August 05, 2018

The Programmatic and Institutional (Re-) Configuration of the Swiss National Security Field

30 Jul 2018

By Jonas Hagmann, Stephan Davidshofer, Amal Tawfik, Andreas Wenger and Lisa Wildi for Swiss Political Science Association

Since the Cold War’s end, the Swiss national security policy domain has expanded significantly and no longer just focuses on the military and civil defense. This reorientation has been accompanied by new institutional arrangements concerning functions as well as interaction between different levels of government and foreign partners. Despite the significance of these changes, Jonas Hagmann et al contend they have not been subjected to refined analysis. To address this gap, our authors draw on a nationwide data collection effort to provide a practice-orientated analysis of Switzerland’s contemporary national security field.

The this article was originally published in the Swiss Political Science Review by John Wiley & Sons Ltd on 4 June 2018. Image courtesy of moritz320/Pixabay.



Traditionally, Swiss national security focused intimately on the military protection of national territory and institutions. Following the principles of armed neutrality and autonomous defense, the field was organized closely by the Defense Ministry and shied away from sizable international security partnerships. Since the end of the Cold War, however, the policy domain has moved far beyond such positions (Goetschel et al. 2005; Spillmann et al. 2001). It expanded from military and civil defense to activities such as integrated peace-building, the fight against transnational organized crime, integrated border management, and critical infrastructure protection. This programmatic reorientation was accompanied by new institutional arrangements. Domestically, inter-cantonal and federal policing were enhanced and intelligence services integrated. Army capabilities were directed to new mandates and new countrywide inter-ministerial coordination platforms developed. Internationally, Switzerland joined the Partnership for Peace, Euro-Atlantic Partnership Council, United Nations, and Schengen/Dublin frameworks.

Despite these profound changes, Swiss security politics has not been subjected to particularly refined analysis. While government doctrines list threats and agencies with little pondering of their relevance and interconnections (cf. Schweizerischer Bundesrat 2000, 2010 or 2016), political analysts are often caught up in polarized controversies around select issues such as the army budget, distinct weapons procurement programs, or neutrality tout court. Yet, also academia contributed surprisingly little to shedding light on the executive arm of the Swiss security field. Although scholars produced sophisticated accounts of great Swiss statesmen and historical organizing concepts (e.g. Fischer 2004; Spillmann et al. 2001; Trachsler 2011), there have been only few social scientific investigations into the Swiss security domain. In the Swiss Political Science Review, a mere two related articles appeared between 1995 and 2017 (DeVore and Stäahli 2011; Wichmann 2009).2 Indeed, the premier Swiss political science journal published more articles on Scandinavian countries’ foreign and security policy than on Swiss security affairs.

Without comprehensive social science investigation, the security domain’s re-composition necessarily remains difficult to comprehend. This situation is hardly satisfying for a number of reasons: Although welfare budgets outpaced security spending, threat management continues to represent an important and resource-heavy public policy domain. With its expansion, technological upgrading and turn to homeland protection, the security field also affects the everyday life of Swiss residents in increasingly direct ways, prompting important discussions about the place of security management in a democratic polity (Hagmann 2017; Hagmann and Saliba 2013). Most importantly maybe from a scholarly perspective, the field’s programmatic and institutional changes touch on issues such as federalism, inter-agency politics, state-society relations, and foreign affairs, and hence a range of central concerns of political science research. This is because the field’s evolution comes with a reconfiguration of agreed divisions of labor between federal, cantonal, and municipal actors, but also new roles for the private sector and a proliferation of linkages with foreign interlocutors (Jacot-Descombes and Wendt 2013).

Against this background, the evolution of the Swiss national security field offers a highly instructive but also under-researched case of how a policy domain is reoriented towards new mandates and re-institutionalized through new inter-agency relationships across functional, administrative and international boundaries. These are good reasons for investigating the security field in more detail, and for positioning it more prominently within the study of Swiss politics. To this aim, analytical and methodological developments in international security studies are of immediate assistance. Moving away from ‘externalist’ research strategies focusing on the declaratory level of security politics, the latter is now increasingly often analyzed at the hands of practice-oriented frameworks, which can be designed as quantitative investigations yielding cardinal data and integrative sociograms. This article draws on this potential to disaggregate the Swiss security field’s recent reconfiguration. In doing so, it makes the security field accessible to Swiss political science scholarship and contributes a unique analysis of an entire national security field to international security studies.

What are the threats that Swiss national security focuses on today, and what interagency arrangements contribute to producing national security? This article answers these research questions based on a comprehensive data collection effort. Based on an unprecedented large-N survey of high- and mid-level cadres from all segments of threat management, it develops a quantitative and practice-oriented differentiation of the Swiss national security field across functional, bureaucratic and international dividing lines. In doing so, the article’s primary aims are to improve on the granularity of a number of substantive statements made in the existing security studies literature, and to present – within the limits of a mixed methods research design – an advanced understanding of where the domain’s executive arm has evolved to from its historical roots. Its secondary goal is to provide a refined baseline account of the field’s orientation and embedment within all types of functions and levels of government, thus establishing a solid foundation for the generation and testing of cognate hypotheses about the political sociology of policy fields – whether these are inspired by studies of other national security fields in or beyond Europe, by analyses of further policy fields in Switzerland, or by theoretical reflections.

This article is organized as follows to deliver on these aims: The first section presents the state of the art of research into national security fields. It distils the key arguments made about the evolution of security in Europe, but also problematizes their granularity. The second section presents a practice-oriented methodology for assessing the latter, as well as the dataset on which this article draws. The third sectionanalyzes the threats handled by Swiss security organization today. It shows how the field came to manage a broad threat continuum that transcends the traditional focus on military dangers, and the division between external and internal problems. The fourth section disaggregates inter-agency relations inside the Confederation. It details how the mono-ministerial field evolved into a broad but stratified trans-functional agency network connecting all levels of government. The fifth section turns to international security cooperation. It shows how widespread cross-border inter-agency work has come to be, neutrality policy notwithstanding, and how much of this is driven by homeland security concerns. The conclusionbriefly elaborates on the study’s broader contributions to Swiss and international security studies research on the evolution of policy fields.

The Reconfiguration of National Security Fields in Europe

The national security domain lost much of its secretive aura after the Cold War in Europe, when it became more accessible to public scrutiny and academic research. With it, security studies branched out into increasingly distinctive research strands (Buzan and Hansen 2009; Collins 2012).3Whereas strategic studies continued to focus on uses and limitations of military force, addressing issues such as defense technology (Biddle 2004), deterrence (Powell 2008), hybrid warfare (Arreguin-Toft 2006) or the fungibility of military power itself (Art and Waltz 2009), a new contemporary (partly also called criticalsecurity studies literature began investigating security affairs more contextually from a social science perspective. Treating security as a ‘normal’ policy field in which problem definitions and policy solutions are subject to political, bureaucratic and public elaboration, it offers a holistic and analytically refined perspective on security politics beyond military logics and the defense sector.

