Defence & Society: The Swiss Experience, Similarities with Lebanon ? A Conference by Swiss Embassy Defence Attaché Colonel Sulser

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The Swiss Embassy Defence Attaché, Colonel Urs Sulser, gave the Conference « Defence and Society: The Swiss experience, Similarities with Lebanon? » on Wednesday 8th of February 2017 at Swiss Ambassador H.E François Barras’s charming Residence in Beirut. Kamsyn was invited to attend the interesting talk which was the occasion to also exchange a few words with Colonel Sulser following his detailed presentation.

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H.E Swiss Ambassador François Barras & Swiss Embassy Defence Attaché Colonel Urs Sulser welcoming the Audience       Photo Kamsyn

The Conference was followed with great interest by distinguished guests from prestigious professional backgrounds.

In presenting the Security Policy of his country, Mr.Sulser addressed the similarities between Switzerland and Lebanon, referring in particular to the small size of our respective countries surrounded by powerful neighbours, as well as a rich pluralistic society and the importance of preserving nature : « Just as our ancestors planted trees for us, we too need to seed today the trees of tomorrow so that future generations benefit from their fruits and tranquility » Sulser said, referring to the need to strive together for Peace, Security and National Defence.

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« Cohesion is essential in the face of the multiplication of new security threats » said the Colonel, referring to todays’ multiple challenges:  Globalization, Migration flux, the rise of Terrorism and Regional Wars.

In this aspect, Swiss Armed Neutrality is a Strategy where « all Switzerland’s efforts are not made to win a war but to keep Switzerland out of the war » Sulser explained, deploring the fact that in 1975 and 1983, regional conflicts have been imported into Lebanon. In our present context tensions suffered by Syria can also be invoked today.

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The military official pointed at the reciprocal dependence between society and the army to develop a shared perception of external dangers despite differences in social strata, origins, opinions and occupations.

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Colonel Sulser then gave the example of 1857, when the Swiss faced Prussia’s threat of imminent attack, the citizens muted their quarrels to stick together against the potential invaders so that the supreme interests of the nation remain protected.

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Also, during the First World War (1914-1918), the confederal alliance remained intact to watch over the borders and stay out of the battles, despite the gap between the two Swiss language families, German-speaking and French-speaking, who had respective sympathies for Germany and France.

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In addition to this linguistic challenge in 1917, Switzerland also had to take up a social challenge when Lenin during his stay in Zurich tried in vain to rally to his ideas the Swiss proletarian class. During the Second World War (1939-1945), the Nazis also didn’t succeed in appealing to the citizens of Switzerland because the nationals were conscious of German interest to cut through Swiss territory allowing to invade other European countries ».

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One for All, All for One

In order to serve their country, citizens are aware very young of the important role of their family in the sense of patriotic duty.

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Colonel Sulser paid tribute to the « Lebanese soldiers who, far from their families, fight on the front of Ersal, Bekaa to defend the borders of their country. Both in Switzerland and in Lebanon, the army is a factor of cohesion ».

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Lebanese Army Commander General Jean Kahwagi

This sense of solidarity of the people with the army in times of trouble is also one of the main ingredients of success. Mr Sulser, then gave the example of the recent Islamic State attempts to threaten East of Lebanon and the awareness of all local parties that showed full support to the Lebanese Army.

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Lebanese & Swiss Flags on the Top of Faraya Jabal el Dib Ski Slopes in Lebanon   Photo Kamsyn
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Lebanese Army

Since the signing of the Treaty of Vienna in 1815, the Swiss Confederation has an obligation of armed neutrality, to safeguard its sovereignty against the ambitions of neighbouring States. It is in this context that the military service was established in Switzerland.

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Iconic Swiss Army Knife

The Red Book of Civil Defence, describing the behaviour to be adopted to support the army in the event of a foreign threat to the country is an example of  the Citizen & Army Synergy. Colonel Sulser mentioned the budget cuts faced by the Swiss and Lebanese Armies, in a world where challenges have been constantly multiplying.

In conclusion Swiss Armed Neutrality is a model that has proven successful because it has survived the past centuries through the toughest challenges, this strategy finds an important echo in Lebanon today.

It embraces the Latin saying: « Si Vis Pacem, Para Bellum / If you want Peace, prepare for War ». Which is also completed by the role of continuous Diplomatic Efforts and Peace building.

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