Sweden: Time for action

April 7, 2015

After a change in government that placed a coalition of the Social Democrats and the Green Party in power, Sweden has become more outspoken in support of the humanitarian approach to nuclear disarmament. Sweden’s decision to support the humanitarian initiative during last year’s First Committee of the UN General Assembly meeting has been a much-anticipated step towards, we hope, a new direction in Swedish nuclear disarmament policy.

As highlighted in several occasions by the Swedish government, humanitarian law and human security form the basis of all Swedish disarmament efforts. Sweden’s statement at the Third International Conference on the Humanitarian Impact of Nuclear Weapons reinforced this conviction by declaring that “Sweden believes in an approach to disarmament and international security that puts human beings front and centre of policy” and that the existence of nuclear weapons “contravenes this approach”.

Speaking to the Conference on Disarmament a few weeks ago, Foreign Minister Margot Wallström referred to the fact that 16 000 nuclear weapons still exist as ”unacceptable”, and said that ”The call from the men and women of Hiroshima and Nagasaki rings clear: We need to move further and faster on nuclear disarmament.” She held out the humanitarian perspective on nuclear weapons as something that ”helps us bring disarmament forward.” If the current mechanisms and forums continue to fail,” she concluded, “we will need to consider other possible avenues for bringing disarmament work forward”

While the decision to engage with the humanitarian initiative is indeed a welcomed step forward for Sweden, rhetoric alone won’t create the conditions for disarmament unless it is followed by real action.

“Likeminded states are carrying out concrete measures to strengthen the humanitarian initiative.  Norway, Mexico and Austria have hosted the conferences on the humanitarian impact of nuclear weapons. Switzerland, South Africa and New Zealand have taken the role of coordinating UN joint statements. It is time for Sweden to step up and make a concrete contribution”, says Josefin Lind, Secretary-General of Swedish Physicians against Nuclear Weapons.

One concrete measure that Sweden should support straightaway is the pledge delivered by the Austrian government at the closing of the Vienna Conference on the Humanitarian Impact of Nuclear Weapons. The pledge entails a commitment to work to “fill the legal gap for the prohibition and elimination of nuclear weapons” and “to cooperate with all stakeholders to achieve this goal”.

“We hope that our government soon will walk the talk, endorse the Pledge to fill the legal gap and support the immediate commencement of negotiations on a treaty banning nuclear weapons” says Sofia Tuvestad, Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom Sweden.

The pledge presents the perfect opportunity for Sweden to show it is serious about nuclear disarmament on the basis of humanitarian values and human security. Joining the pledge would be a way for Margot Wallström to show that the government she leads is ready to take responsibility for the vision Sweden shares with many other states, organisations, and activists about a world free of nuclear weapons. Discussions about humanitarian consequences alone won’t take us there. But a treaty banning nuclear weapons, based on humanitarian law and human security, is both a moral imperative as well as a necessary step to increase the pressure for disarmament.

“ICAN’s partner organisations in Sweden, together with the Swedish Church and the Swedish Red Cross, are now demanding action from our government” says Josefin Lind, “Sweden has a long tradition of supporting progressive nuclear disarmament work; the pledge to fill the legal gap is the perfect opportunity to turn Sweden’s beliefs into concrete steps.”

(AP Photo/Claudio Bresciani, TT)


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