- The Washington Times - Monday, March 4, 2002

GENEVA Swiss voters approved joining the United Nations yesterday, 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 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 had 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 remained a guiding principle since, although recent historical reviews 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 percent to 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 40 percent to 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" votes.
It was a sharp reversal of a similar Swiss vote in 1986, when 75 percent rejected U.N. membership, backing arguments that East-West polarization would compromise Swiss neutrality.
The government pushed the latest initiative, believing that the political climate had 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.
"It will lead to the weakening of Switzerland," Mr. Blocher said. "Freedom and the rights of the people will be limited, and neutrality will at the very least be deeply damaged."

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