Attrition: The Mighty Swiss Army Fades Away


January18, 2007: The Swiss Army is having a hard time maintaining its numbers. Young men are less interested, and less fit, to defend the country. Currently, about forty percent of young men are unfit for service. 

For over a century, all the young men in Switzerland underwent military training, and remained ready, for a decade or more, to move, within hours, to fight any invaders. No more. The end of the Cold War, and the disappearance of any direct military threat has made army service less attractive. Add to that a declining birthrate, and you have a rapidly shrinking Swiss army. In World War II, the Swiss mobilized 850,000 trained troops. Today, they would have to struggle to muster 40 percent of that. 

The trend is not good. In 2005, 39 percent of the 33,000 20 year olds eligible service, were found unfit. For most of them, it was weight (they were fat) or simply out of shape. Another five percent didn't make it through the four month basic training. Similar results were encountered with the 36,000 young men called up in 2006. 

One of the problems is attitude. A generation ago, it was considered a disgrace to be found unfit for duty. But a generation ago, teenagers were in better physical shape, and part of that was an effort to avoid rejection by the army. No more. While a lot of Swiss still consider it a big deal to serve, a growing number do not. Those who do get accepted, undergo about a year of training, and then are in the active reserves for ten years. After that, they still have that military experience to fall back on if there is a national emergency that requires trained soldiers.