Switzerland, the land of cuckoo clocks, fine chocolates, Alps, Swiss Army knives and banks, whose famed neutrality allowed them to sit out two world wars and a cold one. But you don't just declare yourself neutral and watch the warring hordes obediently turn aside and part like waves around an island. At best, you've bought some time while warring countries weigh the pros and cons of violating that neutrality.
So what is Switzerland's secret? How has it managed to remain neutral for almost 200 years? The Swiss implemented armed neutrality. It has been, and still is, a veritable fortress where every able-bodied male from age 19 to 30 performs military service. That and the fact that the Swiss are willing and able to destroy their infrastructure along with any enemy that comes calling.
Looks Are Deceiving
The Swiss Army has a small core of full-time regulars, but 220,000 soldiers can be mobilized within 72 hours. Soldiers keep their weapons in their homes, though, recently, they are no longer issued ammunition kept with their weapons. While fit males are required to perform military service from age 19 to 30, females may volunteer. There are an estimated 1.5 million males and nearly as many females aged 16 to 49 who are fit for military service. Those males not fit for the military may perform other services or pay a 3% surtax until they are 30.
Camouflage Near Furka Pass
Bunkers and Fortifications
The Swiss military currently maintains a system of roughly 26,000 bunkers and fortifications throughout the Swiss Alps, many of them disguised in the sides of mountains. The first fortress was built in 1885 to discourage invaders from using the then-new railway route through the mountains. During World War 2, the Swiss developed their National Redoubt Plan, whereby the Army would cede the cities in the lowlands to the enemy and retreat into fortresses and bunkers in the Alps, where they would deny passage through the mountains and therefore defeat the main purpose of invading Switzerland in the first place. The Germans had plans to invade as early as 1940, but never implemented them. The Swiss' somewhat apocalyptic defense ensured that any enemy would suffer disproportionately to the possible gains of such an invasion.
Switzerland and Her Neighbors
Switzerland's defenses don't stop with conscription and fortresses. Swiss Army rules mandate that bridges, hillsides and tunnels must be designed so that they can be remotely destroyed in order to deny highways and railroads to the enemy. Fuses and compartments for high explosives are designed and built into bridges, roads and tunnels when they are constructed. Supposedly the explosives themselves are not in place during times of peace. Hidden artillery prevents the enemy from repairing the damage. There are at least 3,000 such points, including entire hillsides, though, undoubtedly, the figure is higher than that.
Aircraft Housed Inside Mountains
Inside The Mountains
Mountains (especially near the German border) have been tunneled so extensively that entire divisions could fit inside. One mountain has a hydroelectric power station inside it and if a company of soldiers had to climb down the mountain, they could climb down on the inside. Hangers for the Swiss Air Force are built into mountains, right next to their runways.
In addition to all that, Switzerland is the only country in the world that has bomb shelters enough for their entire population (actually, they have more spaces than people, with 114% coverage). While there are huge communal shelters that can hold thousands, many businesses and residents have their own shelters. These are not simply small concrete block bunkers, but real, airtight fallout shelters with thick armored doors and ventilation systems. Building a private shelter costs about $10,000. Those who choose not to build their own shelters must pay about $1,500 for each place in a communal shelter. As of 2006, there were 300,000 shelters in residences and institutions and more than 5,000 public shelters-- enough for 8.6 million people; Switzerland's population is just under 8 million.
Dragon's Teeth Anti-Tank Defenses
Toblerone Chocolate Bar
Dragon's Teeth And The Villa Rose
There are lines of dragon's teeth all over Switzerland, but predominantly in border areas. Built mainly during World War 2, these are rows of 9-ton concrete blocks, each higher than a man, that were built to stop tank invasions. One such section, stretching six miles from the mountains to Lake Geneva and consisting of 2,700 blocks, has a hiking trail along its route. It is called the Toblerone Trail because the blocks resemble the famous Swiss Toblerone chocolate bar. Along the trail are 12 fortresses built in 1940. One of them was recently opened to the public who didn't even know it existed since it resembled a large pink chalet, known as the “Villa Rose”. Its armored doors and 8-foot thick walls housed hidden anti-tank cannons and other weapons. There are more than 100 similar false chalets throughout Switzerland.
Seems Nice Enough
Times Are Changing
It is evident the Swiss take their neutrality and the defense of that neutrality extremely seriously. At the same time, pressures to change have been growing since the end of the Cold War. Businesses complain that the cost of their employees performing their military service is too much. Then there is the cost to maintain all those bunkers and fortresses and shelters. Some bunkers have indeed been sold and converted to data centers-- some of the most secure data centers in the world. Some of this softening of the Swiss “bunker mentality” was tempered by the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks against the U.S, but, even so, the Army was cut from 400,000 to 220,000 in 2003. One thing the Swiss have going for them is that, since their defenses have been so many and some so cleverly disguised, no enemy could be sure there wasn't a working bunker, hidden trap or explosive charge around the next bend. Opening up some disguised bunkers may seem like accepting inevitable change, or it could make others wonder what else in Switzerland isn't what it seems.
© 2012 David Hunt