The analysis of security politics’ own ordering concept – i.e., the question of what societies deem threatening or in need of protection – represents one important contribution of the latter literature. Scholars questioned the traditional and trans-historical association of security with military affairs and showed how this equation became difficult to sustain in the post-Cold War era (Krause and Williams 1996). In many polities, security policy was seen conceptually and operationally broadened beyond defense. By addressing issues such as pollution (Dalby 2002; Floyd 2010), migration (Huysmans 2006; Karyotis 2012), organized crime (Stritzel 2014), or cyber (Dunn-Cavelty 2010), security affairs was observed turning to the handling of entire ‘threat continua’, i.e., collections of dangers neither characterized by exclusive military markers nor neatly distinguishable between foreign and domestic origin (Bigo 2001). At the same time, security work was also seen reoriented to referent objects beyond the state, as concepts such as human, regional, or European security emerged (Buzan and Waever 2003; Krause 2004; Paris 2001). These observations gave rise to rich empirical genealogies of changing policy mandates in Europe and scholarly controversies about the security concept’s appropriate width (Baldwin 1997). Eventually, they also stimulated new theorizations of agenda-setting in the security domain, i.e., conceptualizations of the political and ministerial construction and interlinking of threat narratives (Balzacq 2010; Buzan et al. 1998).

With the observed widening of security, the field’s institutional re-composition also came under scrutiny. Scholars showed how the emergence of new threat narratives stimulated variegated reshufflings of agency landscapes in European and North American public administrations, for new narratives justified adjustments to existing mandates, new organizations, re-allocations of public resources, and the redefinition of work relations between individual agencies. The new security studies literature traced how new, comprehensive all-of-government security coordination platforms emerged and institutional changes such as mergers of foreign and domestic intelligence, the policification of armed forces, and multi-functional ‘security staffing’ of embassies unfolded (Bigo 2000; Penglase 2013). Looking beyond government, researchers also investigated how liberalization processes led to a privatization of some national security functions (Krahmann 2005; Leander 2005) as private actors acquired mandates in logistics, IT, critical infrastructure management (Aradau 2010), intelligence gathering and – in rare cases – military operations (Lund Petersen and Tjalve 2013).

Following from this, security scholars eventually revisited frameworks of multi-actor coordination. While governance concepts initially provided productive leverage for studying horizontal security cooperation in Europe, or non-hierarchical relations between public and private actors (e.g., Eilstrup-Sangiovanni 2009; Krahmann 2005), security ensembles became increasingly sketched as social ‘fields’ (Bigo 2006; Villumsen 2008; Williams 2007). Seen this way, security is approached as a ‘structured space in the making’, i.e., a policy domain that cannot be pinned down to a given organization (such as the Defense Ministry), but includes a diverse cast of actors clustering around a shared professional theme. Seen in this way, the security domain is rather stratified and competitive. It features struggles over programmatic focus, internal hierarchies and shifting external boundaries (Bourdieu 2004; Calhoun et al. 2002). This understanding has enabled research that transcends conventional ‘levels of analysis’ categories, most notably empirical studies of transnational security networks (Bigo 2005; Huysmans 2006). It has also produced early empirical snapshots of the positional configurations out of which security agencies act, and delivered processual analyses of the routine reproduction and incremental dynamism of these arrangements (Adler-Nissen and Pouliot 2014; Merand et al. 2011).

There is little doubt that, with these contributions, recent security literature has been able to produce increasingly comprehensive accounts of national security fields, as it investigates and conceptualizes their programmatic and institutional (re-)arrangement beyond the immediate military realm. Yet, a closer look at the literature also shows that quite a few of its substantive contributions are still hampered by limited granularity. Analyses of the field’s evolving programmatic perspective, for instance, show which new danger narratives emerged in what polity at what time – but they do not gauge how important these became, relatively speaking, for a given national security field or individual security agency. Studies of (inter-)agency landscapes, by contrast, identify the emergence of new security actors in and beyond the public sector, and a deepening of operational security collaboration on different fronts – but they do not usually ponder actors’ relative positions in the overall national field, or differentiate the quality and direction of their interrelations. Works on international security relations, finally, highlight the expansion of transnational linkages in homeland security matters – but they do not offer precise measures of how these relations differ across levels of government, or compare developments in homeland security with changes in other parts of the field.

Given these characteristics, the explanatory reach of the existing literature’s different insights is necessarily limited. A closer look at the literature suggests that this situation results from a range of factors. Analytically, a focus on ‘the new’ often prevails in recent security research. Novel ways of security management are recurrently taken as proof of paradigmatic shifts in security politics, whereas in practice they often merely complement or reconfigure, but do not undo, enduring ones. Selective research interests also strike as an important factor. The many security studies analyses of privatization, for instance, tend to neglect how actors multiply also within the public sector, and the focus on functionally distinct actors (military or police or border guards etc.) often comes with a lack of attention to all those other agencies engaged in nationwide security management. Lastly, limited attention is paid to levels of government in general. The recent shift towards field theorizing notwithstanding, sub-state actors and their international linkages remain regularly ignored, not least because many security scholars still proceed from a unitary concept of the state.

Research Methodology and Data

Analytical choices, then, disempower the formulation of statements spanning entire security fields and reaching across functions, levels of government and borders. Yet, methodologicalpreferences also have a role to play in generating the identified shortcomings. Security studies have traditionally relied strongly on qualitative data, also for reasons of access to what is a high-stakes policy field. This type of data proved crucial for generating detailed understandings of the policy domain, but lends itself poorly to more advanced forms of comparison, as it is categorical and not cardinal. Moreover, the academic field specialized rather narrowly in historiographical and discourse-oriented research methods when opting for qualitative data (Aradau and Huysmans 2013; Barkin and Sjoberg 2015; Salter and Mutlu 2013;). Such approaches take speeches and documents as primary means to assess national security politics. As a distinctive approach to qualitative research, such measures can be quite distant to, if not outright aloof from, actual security work.

The recent ‘practice turn of security studies’ indeed challenged this methodology as externalist (or ‘textualist’). The focus on the declaratory (that what is said) instead of on the practical level (that what is done), its proponents argue, directs research to rhetoric rather than professional actions. It thus risks miscomprehending the latter, also for it underestimate the material positions out of which officials act (Adler and Pouliot 2011; Büger and Gadinger 2015). Practice scholars therefore suggest that research should examine competent, repeated everyday work performances rather than code policy statements (Adler-Nissen and Pouliot 2014). Yet, while this argument is convincingly made and offers an effective security studies rendition of the practice turn in the social sciences (Schatzki et al. 2001), the literature has not fully capitalized on its empirical potential thus far. This is because much practice-oriented research remains highly conceptual4 or, if it is empirical, reliant on qualitative data. Despite its manifest appeal to Bourdieusian ideas and thus (potentially) quantitative enquiry, the practice turn has not been accompanied by a move to statistical analysis in security studies (Davidshofer et al. 2016).5

This situation may well reflect the fact that the practice turn is still in its early stages, but it also results from feasibility issues. The ability to statistically assess everyday practices of security professionals requires access to practitioners across a wide range of government agencies, which researchers are not always able to obtain. What is more, capturing an entire national security field is challenging by sheer reasons of scale, and smaller polities such as Switzerland may be more suitable than large ones such as France, Germany or the UK, where practice-oriented conceptions of security politics are most vocally advanced. Motivated by an ambition to both fill this gap and enhance the scholarly argument about the reconfiguration of national security fields, this article draws on a pioneering quantitative and nationwide operationalization of practice-oriented security research. Focusing on Switzerland, this effort was made possible by SNSF funding and a long-term inter-university research collaboration. Importantly, it was also aided by symbolic and logistical data collection support by the directors (generals, secretaries of state, commanders, presidents, etc.) of all pertinent federal, cantonal and inter-cantonal security agencies.

