The misguided Swiss invasions

Everyone knows of Switzerland’s dogged policy of neutrality. Fewer people know the Swiss Armed Forces exist. And the Swiss have invaded the bordering Principality of Liechtenstein several times, albeit without meaning to.

The Swiss Army actually dates back to the late Middle Ages. In the early 19th century “national defence – assuring domestic law and order and defending the territory of the Swiss Confederation – advanced to become a definitive strategic objective of the army.” The country has compulsory military service and last year had more than 143,000 soldiers in its army.

Liechtenstein likewise maintains neutrality. With an area of less than 62 square miles and a 2019 population of just more than 38,000 it’s no surprise that it’s one of three dozen countries without a military. It also has no currency, instead using the Swiss franc. Yet the 20th century saw the Swiss violate Liechtenstein’s borders four times. And the last incursion was just 14 years ago.

  • On October 14, 1968, Swiss soldiers accidentally fired five mortar shells into Liechtenstein while practicing about two miles from the border. Although the shells hit the country’s only ski resort, Liechtenstein authorities reported no one was hurt and they would “only mildly” protest.
  • In August 1976, 75 Swiss militiamen were on a training maneuver with 50 horses. They took a wrong turn and just before midnight ended up in the hamlet of Iradug, some 1,600 feet into Liechtenstein. A Swiss spokesman said such events could occur because there were no border gates between the countries. Besides, he added, it was “not impossible that the soldiers were even offered coffee by the villagers.”
  • In December 1985, anti-tank grenades launched during Swiss army maneuvers landed in Liechtenstein. The armaments started a fire that destroyed 600 acres of forest. The fire threatened the village of Balzers, whose mayor accused the Swiss of irresponsible conduct. Switzerland issued a formal apology, promising it would pay for the damage caused.
  • In October 1992, Swiss army recruits on maneuvers received written orders to establish an observation post in the town of Triesenberg. The problem? Triesenberg is in Liechtenstein, not Switzerland. The soldiers asked a woman if they could set up the post in her garage. She agreed but contacted authorities given her country’s lack of an army.
  • The last known incursion started February 28, 2007, as some 170 recruits went on a training march. Plagued by bad weather, the company commander led them in the wrong direction until they were over a mile into Liechtenstein. Upon realizing the mistake, the troops immediately returned to Switzerland. Although the solders carried assault rifles they had no ammunition. The Liechtenstein government took it well, one spokesman saying, “No problem, these things happen.”

So five “invasions” in less than 40 years. The next time you hear about Swiss neutrality, remember poor Liechtenstein. Hopefully, the Swiss Army now carries GPS devices.

It is not seldom that Swiss soldiers come over for a beer, although it is forbidden. We really don’t mind that much.

Liechtenstein government official,
Sarasota Herald-Tribune, September 1, 1976

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