Swiss Neutrality Ends with Pro-UN Vote. (the Right Perspective)

By McManus, John F. | The New American, March 25, 2002 | Go to article overview

Swiss Neutrality Ends with Pro-UN Vote. (the Right Perspective)


McManus, John F., The New American


In 1986, three out of four voters in Switzerland said "no" in a referendum designed to have their nation join the United Nations. But on March 3rd, with pressure coming from within and without the country, the Swiss people allowed themselves to be caught up in the drive for world government. Their long history of fiercely guarded independence fell victim to a huge public relations campaign accusing UN opponents of isolationism. Told over and over that a "yes" vote would not impact the nation's long history of neutrality, many Swiss opted for UN membership.

Under the Swiss system known as "direct democracy," voters stream to the polls three or four times per year to decide weighty issues. A referendum becomes law only when two hurdles are crossed: victory in the popular vote and approval by a majority of the 23 cantons (like U.S. states). On March 3rd, the popular vote totals showed that 54.6 percent said "yes" to UN membership while only a bare majority, 12 of the 23 cantons, approved the measure. Switzerland will submit its formal application to become the 190th member of the world body when the UN General Assembly meets in September.

In the months leading up to the vote, Swiss President Kaspar Villiger, Foreign Minister Joseph Diess, and the seven-member governing cabinet all called for a "yes" vote. Leaders of most of the political parties, heads of trade unions, many industrial heavyweights, religious leaders, and academics joined them. Opposition to UN membership was led by the Committee to Preserve Neutrality, Direct Democracy and Independence, which urged continuance of the country's long history of staying out of the affairs of other nations. Switzerland's admirable spirit of neutrality began in the 13th century, took form with the 1815 Treaty of Paris, and became established formally in the 1848 Constitution.

One week prior to the March 3rd vote, the Committee to Preserve Neutrality suffered an anthrax scare. Though the powdery substance received at its office turned out to be something other than the dreaded anthrax spores, workers were sent home and the committee's office remained shut for two critically important days.

Charging Switzerland with isolationism proved to be the key tactic of the pro-UN forces. The evidence hardly supports this charge because Geneva has long been home to the UN's European headquarters, and the nation also plays host to the UN's World Health Organization and International Labor Organization. …

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