Technically, the assessment was based on a bilingual (D/F) survey. The relevant questionnaire was piloted in focus groups across all branches of nationwide security and then circulated among all high- and mid-level cadres of all Swiss security agencies in winter 2016. To gauge actual practices and not discourses about actions, respondents recorded the threats they manage and the partners they collaborate with (inventories for both were taken from the latest national security doctrine; these were rarely amended). The questionnaire also asked participants to indicate the work time spent on everyday threat management (on a 0-5 scale reflecting the number of average weekly working days), and the intensity of their inter-agency cooperation performances (same scale, with 0=no, 1=weak and 5=highly intense cooperation). Taken together, these measurements account for the ways in which professionals organize work based on their intimate knowledge of the challenges at hand, and the ways in which they define and enact their own positions within the wider security field. This directly supports the construction of the social space of Swiss security management from the inside out: Respondents themselves indicate the priorities, stratification and boundaries of their field (Leander 2005; Villumsen 2008). They ‘draw their own field’ in a process that emphasizes contextual description over universal categories.

The following analysis draws on 594 returns of the completed questionnaire, which is a number of replies unmatched by any known international security studies investigation.6 As guidance to readers, it addresses the field’s programmatic orientation, domestic agency landscape and international linkages in sequential order, even though these three aspects are closely intertwined in reality. In each section, data is arranged by diagrams and social network analyses. As statistical sociograms, the latter are particularly well suited for identifying and highlighting the internal stratifications and external borders of a policy domain (De Nooy 2003; Knoke and Yang 2008).7 They allow relational powers to be assessed in different modes and by different metrics – though for purpose of intelligibility, this article focuses on two-mode networks, and on degree, intensity and centrality values. Network methods seen this way chime well with a practice-oriented ‘field’ conception of security and offer productive leverage for its interpretation (Mérand et al. 2001; Baldwin 2013).

To build up complexity and anonymize replies, the following three sections also present data at the field’s two most pertinent levels of aggregation, the ministerial and the agency level. In order to keep the complex multi-actor field analysis manageable and visualizations readable, a minimum threshold of 1.00 is used throughout for organizational average scores. This cut-off value eliminates work efforts below one full day per week and particularly weak organizational cooperation efforts. For faster name-recognition and with the journal’s readership in mind, the manuscript and figures use German acronyms of threats, ministries, agencies and foreign partners – the appendix features a full and English list of the abbreviated expressions, however. The survey and score tables are shelved online.8 Faute de mieux – but also in recognition of the productivity of mixed method research (Brady et al. 2006) –, collected data is compared to qualitative data on the past trajectory of the security field.

From Military Threats to Dangers of Global Mobility

Although commentators often sketch Switzerland as a ‘special case’, given its long history of armed neutrality, the evolution of Swiss national security does not differ that radically from other European countries. Also in Switzerland, security was historically equated with military defense and only gradually relaxed from that narrow fixation. In the 1970s, for instance, détente and decolonization raised the question of whether to use Swiss diplomacy as a national security tool (Schweizerischer Bundesrat 1973). In the 1980s, recession and ecological disasters resulted in proposals to include economic and environmental security as additional policy components. However, it was not until the 1990s that federal strategy papers ceased to dismiss such notions as secondary, just as was the case in other European countries (Fanzun and Lehmann 2000; Gabriel 1990). As elsewhere, the post-Cold War context prompted a thorough questioning of military security tools and concepts (Cotti 1994; Liener 1995). The mid-1990s then represented transition years, in which a variety of non-military security goals were gradually introduced into the policy field (Spillmann et al. 1999). By the turn of the century, the field had turned to the handling of a broad threat spectrum, from military dangers to organized crime, trafficking in human beings, weapons proliferation and failed states, challenges that were also increasingly sketched in interconnected and multi-dimensional terms.

In the early 2000s, this broad concept of the national security field was variously updated, such as with cyber and critical infrastructure themes. Yet, its programmatic focus no longer formed the object of much debate, partly because the focus in the political arena had turned to other topics, above all questions of international security cooperation and domestic divisions of authority (Hagmann 2010; Wenger and Fanzun 2000). The issue of whether emerging transnational challenges require cooperation with (in Europe increasingly effective) international conduits became highly controversial by the late 1990s. And while a cautiously internationalist program initially prevailed, there was also a rollback movement towards more domestic solutions by the 2010s (Wenger et al. 2010; Hagmann 2015). At the same time, as the policy field came to be construed in wider and more interconnected terms, also more numerous institutional actors became involved in nationwide threat management. This process not only unfolded within the Federal Administration, but also entailed complex questions of how to integrate all those cantonal and municipal authorities whose competencies were now counted to national security.  

This brief account of the security field’s programmatic reorientation provides a quick, qualitative overview of its larger trajectory and main trends. Large-N data collected from federal, cantonal and municipal security professionals yet enables a considerably more refined idea of the concerns currently at the center of Swiss security work. It allows unpacking the field’s widening by different measures reflecting respondents’ practical savoir-faire, such as the question of how many actors manage the same dangers simultaneously (an indicator of trans-functional handling of a given threat), or the question of how much worktime the field allocates to each individual problem (an indicator of the management intensity of a given threat). Importantly, cardinal data about security practices also show how individual agencies’ efforts diverge from each other and the field’s overall orientation. This is to say that quantitative data can be visualized at different levels of aggregation. It can be brought in line with different field logics, and these can be contrasted with each other.  

Data analysis aggregated at ministerial level9, for instance, appeals to the traditional federal prerogative over national security as well as the distinct bureaucratic (‘departmentalism’) and partisan (coalition government) dynamics inherent in the Swiss Federal Administration. Data thus assembled confirms the nominal claim according to which the field turned to the management of an entire threat spectrum. In addition, however, it also shows that this broadening unfolded unevenly, for the dangers listed in official doctrines receive dissimilar attention in practice. The countering of terrorism (terror), for instance, emerges as an effort to which a particularly large number of actors contribute – but also one that does not attract exceedingly many working hours in practice. Military defense (militangr), by contrast, obtains the highest average working hours of the field – but only due to a single, particularly committed entity, the Defense Ministry. Migration (migraprob), to give another example, is the object of the single highest absolute working hours in the entire Swiss national security field, whereas issues such as cybercrime (cyberkrim) and pandemics (pandem) receive no significant attention whatsoever. In programmatic terms, the analysis thus clarifies that military themes have not gone ignored since the end of the Cold War. Even if a European war has become less likely in the medium term, defense remains an important long-term effort. Yet, network metrics also show that military defense is a single actor’s key concern today, and that other themes garner similarly elevated numbers of working hours or are managed by even more numerous actors simultaneously. Indeed, they indicate that migration and terrorism attract the widest attention today, and that these dangers now constitute the field’s core theme (figure 1).

