If all goes according to plan, Switzerland will sit on the United Nations Security Council in 2023 and 2024, at the very heart of the world's most important multilateral body. The Swiss candidacy will be examined on Thursday, 9 June, by the 193 member states of the General Assembly. Barring any surprises, one of the two mandates promised to the Western European bloc will go to Switzerland. The election is anonymous and a state must collect two thirds of the votes.
Never before has the country had such a springboard into the international scene. Never before has a foreign minister had such an opportunity to promote Switzerland’s diplomacy of good offices and to establish the reputation of international Geneva. In this opportunity, President of the Confederation Ignazio Cassis could find his lucky star.
Why we’re talking about it. The UN Security Council is dominated by the five great powers: the United States, Russia, China, France and Great Britain. They have veto power and their influence on the other ten non-permanent members cannot be overstated.
However, Switzerland already holds key mandates in all important UN bodies and has been committed since 2013, together with about 20 other members, to a long-standing demand to reform the Security Council. It will be able to take a cue from other nations that have used the springboard to launch peace and security-building initiatives.
For example, in January 2022, Norway, a non-permanent member of the Security Council, hosted the first overseas meeting of a delegation from the Taliban regime with members of the Afghan civil society, as well as diplomatic delegations from the United States, Britain and France.
From 2013 to 2014, Luxembourg and Jordan succeeded in establishing humanitarian access to Syria, in the midst of a civil war, despite opposition from Russia and China.
Compatible with Swiss neutrality. Switzerland is probably the only nation in the world whose admission to the Security Council is more debated at home than internationally. The Swiss application was submitted as early as 2011 and was initially opposed. The Swiss People's Party’s nationalist circles tried to block the project on several occasions in the name of neutrality. Their efforts were In vain. The parliament was consulted at length and confirmed its support for the project. After the National Council, the Council of States clearly rejected a motion two months ago to abandon the bid.
In its 2015 report “Switzerland's candidacy for a non-permanent seat on the Security Council for the period 2023-2024”, the Federal Council emphasised that Switzerland could continue to fully exercise its neutrality while being a non-permanent member of the Security Council:
“The Security Council is not a party to the conflict in the sense of the law of neutrality. Its mandate is to maintain peace and security in the world.”
Switzerland can draw on the experience of other neutral and non-aligned states, such as Austria and Ireland. Foreign Minister Ignazio Cassis has also regularly emphasised the importance of international Geneva in matters of disarmament, human rights and health, or while defining humanitarian policies during conflicts.
Parliament’s involvement. Switzerland's mandate should begin in January 2023, for a two year period, during which the parliament will be regularly consulted. In the Federal Council's January 2020 report, concrete proposals were made. The foreign policy committees will receive regular reports on Swiss initiatives.
Seeing doors open, strengthening a network of relations, obtaining a seat or two within a UN body: these are the realistic expectations that a non-permanent member of the Security Council can have, according to the government. These are certainly opportunities for Swiss diplomacy in the current context of extreme polarisation between powers. It is now up to Switzerland to play its cards.