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Sunday, 26 November, 2000, 19:53 GMT
Swiss vote against army cuts
Swiss scenery
Switzerland has enjoyed 500 years of peace
By Claire Doole in Geneva

The Swiss have voted overwhelmingly against cutting back the army's budget.

In a nationwide vote, almost two-thirds of the population rejected a left-wing proposal to slash spending on one of the world's most expensive military forces.

The government is planning to introduce major cuts in manpower but had argued that a budget cut would weaken the army's effectiveness.

The Swiss have now chosen to keep on spending $3bn a year on maintaining their armed forces, one of the highest defence budgets per capita in the world.

Anachronism

Left-wing groups had called for the budget to be cut by a third and the money spent on promoting international peace.

They argued that, with the Cold War over, the army had become an anachronism.

But the government has already cut back the budget over the past decade and it also plans to cut the force itself by nearly two-thirds.

Any further spending cuts, it had argued, would weaken the army's abiliy to defend the country against attack and fulfil its peace-keeping missions abroad.

National pride

If Switzerland was to have an army, went the argument, it would have to be a modern and well-equipped force.

The left-wing proposal, it warned, was the first step on the road to abolition.

In a country which prides itself on its conscript army, that was one step too far.

The Swiss may not have gone to war for 500 years and face no immediate military threat.

But it appears they are willing to pay the price of being prepared.

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