Switzerland, a Federal Republic in West Central

Switzerland, a federal republic in west central Europe, is officially known as the Swiss Confederation or Confoederatio Helvetica (Heatwole 2009). Its people are an ethnic mix, mainly of native German, French and Italian strains. They long labored to forge unity among themselves. Switzerland became the first member of the Confederation in 1291. It is composed of 26 states, called cantons. Of the 26, 20 are full cantons and six are half cantons. They are subdivided into communes, which are similar to counties. There are about 3,000 communes in Switzerland. The Swiss capital is Bern, which has a population of 122,178, as of 2005 statistics. Zurich is the largest city and the financial center (Heatwole).

Not all European States perceived it to their national interests to come to military alliances with other nations (Ruddy 2002). Sweden, Austria and Switzerland are typical examples of such States. Neutralism had greater appeal to them. Former U.S. President Dwight Eisenhower described a "neutral" State as one, which avoided attachment to military alliances. This, he said, did not mean the same as being ethically neutral or neutral between "decay and decency (Ruddy)." Switzerland defines "neutrality" as "a legal concept, which obliges the neutral country to refrain from military participation in armed conflicts with other States (Seger 2005)." The warring countries or parties show respect for the territorial integrity of a neural country (Seger).

The Swiss Republic and its Federal System

Switzerland is a neutralist federal republic, guided by its own constitution (Heatwole 2009). It was adopted in 1874 and, since then, was amended many times. Its political system combines direct and indirect democracy with the principle of federalism. Under this principle, sub-national units of government are given vast powers. Sovereign power belongs to the people. They elect representatives and create laws directly through referendums. Citizens, 18 years old and older, are eligible to vote. The federalist system empowers the cantons and half-cantons with the powers of government. These include the power to declare war and make peace; sign treaties and alliances; to train, recruit for, and direct the armed forces; and to regulate foreign commerce. Cantons and communes are empowered to impose taxes. The federal government also builds roads, railroads and communications, hydroelectric power, and regulates higher education and labor. The cantons can create a wide range of policies and enjoy a high level of autonomy (Heatwole). The Swiss Constitution was intended to balance the interests of the State as a whole with those of the individual cantons (MySwitzerland 2009).

Direct Democracy

This element in Switzerland's fundamental policy issues allows the people to decide directly what laws or constitutional changes they want (MySwitzerland 2009). This is done through people's initiatives and referendums. They express themselves by voting several times a year on policy issues at the federal, cantonal and communal levels. Communes organize elections by secret ballot and automatically register all citizens of voting age in their respective jurisdiction. The ballots and the information about a proposed law are mailed to the voters. The information includes the government's position on the proposed law and a summary of arguments for and against the proposed law. Most of the voters cast their vote by mail. Voting by internet and mobile phone has been, however, recently initiated on a local level (MySwitzerland).

People's initiatives were introduced in 1891 (MySwitzerland 2009). A people's initiative introduces amendments to the constitution. An amendment can be forced by 100,000 citizen signatures and validated by the community within an 18-month period. It may involve individual items or parts of the constitution or the constitution as a whole. Before a people's initiative is presented for popular vote, the parliament makes known its position to accept or decline the initiative. Otherwise, parliament renders its own decision and then presents it to the people as an initiative. It takes several stages and several years before this is done and for the people to vote on. Most people's initiatives fail when presented for popular voting. Of the people's initiatives between 1891 and 2007, only 1% was approved. But they bring about heated political debates and changes (MySwitzerland).

The referendum is a specifically important tool of direct democracy in Switzerland (Heatwole 2009). A petition made by 100,000 votes may amend a part of the Constitution when ratified by a referendum. A petition made by 50,000 voters or 8 cantons can bring on a referendum on proposed laws. Referendums have resolved significant issues. Among these were the creation of the canton of Jura in 1979; restrictions on abortion and some forms of contraception in 1985; stricter immigration and political asylum in 1987; outlawing racial discrimination, racial propaganda and denial of the German Nazi Holocaust in 1994; and defeating the proposal to abolish the military in 2001. Other outcomes and impact of referendums were in support of Swiss membership in the United Nations and women's rights to vote in 1971; equal rights amendment to the Constitution in 1981; and legal equality with men in marriage in 1985 (Heatwole).

A referendum gives the citizens the right to vote on a given legislation passed by the parliament (MySwitzerland 2009). The two types of referendums are optional and obligatory. An optional referendum has far-reaching consequences on the Swiss political system. The popular vote by interest groups tests the decisions of the parliament. Hence, the parliament incorporated the view of the cantons, the political parties and interest groups in the conduct of legislation. An obligatory referendum, on the other hand, automatically presents constitutional changes and international treaties to the vote of the people. It requires a majority of the popular vote and that of the cantons to enact the change (MySwitzerland).

Open-air Voting

Citizens of about 84% of 3,000 communes gather every year to a town meeting to function as the local legislative branch (MySwitzerland 2009). In that meeting, they make legally binding decisions on finances, taxes and other laws. Examples are the cantons Appenzell Inner Rhodes with its 10,500 voters and Glarus with its 25,000 voters. They meet every year at the Landgemeinde as an open-air assembly at the canton level to assert the people's rights. The Landgemeinde is the highest political authority in the Appenzell Inner Rhodes and Glarus cantons. The canton of Glarus lowered voting age to 16-year in 2007 (MySwitzerland).

The Swiss Military

Since and throughout the Cold War, Switzerland maintained a defensive position and capability against a Warsaw Pact offensive (Michaud 2004). This principle set forth by its Armed Forces seeped into its political, economic and military structures when the country became independent in 1648. After the fall of the Berlin Wall, its armed forces fielded 650,000 soldiers in a matter of days. They were organized into four army corps. The corps was provided with 1,000 tanks; 1,500 armored personnel carriers; 1,300 105-and155-millimeter artillery weapons; 1,500 antitank guns; and 2,000 antiaircraft guns. A total of 300 aircraft was mobilized. The total scenario consisted of 10 of the population fiercely ready to defend its territory (Michaud).

In the 50s, part of a national defense plan was the elimination of major strategic infrastructures to make way for the construction of private and public shelters (Michaud 2004). These shelters were to protect from nuclear, biological and chemical attacks. All their bridges, tunnels, highways, most of the industrial base and even historic landmarks could be swept out in a few hours by explosives. Two of these 19th-century historic landmarks were the St. Gottard and Simplon tunnels. These and other probable threats led the Swiss government and its citizen-soldiers to come up with a national defense strategy. Since then, the transformation of the Swiss armed forces became the subject of the media and politics (Michaud).

As of last count, the military has a 220,000 army and air force personnel complement (Heatwole 2009). Of this number, approximately 4,200 belong to a professional staff (U.S. Department of State 2009). Half of them are either instructors or staff officers. The rest are mostly fortification guards. The military has no full-time combat units but can be fully mobilized within 72 hours. Women volunteers now account for 1,050 active-duty posts in the Swiss military (U.S. Department of State, Heatwole).

Service is compulsory for all male citizens (Heatwole 2009). Recruitment begins with the calling of a male inductee at age 20. He goes through basic training for a few months and some service. After this, he returns to civilian life. He is called back to service in the next 20 years for refresher course in order to maintain and update his military skills. He can be asked to render service at any time. He keeps weapons and ammunition, uniform and other paraphernalia at home. He and those like him can be fully mobilized for defense within 48 hours. For this structure, the Swiss military has been described as a highly trained militia, rather than as a standing army. Only 1% of its personnel serve on full-time basis, mostly as members of the office corps. It has no official or hierarchical leader in periods of peace. Parliament selects a general when theā€¦