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Why Switzerland should join the Nuclear Weapons Ban Treaty

The Federal Council does not want to ratify the UN Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons (TPNW). Switzerland's new status as a non-permanent member of the UN Security Council would offer the perfect opportunity to join the international ban on nuclear weapons.

Marc Finaud

Senior Advisor at Gravity 4.0

Image: Matthew Matlock / Imago

Switzerland supports nuclear weapons, and rightly so. But that is by no means true. However, reading Oliver Thränert's December 14 op-ed, one could almost get the impression that Switzerland itself needs nuclear weapons to defend itself against nuclear-armed autocracies like Russia or China.

The fact is that Switzerland has renounced nuclear weapons and the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) prohibits the acquisition of nuclear weapons. Switzerland is also a member of international treaties prohibiting other weapons of mass destruction (e.g. chemical weapons). Switzerland's membership of these treaties is consistent with its longstanding commitment to international humanitarian law and its own security interests.

A disturbing anomaly

At the initiative of Switzerland, the NPT review conference in 2010 initiated the process that culminated in the adoption of the Nuclear Weapons Prohibition Treaty (TPNW) in 2017. Switzerland was involved in the negotiations for the treaty and voted for its acceptance at the United Nations. Their reluctance to join the TPNW is therefore a recent and troubling anomaly.

To justify the delay in signing the TPNW, the Federal Council cited fears that the TPNW would weaken the NPT and jeopardise NATO's military cooperation with Switzerland. Both fears are unfounded. All TPNW members are recognised NPT Contracting Parties and the first meeting of TPNW Contracting States specifically recognised the role of the NPT and emphasized that the TPNW complements it.

Russia's Ukraine campaign today highlights the nuclear threat in Europe and demonstrates how nuclear weapons can be used as a shield by aggressors.

NATO partner states include Austria and New Zealand. Both have ratified the UN nuclear weapons ban treaty without consequences on the part of NATO. In addition, nearly sixty former heads of state and government of NATO countries and two former NATO secretaries general called on NATO countries to join the TPNW. There is no evidence whatsoever that Switzerland's military cooperation with NATO would be impaired by joining the TPNW.

Russia's Ukraine campaign today highlights the nuclear threat in Europe and demonstrates how nuclear weapons can be used as a shield by aggressors. The "folly" would be to respond to this blackmail by tacitly condoning the retention and modernisation of nuclear weapons by any country. This would only suit Putin's strategy. Switzerland must do everything to prevent this.

Perfect opportunity

That is why a group of important Swiss personalities has made an urgent appeal to the Federal Council to join the TPNW, "to protect Switzerland's reputation and influence in international humanitarian affairs and to strengthen security in our country, in Europe and in the international community ».

For Switzerland, as a new non-permanent member of the UN Security Council, this is the perfect opportunity to join and strengthen the international movement to ban nuclear weapons. Five of the ten non-permanent members who will sit on the Security Council alongside Switzerland have already signed and/or ratified the TPNW. Almost half of all countries in the world have already signed the TPNW.

As a neutral country that deliberately rejects nuclear weapons as a means of defence and in its role as guardian of international humanitarian law, Switzerland must point the way to a safer world by joining the TPNW.

(This op-ed was published in its original German version by Neue Bücher Zeitung on 13 January 2023.)

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