Figure 1: Ministerial Threat Management Practices


Notes: N=594. Two-mode network showing threat management practices of the six ministries engaged in Swiss national security work. Arrow thickness=worktime intensity, circle size=centrality (number of relations). Colors indicate how threats are managed: Blue=exclusively federal, red=cantonal/municipal, green=combined federal and cantonal/municipal. Five threats (verbotnd, hoolig, erpress, cyberkrim, prolifwmd) are not objects of significant ministerial worktime and thus not shown. The field’s two most interconnecting threats (migraprob, terror – highest betweenness values) are highlighted.

Figure 1 also shows that security work has expanded widely across the Federal Administration since the early 1990s – not just from the Defense (VBS) to the Foreign (EDA) and Interior Ministry (EJPD), but even more strongly so to the Finance Ministry (EFD), home of the Border Guards – and that this process has been uneven: Reminiscent of ‘departmentalist’ traditions, the most established security ministries VBS and EDA each handle a range of challenges by themselves, whereas EFD, the cantonal and municipal police corps (POL) and EJPD work in more complementary ways. By contrast, EFD has the highest betweenness value and is the most central institutional node, handling twice as many challenges as, for instance, the Defense Ministry; and POL and EFD spend more working hours than others on everyday security. But divisions of labor also appear across levels of government. When security work is aggregated to the ministerial level, the Federal Administration handles most themes by itself, and a few more together with cantonal and municipal partners to the point where only one single item, namely threats against personal integrity (leibleb), remains under the sole purview of cantonal and municipal actors. Taken together, the security domain thus ventured beyond the military-diplomatic purview. But its widening is not enacted in similar ways by all ministries, and cantonal forces still play a more junior role overall – an insight that testifies to the late inclusion of the subnational level in a policy field that was traditionally, but is no longer, ‘federal’.  

Yet, albeit ministerial dynamics are crucial, they do not represent the sole governing logic in the Swiss security field, and there also exist important professional dynamics at the inter-agency level. Data aggregated to this level provides a more refined image of field’s programmatic re-orientation, for it indicates how individual Federal Offices, State Secretariats, cantonal authorities and municipal forces address specific dangers. Also, sizable variations emerge at the agency level in terms of how different dangers are handled in everyday practice. Migration, for instance, attracts contributions by eleven times as many security agencies than espionage (verbotnd) or religious radicalization (religradik). The handling of petty crime (kleinkrim), by contrast, attracts more than twice as many working hours from the Swiss agency field than hooliganism (hooligan) or the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction (prolifwmd). Figure 2 illustrates these variations. The diagram shows how today’s threat continuum differs in terms of thematic complexity, labor-intensiveness and actor- combination: Today, challenges receive more than one-and-a-half working days of professional attention each week and are handled by almost four agencies each. The federal level still manages more items autonomously than others, but, indicative of declining federal prerogatives over the domain, the items requiring the most substantial work input now tend to be addressed by federal, cantonal and municipal entities concurrently.  

Figure 2: National Security Threats Differentiated by Agency Attention


Notes: N=594. The 23 national security threats differentiated by number of professional working days their handling attracts (x-axis, 1.56 days on average), and number of agencies by which they are^handled (y-axis, 3.87 organizations on average). Colors and clusters indicate how threats are managed: Blue=exclusively federal, red=cantonal or cantonal/municipal, purple=federal/cantonal, green=federal/cantonal/municipal.

But also the different security agencies contribute dissimilarly to threat management. The Border Guards, Bi-National Policing and Customs Centers and Municipal Police, for instance, engage with the greatest range of dangers, whereas the Armed Forces (VBSVTG) and Federal Police (FEDPOL) are considerably more narrowly specialized in everyday practice. In terms of network centrality, the Border Guards are indeed the most proximate to the field’s programmatic mandate, followed by the Foreign Ministry’s State Secretariat (EDASEK) and Intelligence (NDB), whereas the military is furthest from it. By contrast, the State Secretariat for Migration (SEM), Border Guards and some Police Concordats spend the most hours on threat management in their everyday work – twice as many as FEDPOL and other federal entities (ANDBUND), for example, which spend particularly few hours on this type of activity. Agency-level data therefore not only yield a more refined image of the field by virtue of mapping more entities and breaking down their differential security contributions. They also help making additional substantive points, such as that federal agencies (except the Border Guards) are more narrowly specialized in their everyday work than cantonal and municipal units, and that Federal Ministries are constituted in diverse ways. The Defense Ministry, for instance, can be shown to be a particularly ‘cohesive’ entity in terms of security contributions, whereas the Interior Ministry is a relatively more heterogeneous entity, as its agencies dedicate either particularly many (SEM) or particularly few (FEDPOL) working hours to national security (figure 3).

Figure 3: Individual Agency Contributions to National Threat Management


Notes: N=594. Contributions of 19 individual agencies engaged in Swiss national security work, differentiated by the number of professional working days they invest in threat management (x axis, 1.65 days on average), and the number of threats they manage (y-axis, 4.89 items on average). Colors and clusters indicate agencies’ level of government. Blue=federal, red=cantonal, yellow=municipal.

Lastly, yet most importantly, agency-level data permits disentangling subordinate networks and their interrelations within the overall executive field. First, social network metrics point to a cluster of interests focusing on military-oriented dangers. This cluster, which encompasses a well-connected set of mostly Defense Ministry units, illustrates the military security sector, which – after decades of having defined the field with the emphasis on territorial defense – ceased to be the central hub of the overall policy domain, but also broadened its own perspective to include themes of extremism, weapons proliferation and critical infrastructure protection. Second, a cluster of concerns revolves around ‘soft security’ issues such as pandemics, failed states and climate change. Handled by a mix of civil protection, foreign affairs and development aid entities, this cluster is less tightly integrated and features sizable ties to the military sector, reflecting both the continuing association between civil protection and the Defense Ministry and the legacy of diplomacy as an auxiliary rather than an independent national security instrument. Third, data indicates a strong focus on homeland security, i.e., dangers such as trafficking, physical violence and blackmailing. This last subordinate structure is characterized by particularly sizable contributions from cantonal and municipal police forces, border agents and migration officials. Crucially, all of these three clusters interconnect through the distinctive problems of migration and terrorism, whose centrality values surpass all others, and the prevention of catastrophic harm writ large. These new, non-traditional concerns effectively integrate the national security field today, as network measures show, and they blur the traditional differentiation between internal and external threats, and militarized and non-militarized dangers (figure 4).

A comprehensive, practice-oriented analysis of the field’s programmatic perspective thus offers refined insights. Its data not merely suggests that new dangers have been added to the field’s mandate (that it broadened), but also indicates stratification in the very ways these dangers are managed in practice (how it broadened). Similarly, cardinal data does not merely confirm that the field has decentered from military concerns, but furthermore shows that a small set of transnational insecurity rationales – terrorism and migration, and at the agency level also the prevention of catastrophic harm in general – have come to constitute its core. These challenges confound conventional categorizations of national insecurity. They interconnect, but are not under the exclusive purview of traditional field sub-structures such as defense, diplomacy or police. Lastly, the analysis shows that threat management not merely attracts attention from ‘government’ in general, but that it is addressed by a stratified web of agencies spanning across several levels of government. Far from its monothematic and mono-ministerial configuration of the Cold War years, national security is now co-created by a growing number of Federal Ministries as well as by a sizable cast of cantonal and sometimes even municipal entities.

