How does Switzerland position itself at the UN as a candidate to join the Security Council?

Switzerland is a member of the UN. Since 2002 it has expressed its opinion on the global organisation's decisions through the right to vote granted to all member states. Switzerland is a candidate to join the Security Council for the period 2023–24. Will its candidacy change how it votes at the UN? FDFA's experts maintain that it will not.

The UN flag, on the left, and the Swiss flag, on the right, flying above the Federal Palace.

The UN flag, on the left, and the Swiss flag, on the right, flying above the Federal Palace. © Keystone

Switzerland's candidacy for a non-permanent seat on the Security Council for the period 2023–24 has raised concerns that Switzerland's values at the UN will be compromised to avoid jeopardising its chances of success. However, Switzerland has expressed its views at the global organisation for many years based on the principles set out in the Federal Constitution, international law and the Federal Council's foreign policy strategy.

Six questions and answers provide a clearer insight.

How does decision-making on how Switzerland votes at the UN work?

Switzerland's positions within the UN are based on international law, the Swiss Federal Constitution, the foreign policy strategy and geographical and thematic strategies, all of which are approved by the Federal Council. Switzerland determines its voting behaviour based on the specific text of the resolution being put to the vote and in line with its strategic values and orientation.

Every position adopted is consulted on as part of a well-established and proven interdepartmental process between the offices and services involved and approved at the appropriate hierarchical level. The UN General Assembly alone deals with around 300 resolutions a year on a wide range of issues. Some of them are new and concern current developments, while others only undergo minor amendments from year to year. The Swiss UN missions always vote according to instructions from head office.

How does Switzerland benefit from being a member of the UN and standing as a candidate for the Security Council?

As laid down in the Federal Constitution, Switzerland advocates a fair and peaceful world order based on common rules. Switzerland's active presence at the most significant multilateral organisation enables it to pursue its foreign policy objectives and protect its interests. Switzerland and the UN are tackling the same issues: the fight against poverty, respect for human rights, the rule of law, the peaceful coexistence of peoples and the sustainable development of societies. The right to vote granted to the 193 member states enables Switzerland to express its views on global issues in this unique forum for dialogue and exchange.

A seat on the Security Council will enable Switzerland to protect its interests and pursue its well-recognised commitments in the areas of peacebuilding, international humanitarian law, humanitarian aid and human rights. Globally, the Security Council remains the most important body in terms of peacebuilding and international security. It adopts around 50 to 70 resolutions a year! By joining the Security Council, Switzerland would increase its global contacts, enhance its status and profile within multilateral bodies and pursue its peacebuilding mission.

Will Switzerland's candidacy for a seat on the Security Council change how it votes at the UN?

During this candidacy period, the positions that Switzerland represents at the UN will continue to be based on international law, the Swiss Federal Constitution, the foreign policy strategy and the geographical and thematic strategies of the Federal Council. Switzerland will not change its voting behaviour to win the seat – in fact quite the opposite. A consistent and coherent approach is part of Switzerland's foreign policy profile and this is recognised by other countries. Switzerland does not refrain from expressing its views on current affairs and international tensions within and outside of the multilateral bodies (e.g. on the conflict in Nagorno-Karabakh, the conflict in the Middle East, the Khashoggi case, etc.). If the adoption of a position jeopardises Switzerland's neutrality and interests or the Federal Council considers that issues remain open, it can also vote against resolutions or opt to abstain.

Switzerland's positions on global peace and security are not a secret and are well known by other countries. These positions will not change and will be expressed in the same way regardless of whether or not Switzerland is a candidate to join or holds a seat on the Security Council.

What is the point of abstaining on votes at the UN?

Abstention is one of three official options for voting at the UN (yes – no – abstention). This means it is completely legitimate and all countries use this option, even though it is used less often than yes and no votes overall. An abstention is not automatically deemed as being 'neutral' or 'non-positioning'. How an abstention is interpreted depends on the context of the specific issue and the positioning of the other UN member states.

In practice, an abstention is generally used for one of the following three reasons. Firstly, when some parts of a resolution are deemed welcome but reservations exist over others, without wanting to reject it in its entirety. Secondly, because a resolution's content is welcome, but the process to establish it was not satisfactory and one wishes to communicate this to the text's main authors. Thirdly, to join other “like-minded” states that are generally pursuing a similar policy on the matter put to the vote and which have decided to abstain.

Does Switzerland fear losing support for its candidacy owing to its positions?

For Switzerland to be elected to the Security Council, at least two-thirds of the votes of the UN General Assembly are required, which amounts to 129 votes. Switzerland's candidacy is well on track. A clear sign of trust, Switzerland has already received many expressions of support.

The outcome of the vote on the candidacy will not be determined by particular positions adopted by Switzerland as a member of the UN, but on the trust established. This trust has been built through Switzerland's long-standing commitment on multilateral bodies and is based on its proven expertise and ability to find solutions for global peace and security.

How is Swiss voting at the UN made transparent?

The Federal Council wishes to make Switzerland's foreign policy as transparent as possible and to firmly embed it in domestic policy. The results of voting at the UN can be viewed transparently on the UN's websites, including the UN's digital library. The various sessions are also broadcast on the UN's WebTV where voting can be followed live or viewed later.

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