inspected proffessed himself happy with it and we were on our way. In the ensuing conversation with my host about the policeman’s disinterest in the hardware I was told “This is Switzerland here this is normal”…

We spent a happy day letting of a few down the range and I was impressed with their marksmanship, I considered myself an above average shot with a long gun but I was out classed even by my hosts teenage daughter. I’m told that Switzerland has one of the lowest rates of gun crime in the world. Well if they can all shoot that well I’m not surprised you realy would have “no place to hide” as for running they’d probably shoot your toes off one by one 😉

BF Skinner June 21, 2012 7:40 AM

@Clive Robinson

I’d be interested. The underground has always fascinated me. There’s always rumors for instance a ‘tunnel’ exists between the US Capitol and Raven Rock. Or Bergstrom AFB (now Austin-Bergstrom International Airport) to University of Austin. And Ballard’s Wind from Nowhere? Should be a movie.

I find these rumors difficult to believe. Buried critical assets sure. . .This was one of the original icbm vr tours http://triggur.org/silo/

But a tunnel 70 miles long through not the best rock? Meh.

Our critical infrastructure however is so buried, sewer and water, gas, some electricity distribution. As an engineer I like my tech were I can monkey with it.

vasiliy pupkin June 21, 2012 7:40 AM

It just confirmed that people kill people, not guns kill people.
By the way, the problem with guns there is not crime, but suicide rate. That is the reason Swiss authorities start considering some restrictions.
@Agate. Agree 100%.

SwissBridgeTroll June 21, 2012 12:22 PM

Last year there was the rare opportunity to visit one of those bunkers in a bridge the middle of Zurich. The Sprengkästli, the box from wher you could blow up the bridge was still there, the explosive itself have been removed.


The practice to rig bridges, tunnel and other critical infrastructure was abandoned from 1996 on. Until 2001 there were several tons of explosive in the St. Gotthard tunnel, a major north south route in Europe. They removed it after a fire in the tunnel.


On another note. If the Red Army ever had invaded western Europe, the French would have used Switzerland as the target range for their atomic bombs.

Jim A June 21, 2012 12:57 PM

Of course the other side of the threat of blowing up the tunnels and rendering the passes impassible was the fact that during WWII they allowed the Axis to send “sealed trains” through. So the Nazis were to send supplies through the Alps if they didn’t invade, and wouldn’t be able to if they did. It is a strategy that DID keep them free from occupation during the war. ISTR that post D-day when it looked like the Allies were likely to win, they stopped allowing the transit of sealed trains through the alps.

-B June 21, 2012 3:33 PM

It’s not unique to the Swiss. The South Koreans were doing that as far back as the early 70’s (already well established by then). Mandatory service and roads/bridges rigged to drop massive dead weights at choke points with massive arrays of tank traps out in the fields to either side.

anonymous coward June 21, 2012 5:17 PM

I live in Germany. There are still shitloads of old cold war era demolition points scattered across the landscape. I have personally found several so far undocumented places, e.g. several (6-8) equidistant shafts covered by locked metal lids placed in rock slopes above roads in the mountains, artificial river banks that cannot be crossed by tanks, funneling an advancing army to pre-prepared bottleneck ambush sites (e.g. by forcing tanks to expose their weakly-armored underside when crossing them). Many bigger bridges are still prepared for demolition. tunnels sometimes have drop weights with steel spikes that cannot be removed easily once dropped. Sometimes there are hidden explosive storage bunkers nearby. The official number of such places is around 6000, but considering how many undocumented places I found in my area the real number must be many times higher.
Many of the highways can be converted into airstrips in a very short time, all the necessary facilities (energy and communications, parking areas for aircraft, support equipment, fuel storage and facilities for personnel) are already there.

Gabriel June 21, 2012 10:16 PM

@Paeniteo: I understand that point, but at best, it would have only delayed the inevitable had the nazi’s won. It would have been a small doughnut hole in the middle of fortress Europe, and the victorious Germans would have been able to afford rebuilding the infrastructure, especially in terms of time. They also would have been able to afford feeding the Swiss, that is, the ones who swore allegiance to a Vichy like regime. The rest would be able to die in the mountains with no supply lines, and smuggling very difficult and perilous. Remember, the nazi’s had very little restraint when it came to executing those who pissed them off. So I still believe this policy would only serve to buy time, after which it expired would only spell a death sentence for thousands of Swiss.

Of course, this form of warfare was immediately obsolete after the development of the ICBM, when MAD was virtually guaranteed in the case of a mass invasion by either side. The post WWII strategy was to stop a blitz of soviet forces via destruction of infrastructure and use of tactical nukes, such as atomic Annie and Davy Crockett. All one can say is that was totally f**cked up, only surpassed by the strategy of MAD.