Stratified Trans-Functional Cooperation across Switzerland

Even if multiple agencies now work on the same challenges, this does not mean they necessarily synchronize their efforts, however, for inter-agency coordination does not happen automatically. As an additional variable, data on inter-agency cooperation helps gauge the configuration of inter-institutional work relations. Such cooperation is also of central concern to senior Swiss officials, and has been for some years (Wenger 2014). As has been the case in other countries, it has come to be recognized as an important (and increasingly pressing) steering challenge, given the programmatic widening of the field and the multiplication of security agencies working in it. During the Cold War still, this process included the addition, in the 1960s, of civil defense capabilities to the Armed Forces. Diplomacy and national economic supply were included in the national security domain in the 1970s, when cantonal police corps also began to link up more systematically through concordats (Wildi and Hagmann 2016).

Figure 4: Agency-Level Threat Management Practices


Notes: N=594. Two-mode network showing threat management practices of the 19 agencies engaged in Swiss national security work. Arrow thickness=working time intensity, circle size=centrality (number of relations). Colors indicate how threats are managed: Blue=exclusively federal, red=cantonal or cantonal/municipal, purple=combined federal and cantonal, green=combined federal, cantonal and municipal. Civilian Customs (EZV) does not make significant contributions to national security management and is thus not shown. The three major field sub networks and the most interconnecting threats in the agency field (migraprob, terror, katas – highest betweenness values) are highlighted.

After the fall of the Berlin Wall, the agency landscape evolved more rapidly.10 In the 1990s, the Foreign Ministry expanded its own security competencies, especially through the Human Security Division. A comprehensive homeland security review (the USIS process) and accession to the Schengen/Dublin frameworks gave cantonal police forces, federal Border Guards and nationwide migration offices increasingly more pertinent roles. Within the Defense Ministry, civil protection was reorganized, weapons production and development was institutionalized in a new Federal Office, and the Armed Forces were downsized and (in parts) oriented towards subsidiary deployments and critical infrastructure protection. In the early 2000s, Bi-National Police, Migration and Customs Cooperation Centers were set up on the borders with France and Italy so as to improve international and inter-functional cooperation. Following the same logic, domestic and foreign (but not military) intelligence were additionally collapsed into a new entity and moved to the Defense Ministry. The Transport Police emerged as a well-resourced new law enforcement unit, and inter-cantonal police concordats were enhanced. Beyond public administration, liaison with critical infrastructure operators intensified following liberalization of the communication, transportation and energy sectors.

This growing collection of security institutions was (and remains) accompanied by different kinds of coordinating bodies. At the federal and political levels, the ministers of Defense, Foreign Affairs and Interior traditionally form the Sicherheitsausschuss des Bundesrats, i.e., the Swiss government’s ‘security council’. This council was aided by the Stab SiA and Lenkungsgruppe Sicherheit in the past, and is assisted by the Kerngruppe Sicherheit today (Carrel 2004). These high-level civil servant committees seek to enhance coordination among the field’s multiplying branches and offer crisis management support in case of emergency. They were successively complemented by further specialized interagency organs, such as the Bundesstab ABC-N or TETRA, which focus on (nuclear, biological, chemical and natural) catastrophes and terrorism respectively. The 26 cantonal governments maintain their own trans-functional crisis management boards, whose components and decision-making processes have been continuously upgraded. Besides enhancing regional concordats, the police corps recently created the Führungsstab Polizei, a permanent inter-cantonal crisis leadership entity for police forces. Finally, the Swiss Security Network (SVS) has acted as an overarching coordination platform for Swiss security providers of all sorts since 2010. Bringing together military, intelligence, civil protection, police, firefighting and ambulance services, its mandate is to improve vertical cooperation between the various levels of government (Wenger 2014).

However, the effectiveness of Swiss inter-agency and whole-of-government security cooperation has remained the object of much concern and debate since, which is also one of the reasons why the various platforms have been frequently redesigned. Data shows that security cooperation among Swiss agencies indeed turned broad and intense today (albeit uneven in practice), and that specifically designed collaboration platforms do not occupy pivotal positions. This can be illustrated by network analyses that differentiate between institutional outreach and solicitation, i.e., exploitation of the fact that respondents assigned different values to the questions of whom they contact and who they are recruited by as partners. Data aggregated to the ministerial level shows that, in terms of outreach, all ministries interact surprisingly evenly with each other. Defense and Foreign Affairs form a slightly tighter pair than other constellations, but there are no ‘exclusive’ security networks as such. Yet, intra-ministerial cooperation is also important at the federal level, for about half of the professionals’ collaborations target other agencies within their own ministries. This trend is most pronounced at the Defense Ministry, the traditional locus of Swiss national security and home of multiple well-resourced security entities, the Armed Forces, Intelligence, the Security Policy Division, Armasuisse, and the Federal Office for Civilian Protection (BABS). By contrast, the Foreign Ministry is the most widely connected actor of the ministerial field, whereas the cantonal and municipal police forces have a low centrality score, and other federal entities merely connect to the field through civil protection. Yet, while ministries cooperate with similar numbers of other agencies, they do so at different levels of intensity. Most notably, the Finance Ministry’s outreach efforts are significantly more forceful than those of any other ministry. They also often target the police corps, which are by far the most strongly sought-after partners in the entire field. Even if inter-ministerial relations are balanced in terms of degree, the ‘cooperation strength’ variable thus shows that the quality of their practical interactions differs otherwise (figure5)

Figure 5: Ministerial Cooperation Practices within Switzerland


Notes: N=594. Two-mode network showing domestic cooperation efforts made by the six ministries engaged in Swiss national security work (the second mode has been unpacked to gauge intraministerial cooperation in more detail). Arrow thickness=cooperation intensity, circle size=centrality (number of relations). Colors indicate solicited agencies’ level of government. Blue=federal, red=cantonal, purple=combined federal and cantonal, yellow=municipal, white=private. Three agencies (andbund, ensi, finma) are not solicited significantly and thus not shown.

These differences become even more pronounced at the agency level, where the Defense Ministry’s General Secretariat (VBSGS), Intelligence and the Federal Office for Civil Protection actively connect with the largest number of other agencies. However, the most widely connected organizations are not necessarily also the ones which are most solicited. Indeed, FEDPOL, which became a crucial switchboard for European homeland security information exchange, is the most popular publicsecurity partner today. It is recruited twice as often by other entities in the nationwide policy domain than the Armed Forces and Intelligence, three times as often as the Foreign Ministry’s State Secretariat, and four times as often as the Border Guards. Surprising given the latter’s high level of centrality in the field’s programmatic orientation, network metrics show that they merely occupy a marginal position in the institutional field.11 It is also interesting that the private sector writ large is the field’s most widely recruited entity, even ahead of FEDPOL. Survey data thus confirms qualitative claims about the privatization of national security affairs. It also helps gauge this observation with higher precision, though, and reject exaggerated claims about the privatization process, as only one in ten countrywide inter-agency linkages refer to the private sector (figure 6).

