Switzerland Refuses To Sign Nuclear-Bomb-Ban Treaty

The Swiss Federal Council has decided against signing the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons (TPNW) adopted at the United Nations last year. A working group had advised that the arguments against outweighed potential opportunities of joining. 

A total of 122 states, including Switzerland, adopted the treaty at the UN in July 2017 (although the nine nuclear powers were not part of that group). The TPNW will enter into force when at least 50 countries ratify it. Signatories have obligations not to develop, test, produce, acquire, possess, stockpile, use or threaten to use nuclear weapons. The agreement also prohibits the deployment of nuclear weapons on national territory and assistance to any country involved in prohibited activities. 

Activists with the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons (ICAN). Photo: AFP

As SwissInfo.ch reports, Switzerland’s seven-member executive body took the decision not to sign based on an interdepartmental working group report published in June. The government acknowledged that there were “humanitarian, international law and peace policy considerations” in favour of acceding to the treaty but felt it was not the right moment. 

“It is the Federal Council's opinion, however, that in the current international context, the TPNW entails risks in terms of both the continued advancement of disarmament diplomacy and Switzerland's security policy interests. Furthermore, the TPNW contains a number of provisions whose interpretation and implications can only be tentatively gauged at the current time,” said a government statement.

While Treaty supporters argue that a failure to sign the treaty by Switzerland could have an impact on the country’s humanitarian credentials...

“If Switzerland does not sign this treaty, people will question our status as a champion of humanitarian rights and disarmament. I think [failure to sign] would undermine our credibility in this area,” Beatrice Fihn, head of the Geneva-based International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons (ICAN) said during an interview on RTS recently

Ambassador Sabrina Dallafior, who represents Switzerland at the United Nations Conference on Disarmament in Geneva, defended the cautious position taken by Bern in relation to the signing of the treaty in March, skeptically pointing out that:

“We are not sure that this treaty will really be a step towards the elimination of nuclear weapons because the countries which have the atomic bomb are not a party to it, although we are convinced that they should be implicated, them and their allies. This treaty should not be against them but with them."

As The Local reports, the Swiss working group report itself notes that should Switzerland sign up to the TPNW, it would, in extreme cases of self-defence “reduce its freedom of action and abandon the option of explicitly placing itself under a nuclear umbrella within the framework” of self-defence alliances “not least with nuclear weapon states or their allies” – taken by Swiss daily Tages Anzeiger to be a reference to NATO.

Switzerland said it would “closely monitor further developments and remain committed in this matter” and would re-examine its position in the future as necessary.