The major crisis now gripping the United Nations is fundamentally an identity crisis. The universal values that brought nations together are now being tested to their limits under the pressure of militaristic thinking that is entirely divorced from the values of peace and human rights. The war in Ukraine makes this clear. On the one hand, there is a country, a permanent member of the Security Council and which, in the middle of the 21st century, attacks another country under the pretext of denazification. On the other hand, there is a western bloc that is outdoing itself at the level of rhetoric, and has committed resolutely to arming the country concerned.
Besides the climate catastrophe announced by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) and confirmed in the report of 18 May published by the World Meteorological Organization, and the humanitarian and food crises, which are being managed as best as possible by a financially weak UN, the war in Ukraine has compounded most of all a crisis of values, which is bound up with the political instrumentalization of the world body. The Geneva-based Human Rights Council itself, successor to the Commission of the same name, does not always escape this instrumentalization. Yet, the United Nations was not created in 1945 on the ruins of the League of Nations based on a dualistic, Manichean worldview.
Makane Moïse Mbengue, Professor at the Faculty of Law of the University of Geneva and member of the Institute for International Law, suggests that "the discourse around the values, aims and basic principles of the United Nations should be reframed". In this context, a key role falls to the African continent, which until recently accounted for almost 70 per cent of the volume of United Nations interventions. As the first continent, and not being part of an Eastern or Western bloc, it is yet again witnessing a confrontation that has come about with the rekindling of the Cold War. As the eldest son of the earth, the continent could offer "that little something extra" to the international community. Likewise, historically neutral countries should strive harder for a better world. This also applies to Switzerland, in particular, and all the more so having just become a member of the Security Council – one of the most important of the six organs of the United Nations. As Swiss sociologist Professor Jean Ziegler reminds us: "The UN is the last line of defence before chaos."
What is Switzerland's role?
June 2022 is a historic juncture for Switzerland, in that it will cease to be part of the list of 62 countries that have never sat on the Security Council. With the new trust reposed in it by the United Nations General Assembly, the Swiss Confederation, having joined the UN in 2002, could be that breath of fresh air to relations among the 15 Member States, and more particularly, the five permanent members (China, France, the Russian Federation, the United Kingdom and the United States). Despite the sanctions against Russia, in which Switzerland is also participating, Switzerland's credibility and neutrality could still serve to build bridges between nations. The Swiss Confederation, in concert with other countries from the African and Latin American continents, could therefore work towards reframing the discourse in the Security Council, so that it is better aligned with the ideals of the Charter of the United Nations.
Switzerland could act as a mediator in the current war between Russia and Ukraine, being neither a member of NATO nor of the European Union. To that end, it would need to infuse its values of peace and participatory democracy into this powerful body during its two-year membership of the Council. It will be difficult, if not impossible, to abolish the veto power enshrined in the Charter of the United Nations, and accorded to the five permanent members in virtue of their key role in the founding of the organization. However, together with other countries, Switzerland could draw on the resolution adopted by consensus in the General Assembly on 26 April 2022. It provides that the use of a veto would in future automatically trigger a General Assembly meeting, enabling all UN Member States to scrutinize and comment on the veto. The resolution is entitled "Standing mandate for a General Assembly debate when a veto is cast in the Security Council", and was adopted without a vote, in the wake of Russia's use of the veto in the Council the day after it invaded Ukraine, and calls for its unconditional withdrawal from the country. It signals the creation of a new means by which to exert pressure on the countries with a veto to display greater responsibility. UN Member Countries have entrusted the Council with the principal responsibility for preserving world peace and international security and have agreed that when acting on their behalf, the Council must at all times display the greatest possible sense of responsibility for realizing "the goals and principles of the Charter of the United Nations".
Is neutrality compatible with the Security Council?
Switzerland is committed to the ideals enshrined in the Charter of the United Nations. Its presence in the Security Council must therefore reflect its commitment to peace and security in the world and within the world organization. The fundamental aim of Swiss neutrality is comparable to the aspiration of the United Nations inasmuch as the latter constitutes a law-based system designed to "save succeeding generations from the scourge of war". In fact it is evident that countries whose independence and impartiality vis-à-vis a conflict are beyond question, and which have no direct national interests or hidden agenda bound up with the resolution of the conflict, are predestined for the role of honest broker. The seat in the Security Council offers Switzerland new possibilities to contribute to peace, security and an equitable international order. Even if the UN has so far not fulfilled all its missions successfully, it still remains “the last line of defence before chaos”, to paraphrase John Ziegler.