Release peace: the magazine

Release peace: the magazine

Analysis & Background Stories on International Affairs

Sweden: A White Knight of Global Nuclear Disarmament

Article by: Lucy Grant-Phillips

Dangerous Proximity

When discussing Sweden’s stance on nuclear weapons, there is a rightly perceived idea that the nation is fervently positioned against them. However, having been in close geographical proximity to the Soviet Union in the post-World War II era meant that the Scandinavian nation did, for nearly twenty years, develop nuclear weapon technology. The country was left relatively to its own devices when it came to assessing the growing threat coming from the East since Sweden was not, and still is not, a member of NATO.

A Turning Point

So how did Sweden turn from trying to develop nuclear weapons itself as a method of self-protection to the becoming the White Knight of nuclear disarmament it so prominently is today? The answer lies with the ratification of the NPT (Non-Proliferation Treaty). The NPT is an international treaty in which the global consensus is to stop the development of nuclear weapons and nuclear intelligence. Since ratification in 1968, Sweden has continually promoted disarmament policies and spoken out against nuclear testing which has resulted in the Scandinavian nation gaining the nickname the ‘White Knight’ by academics and international institutions alike. Indeed, even many Swedish citizens themselves are hugely supportive of the nations’ nuclear weapons agenda, with public opinion polls indicating that 88% of Social Democratic Party voters support the concepts laid out in the Treaty of Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons.

Global Player: The Stockholm Initiative for Nuclear Disarmament

If nuclear disarmament is as important to the Swedish as opinion polls suggest, what then has Stockholm done to promote its position globally? In February 2020, the Swedish government pioneered a global organisation, named aptly The Stockholm Initiative for Nuclear Disarmament. This new initiative, headed by Sweden and along with fifteen other non-nuclear states, established a new agenda for forcing nuclear disarmament back into the political limelight ahead of the NPT review conference. The general consensus between 16 nations, which alongside Sweden included the likes of Canada, Japan, Norway, and South Korea, is to reduce and dismantle weapons of mass destruction. Since its creation two and a half years ago, the initiative has made considerable progress towards its goal, including the drawing up of a set of ‘stepping stones’ known as ‘The Nuclear Reduction Package’. Sweden’s fundamental importance to this global enterprise is indicated by Swedish Foreign Minister Anne Linde, leading or co-chairing all five of the ministerial meetings of the Stockholm Initiative. Her key involvement highlights Sweden’s commitment to leading the way in establishing new concepts that aim to reduce nuclear weapons globally.

Far-Reaching Influence: Relations with the United States

As a global disarmament leader, Sweden is in an incredibly unique position to communicate and discuss the initiatives stepping stones with nuclear weapons states and prides itself on this. 2020 saw President Biden take office and establish a political stance in the White House wildly more liberal than its predecessor. Linde wasted no time in opening a dialogue between herself and her new US counterpart, Secretary Blinken, regarding disarming the nuclear warheads authorised by the Trump administration. As Linde states in an interview with AMA (Arms Control Association) the US is a ‘critical partner’ and so sent a letter on behalf of the whole initiative that encouraged the new President to consider the steppingstone proposals.

Later, in October 2020, Linde highlighted the importance of the extension of the New START (Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty). She argued that the US’ continued cooperation in the form of the New START along with The Stockholm Initiative was essential for the curtailment of nuclear arms and would ultimately lead to a safer global community. The discussion between Linde and Secretary Blinken indicates the influential nature of Sweden’s disarmament foreign policy. As of January 2022, the Biden administration was entering the final deliberation stages of the US Nuclear Posture Review in which the abandonment of the nuclear weapons arsenal supported by the Trump administration is a hotly debated subject. Regarding Swedish foreign policy, the debates in Washington are a positive move towards preventing a global nuclear crisis.

What next? At Home and Globally

For now, Sweden has prioritised the global prohibition of nuclear weapons and voted in favour of the adoption of the Treaty of the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons. The Nordic country hopes that UN resolutions and Stockholm’s expectations of the treaty will be met and ultimately will lead to the country’s ratification of the treaty in the near future. Indeed, the entire purpose of the Stockholm Initiative was to place disarmament firmly back on the international agenda. The NPT Review Conference in January 2022 was the key event for the level of exposure the initiative needed. Unfortunately, due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, the three-week event has been postponed until August 2022. The Initiative highlighted as a collective that they ‘want to overcome the stalemate in the area of nuclear disarmament’ through endorsing political investment in order to make the Non-Proliferation Treaty fit for purpose.

Through frequent discussions between Stockholm Initiative members and other non-nuclear states, it is hoped that commitments will be made and upheld in order to move the world towards a future free of nuclear weapons. Sweden’s future lies firmly in the continuation of its no-to-nuclear-weapons policies as well as maintaining its position as a global advocate for total nuclear disarmament. The White Knight continues to ride.

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