The acute analysis of the Security Council debate on 5 October 2020 by Karin Leukefeld1 cannot be overestimated. For the critical thinker this sobering report and political presentation of the intimate insider of Middle East affairs is an invitation to take a closer look. And for Swiss readers the inevitable question arises: Why on earth should the Swiss federal government pursue a seat for Switzerland in this body? The topic has already been scrutinised twice in Current Concerns.2 On 30 October President of the Confederation Simonetta Sommaruga and Federal Councillor Ignazio Cassis have submitted the candidacy of Switzerland for a non-permanent seat in the Security Council session 2023/2024 to the UN delegates. “Members who know how to build bridges are needed”, Sommaruga said. Apparently certain figures in the Swiss federal capital would prefer the shiny international stage to the rewarding but tiresome treadmill of doing the ‘good services’.
I followed Ms Leukefeld’s advice and read through the original Security Council debate of 5 October3 in its entirety. The deceitful games NATO states are playing in the UN Security Council became more and more obvious. I started to ask myself many questions: How would the Swiss envoy react in such a situation? How could he take a responsible stance at all as the representative of neutral Switzerland, acting in the name of his country? Considerable damage to Switzerland’s reputation – with grave consequences for the trust in our country – would be inevitable.
How to get involved as neutral voice in the power struggle
As Karin Leukefeld showed, the “permanent three” (France, UK, USA), assisted by the other representatives of Western states (Germany, Belgium, Estonia), engaged in a power struggle with the Russian chairman throughout the entire session. The latter had invited Mr José Bustani, former director general of the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons, to give his expert opinion at the session. Since the NATO states knew his viewpoint regarding the Syria question and didn’t like it they used the opportunity to play a trick on Russia. The British envoy took the lead and refused to listen to the invited expert, speaking in the name of the other five NATO states as well, citing rather flimsy reasons. He demanded that “the presidency put the issue of its proposed briefer to a procedural vote.”
When the chairman pointed out that his position entailed the right to invite external experts according to the rules of order and it had almost never happened before that such an invitation was questioned by other members this was to no avail. Then the representatives of the UK, France and Germany started to attack the Russian chairman with absurd tit-for-tat arguments. He remained calm and responded even with a touch of humor, supported by the Chinese envoy who made a point with his balanced, matter-of-fact statements. When some of the other members of the Security Council tried to moderate they were simply ignored by the “big guys”.
In such a scenario a Swiss representative would find himself in a precarious situation. Should he voice his opinion and risk to be ignored as one of the “small guys”? Should he teach his colleagues some lesson in democracy and explain the matter to them? In this case: “The chairman simply adhered to our rules of order when he invited this expert and I suggest we now just listen to him”. Or should he remain silent until the “big guys” have finished their quarrels? But then, what’s the point in his sitting in the Security Council?
The scam with the voting question
The fact, that the result of a procedural vote would be different depending on the wording of the voting question, was clear to everyone present. Nine (out of 15) votes must be achieved by a proposal in the Security Council to be adopted. Therefore, the Briton asked the president to put the question to the vote: “The Russian Federation wishes to propose this briefer. Who supports it?” His tactical reasoning: Apart from Russia and China, hardly any member will agree, at least not the six NATO states, and most of the others are economically/politically dependent on the goodwill of the great powers and will therefore prefer not to get caught in the nettles.
The chairman, on the other hand, wanted to put the question to the vote: “Who is opposed to Mr José Bustani briefing today’s meeting?” Probably only the six NATO states would have agreed to this question, in any case they would not have brought the nine votes together. Then José Bustani could have contributed his important information.
According to the saying: “De Gschiider git noh, de Esel bliibt schtoh” (The saner gives way, the donkey stops.) the president, after pulling the rope for a long time, let the British version be voted on. As we learned from Ms Leukefeld, only three members voted for José Bustani’s speech. Nevertheless, the Russian chairman held the upper hand in a shrewd manner by reading Bustani’s speech himself – to the impotent indignation of his opponents.
How would the Swiss representative have voted? Would he have had the courage to cast his vote for José Bustani’s speech, because this is the only correct answer based on international law? The representative of South Africa, Mr. van Shalkwyk, had this courage (see box below). Or would the Swiss have abstained? Together with the states that are dependent on the favour of the “big ones” and who think they have “nothing to say anyway”? Or even worse: would he have voted no, thus demonstrating that parts of the Swiss elite would like to belong to NATO completely? This, it should be noted, against the will of the people, who in polls regularly vote with 90 or more per cent in favour of maintaining Switzerland’s neutrality.
The UN Security Council –
no place for neutral Switzerland
In summary, it must be noted: For Switzerland a seat on the Security Council would not be responsible. Since as a small, neutral state, Switzerland has voluntarily committed itself to subjecting every act of cooperation in the world to strict criteria: How can our country, how can we privileged Swiss people contribute to making the world a more peaceful place? Who would like to make use of our much appreciated good offices? Where can we bring urgently needed humanitarian aid? To which conflicting parties can we offer a safe place and our experienced diplomats for delicate talks?
