Sweden must stand up to increased threats of nuclear weapons

On Sunday, we woke up to the news that North Korea had tested another hydrogen bomb, ten times more powerful than the bombs dropped by the United States on Japan in 1945. The rising tensions call for counter-strategies. A first step is for Sweden to sign the UN agreement on a ban on nuclear weapons, writes Malin Nilsson at the International Women's Union for Peace and Freedom.

Recent debate on UN Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, which was negotiated this summer and voted through by 122 states including Sweden, has been scary to say the least. Strong reactions have followed the government's intentions to sign the agreement. Suddenly, the condemnation of nuclear weapons is not self-evident in Swedish politics.

Sweden has been an active opponent of nuclear weapons since the closure of its own nuclear weapons program in the 50s. Nuclear disarmament has been central to Swedish foreign policy, so also for bourgeois parties. Sweden's security is not built with nuclear weapons.

New threats to nuclear weapons

Suddenly, the rhetoric of the Cold War has risen. Terror balance and deterrence have become new buzzwords. We are now risking a development where more and more countries believe they need to acquire nuclear weapons to protect themselves. The fact that North Korea's test explosions continue despite President Trump's threats is frightening proof that nuclear deterrence does not work.

We have worked with nuclear disarmament for decades and guarded international disarmament forums, inside and outside the UN, as well as been involved and actively pushed for the ban process that led to a ban on nuclear weapons. Until now, our tool has been the Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT). The work for non-proliferation has been and is important, but it has also proved insufficient.

The reluctance of nuclear-weapon states to disarm has been clear and frustrating for nuclear-weapon-free states and for the international civil society. All nuclear weapons states today invest huge sums in programs to renew their arsenals, despite committing themselves through the non-proliferation agreement to disarm.

The work on nuclear disarmament has been stagnant for two decades. It is not something we accept, we do not sit and wait. The reality that 15 nuclear weapons continue to exist, thousands of times more powerful than the bombs over Japan, cannot be ignored. It is a threat to all of humanity. Many therefore realized the need for new tools that complement those that already exist. The Prohibition Agreement is a huge step forward in nuclear disarmament. It gives us a new tool and makes it clear that the activities that North Korea is now engaged in are illegal, something that should be a matter of course.

The process has been going on for several years

In the debate, it may sound as if this process came suddenly, out of nowhere. That's not true. The process has been going on for several years and comes from the work and the international meetings within the non-proliferation agreement. It has also been preceded by several international conferences (Norway, Mexico and Austria) where the humanitarian consequences of nuclear weapons have been discussed and where experts and researchers have presented reports.

In Sweden, the issue has been debated several times in the media. At the beginning of 2016, Foreign Minister Margot Wallström appointed a delegation for international law and disarmament, in which experts prepared documentation that describes a number of different perspectives (political, legal and security policy) on the ban process. IKFF has together with the Swedish Physicians against Nuclear Weapons worked actively to keep members of the Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee updated on the process even before a decision on negotiations was made in the UN General Assembly last year.

The ban will not overnight conjure up the threat from North Korea or any other nuclear-weapon state, nor is anyone claiming it. But the agreement establishes the illegality of nuclear weapons and thus clarifies the goal of a world free of nuclear weapons, fully in line with the non-proliferation agreement. The agreement stigmatizes nuclear weapons and prohibits not only their use, possession, testing, development and transfer, but also all assistance to the prohibited activities. This significantly complicates the financing, production and transport of nuclear weapons worldwide, which can make a real difference. For example, ratification of the agreement would stop the billion-dollar investments that Swedish AP funds currently make in nuclear weapons programs.

An obligation to work against nuclear weapons

One of the critics' main arguments is that if Sweden signs the agreement, it would worsen relations with the United States and NATO. There are no legal grounds in the agreement that prevent Sweden, or for that matter NATO members, from agreeing to the ban on nuclear weapons. Several NATO members have reserved the right to have national rules and laws against nuclear weapons. Working for nuclear disarmament is an obligation under the Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT), a treaty signed by all NATO member states. Through the agreement, NATO states can also live up to their commitments to reduce dependence on nuclear weapons in their security doctrines.

Sweden's view of nuclear weapons is not news to the United States. The only reason for a more difficult cooperation with the United States would in this case be a desire to punish Sweden for not complying with political pressure. This method is also not new. We recognize it from previous international trials, such as the Convention on Cluster Munitions and the agreement that laid the foundations of the International Criminal Court (ICC). It surprises us that it creates such panic among Swedish politicians, who have repeatedly emphasized that Sweden should pursue an independent policy.

Nuclear weapons are far too important an issue to use to pick up political points. Sweden must take note of the opportunity that the prohibition agreement entails and be part of the change instead of the opposition. Turning our backs on the first breakthrough in decades in the work of multilateral disarmament is not the answer.

Malin Nilsson

This is a debate article. The author is responsible for analysis and opinions in the text.

Do you also want to write a debate article for Uttvecklingsmagasinet? Contact us at

Share this: