The UN Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons – not in Switzerland's best interests in the current climate, says the government. KEYSTONE/KCNA via KNS

BERN, Switzerland | 28 March 2024 (IDN | —The Swiss government 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 reckons participation within the framework of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) is more effective.  

A change of strategy at the present time is not advisable for several reasons, the government said on Wednesday. Ministers explained that joining the TPNW was not in Switzerland’s best interests in the current climate, in which a new war in Europe has once again brought security policy to the fore.

Furthermore, the government considers the TPNW to be of little impact since it is not recognised by nuclear powers; neither do almost all Western and European countries participate. “A world without nuclear weapons can only be achieved with and not against states with nuclear weapons,” the Federal Council said.

Latest assessment 

The TPNW came into force in 2021 and contains a comprehensive and explicit ban on nuclear weapons, i.e. prohibiting the use, threat of use, production, stockpiling, acquisition, possession, deployment, transfer and testing of nuclear weapons as well as support for these activities.  

To date, the TPNW has been ratified by 70 states, but not by those with nuclear weapons and their allies. The Swiss government already rejected the idea of acceding in 2018 and 2019. Its latest assessment was based on an analysis by an interdepartmental working group and assessments by external experts.

According to the government, the rejection of TPNW accession does not mean that Switzerland will remain passive, as “the use of nuclear weapons would hardly be compatible with international humanitarian law.” Ten days ago, Switzerland made its position clear in the UN Security Council, declaring that there would be no winners of a nuclear war, which should never be allowed to happen.  

No nuclear powers 

In its Foreign Policy Strategy 2024-2027, the government spoke unequivocally in favour of a world free of nuclear weapons. Despite the current stagnation in nuclear disarmament, it said, Switzerland will continue to demand that the states concerned fulfil their disarmament obligations.  

Switzerland has also been a member of the NPT since 1977, which was signed by 191 member states, including nuclear powers such as USA, Russia, China, France and the UK. The NPT is regarded as the cornerstone of nuclear arms control and the global security architecture.

According to figures from the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI) from 2023, nine states possess nuclear weapons: Russia has the most warheads with 5,889, followed by the USA with 5,244, then China with 410.  

In Europe, the nuclear powers of France and the UK 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 remains high 

The question of how the goal of a world free of nuclear weapons can be realised is also the subject of controversial domestic political debate in Switzerland. Over five years ago, parliament called on the government to sign the TPNW as quickly as possible and submit it to parliamentarians for approval, as by ratifying it, Switzerland would show a clear commitment to international humanitarian law and the values associated with it.  

The further postponement of the decision on the ratification of the treaty is unlikely to satisfy many. At the beginning of November 2023, the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons (ICAN) launched a people’s initiative to join the TPNW. The Group for a Switzerland without an Army (GSoA) also announced that it would join the NGO alliance. [IDN-InDepthNews]

Photo: The UN Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons – not in Switzerland's best interests in the current climate, says the government. KEYSTONE/KCNA via KNS