Listen to the people – ban nuclear weapons

June 6, 2014

By Andreas Tolf | Swedish Physicians against Nuclear Weapons

In the context of nuclear disarmament, we often hear from politicians and officials that it is important garner public support. Only then can those in power take the necessary decisions. So, here you go, here it is: nine out of ten Swedes want Sweden to work for a global ban on nuclear weapons. This is shown in a public opinion poll commissioned by the Swedish Physicians against Nuclear Weapons.

Even our politicians seem to share the Swedish people’s perception. Among the political parties, a majority believes that Sweden is not currently doing enough on the nuclear issue, and believes that a ban on nuclear weapons is an important step towards their complete elimination.

Sweden’s current work on nuclear disarmament is apparently unacceptable according to the Swedish people and the political parties, both those in opposition and in government. So why is Sweden so passive? Don’t we think we have a meaningful role to play?

Nuclear weapons are the only weapons that have not been prohibited by a global treaty, and the issue has long been treated as a concern only for the nuclear weapon states. Today we know that even a relatively small-scale nuclear war would create global climate impacts with catastrophic consequences for food production. If about 0.5 percent of the world’s nuclear weapons are used, two billion people are at risk of a global famine. The humanitarian consequences of the use of nuclear weapons cannot be ignored and that is a concern for all the governments in the world – not only for those who possess these weapons of mass destruction.

Until now, the nuclear-free states have passively watched the nuclear states’ power play. But by focusing on the humanitarian consequences of nuclear weapons, the nuclear-free states have been able to discuss nuclear weapons without going into nuclear weapons states leash. Reframing the debate in this way has completely changed the discourse about nuclear weapons and might be the key to the deadlock that has plagued the nuclear issue in recent decades.

Sweden, represented by our Foreign Minister Carl Bildt, has categorically rejected a ban on nuclear weapons as well as importance of considering humanitarian consequences. In a radio show last year, Bildt called the humanitarian perspective a diversion, and claimed that the states involved in were not serious. Sweden unashamedly supports  the nuclear weapon states and their allies in their conscious disruption  of serious disarmament initiatives. A growing number of civil society actors, both in Sweden and internationally, were astounded and amazed by Sweden’s new position, as Sweden has previously been a prominent and respected actor for peace and disarmament. Last came the criticism from the Archbishop Anders Wejryd in an open letter to Carl Bildt.

With public opinion on our side we can now give three pieces of advice to the incumbent government:

1st: Sweden should join the group of states that have understood that the only conclusion that can be drawn from knowledge of the humanitarian impact of nuclear weapons is that they must be immediately eliminated.

2nd: Sweden must actively and in good faith participate in the third conference on the humanitarian consequences of nuclear weapons in Vienna in December, as well as offer to host future conferences.

3rd: Sweden must actively support the process for a global ban on nuclear weapons.



  • aiweiwei

    “Let’s act up! Ban nuclear weapons completely and unconditionally.”

    Ai Weiwei Artist and activist

  • sheen

    “If Gandhi and Martin Luther King Jr were alive today, they would be part of ICAN.”

    Martin Sheen Actor and activist

  • bankimoon

    “I salute ICAN for working with such commitment and creativity.”

    Ban Ki-moon Former UN chief

  • yokoono

    “We can do it together. With your help, our voice will be made still stronger. Imagine peace.”

    Yoko Ono Artist

  • jodywilliams

    “Governments say a nuclear weapons ban is unlikely. Don’t believe it. They said the same about a mine ban treaty.”

    Jody Williams Nobel laureate

  • desmondtutu

    “With your support, we can take ICAN its full distance – all the way to zero nuclear weapons.”

    Desmond Tutu Nobel laureate

  • herbiehancock

    “Because I cannot tolerate these appalling weapons, I whole-heartedly support ICAN.”

    Herbie Hancock Jazz musician

  • dalailama

    “I can imagine a world without nuclear weapons, and I support ICAN.”

    Dalai Lama Nobel laureate