Opinion piece from Ministry for Foreign Affairs

A Swedish disarmament initiative

Published

Opinion piece by Margot Wallström, published in Aftonbladet on 11 June 2019.

The risk of nuclear war is greater and the threat more serious than for many years. This is why the Government is hosting a high-level meeting on nuclear disarmament today. This is the first meeting of its kind for many years, and a number of countries will be taking part at ministerial level. The fact that the meeting is being conducted at a high political level and with ministers from all over the world shows the level of interest and the need to discuss the disarmament issue in an increasingly unsafe world.

The threat of nuclear weapons is currently at its highest level since the end of the Cold War. The Government sees and is concerned by increasing tensions between countries with nuclear weapons and an increasingly aggressive rhetoric, as well as a building up of arsenals. We know that nuclear weapon use on one single occasion would have unthinkable humanitarian consequences that no country can handle.

We also see a lack of willingness to respect and maintain the disarmament agreements that for many years have underpinned international efforts for disarmament and non-proliferation. Examples of this include the increasing tensions between Russia and the United States, which have both left the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty (INF) following a Russian treaty breach. The uncertain future of the Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (New START) further heightens the seriousness of the situation. If these international agreements are not upheld, the threat to Sweden’s own security also increases. 

One cornerstone of this work is the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT). This is partly to prevent the spread of nuclear weapons and partly to encourage nuclear-weapon states to reduce their arsenals. A great deal hangs in the balance therefore when the NPT countries meet next year for a review of the Treaty’s implementation. The Swedish Government wants to help ensure that this Review Conference achieves the results the world so badly needs, not least concerning disarmament. But the political will among the Treaty’s members needs to be strengthened and preparations for this need to begin immediately.

It is against this background that the Government is making a concerted effort, and an important part of this work is today’s high-level meeting. A wide range of countries have been invited to the meeting, all with different challenges and security policy conditions, but with a shared ambition to work for concrete results that bring us closer to the goal of a world free of nuclear weapons.

Today’s meeting will be about measures to reduce the risk of nuclear weapon use. Our goal is for the meeting to result in a declaration that makes clear our countries’ plan for the period ahead, with the objective of ensuring a successful Review Conference next year.

The Government’s objective is a world free of nuclear weapons. Sceptics will always claim that the time is not ripe for fresh progress, but cynicism has never been a political force to be reckoned with. Let us therefore never forget that most things seem impossible until they have been achieved, as was also the case in 1985 when superpower rivals the United States and Russia took the first step towards a joint plan for disarmament. The joint statement that was signed by Ronald Reagan and Mikhail Gorbachev contained the now familiar words: “A nuclear war cannot be won and must never be fought.” If this kind of progress was possible during the frostiest days of the Cold War, then it is possible today too.

Margot Wallström
Minister for Foreign Affairs