General (Switzerland)

This article is about the constitutional rank of 'General'. For a list of army ranks, see Military ranks of the Swiss Armed Forces.

The General (German: Der General, French: le général, Italian: il generale, Romansh: il general) is an office and rank in the armed forces of Switzerland. It is held by the commander-in-chief of the Army in time of war only. Under the Swiss Constitution, he must be elected by the Federal Assembly, assembled as the United Federal Assembly, specifically for the purpose of taking on the war-time responsibilities.


Normally the word "general" is not used in the Swiss military, with three-star commandants de corps the highest-ranking officers in the army.[1] Under the Constitution, the Federal Council, which acts as the country's head of state, can command only 4,000 soldiers, with a time limit of three weeks of mobilisation. For it to field more service personnel, the Federal Assembly must elect a General[2] who is given four stars.[1] Thus, the General is elected by the Federal Assembly to give him the same democratic legitimacy as the Federal Council.[2]

The general is elected by a joint session of the Federal Assembly, known as the United Federal Assembly, wherein both the 200-seat National Council and 46-seat Council of States join together on a 'one member, one vote' basis. The Federal Assembly retains the sole power to dismiss the General, but the General remains subordinate to the Federal Council by the Council's ability to demobilise and hence making the position of General redundant.[2]


Generals were appointed during the 1848 revolution in Baden, the Neuchâtel Crisis, the Franco-Austrian War, the Franco-Prussian War, the First World War and the Second World War, although Switzerland was militarily involved in none of them and the role of the army in these times was mainly to guard the border.

All senior officers used to hold variations on the rank of Colonel (there were "Brigade Colonels", for instance). Nowadays, the general officer ranks are: Brigadier, Divisionär (Major General), Korpskommandant (Lieutenant General) and General (which is not currently used). The senior Swiss officer detached to the line of demarcation in Panmunjeom, South Korea, however, is given the courtesy designation of "General" for equality purposes.

List of generals

The following Swiss officers have held the rank of General as the leaders of the Army in time of war:

Name Election War
Guillaume Henri Dufour (first time) 1849 Revolution in Baden
Guillaume Henri Dufour (second time) 27 December 1856 Neuchâtel Crisis
Guillaume Henri Dufour (third time) 1859 Franco-Austrian War
Hans Herzog 19 July 1870 Franco-Prussian War
Ulrich Wille 8 August 1914 First World War
Henri Guisan 30 August 1939 Second World War


  1. 1 2 McPhee, John (1983-10-31). "La Place de la Concorde Suisse-I". The New Yorker. p. 50. Retrieved 22 July 2013.
  2. 1 2 3 Haltiner, Karl W. (2002). "The Swiss Security Sector: Structure, Control, Reforms" (PDF). Geneva Centre for the Democratic Control of Armed Forces.
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