Figure 6: Agency-Level Cooperation Practices within Switzerland


Notes: N=594. Two-mode network showing domestic cooperation efforts made by the 19 agencies engaged in Swiss national security work. Arrow thickness=cooperation intensity, circle size=centrality (number of relations). Colors indicate solicited agencies’ level of government. Blue=federal, red=cantonal, purple=combined federal and cantonal, yellow=municipal, white=private. Two agencies (andbund, finma) are not solicited significantly and thus not shown.

The ‘cooperation intensity’ variable adds further information about internal field structures, also at the agency level. In the Swiss national security field, the Border Guards currently make the strongest outreach efforts of all agencies concerned, followed by Cantonal Civil Protection and Municipal Police. Traditional security agencies such as Intelligence, the Defense Ministry’s General Secretariat and the Foreign Affairs Ministry’s State Secretariat make less forceful outreach efforts, and the Armed Forces and the Development Agency (DEZA) the least. Conversely, cantonal police corps are the objects of most intense solicitation by far. The Armed Forces, Customs and FEDOL (all of which show limited efforts to connect to others themselves), are also quite intensely sought after, whereas the national cooperation platform SVS, Federal Justice and DEZA is hardly so.

Survey data thus points to variegated types of ‘imbalances’ in inter-agency relations: Some agencies reach out as widely as they are sought after (Armed Forces, SEM, Municipal Police). But others also ‘over-connect’ in the field, i.e., reach out to more other institutions than they are themselves being recruited by (VBSGS, NDB, BABS), or inversely, ‘under-connect’ (especially the Federal and Cantonal Police). At the same time, inter-agency relations also differ in terms of quality. Certain entities cooperate as intensely with others as they are solicited (NDB, VBSGS; at low levels DEZA). But some make disproportionally strong (Border Guards, Cantonal Civil Protection), or over-proportionally weak (Armed Forces, FEDPOL, Cantonal Police), efforts to engage with fellow security actors. These imbalances, which can be illustrated in an integrated diagram, offer interesting insights into institutional positions:12‘Over-connected’ agencies are all federal. They represent agencies that organize the field (VBSGS, EDASEK) or act out of a newcomer position (Border Guards). ‘Under- connected’ entities, by contrast, tend to be cantonal authorities, and police corps in particular. Given the current organization of the national security domain, they represent more reactive types of service entities, if not the ‘workhorses’ of everyday security work on the ground (see figure 7).  

Figure 7: Differentiation of Individual Agency Connectedness


Notes: N=594. Diagram differentiating connectedness of individual agencies by quantity and quality. Positive x-axis value=agency reaches out to more other agencies than it is itself solicited by. Positive y-axis value=agency makes more intense outreach effort to others than others to said agency. Colors indicate agencies’ level of government: Blue=federal, red=cantonal, yellow=municipal.

Taken together, survey data can thus provide advanced insights into the ways in which the field’s broadening was paralleled by an expansion of its actor landscape, and interagency relations. It confirms the nominal claim that threat management has become a complex trans-functional multi- agency practice. But it also shows that security work has not evolved into a level playing field when spanning across multiple ministries and cutting across several levels of government. This is because some security agencies do considerably more to reach out, or are more important to work with, than others. Just as importantly, coordinating bodies themselves can be shown to occupy no nodal positions despite their inter-functional design, partly because many Swiss security agencies are in fact widely connected already. By unpacking inter-agency relations by variables such as degree, direction and intensity of interactions, a quantitative and practice-oriented assessment of the security domain can highlight and problematize such stratifications. In doing so, it offers productive inroads into the ‘institutional politics’ of inter-agency relations, for it can question professional hierarchies within a given field and put up for debate the unsteady linkage between an organization’s programmatic and institutional centrality, as the Border Guards do particularly well.

The Emergence of Inter-Scalar International Security Cooperation

Recent contemporary security studies research suggests that national security fields increasingly transcend national borders, despite the limitation to their scope suggested by their names. In the case of Switzerland, this is not self-evident, though. This is because Swiss leaders historically construed foreign actors in highly distinctive ways (Hagmann 2015; Winkler 1995). In their view, world politics was an inherently conflictual domain in which large nations and powerful alliances challenged each other’s survival, preyed on small and weak states, or created violence otherwise, such as by selling arms and fueling proxy wars in the Global South (cf. Schweizerischer Bundesrat 1966, 1973 or 1975). The Swiss Confederation itself was not deemed directly threatened, however, since its ‘permanent neutrality’ was internationally recognized and strictly adhered to by Bern (Diez 1980). In line with this understanding of world politics, Switzerland made substantial ‘solidarity contributions’, such as Good Offices, humanitarian aid and arbitration to other parties during the Cold War (Petitpierre 1980). The country ensured its protection by impressive investments in military self-defense, but did not actively recruit security partners abroad (De Weck and Maurer 1990). Tellingly, diplomacy was not even considered a national security instrument until the late 1970s.  

This situation gradually changed with the advent of globalist threat discourses in the 1980s. Notions such as environmental degradation, economic stability and organized crime suggested that Switzerland was affected by transnational problems no matter what, i.e., irrespective of neutrality. Indeed, while leaders had earlier described the country as an ‘island of peace in a sea of conflict’, experts feared that it might become an ‘island of insecurity’ by the 1990s, for Switzerland’s absence from the rapidly forming pan-European security architecture risked turning it into a ‘safe haven’ for international crime (Villiger 1995: 170). Given this new understanding, Swiss foreign and security policy turned highly controversial at home. By the mid-1990s, a political majority endorsed the ontology of Switzerland being inevitably caught up in a transnational threat context (Däniker 1999). A powerful national-conservative minority, however, continued to argue that a sovereign nation decides itself whether to associate itself with what essentially remain ‘problems of others’ (Bachofner 1994; Hagmann 2010). By the turn of the century, these contradictory readings resulted in an unprecedented breakdown of the traditional Swiss security policy consensus (Haltiner 2011; Spillmann et al 2001: 59). Even though a centrist coalition succeeded in fashioning a cautiously internationalist strategy – participating in the Partnership for Peace program and Euro-Atlantic Partnership Council, developing human security capacities, dispatching peacekeepers to the Balkans and joining the UN, Schengen and Dublin –, persistent opposition led to close popular votes and an unsteady Grand Strategy (Bühlmann et al. 2005; Goetschel et al. 2005).13

Actual security practices yet adhere surprisingly little to the political arena’s persistent framing of international security cooperation as an either/or choice. Indeed, large-N data on the everyday work of leading Swiss national security professionals suggests that a considerably more differentiated understanding of the country’s foreign security policy practices is required. This is because the Swiss security field today engages in numerous and complex transborder working relations. Figure8 describes these at the ministerial level and points to interesting findings. Network analysis shows that foreign security relations are less intense and numerous than domestic ones, but significant nevertheless. Somewhat unexpectedly perhaps, data also indicates that the Defense Ministry, traditionally the leading and still the best-resourced security entity, and the Foreign Ministry, the unit formally in charge of international affairs, do not maintain the widest or most intense international linkages in practice today – and thus, that they do not offer the most reliable yardsticks for gauging Switzerland’s actual foreign security connections. Indeed, the Interior Ministry cooperates more widely internationally, and the Finance Ministry maintains more intense international security relations than either Defense or diplomacy.

