Switzerland voted overwhelmingly today to reject a government proposal that the country join the United Nations, 41 years after its founding.
Not one of the country's 26 cantons came out in favor of U.N. membership, and the overall vote in the national referendum was 75.7 percent against joining. Even the canton of Geneva, which has an income of about $600 million a year from the U.N. offices in Europe here, produced a 70 percent negative vote. For a referendum to carry in Switzerland, there has to be a majority of both the voters and the cantons.
Both houses of the Swiss parliament had approved the proposal to join the United Nations, and government ministers, led by Foreign Minister Pierre Aubert, campaigned hard to persuade the country that its 170 years of neutrality would not be compromised by membership in the world body. Switzerland already belongs to most of the specialized agencies and subsidiary organizations of the United Nations.
But the country said no to the government by a 3-to-1 majority that was far stronger than had been expected. Even though the referendum never was given much of a chance of succeeding, proponents of U.N. membership had hoped that the margin of defeat would be no more than 55 percent, so that another try could be made again in five or six years. But the defeat was so crushing that this is now unlikely.
Otto Fischer, a conservative member of parliament who led one of the biggest groups campaigning against membership, called the outcome "totally delightful" and said: "We have won such an enormous victory that it will be many, many years before the government tries again."
The highest vote to join the world body was cast in the Jura Canton, bordering on France, but it was only 40.8 percent in favor. The mountainous canton of Appenzell had the highest negative vote at 89 percent.
Swiss neutrality was enshrined by the European states at the Congress of Vienna in 1815, following the Napoleonic Wars. But Switzerland did join the old League of Nations after it settled on the shores of Lake Geneva in 1920, with a special provision that its policy of "perpetual neutrality" would not be compromised.
This was the formula that the Swiss government had hoped to repeat, but there was nothing much in the record of the League of Nations to encourage the Swiss to have another try. In particular, the Swiss could see themselves having to take sides in superpower votes and arguments at the United Nations that they prefer to avoid.