TIMELINES: Citizens of what neutral country vote to join the United Nations on March 3, 2002?

March 3, 2012 Updated: September 29, 2015

Friday, March 3, 2012


On March 3, 2002, in a nationwide referendum, Switzerland decides to join the United Nations. Membership is approved by 55 percent in the popular vote. But the vote is closer in the second phase during which a majority of Switzerland’s 23 cantons also have to approve membership—they do by 12 to 11. The longtime neutral and independent nation departs from its isolationist stance though some remain opposed to joining highlighting that Switzerland would be bound by U.N. Security Council decisions, which could mean involving Swiss soldiers in conflict situations. In 2002, Switzerland is already an observer state, along with the Vatican, and is a paying member of several U.N. agencies as well as host to its European headquarters in Geneva.


In the decade since Switzerland has been a member of the United Nations it has deployed 25 military and police personnel on U.N. peacekeeping missions to Lebanon, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Burundi, and South Sudan, ranking it 99th out of 193 donor countries. The U.N. office in Geneva—hosting 242 delegations, seven U.N. Specialized Agencies, and 27 other international organizations—is second in importance only to the U.N.’s headquarters in New York. Currently, over 1,500 Swiss nationals work for the United Nations. Last year, in another step contested by some as inconsistent with the Swiss Law on Neutrality, Parliament approved Switzerland to stand for election to the U.N.’s highest body, the Security Council, for the 2023–24 period.