If the Euro Collapses, the Swiss Army Is Ready

Thursday, February 21, 2013
By Paul Martin

FEBRUARY 21, 2013

As snipers fanned out over the rooftops of the Alpine resort and the Swiss Armed Forces rolled miles of barbed wire through the town, officers had more than the security of Mario Draghi and Lloyd Blankfein in mind. They were also preparing for European chaos should the euro ever collapse.

At their annual exercise in September, the Swiss army drilled for an imagined conflict between two neighboring states (the landlocked nation borders Austria, France, Germany, and Italy). The aim: Turn Switzerland into a secure fortress that could keep out the flood of refugees a regional economic meltdown might send its way. “Rising nationalism in Europe is a trend that needs to be monitored,” says Major-General Jean-Marc Halter, Switzerland’s second-highest-ranking officer, who took charge of the war game and oversaw security at Davos. “It’s the army’s job to protect the country against all possible security threats.”

Switzerland hasn’t seen armed conflict at home since the Sonderbund civil war of 1847. The country’s embrace of armed neutrality kept it out of both World Wars. Adolf Hitler called the Alpine nation “a pimple on the face of Europe” and drew up a plan to subjugate it. Operation Christmas Tree was ultimately shelved, most likely because conquering Switzerland would have required as many as half a million troops.

Despite the country’s mostly conflict-free past, the Swiss are right not to be complacent, says James Galbraith, a professor of government and business relations at the University of Texas at Austin. “Europe is still heading toward a social and human crisis,” says Galbraith, who last year published a book titled Inequality and Instability: A Study of the World Economy Just Before the Great Crisis.

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