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Federal Council still not signing nuclear weapons ban treaty

Updated at 27 Mar 2024 1:10 pm

The Federal Council is sticking to its guns: it still does not want to sign and ratify the UN Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons (TPNW). It considers Switzerland's commitment to a world without nuclear weapons within the framework of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) to be more effective.

A change of direction at the present time is not advisable for several reasons, the national government announced on Wednesday. Joining the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons is not in Switzerland's interest in the current international environment, in which security policy aspects have once again come to the fore with a new war in Europe.

Furthermore, the Federal Council considers the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons (TPNW) to have little effect because it is not recognized by the owners of nuclear weapons, but also by almost all Western and European countries. "However, a world without nuclear weapons can only be achieved with and not against the possessor states," writes the Federal Council.

Renewed analysis

The Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons entered into force in 2021. It contains a comprehensive and explicit ban on nuclear weapons, i.e. prohibits the use, threat of use, production, stockpiling, acquisition, possession, deployment, transfer and testing of nuclear weapons and support for these prohibited activities.

To date, the TPNW has been ratified by seventy states, but not by the owners of nuclear weapons and their allies. The Federal Council had already rejected accession in 2018 and 2019. The Federal Council's latest assessment is based on a comprehensive analysis by an interdepartmental working group and on the opinions of external experts.

According to the Federal Council, the no to joining the TPNW does not mean that Switzerland will remain inactive. "The use of nuclear weapons would hardly be compatible with international humanitarian law." Ten days ago, Switzerland took a clear position in the UN Security Council and declared that a nuclear war would know no winners and should therefore never be waged.

Nuclear weapon states not included

In its Foreign Policy Strategy 2024-2027, the Federal Council also unequivocally advocates a world free of nuclear weapons. Despite the current stagnation in nuclear disarmament, Switzerland will continue to demand that the states concerned comply with their disarmament obligations.

In addition, Switzerland has been a member of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) since 1977, which was signed by 191 member states, including the nuclear weapons states USA, Russia, China, France and the United Kingdom. The NPT is regarded as the cornerstone of nuclear arms control and the global security architecture.

According to figures published by the Stockholm Peace Research Institute Sipri in 2023, nine countries possess nuclear weapons. Russia has the most warheads with 5889, followed by the USA with 5244. China's 410 warheads are in third place.

In Europe, the nuclear powers France and Great Britain have 290 and 225 warheads respectively. They are followed by Pakistan (170) and India (164). Israel is estimated to have 90 warheads and North Korea 30. In total, Sipri puts the global nuclear arsenal at 12,512 warheads.

Pressure on the Federal Council remains high

The question of how the goal of a world free of nuclear weapons can be achieved is also the subject of controversial domestic political debate. Over five years ago, Parliament called on the Federal Council to sign the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons as quickly as possible and submit it to Parliament for approval.

By ratifying the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons, Switzerland would demonstrate its clear commitment to international humanitarian law and the values associated with it.

The further postponement of the decision to ratify the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons is unlikely to satisfy many. At the beginning of November 2023, the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons (ICAN) launched a popular initiative to join the TPNW. The Group for a Switzerland without an Army (Gsoa) announced that it would join the NGO alliance.


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