With a seat on the Security Council, on the other hand, Switzerland would share responsibility for the decisions that are made there – even if it makes no sound and abstains from voting. With this in mind, outgoing NZZ editor Michael Schoenenberger writes: “Switzerland as a member of the UN Security Council? This will raise difficult to unsolvable questions, or at the very least it will lead to very unpleasant positional references that will hardly be compatible with the current understanding of neutrality”.4
The people in the federal administration are trying to appease such concerns: In the two years that Switzerland would be on the Security Council, there would hardly ever be any “important” decisions. Rather, only “technical issues” are usually dealt with there.
Was the vote on a speaker, who would stand up to the major NATO powers, not an “important” decision? Could the Swiss, who would have been involved, have contributed something to more honesty and humanity in the relations between the states? But it is true: Of course there are much more important questions that the Security Council has to deal with: Decisions on war and peace or on economic sanctions against a state, or rather to the detriment of its people. Would Switzerland dare to say no? Or would it remain “neutral” and abstain? However it would or would not get involved – a seat on the Security Council would do great damage to Switzerland’s reputation.
After all, how did Switzerland’s patron saint, Niklaus von Flüe, advise the Swiss 600 years ago: “Machet den zun nyt zuo wyt!” (Don’t make the fence too wide!) and “Don’t interfere in foreign affairs!” •
1 “With Syria the would-be great power Germany shows up”, in: Current Concerns of 28 October 2020
2 Wüthrich, Marianne. “UN Security Council: No place for neutral Switzerland”. in: Current Concerns of 18 March 2013, and “Foreign Policy Program of the Federal Council with question mark. What is neutral Switzerland doing in the UN Security Council”, in: Current Concerns of 22 July 2020 p. 9. See also the statements of the long-time Swiss ambassador Dr phil. Paul Widmer quoted there.
3 United Nations Security Council. Seventy-fifth year. 8764th meeting. S/PV.8764. Monday, 5 October 2020, New York
4 Schoenenberger, Michael. “Kleinstaat am Scheideweg” (Small state at a crossroads), in: Neue Zürcher Zeitung of 29 October 2020
mw. For 30 years, ETH Zurich has been conducting annual surveys on the attitudes of the population towards Switzerland’s foreign and security policy. The latest report from 2019 states: “The principle of neutrality has enjoyed an extremely high level of approval among the population since the start of measurements, and this has tended to increase in recent years.” [Emphasis added mw]
When asked “In your opinion, how can Switzerland best protect its interests and at the same time contribute to security in the world?” 96%(!) answered: “Switzerland should maintain its neutrality.” The research team explains: “The very high level of approval for maintaining the Neutrality is independent of the age, educational level, language region and gender of the respondents.” (Sicherheit 2019, p. 120)
To the question “Which of the following statements would you agree with?” 94% of the participants answered: “Thanks to its neutrality, Switzerland can mediate in conflicts and render good service internationally” and 85%: “Neutrality is inextricably linked with our state concept.” (Sicherheit 2019, p. 123)
A seat on the UN Security Council is definitely in contradiction to the will of the Swiss, which has been affirmed for 30 years.
Source: Szvircsev Tresch, Tibor und Wenger, Andreas. «Sicherheit 2019 –
Aussen-, Sicherheits- und Verteidigungspolitische Meinungsbildung im Trend"
(Security 2019 – The Trend of Opinions on Foreign, Security and Defense Policy).
Military Academy (MILAK) at ETH Zurich and
Center for Security Studies, ETH Zürich. (www.css.ethz.ch)
“I am not going to dwell too long on the vote that we needed to take today. It is unfortunate that we had to vote on a briefer. My delegation would be the last to stifle any kind of view that should or needs to be brought to the Council, or that others feel should be brought to the Council, as long as it is relevant. And we believe that Mr Bustani, as a former Director General of the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW), eminently understands the procedures of the organization — how it works and how to deal with previous and current chemical-weapon States. Therefore, we were not open to supporting the stifling of any kind of view, whether we agreed with it or not. We would not necessarily have agreed with his opinions, but we would have wanted to hear them. […]
As indicated on a number of occasions, South Africa will continue to work for the depoliticisation of the relevant management and decision-making structures established under the Chemical Weapons Convention and also towards ensuring that States parties be held accountable for any violations of their obligations, based on credible, impartial and irrefutable evidence.
In conclusion, South Africa firmly believes that we should endeavour to approach the situation in Syria in a holistic manner, whereby the political, humanitarian and chemical weapons tracks all converge in a single unified path to long-term peace, security and stability for Syria. The only sustainable solution to the Syrian question remains the achievement of a political solution through an inclusive Syrian-led dialogue aimed at a political resolution reflective of the will of the people of Syria.”
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