Figure 8: Ministerial Cooperation Practices beyond Swiss Borders


Notes: N=594. Two-mode network showing international cooperation efforts made by the six ministries engaged in Swiss national security work. Arrow thickness=cooperation intensity, circle size=centrality (number of relations). Colors for foreign partner type: Bright red=bilateral organization, brown=multilateral organization. Six foreign partners (eva, nd, ziv, nato, eapr, erat) are not solicited significantly by the ministerial field and thus not shown.

Figure 9: International Cooperation Practices of Individual Agencies


Notes: N=594. International work linkages of the 19 agencies engaged in Swiss national security work, differentiated by intensity (x-axis) and number of relations (y-axis, 2.67 on average). Colors and clusters for Swiss agencies’ level of government: Blue=federal, red=cantonal, yellow=municipal.

Counter-intuitive results also emerge in terms of the field’s engagement with foreign actors. To start with, data shows that the most central foreign partners are located in Switzerland proper. This is because attaches and specialists (spezbot) of foreign embassies in Bern or Geneva constitute the most widely contacted interlocutors in the Swiss international security network, followed by the Partnership for Peace (pfp) program and the police forces of neighboring states (polnasta). Traditional, great international security institutions such as the European Defense Agency (eva), the Euro-Atlantic Partnership Council or the European Council (erat), by contrast, are considerably less widely engaged with by the executive field today – and indeed, the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (nato) is not even a significant partner at the ministerial level of data aggregation. In effect, working relations are more regular and intense with neighboring countries’ border guards, customs services and police forces than with such ‘classic’ international security organizations.

Switzerland’s international security linkages are thus chequered: The Defense Ministry currently mainly engages in bilateral inter-army relations with European forces (armeennach, armeenand)14and the Foreign Ministry with multilateral soft-security organizations such as the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (osze) and United Nations, and foreign embassy specialists. The Interior and Finance Ministry, and the cantonal and municipal police forces either bilaterally engage with border, customs and police forces of individual countries (polnasta, polandeu, polnoneu, zollgwk), or they cooperate multilaterally with agencies such as Frontex, Europol (eusichag) and Interpol. Other federal entities, finally, merely connect with the international realm through specialized UN agencies (unag). In a telling nod to geography, bilateral security cooperation with Switzerland’s five neighboring countries is more important than with countries elsewhere in Europe, and these working relations are more sizeable than those with partners beyond the continent.

Turning to the agency level, figures 9 and 10 provide an even more refined image of Switzerland’s international security relations. The diagrams show how the Federal Police engages with the most foreign partners overall, surpassing even the Foreign Ministry’s State Secretariat and the Defense Ministry’s General Secretariat in these terms. By contrast, it is National Intelligence that maintains the most intense – indeed, extraordinarily strong – working relations with foreign interlocutors (though these strictly include foreign intelligence services only). The most popular foreign partner agencies overall are Switzerland’s neighboring countries’ police, border and customs forces. The aforementioned Embassy attachés, however, are structurally most crucial to the Swiss foreign security affairs network (highest betweenness value), for they are the entities where Swiss homeland security and foreign affairs meet. The neighboring countries’ police corps also constitute important nodes, for this is where Swiss cantonal and municipal police come together, as do the specialized UN agencies, which bring other federal agencies to the field. Overall, international security cooperation is more often bilateral than multilateral, also at the agency level. It is focused more directly at neighboring countries, as opposed to more distant ones, but is also surprisingly ‘inter-scalar’: Federal agencies have wider international connections than sub-national entities. But cantonal police corps especially now exchange regularly with foreign equivalents, and they also maintain some of the country’s most intense cross-border linkages per se – even when, as is the case with the Police Concordat of Central Switzerland (ZPK), such corps do not actually have an international border.

Figure 10: Swiss Linkages of Foreign Security Partners


Notes: N=594. Swiss linkages of the 18 foreign partners solicited by Swiss agencies, differentiated by relation intensity (x-axis) and number of relations (y-axis, 2.82 on average). Colors and clusters for foreign partner type: Bright red=bilateral organization, brown=multilateral organization.

Taken together, cardinal data thus demonstrates that the current Swiss security work is remarkably removed from the country’s traditional concept of self-help. International security cooperation is less intense than domestic inter-agency liaison, but it does comprise an impressively varied array of linkages spanning across functions and levels of government. The contemporary Swiss national security field extends beyond national borders in a number of ways: It contains a more ‘traditional’ segment of moderately intense and predominantly bilateral military defense relations, but also (highly) intense intelligence cooperation, thematically diverse multilateralism centering on diplomacy, development and federal civil protection, as well as pronounced ‘international homeland security’ work by cantonal police and federal border agencies. Figure 11 visualizes these patterns at the agency level. Far from being controlled by either the Defense or the Foreign Ministry, the international arm of Swiss security work relies on a complex interscalar web of transborder linkages. A practice-oriented social network analysis of security work is capable of foregrounding this instructive insight. Rather than following either/or systematizations of foreign affairs or reducing national security to military issues and federal institutions, it details its actual programmatic and institutional diversity.

Figure 11: Agency-Level Cooperation Practices beyond Swiss Borders


Notes: N=594. Two-mode network showing international cooperation linkages by 19 agencies engaged in Swiss national security work. Arrow thickness=cooperation intensity, circle size=centrality (number of relations). Colors for foreign partner type: Bright red=bilateral organization, brown=multilateral organization. Cantonal civil protection agencies (KANTZIV) do not maintain, and the Council of Europe (erat) is no object of, significant international linkages. The two entities are thus not shown.


An assessment of public administration practices – of what executive professionals in a policy field actually do in their everyday work rather than what doctrines and mission statements proclaim they do – generates advanced insights into the programmatic and institutional (re-) configuration of this policy domain. Information collected in the form of cardinal data allows to improve on (existing) qualitative statements. In the case of Swiss national security, a uniquely comprehensive and systems- wide data gathering and interpretation effort demonstrates that security affairs must not be reduced to the defense sector any longer. It shows that municipal and cantonal actors play vital roles in the everyday instantiations of the field and that transnational security linkages abound across levels of government, neutrality policy notwithstanding. Security work today is oriented and organized rather differently than in the late Cold War. In the context of polarized public debate about Swiss foreign and security policy, this insight is not only of scholarly relevance. Given its empirical grounding and level of analytical differentiation, it also offers a potent counter-weight to selective, ideological and/or partisan perspectives.  

This practice-oriented analysis also contributes considerable leverage to international security studies and Swiss political science research, though. First, it offers a decidedly immanent and thus dynamic approach to tracking the programmatic orientation of a policy field. Measuring the practical work performed by actors in the field provides a dynamic understanding of the evolving core concerns in the field rather than naturalize it by applying a transhistorical organizing paradigm such as, in the security domain, a rigid equation of security with military affairs. This can be useful for the study of any policy domain and is particularly pertinent for international security studies scholarship. This is because security logics have ventured particularly far beyond their traditional confines in recent years (Zedner 2009). Security has become a rapidly expanding concern of many Western polities since 9/11. It began to ‘colonize’ other public policy domains such as health, mobility or migration (Bigo 2005), and its substantive meaning and institutional embedding have gradually evolved in the process.  

