Analysis & Opinions - Swissinfo

Switzerland’s wait-and-see approach to nuclear ban treaty is sensible

| July 21, 2022

From June 21-23, dozens of countries gathered in Vienna to discuss how to implement the new UN Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons (TPNW)External link. They were joined by nuclear disarmament activists from around the world, including hibakusha – atomic bombing survivors from Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Swiss diplomats were also present, but only to observe rather than directly participate. This may seem surprising, but it’s consistent with Switzerland’s pragmatism on questions of nuclear abolition.

At present, 66 countries have ratified the TPNWExternal link and become states parties. Switzerland, which helped negotiate the treaty in 2017, is not one of them. It might therefore seem like Switzerland isn’t committed to eliminating global nuclear weapons. But that interpretation would be a misreading. In fact, the cautious Swiss position may allow the country to build bridges between TPNW proponents and nuclear-armed states while sorting through its own concerns about the treaty.

Switzerland’s decision was based on careful study. Following a report by an interdepartmental working group External link, the government opted not to become a TPNW member in 2018 and 2019. Instead, the country wants to work on nuclear disarmament with states inside and outside the treaty. Practically speaking, this means sending Swiss experts to observe TPNW proceedings. And that engagement is a good thing because the nuclear ban treaty is here to stay and cannot be ignored.

To understand the Swiss context, it’s important to take stock of this new treaty. The TPNW entered into force on January 22, 2021, when Honduras became the 50th state to ratify. It prohibits all states from engaging in nuclear weapon acquisition, production, testing, possession and threats. Its advocates hope to stigmatise nuclear arms as unacceptable instruments of statecraft with devastating humanitarian consequences. On paper, there appears to be little reason why Switzerland, which does not have nuclear weapons, wouldn’t join. The technology of nuclear weapons has, after all, created a dangerous world where certain leaders can destroy the urban population centres of their adversaries in a matter of minutes.

For more information on this publication: Belfer Communications Office
For Academic Citation:

Herzog, Stephen.“Switzerland’s wait-and-see approach to nuclear ban treaty is sensible.” Swissinfo, July 21, 2022.

The Author

Stephen Herzog