A big step backwards: Why Sweden’s decision not to sign TPNW damages its reputation as a leader on disarmament


At a press conference on Friday July 12th, 2019, Sweden’s Foreign Minister Margot Wallstrom announced that Sweden will not currently sign the UN Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons (TPNW). This is a disappointing decision that damages Sweden’s historic reputation as a leader on disarmament.

“Sweden’s decision today is a step backwards and a historic violation of Swedish security policy,“ says Beatrice Fihn, Executive Director of ICAN, and a Swedish national. “The UN has said that the risk of use of nuclear weapons is the highest it has been since WWII. By failing to fully reject the use and possession nuclear weapons through the TPNW, Sweden has gone against its own long tradition of standing up against these weapons of mass destruction. While the initiatives announced at the press conference, like starting a knowledge centre and proposing an international secretariat for disarmament are welcomed, it falls very short of concrete steps to combat the grave threat that nuclear weapons pose today. This move seriously harms Sweden’s reputation as a leader on disarmament. 

Setsuko Thurlow, ICAN activist and survivor of the Hiroshima bombing in 1945, responded: “Foreign minister Margot Wallström of Sweden said at a press briefing on July 12 that the government “will, as it stands now, not sign” the UN treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons (TPNW). I am truly disappointed to hear the news. I am deeply disheartened.  Sweden has a strong history of supporting humanitarian causes and disarmament. In the past, I have had the honor to meet with FM Wallström and discuss humanitarian imperative to ban and eliminate nuclear weapons. Indeed, I cannot emphasize enough how much Sweden’s vote in support to adopt the TPNW in July 2017 encouraged us the Hibakusha.  I urge the government of Sweden to reconsider the decision. We the Hibakusha and the civil society at large expect Sweden to listen to our voice and show the commitment to work towards signing and ratifying the TPNW.

The announcement follows a scandal-ridden consultation period, after the methodology used by former Swedish diplomat Lars-Erik Lundin for his inquiry into whether Sweden should sign the TPNW was heavily criticised for its lack of transparency. The decision has already been met with much criticism in Sweden, prompting critical questions during the press conference and a flurry of negative media coverage. In response, the government has clarified that it would be open to revisiting the decision if the international context changes.

The decision is also widely unpopular with the Swedish people.  ICAN campaigners in Sweden have announced they will scale up their efforts to hold the Swedish government accountable to its own position on nuclear disarmament and will keep mobilising to ensure that Sweden signs the treaty.