faculty & experts
24 April 2023

A Plus for Peace: Switzerland in the United Nations Security Council (UNSC)

Swiss National Science Foundation Assistant Professor Sara Hellmüller and Associate Professor Lucile Maertens look at the implications of Switzerland’s new role on the UN Security Council.

From 2023 to 2024, Switzerland is an elected member on the UNSC and it holds the presidency this May. The UNSC is the main international decision-making body on matters of international peace and security. It has five permanent members, the so-called P5, with a veto right (China, France, Russia, United Kingdom, United States) and 10 non-permanent members elected for two-year terms (E10). 

Switzerland announced its candidacy for a seat on the UNSC in January 2011, meaning more than 10 years before its membership. Under the slogan “A Plus for Peace”, the country led a campaign that demonstrated its contributions to multilateralism and international peace and security, its strong commitment to the UN objectives and its legitimacy to hold a seat at the UNSC. Throughout, Switzerland built on its identity as neutral, small and International Geneva host state, underlining its specific capacities and gaining support from similar states. The strategy paid off: Switzerland was elected with flying colours on 9 June 2022 with 187 out of 190 votes in the UN General Assembly. 

What does UNSC membership mean for Switzerland? Switzerland’s membership has caused domestic debate and there has been skepticism about what elected members, and particularly “small” states like Switzerland, can achieve in the UNSC in light of the more powerful P5. However, elected members can play important roles in the UNSC by influencing agenda-setting, norm development and decision-making. For Switzerland, the membership provides a unique platform to advance its foreign policy. 

In that light, it has set four main priorities: the protection of civilians, sustainable peace, climate security and effectiveness of the UN system. It has promoted these priorities through a variety of roles: it chairs the 1718 Democratic People's Republic of Korea (DPRK) Sanctions Committee; holds co-penholderships, writing draft resolutions with Brazil on the negotiations for cross-border humanitarian access in Syria and with Ghana on the UN Office for West Africa and the Sahel; co-chairs the expert groups on climate change and security with Mozambique and the United Arab Emirates (UAE) and on women, peace and security with the UAE; and acts as focal points on the International Criminal Court with Japan and on the topic of hunger and conflict with Brazil.

Switzerland’s seat in the UN Security Council also creates a unique opportunity for researchers to gather insights into elected members. Its first-time membership and identity as a small and neutral state allow for a better understanding of the role of the E10 and how specific identity traits influence their practices. A cooperative research project between the Geneva Graduate Institute and the University of Lausanne funded by the Fondation pour l’Université de Lausanne will therefore provide a documentation of Swiss membership in the UNSC.

So what can we expect from Switzerland’s membership? It is likely that Switzerland will produce incremental changes, but with long-term effects on the way the UN works and reinforce the Swiss image as a neutral broker and multilateral champion.