In the future, we’ll still need a rules-based international order

UN, Swiss, and Geneva flags at the United Nations Offices at Geneva (Credit: Valentin Flauraud for Saype)

It has been 20 years since Switzerland joined the United Nations as a full member on 11 September 2002. However, our tradition of hosting international negotiations and organisations started long before that, as Geneva can be rightfully considered to be the cradle of multilateralism with the founding of the International Committee of the Red Cross in 1863.

Today, Geneva is one of, if not the most important centres of global governance thanks to the sheer number and diversity of actors, the thematic breadth of activities and expertise, and the impact that operational work has on the lives of people around the world on a daily basis.

International Geneva owes its position in the world to a number of factors, not least to the longstanding commitment of Switzerland as a host state. A reliable legal framework and close cooperation between federal, cantonal and city authorities are at the heart of our efforts to provide efficient infrastructure and living conditions through instruments such as the Foundation for Buildings for International Organizations (FIPOI), and the International Geneva Welcome Centre (CAGI).

As a member state, Switzerland has actively contributed to a number of important achievements of the UN since 2002. For example, in the creation of the Human Rights Council, the negotiation of the Paris Climate Agreement, the drafting of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, and the reform of the UN.

Much has been said and written in recent years and months about the crisis of multilateralism. Meanwhile, for a country like Switzerland, there is no desirable alternative to a rules-based international order, where norms and accountability prevail over power and privilege. Because Switzerland itself, by virtue of its constitution, is committed to the rule of law, democracy and human rights. Because Switzerland – an Alpine country sitting at the crossroads of centuries-old commercial routes in Europe – has always been highly interconnected, and because the prosperity of its people depends heavily on global peace and stability. 

Switzerland will therefore continue to work towards a rules-based international order and effective international institutions over the next 20 years and beyond. Knowing that these institutions must have a tangible, positive impact. Defending our national interests, but understanding that member countries’ priorities sometimes diverge and that compromise need not be a zero-sum game. Our forthcoming first-ever membership in the UN Security Council will provide additional opportunities to pursue our foreign policy goals including sustainable peace, protection of civilians, efficiency of the Council and climate security.

As a host state, Switzerland will continue to ensure that the missions, international organisations, NGOs and other actors are provided with the best possible working conditions, including by investing in modern, energy-efficient buildings, hybrid-ready workplaces, as well as an efficient and secure digital infrastructure. In addition, they will be able to tap into scientific research and forge partnerships with the private sector, for example, through the Geneva Science and Diplomacy Anticipator (GESDA) or initiatives such as Building Bridges in the area of sustainable finance.

When asked what international cooperation will look like in 20 years, I tend to draw on a quote attributed to, among others, Niels Bohr, the Physics Nobel laureate, who is reported to have said: “Prediction is very difficult, especially if it’s about the future!”

Climate change, pandemics, armed conflicts and social inequalities will almost certainly still be on the global agenda 20 years from now. But which issue will be the most urgent? What new challenges will we be facing? And what kind of international institutions will deal with them? We cannot reliably predict. However, robust, inclusive, fit-for-purpose international organisations will be critical to meeting the challenges of the future, whatever they may be. Switzerland is ready to contribute, both as a member and as a host state in particular, through continued support for International Geneva.

This article was published as part of a special 2nd anniversary print edition of Geneva Solutions, published in collaboration with Le Temps.