Switzerland and the United Nations

The United Nations has played an important role in the international system as a conduit for communication and cooperation among nations. According to the U. N. Charter, the organization was established with four primary purposes. The first aim of the body is to promote international security through collective efforts to prevent threats and suppress aggression, as well as settling international disputes. The second aspiration of the U. N. is to advance friendly relations between countries around the world and encourage peace among governments.

The third purpose is to foster cooperation between nations to solve issues related to cultural, humanitarian, economic, and social conditions, while striving to encourage freedom and basic human rights for all people. The final direction as stated in the United Nations charter is to bring the nations together to act as one body in achieving these goals (Gall & Hobby, 2007). According to Kennedy (2006), the United Nations’ peacekeeping activities have evolved since the inception of the organization from the role of enforcing cease fire zones to the monitoring of elections and the quelling of uprisings around the globe.

In fact, recent events have proven that the United Nations is very powerful when it comes to building consensus among nations when an idea or feeling is shared by the majority of the world’s population (Traub, 2006). Even with the bureaucracy that accompanies such a large assembly and the dissension that occurs between groups, there are still signs that the U. N. can be effective in the area of encouraging peace and security. In the arena of humanitarian efforts, the activities on behalf of the U. N.

have led to a human rights revolution over the past sixty years that far exceeds any progress during any other period in history. Beginning with a Universal Declaration of Human Rights in 1948, the organization has developed key programs and initiatives to improve the lives of citizens and workers, and to hold the member countries to these goals (Kennedy, 2006). Once again, due to the different self-serving interests of member countries, there are still many situations that are unresolved by the United Nations Human Rights Council (Traub, 2006).

However, when compared with the conditions of the 19th century and early 20th century, the rights that are enjoyed by many people today far exceed the level of past generations. With such lofty goals and a mission to promote world peace, it might seem natural that a peace-loving country would be anxious to join the United Nations at the first opportunity. Nevertheless, one country which has long been know for its neutrality and desire for peace was actually one of the last nations to apply for membership into the body of sovereign states.

In 2002, Switzerland became the 190th country to join the United Nations, following years of controversy and extensive debate within the nation’s population (United Nations, 2002). After a 1986 referendum which showed that more than 75% of the Swiss people opposed membership in the “family of nations”, the citizens voted in a close 2002 referendum that resulted in 55% of the electorate choosing to join the common body (Swiss welcomed, 2002).

For many years, the people of Switzerland felt that their country’s neutrality, individual freedoms, and the rights of their citizens would be hampered by accepting membership into the United Nations (Swiss welcomed, 2002). In his speech before the General Assembly, President Kaspar Villiger said that his countrymen had overcome their concerns about the country’s continued role as a bastion of neutrality. They were also concerned about the Security Council and were opposed to the veto power that certain members are able to exercise, but had decided to work within the organization to make changes (United Nations, 2002).

By joining the United Nations, the citizens of Switzerland hoped that the country’s “central values of peace, democracy, neutrality, and solidarity” would make a contribution that would benefit the international body (United Nations, 2002). The primary focus of these efforts from the Swiss viewpoint would be their commitment to environmental protection, governmental integrity, continued growth, and an open economy. Even before the vote to join the United Nations, Geneva was the home of the second largest UN office, employing more than 8,000 people and hosting hundreds of diplomats (Swiss welcomed, 2002).

So their influence on the decisions and activities of the organization has been highly visible and has continued to grow as the Swiss people have accepted responsibility for their own role in world affairs through the United Nations. In reviewing the first five years of the country’s U. N. membership, the national Federal Council has provided an overall positive assessment of the Swiss involvement in the United Nations (Switzerland, 2008).

Citing efforts to fight poverty, increase human rights, advance peace among nations, help those in need, promote democracy, and protect the environment, the nation has quickly modeled its role within the organization after its own policies (Switzerland, 2008). The delegation from Switzerland has created its own initiatives and pushed them through the process at the General Assembly, while continuing to promote Swiss involvement in all levels of U. N. interaction, ensuring that their platforms are considered when decisions are made. With Geneva acting as the primary U. N.

seat in Europe, the Swiss are highly involved in the daily processes of the system. They even had an active voice in the creation of the Human Rights Council, seeing it as an opportunity to address many of the concerns on the topic of human rights (Switzerland, 2008). Some of the United Nation’s important committees and organizations are housed in Switzerland. The nation is the base of operations for both the World Health Organization and the International Labor Organization (Swiss welcomed, 2002). These bodies have continued to flourish since the admittance of Switzerland into the U.

N. , and the Swiss people have also become more active in their participation with the administration and oversight of the organizations. The people have taken their commitment seriously by actively participating in reform efforts and offering fresh perspectives and ideas for improvement (Switzerland, 2008). When they entered the U. N. community, Switzerland stated that they would not be involved in any peace enforcement activities, and would only participate in peacekeeping and humanitarian activities (United Nations, 2002).

They have continued to follow this course, and in so doing, have maintained an even stronger focus on the areas that matter the most to them. As a constructive member of the organization, Switzerland has been focused on improving the effectiveness of the Human Rights Council through its own voice as a voting member. The country’s delegation also seeks to strengthen the internal management of the United Nations hierarchy, offering suggestions for process improvements in the flexibility of personnel and funding (Reform, 2007). Lastly, the U.

N. Security Council has continued to be a concern for Switzerland, and they have taken steps to partner with other countries and encourage changes in the way that the process works. From their activities, the decision-making process has become more transparent; there is more involvement from countries outside of the Security Council; and the communication process has been enhanced to allow other voices to be heard (Reform, 2007). Although they came late to the party, the Swiss people have always embraced the ideals of the United Nations.

Switzerland’s foreign policy is focused on non-aggression and providing aid to people in need. The nation espouses democracy and the freedom to speak and offer new ideas. Environmental protection is a key initiative for the government, and they consider it in all aspects of their economic development. These ideals fit nicely into the framework for the United Nations, and after much discussion and debate, the citizens of Switzerland decided that they would be better off joining the international body as a change agent than sitting on the sidelines contemplating everything that the United Nations was doing wrong.

References

Gall, T. L. , & Hobby, J. (Eds. ). (2007). Worldmark Encyclopedia of the Nations (Vols. 1-5). Detroit, MI: Thomson Gale Kennedy, P. (2006). The Parliament of Man: The Past, Present, and Future of the United Nations. New York: Random House Reform of the United Nations. (December 21, 2007). Retrieved December 1, 2008 from http://www. eda. admin. ch/eda/en/home/topics/intorg/un/rechun. html Swiss welcomed into United Nations. (March 4, 2002). BBC News. Retrieved December 1, 2008 from http://news.bbc. co. uk/1/hi/world/europe. 1852461. stm Switzerland and the United Nations. (July 16, 2008). Retrieved December 1, 2008 from http://www. eda. admin. ch/eda/en/home/topics/intorg/un. html Traub, J. (2006).

The Best Intentions: Kofi Annan and the UN in the Era of American World Power. New York: Farrar, Straus, and Giroux United Nations Press Release GA/10041. (September 9, 2002). Retrieved December 1, 2008 from http://www. un. org/News/Press/docs/2002/GA10041. doc. htma