Second, a practice-oriented study of public administration offers a dedicated focus on the interplay between a policy field’s programmatic (re-) orientation and its institutional (re-) configuration. It raises the question of how an evolving field focus is attended by (re-) institutionalization across functional, administrative and international boundaries. In this vein, the present study is more than a touchstone for future investigations of national security fields in countries characterized by different power-sharing arrangements, institutional set-ups and foreign policy trajectories15: It can also stimulate productive exchange with political science research on programmatic and institutional changes in other Swiss policy fields, such as energy (Jegen 2009), transportation (Lehmkuhl and Siegrist 2009), or foreign relations (Lavenex and Wichmann 2009). How agreed divisions of labor between levels of government are rearranged, relations between public administration and the private sector reshuffled, and traditionally ‘national’ policy fields internationalized – all of these processes exhibit wider patterns, which can be investigated, quantified and compared across polities and policy domains.  

Third and lastly, practice-oriented quantitative analyses can help create complex ‘topologies’ of the policy field focus and relevant institutions. Not all tasks in a given field receive the same kind of professional attention, and relations between individual ministries, agencies and levels of government need not necessarily be balanced in practice. Practice-oriented investigations are able to identify differentials and hierarchies inside policy fields, and in doing so they can put the purported ‘horizontality’ of given governance arrangements to empirical tests (Mérand et al. 2011): Why some actors occupy more ‘powerful’ positions than others, for instance, or how some are able to align their programmatic centrality with a pivotal institutional position while others are not, these are productive questions to be addressed in follow-up research. The methodology presented here hence not only offers substantive insights into the Swiss reality, but also opens up avenues for cross- thematic and international comparison as well as the testing of further analytical arguments about the political sociology of policy fields.


1 The authors gratefully acknowledge the contributions made by the survey participants, as well as the logistical support provided by the various State Secretariats, Federal Offices, Directorates, Divisions and Corps. Research for this article was supported by the Swiss National Science Foundation project grant 100017_143818 (Bound to cooperate? Mapping Swiss security in a changing global landscape).

2 Two more were published on the Foreign Ministry’s specialized program on peace policy (see Goetschel 2013; Graf and Lanz 2013).

3 Peace research also specialized over roughly the same period – with applied work (training, mediation), qualitative research (contextualizing root causes of conflict) and quantitative investigations (conflict studies, large- N analyses of patterns of physical violence) forming increasingly separate bodies of expertise (cf. Hoglund and Oberg 2011; Wallensteen 2011). Given this article’s interest in the (re-)configuration of national security systems, as opposed to societies marked by violent conflict, it does not touch on the peace research tradition (which, for historical reasons, sometimes also prefers not to be associated with security studies).

4 Centering mostly on the practice turn’s distinctiveness (Pouliot 2008; Ringmar 2014), sources beyond Bourdieu’s praxeology (Büger and Gadinger 2015), and relative emphasis on routine, competent performances and everyday behavior (Adler and Pouliot 2011; Hopf 2010).

5 The seminal article in this research strand, for example, studies the UN intervention in Libya based on 50 qualitative interviews (Adler-Nissen and Pouliot 2014). The most expansive quantitative analysis of a security field centers on the EU Common Security and Defence Policy and rests on 42 full questionnaires (Mérand et al. 2011).

6 Response rate versus the official survey distribution list was at 29%. The Intelligence Services and some select Cantonal Police Corps did not disclose the precise number of addresses inside their organizations, however, which is why this rate remains an estimation. Note that in this article, only entities with significant numbers of responses are analyzed. Values tend to be more robust in the military and police sectors, where hierarchies are clearly organized and research support by superiors (thus) particularly effective.

7 Indeed, the field’s external boundaries emerge rather clearly from subsequent network analyses. Although identified as security-relevant agencies by various government doctrines, the Federal Nuclear Safety Inspectorate (ENSI) and Financial Market Supervisory Authority (FINMA), for instance, usually score below the minimum threshold, and the Development Agency (DEZA) and Civilian Customs (EZV) barely cross it.

8 Visit the publications page on

9 In this article, the ‘ministerial level’ includes the four federal ministries (official Swiss term: departments) central to contemporary security management, an ‘other federal ministries’ (ANDBUND) composite unit, and a single similarly resourced sub-state authority, namely the combined cantonal and municipal police corps (POL). In the absence of a better term, the term ‘ministerial’ is used for this type of aggregation, which itself emerges from the data.

10 This development was also assisted by a series of new doctrinal meta-concepts of security, such as the intermittent notions of ‘violence of strategic extent’, or ‘security through cooperation’ (cf. Schweizerischer Bundesrat 2000, 2010).

11 Tellingly, the Sicherheitsausschuss des Bundesrats, which for reasons of decision-making must not include more than three of the seven Federal Councilors, includes the heads of Defense, Foreign Affairs and Interior – but not of Finance –, and the Kerngruppe Sicherheit includes the directors of Federal Intelligence, the Foreign Ministry’s State Secretariat and Federal Police – but not the Commander of the Border Guards.

12 They also again help understand the distinct and sometimes difficult composition of Federal Ministries. The Interior Ministry, for example, contains both a slightly over-connected (State Secretariat for Migration) and a pronouncedly ‘under-connected’ agency (Federal Police). Defence and Finance, by contrast, include divisions that shy away from intense inter-agency linkages (Armed Forces in the former, Civilian Customs in the latter).

13 The 2000 national security doctrine, for instance, emphasized the need for extended international security cooperation – but its 2010 update, drafted under a new Defense Minister, discounted such outreach and prioritized domestic security coordination instead.

14 This comes after a temporary period of greater openness towards NATO and the EU under the leadership of Defense Minister Schmid and Army Chief Kekeis in the early 2000s. We thank the anonymous referee for pointing this out.

15 Studies that – in the inverse direction – will then also promote a better understanding of the Swiss field’s particularities,  notably  its  dependence  on  distinctively  Helvetic  characteristics  such  as  federalism,  direct democracy, militia defense or neutrality.

16 ANDBUND is a second-order composite at the agency level including BAG (health), BAKOM (communications), BAZL (civil aviation), BFE (energy), BWL (national economic supply) and SECO (economic policy).


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About the Authors

Jonas Hagmann is a Senior Researcher and Lecturer at the Institute of Science, Technology and Policy (ISTP), ETH Zürich. His research focuses on the political sociology of international risk and security politics, most recently the internationalization of national security fields and reconfiguration of integrated urban control dispositives.  

Stephan Davidshofer is a Lecturer at the Political Science and International Relations Department at the University of Geneva (UniGE). His research focuses on International Political Sociology and Critical Security Studies.  

Amal Tawfik is a Senior Researcher (NCCR LIVES) and Lecturer at the Institute of Social Sciences (ISS), University of Lausanne. His research focuses on the trajectories of poverty, political participation, security field, health inequalities and social classes.  

Andreas Wenger is Professor of International and Swiss Security Policy and Director of the Center for Security Studies at ETH Zürich. In his research and teaching, he focuses on security and strategic studies, and the history of international relations.

Lisa Wildi is a Scientific Collaborator in the Strategic Management Support Section of the Federal Chancellery, Berne. The focus of her work includes (the training of) crisis management as well as security cooperation at the federal level.

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