MJ June 22, 2012 3:15 AM

Finland has very similiar systems in place, incase of Russia decides to invade us. 🙂

Feher Tamas from Hungary June 22, 2012 5:14 AM

In the modern world this 19th centurey Swiss conceptual system means nothing. You do not need to demolish your infrastructure and stores “scorched earth” style. The attacker will do it for you in the first wave of attacks, with massive a barrage of incoming, non-WMD tipped cruise missiles (Tomahawks for USA, KEPD-Taurus for Germany, Storm Shadow for Britain).

After that the attacker waits patiently until the electricity-deprived, starved. landlocked swiss raise the white flag, waving to General Winter.

By the way, 100.00% of the very extensive swiss railway network is electrified. A few cruise missiles dispensing graphite coils will short out the whole catenary system, making most of the transport capacity stop with blown AC transformers. Railways are huge issue for military logistics, therefore the swiss army will be very much incapacitated after a graphiting.

Furthermore, blowing up your own roads and bridges means little when your attacker can simply airdrop troops into place. The USA alone has over 300 tiltrotor V-22s and thousands of large, conventianal helicopters, with a similar number of modern jetfighters to escort them.

The swiss airforce consists of obsolete F-5 light fighters and three dozen early-gen F-18 Hortnets. Both are US-made types and the Hornet’s AIM-1200 AMRAAM air combat missiles are of the export type, whose tamper-proof active radar seeker head refuses to home in on planes which emit a higher-tier IFF code (e.g. USA, Israel, Britain, not sure about Germany).

The swiss are now planning to buy swedish-made JAS-39 Gripen light fighers to be free of the USA’s grip, but those currently also carry the export-grade AMRAAM missiles, making them clawless in a real war scenario vs US/GB/IL. (The european-only Meteor air-to-air interceptor missile has long been lagging in development.)

What really defends Switzerland is the fact that all politicians of the world, plus tax-evading business tycoons and arms traffickers, drug barons and whatnot scum keep their caches there. They would be fools to attack their own nest egg.

Be assured that they won’t, even if the whole world abhors at the long-standing swiss law that allows 16-year-old girls (yes 16yrs!) to enter the professional prostitution business. A lot of those girls get murdered before ever reaching 18yrs age and the swiss police writes them off as suicides. Only Israel has higher prostitute visit frequency per capita worldwide, but at least they have much less sex murders than the swiss.

Feher Tamas from Hungary June 22, 2012 5:42 AM

Background info: in WW2, Switzerland avoided being invaded by the nazis the floowing way. The Reich wanted to buy iron ore and steel and ball-bearings from the nominally neutral swedish. The swedes wanted to co-operate, so they can avoid a nazi invasion (unlike their poor norwegian neighbours).

Yet, the swedes had extensive anglo-saxon links and fully understood how mighty the US industry is and they also knew how vast the USSR is. Therefore they had severe doubts about Schicklgruber’s final aryan victory and they refused to accept payment for the above mentioned industrial goods in the form of nazi reichsmarks or melted gold teeth from the mouth of gassed jews. The swedish wanted money with full deniability.

The nazis therefore went to Switzerland, who gladly exchanged gassed jews’ gold into used UK pounds and dollars and swiss francs, which the swedes accepted. In exchange, the nazis handed over dozens of Me-109 fighter planes to the swiss as a kind of exchange commission fee.

When the anglo-saxon coalition found out about this trafficking in early 1944, the USAAF B-24 fleet immediately carpet-bombed two smallish swiss towns “by accident”. Suffering several dozen civilian dead, the swiss quickly reduced their nazi collaboration effort, although they still continued to send back escaped jews to nazi extermination camps.

After WW2 the guilty Switzerland was about to be partitioned into french, italian and german-speaking separate, occupied entities, but Stalin prevented that, because Switzerland was a hugely useful soviet spy nest during WW2. Sweden escaped unpunished, even though there would have been no nazi battle tank blitz sweeping over Europe without swedish iron ore and SKF ball-bearings. You see, history is about “real-politik”, not moral values.

Roger June 24, 2012 9:26 AM

“To make a long story short, McPhee describes two things: how Switzerland requires military service from every able-bodied male Swiss citizen — a model later emulated and expanded by Israel -”

This makes it sound as if the author thinks this is some clever innovation of the Swiss, copied by the Israelis but rare elsewhere.

If that is the intended impression, then it is wrong on almost every point. In fact universal military service was invented by the French, and the Swiss copied them only in 1848.

Universal national service, far from being unusual, is the norm. MOST nations have it. Not only that, but most nations that no longer have it only abolished it (or in some cases temporarily suspended it) within the last generation, since the end of the Cold War.

