03 Mar 2009
Swiss Security: A Policy of Openness
The proposed posting of results from a security survey signals a new openness in determining Swiss strategy and government policy, writes Andrew Rhys Thompson for ISN Security Watch.
By Andrew Rhys Thompson for ISN Security Watch
Ueli Maurer, the new Swiss minister of defense, has hit the ground running. Since taking over the office from his predecessor Samuel Schmid at the beginning of January 2009, he has already tackled several important orders of business for his department.
In February he announced the new government arms procurement program for 2009, applauded by almost all political parties as financially affordable, technically balanced and generally controversy-free. Maurer also made the eagerly expected appointment of the next commanding chief of the Swiss army, Major General André Blattmann.
Blattmann's appointment came after his predecessor, Roland Nef, left the position in August 2008 following news of his non-disclosure of a stalking scandal involving an ex-girlfriend.
What became known as the "Nef affair" in the Swiss press, plus the occurrence of several military training accidents during the same time period, simultaneously took their toll on the public image and general respectability of the army. Repairing these previous inadequacies and rebuilding the public and professional reputation of the armed forces has therefore been one of Maurer's biggest goals, since coming to office.
Maurer's choice of the highly regarded Blattmann is one of the more important steps in that process and signals his desire to work with a well established and forward-thinking commander, irrespective of political expectations at the party level.
In addition to taking care of equipment procurement and leadership staffing, Maurer also quickly set out a framework to develop and define the next stages of Swiss national security policy. In February he announced that his department would hold an expansive survey among national and international security specialists and credible organizations to determine the expected threats to Switzerland during the next 5-to-15 years and to establish the best basis for the necessary strategy and government policy to counter them.
Creating platforms for public discourse
The detailed consultation process is expected to take place in the form of a series of 46 hourly hearings between now and late April 2009. The Swiss Department of Defense will publish the transcripts on website hosted by the Center for Security Studies (CSS) in Zurich, [the parent organization of the ISN] to create an additional platform for public discourse and dialogue on national security and associated government policy.
Maurer's general goal is to collect insight and wide-reaching input in order to update, and where necessary, redraft the last Swiss security report, which was issued in 1999. While that report was also based on an expert consultation process, it did not make available any transcripts of hearings and provided for fewer possibilities for public involvement.
CSS Senior Reseacher Daniel Möckli told ISN Security Watch that such a process was "rare." "Moreover, you could say it is typically Swiss as it reflects the Swiss consensual government style and its direct democracy system," Möckli said.
"At the same time it is not uniquely Swiss however, as the French for example also chose a similar approach in their strategy process last year."
Möckli stated that the first set of transcripts would be available this month.
Maurer's wish: 'The best army in the world'
Since the end of the Cold War, Swiss security policy, as with almost all other European countries as well, has substantially shifted and undergone several transformations.
Through various army reforms, the size of the military was substantially reduced and arms procurement spending was diversified. Under a broad political consensus reached by the governing Liberal (FDP), Christian-Democratic (CVP) and Social-Democratic (SP) parties, and even backed by moderates of the center-right People's Party (SVP), a new course was charted, moving the country away from strict isolationism and simply armed neutrality, to a process of international engagement and cooperation in security matters.
A reflection of this is Switzerland's participation in the NATO Partnership for Peace (PfP) program, along with joining the UN and dispatching military observers and peacekeepers as part of international missions to such places as Bosnia and Kosovo.
The mission of the army was expanded, from traditional territorial defense, to also include international humanitarian missions and peacekeeping assignments, as well as to safeguard against rising asymmetric threats, such as terrorism. Much of the Swiss security report from 1999, which remains in effect to this day, provided exactly such recommendations, which in turn where also implemented by former ministers of defense Adolf Ogi and Samuel Schmid, both moderate members of the SVP.
With Maurer taking over the office, his position as a member of the traditionalist block of the SVP, and his former parliamentary career as an outspoken right-wing critic of Switzerland's international security engagements, is likely to bring along a certain desire for change to the development of Swiss security planning, as he gives the Department of Defense his imprint. To this end, Maurer remarked, that it was his wish was to have "the best army in the world" and one that excelled at territorial defense at home.
A framework of consensus
While Maurer politically represents the Swiss traditionalist constituency, as a federal magistrate and a member of the executive branch Federal Council, which works on a collegial basis, he is bound to follow the majority decisions of that body, although as the specialized department head for defense, he can take influence on the decision-making process.
Any formal or conceptual security policy changes that Maurer therefore could conceivably propose over the course of time, will hence also need to be accepted by the majority Federal Council, in order to take effect, and reach debate on the parliamentary level. While many observers believe that Maurer will want to eventually place a stronger level of emphasis on the home-based mission of the Swiss army and on the value of territorial defense, it is very much expected that he will otherwise seek to develop all refinements and updates to national security policy on a basis of classic Swiss political consensus.
The security survey and the corresponding report which will result out of it, are exactly seen as a tool to achieve this end. Daniel Möckli explains: "The major challenge for the government is to produce a strategy that is backed by as many political parties and interests groups as possible. If major trends emerge in the context of the hearings and the public debate, they will have to find reflection in the strategy in some way or another."
The results of the survey and the associated new security report are expected to be presented by Ueli Maurer in late 2009.
Andrew Rhys Thompson is a correspondent for ISN Security Watch.
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