Swedish MFA challenged on failure to endorse New Zealand statement

December 13, 2013

By Josefin Lind and Andreas Tolf

Sweden’s decision, made by Foreign Minister Carl Bildt, to not endorse the Joint Statement on the Humanitarian Consequences of Nuclear Weapons at the United Nation’s General Assembly in October, drew strong criticism from civil society in Sweden. To discuss the reasons behind Sweden’s stance, the Network for Nuclear Disarmament, in cooperation with ABF, Sweden’s largest adult liberal education association, and the Swedish Red Cross organized a seminar on the humanitarian consequences of nuclear weapons. The debate was moderated by Dr Leonore Wide, chairman of the Network for Nuclear Disarmament and Vice President of Swedish Physicians against Nuclear Weapons (SLMK).

Of everyone’s concern

Beatrice Fihn of the Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom’s Reaching Critical Will and member of ICAN’s International Steering Group opened the debate by providing participants with an overview of the humanitarian initiative, which has been revived by civil society and a progressive group of states in recent years. According to Fihn, this perspective shows nuclear weapons for what they are – weapons of mass destruction, incapable of distinguishing between civilians and military targets and a continuing liability to peace and security. Highlighting the humanitarian consequences of nuclear weapons also helps to illustrate that nuclear weapons detonations know no national boundaries and are of concern to everyone, even and especially non-nuclear states.

Humanitarian knowledge through experience

Eva von Oelreich represented the Swedish Red Cross at the seminar. She had recently returned from biannual Red Cross Council of Delegates in Sydney, a meeting of 189 Red Cross and Red Crescent associations and 1200 delegates from across the world, where the second resolution on nuclear weapons was adopted.

“The resolution adopted now in Sydney is a 4-year action plan which mandates the International Red Cross and Red Crescent movement to work to ensure that nuclear weapons are banned and eliminated,” explained von Oelreich, “Red Cross has recognised the need for this ever since its first doctor on site in Hiroshima witnessed the devastation caused by the atomic bomb.”

Annika Thunborg, from the Foreign Ministry’s Disarmament and Non-proliferation Unit, assured participants that the Swedish government is working for the goal of a world without nuclear weapons, explaining that it’s priority is to bring about a reduction of stockpiles, primarily of those held by the USA and Russia. According to Thunborg, “[the fact that] U.S. nuclear weapons are stationed in Europe, and therefore our own neighbourhood, is an issue that the government is specifically working on, but Sweden is also considering other initiatives in this area.”

Step-by-step with the likeminded

In response to questions as to why Sweden did not sign the Joint Statement on the Humanitarian Consequences of Nuclear Weapons at the General Assembly, which was supported by 125 states, Thunborg replied that Sweden chose to instead sign an alternative statement presented by Australia. Thunborg explained that this decision was based on did this on the Australia statement being more in line the developments Sweden wants to see: a process within existing frameworks such as the Conference on Disarmament, the UN and NPT.

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