In particular, most Asian countries have it, most African countries have it, and it’s about 50:50 in South America. Europe now has only five countries with national service, but nearly all the rest only suspended or abolished it within the last 15 years. Most of those reserve the right to reactivate it in wartime.

Another point is the suggestion by some posters on this board that Swiss national service is unpopular except with conservative older people who no longer have to do it. Certainly there is a vocal campaign to abolish it. However in the recent referendum there was 78% support for retaining it. On a national referendum that sort of result is considered a landslide, and you just could not get such strong support if it was true that it is very unpopular with youth.

Roger June 24, 2012 10:30 AM

@Feher Tamas:
I’m afraid your conspiracy theory has several points that disagree with, ahem, conventional history.

The accidental bombing of Swiss towns was a genuine accident, caused by navigational errors (which were quite common in that era.) The simplest proofs for this are that the Swiss were invited to inspect the investigative process; for a long time it was mooted that they could have observers on USAAF flights [1] to help avoid a repetition; and that the Americans paid the Swiss government a substantial amount of compensation (the first $1 million of which was to be handed over immediately, regardless of the outcome of the investigation.)

The gold that the Nazis exchanged for Swiss francs was stolen from the Belgian national reserve, not from concentration camp victims. The latter myth is horrible enough to distract the attention, but if you pause to think about it for a moment you realise that it doesn’t make numerical sense.

Switzerland was not “given” any Me-109s. Their 109s were bought and paid for, before the war started. Most were delivered before the war started and were satisfactory; the remainder were delivered in dribs and drabs, far behind schedule and in such highly unsatisfactory condition that Switzerland demanded a refund. Additionally, Switzerland impounded any belligerent aircraft (Allied or Axis) that crashed or force-landed in their territory. This included some 109s which they seized from Germany and operated as Swiss aircraft in lieu of the ones not delivered. Some of these aircraft then shot down German intruders who refused to land and be interned — hardly the act of a quasi-ally, even an unwilling one!

  1. An idea eventually rejected on security grounds, because keeping the observer far enough in the dark to prevent spying would have obviated his role.

Parallelepiped June 25, 2012 7:38 AM

On a similar note, Sweden has stretches of road which can be turned into landing strips for military aircraft and secretly dredged channels and harbors around their baltic coast.

Back before the curtain fell there was perpetual paranoia about Russian subs mapping out these channels with sightings of suspicious activity making the papers semi-regularly. Then a Soviet Sub captain managed to beach his sub…


DanT June 25, 2012 2:56 PM

I don’t think the Swiss are alone.

Take a look at US highway overpasses. With a little explosives and a tow truck, the roadbed could be easily pulled off the pilings to form very heavy barriers to using the highway. Any invader would need to circle around the cloverleafs to get through – providing a nice slow target.

Peter Gerdes June 29, 2012 8:26 AM

Umm, how is this useful in the modern age of air power.

You want to invade switzerland. Bomb the crap out of them until you’ve demolished their infrastructure and then drop troops by air.

Either they simply plan to fight an insurgency in the aftermath (reasonable response with limited cost) to deter attack or this is an old defense plan.

Charles Marsteller July 16, 2014 12:28 AM

Imagine Switzerland after the Fall of Paris and after the Balkan mountains were quickly overrun shortly thereafter. Switzerland was completely surrounded by Germany and Italy, and they were sitting on their national wealth and banking system, gold reserves, and industrial base.

The Swiss “National Redoubt” was a concept adopted in the 1880s; post WWI it began to go into mothballs, but by the 1930s, Fascism was on the rise and so were defense budgets. By 1940/1, the Swiss went to full mobilization as they were the last continental state that had not been overrun.

It was in that timeframe that the Swiss became deadly serious about their national defense, and as the Russians moved west into Eastern and Central Europe, the Swiss prepared to survive a war between the Warsaw Pact and Nato.

As they now scale their spending down, it is important to study the amount of their defense spending over the years relative to their GDP. It is surprisingly low–in large part because each citizen–male and female–were trained to fight from their teen years until age 49. Civil defense was truly the role of the Swiss Citizen, and it is something taken quite seriously–or at least until recently.

Such a policy can only be viewed as rational given their position in the 20th Century in the geographic center of Europe.

Barbara Xu April 8, 2016 8:34 PM

A number of the comments on this blog are overly dismissive of Swiss defense. Look at the abject failure of the U.S. military after 10+ years in Afghanistan… and that’s against some tribesmen wielding small arms. No conventional military is going to be able to roll over a modern, educated Swiss populace whose national defense is literally built into the rocks.

Wael April 8, 2016 9:03 PM

Barbara Xu,

Look at the abject failure of the U.S. military after 10+ years in Afghanistan…

Afghanistan is known throughout history as: the grave yard of the invaders (or empires)… No one succeeded there. And Switzerland wouldn’t either, nor would China.

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