Sweden joins the humanitarian initiative

October 15, 2014

By Sofia Tuvestad of WILPF Sweden, and Josefin Lind of Swedish Physicians against Nuclear Weapons

In their statement delivered at the UN General Assembly First Committee yesterday, Sweden announced some much-awaited news. Less than two weeks after the recent government shift, placing a new coalition with the Social Democrats and the Green party in power, Sweden declared that they will support the coming statement by New Zealand on the humanitarian impact of nuclear weapons. After years of inaction, Sweden has finally taken the step to support the humanitarian initiative.

WILPF Sweden and Swedish Physicians against Nuclear Weapons have been advocating for this shift for years. As partners of ICAN, we criticized the former right-wing Swedish government at several points for refusing to join the humanitarian initiative and generally weakening Sweden’s stance on disarmament, an area traditionally marked by strong and progressive policy. We’re very happy to see the new government moving swiftly in getting Sweden back in the disarmament game. Several members of the humanitarian initiative are states that Sweden used to collaborate with in constructive initiatives for disarmament. We’re looking forward to seeing renewed collaboration around the humanitarian impacts debate, including at the coming NPT Review Conference.

The humanitarian initiative puts the right question at the centre of the debate: any of use of nuclear weapons will cause unacceptable humanitarian consequences for people and the environment, and as such there is no justification for side-lining this fact in discussions on disarmament

While yesterday’s statement by Sweden generated many positive reactions, it comes as no surprise. The announcement is fully in line with policies and promises laid out by the Social Democrats before the national elections, in parliamentary debates, and in their foreign policy shadow declaration. The latter (released in February 2014) even included the proposal that Sweden should host a conference on the humanitarian impact of nuclear weapons.

While supporting the humanitarian statement during First Committee is an important step, it should only be the beginning. Sweden must work hard to take back its role as a country looking for new solutions, with the courage to try new ways forward guided by the humanitarian perspective. For us, as ICAN campaigners, the path forward is clear: the unacceptable consequences caused by any use of nuclear weapons calls for a ban treaty as a key step towards their total elimination.

We’re also looking forward to follow whether the Swedish shift will encourage other states to get on the right side of history and join the humanitarian initiative. Finland, for example, now stands out as the only Nordic country that has yet to add its name to the coming humanitarian impact statement by New Zealand during the nuclear weapons debate at First Committee. There is certainly a case for deepening Nordic cooperation on nuclear disarmament around the humanitarian initiative.

Yesterday’s statement was an important step, and more must follow. Sweden should continue to demonstrate its initiative and will to act by engaging in the discussions on how to move things forward as states, organisations, and civil society gather in December for the Vienna Conference on the humanitarian consequences of nuclear weapons.

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