Joachim Leger; translated into English by Claudia Bragman
On 24 October, the “Decade” jubilee took place at the Palais des Nations. The event was held to celebrate Switzerland’s 10 year membership to the UN. It was centred around several main topics (human rights, security council reform, disarmament, peacebuilding, the environment and ethnic minorities). These reflect various issues that Switzerland has highlighted as a Member State. GIMUN worked with the SAJV, JUNES and Youth Rep to organise the festivities. (For more information, go to http://decade2012.webs.com/organizers.)
Switzerland: active in the UN for decades
The opening ceremony begins. Several speakers, including representatives from the Swiss government, academic institutions and the UN, describe Switzerland’s accession to the UN. The most memorable speech was given by Mr Joshua Lincoln, Chef de Cabinet at the UN in Geneva. He encouraged young people to make greater commitments to the supranational body. This was done without minimising the challenges faced by the UN: his speech laid particular emphasis on the problem of youth unemployment. He also underlined that Switzerland began participating in the UN long before it became a member. Indeed, although we are now celebrating its 10 year membership, the country has been active for many decades. Geneva has been home to the European headquarters of the United Nations since 1946. Meanwhile, Switzerland has been committed to important specialised UN bodies (such as the ILO, WHO, HCR, etc.) and has provided a base for some of these organisations’ headquarters since 1947.
During the Question and Answer session, the students asked very down-to-earth questions, such as: “Will the UN repatriate its headquarters in Geneva to New York?” Mr Lincoln confirmed that this was a topical issue and the pros and cons were currently being debated. On one hand, Switzerland has a historical involvement in the UN; on the other hand, Member States are keener to move towards centralisation.
Group work leading to favourable discussion
Guests then separated into groups of twenty. Each group addressed a specific topic. The working session was divided into two parts: a speaker would begin by giving a presentation on the topic; participants were then asked to split into small groups and answer various questions. Jasna Lazarevic, who works at the Swiss Federal Department of Foreign Affairs, led the session for the group working on the disarmament topic. The discussion turned out to be the most rewarding part of the session: working in small groups is extremely simulating and leads to productive debates. Those centred around the following question: “What factors could be preventing disarmament?”, led to the identification of several factors. The various groups made particular reference to the economic crisis. During a general downturn in the global economy, few manufacturing countries are inclined to reduce their production of weapons. This is a sector of the economy that employs a good number of people. For example, Lockheed Martin, an American arms industry giant, employed 132,000 people in 2010. The development of emerging countries, and particularly of BRICS members (Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa) can be considered as a second factor. These countries are experiencing very strong growth and this filters down to their military budget. In 2007, China’s GDP grew by 11.5% and, consequently, its military budget increased by 17.5%. Lastly, the Arab Spring factor was tackled. Admittedly, one can take pleasure from the Tunisians, Libyans and Egyptians aspiring to self-determination. However, these revolutions led to the production and transfer of arms, which have still not been recovered by the aforementioned States.
The day finished with a general summary of the working sessions. The event had allowed for constructive debate, therefore, its objective had been achieved.