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Time to join the world?

Swiss voters will have to decide if their country still wants to remain apart Keystone Archive

Switzerland's permanent representative to the United Nations in New York, Jenö Staehelin, tells swissinfo why the country should join the UN.

“In Switzerland, our view of the UN tends to be limited to the Security Council and its activities. But there is much more to the UN. It embraces the whole planet, with 189 member countries, and is concerned with all the problems facing the world: not only peace and security but also issues such as health, development, disarmament and terrorism.

“The UN deals with any problem that has a global dimension. Viewed in this way, its work is important for every country. We, too, belong to the world community and we would be fooling ourselves if we thought we could remain apart by deciding not to join this organisation.”

One view is that Switzerland is too small to make its voice heard in the UN…

“I have also asked myself about Switzerland’s size. When I worked in Tokyo, I used to point out that Switzerland was an important financial centre and it ranked third among the countries investing in Japan. In my opinion, it is wrong to speak of ‘little Switzerland’.

“Certainly in terms of geographical size we are small. But in terms of population we are about average. And when it comes to economic strength, we are one of the major players.

“What we really need to think about are the interests we have to defend and the ways in which we can contribute to the on-going task of tackling the world’s problems. It’s not size that counts here, but a country’s determination to play an active role.”

Swiss voters have rejected UN membership twice. If you could speak to those voters, what would you say to them?

“I would of course need to know why they had voted against the UN. It is clear that in 1986 the world was a different place. Nowadays, the UN represents the whole world, with all its difficulties and contradictions. The UN cannot be any better than the world itself.

“But perhaps those who were opposed to membership were concerned about Swiss neutrality. If so, they need to know that UN membership presents no kind of threat.

“If they are fearful of Switzerland losing its sovereignty, I would point out that half of the UN member countries had to fight to free themselves from the yoke of colonialism; they did not become members until after achieving independence.

“If, on the other hand, their objection was financially motivated, they should realize that the additional contribution of ten or so per cent that Switzerland would have to pay for full membership is a good investment.

“It would give us greater influence over the organisation’s administrative and financial procedures. Finally, if we want to continue in our role of honest broker, we must join; outside the UN we shall be far less effective.”

Interview by Mariano Masserini in New York

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SWI - a branch of Swiss Broadcasting Corporation SRG SSR

SWI - a branch of Swiss Broadcasting Corporation SRG SSR