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Swiss have UN role, says British diplomat

Switzerland is expected to take up its UN General Assembly seat in the autumn Keystone Archive

A senior British diplomat has dismissed suggestions that Switzerland is destined to take a back seat in the United Nations.

Opponents of UN membership have repeatedly argued that the Swiss will lack influence and will be forced to toe the line of the United States-dominated UN Security Council.

However, Dr Nicola Brewer, director of global issues at the Foreign and Commonwealth Office in London, insisted that Switzerland would not be at the beck and call of the “Big Five” permanent Security Council members: the United States, Britain, France, China and Russia.

“I think it’s an exaggeration to say that they control the agenda,” Brewer told swissinfo.

“Switzerland has already been playing a big role in the UN system for many years,” she added. “It’s played a big part in specialised agencies as wide ranging as the United Nations Development Programme, the Demining Institute and International Committee of the Red Cross, for example.

“And there is plenty of opportunity within the UN system, as a full member, for Switzerland to play a full part in the General Assembly, but also, for example, in chairing individual committees where a single county can make significant impact.”

Observer status

Brewer, who is Britain’s senior diplomat working on UN issues in London, said it was important not to underplay the role of the UN General Assembly. Switzerland is expected to take up its seat in the autumn after sitting merely as an observer since 1948.

Earlier this month, 55 per cent of voters came out in favour of Switzerland joining the UN – the last country bar the Vatican to become of a member of the world body.

Brewer said it would be up to the Swiss to decide for themselves how active a role they wanted to play within the UN. But she expected the transition from observer to full member status to be a smooth one since Switzerland was already familiar with the system and had been making a “big contribution” for years.

She said the Swiss had a great deal of experience and expertise in a number of different fields to bring to the UN table, especially as regards its humanitarian and democratic traditions.

Another key argument of opponents to UN membership was that the Swiss could find themselves being drawn into military conflicts and forsaking the country’s cherished neutrality. But Brewer stressed that these fears were wide of the mark.

“Certainly the UK would very much welcome it if Switzerland wanted to play a more active part. But it is up to the troop contributing countries to decide whether or not to take part in a particular peacekeeping operation,” she said.


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SWI - a branch of Swiss Broadcasting Corporation SRG SSR

SWI - a branch of Swiss Broadcasting Corporation SRG SSR