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Posted: 3/3/2002 1:32:22 PM EDT
[b]Swiss Narrowly OK Joining U.N.[/b] GENEVA (AP) - Swiss voters approved joining the United Nations (news - web sites) on Sunday, finding the prospect of a greater role in today's interlinked world more compelling than fears that it would threaten the nation's centuries-old tradition of neutrality. The country will become the United Nations' 190th member after sitting on the sidelines for more than five decades. Only the Vatican (news - web sites) remains outside the world body. During the Cold War, Switzerland feared U.N. membership would sweep it into the battles between East and West. More recently, opponents have feared having to submit to the political dictates of the Security Council. The Swiss have practiced forms of neutrality on and off since the 13th century, but the principle was laid down formally in the 1815 Treaty of Paris that ended the Napoleonic Wars. In that pact, European powers guaranteed the "perpetual neutrality" of Switzerland. The Swiss themselves made it part of their 1848 constitution. Treating both sides in a war evenhandedly has remained a guiding principle since, although recent historical reviews have said Switzerland went too far in helping the Germans in World War II. The popular vote gave the bid for U.N. membership a comfortable 55-45 percent approval, but the crucial second hurdle — approval by at least half the country's cantons, or states — received a much narrower 12-11 result. The referendum had the highest turnout in a decade, with 58 percent of qualified voters participating. Switzerland's three or four annual referendums often draw only 40-50 percent of voters. Small mountain cantons — most of them German-speaking — voted heavily against the United Nations. But the French-speaking cantons of the west and key German-speaking cantons of central Switzerland prevailed with their yes vote. It was a sharp reversal of a similar Swiss vote in 1986, when 75 percent rejected U.N. membership, backing opponents who said East-West polarization would compromise Swiss neutrality. The government pushed the latest initiative, believing that the political climate has changed since the height of the Cold War and that it was time for the 7 million Swiss to play a full role in the world. Billionaire industrialist Christoph Blocher — a nationalist politician who led the opposition this time — said he "deeply regretted" the outcome. (cont.)
Link Posted: 3/3/2002 1:32:54 PM EDT
"It will lead to the weakening of Switzerland," Blocher said. "Freedom and the rights of the people will be limited, and neutrality will at the very least be deeply damaged." Foreign Minister Joseph Deiss assured voters, "Switzerland remains neutral." The seven-member governing Cabinet, which had campaigned hard for approval, expressed relief at the outcome. "Everyone stands to gain from this," a government statement said. "Switzerland will now be better able to safeguard its interests and assume its responsibilities in the world." Swiss industry and banks had feared a no vote would make Switzerland an international outcast with a selfish and uncaring reputation. "Today is a great day for Switzerland," said Deiss. However, President Kaspar Villiger said he was concerned that the cantonal vote was so close and said it indicated a "malaise" that had to be studied and taken seriously. Switzerland has not moved to join any military alliance, such as the North Atlantic Treaty Organization. But the government does have a longer-term goal of joining the European Union (news - web sites), which is expected to encounter even tougher resistance. Deiss said the U.N. vote had "nothing to do with entry into the EU." U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan (news - web sites), who also had urged Swiss voters to approve membership, welcomed the vote and said it took the United Nations closer to universality. The referendum recalled Switzerland's vote to join the United Nations' forerunner, the League of Nations, in 1920. Switzerland became a member, but the league was seen as largely ineffectual — in part because the United States stayed out. Nationwide, 1,489,062 people voted in favor, compared with 1,237,725 against. Switzerland has long been a dues-paying member of some U.N. specialized agencies like the World Health Organization (news - web sites) and the International Labor Organization. And recently it has been stepping up its contributions to peacekeeping operations. The nationalists plastered the country with posters calling U.N. membership a waste of money. The government says membership should cost $42 million a year, but dismisses that amount as minimal in comparison with the $1.8 billion a year brought to Switzerland annually by the presence of the United Nations' European headquarters in Geneva.
Link Posted: 3/3/2002 1:49:13 PM EDT
Sounds like the opponents of joining sure had the right idea. I saw the report about the vote (before I heard the result) last night and was surprised that they weren't already a member. DOH!
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