Swiss put off decision on nuclear weapons treaty

Some 70 countries have signed and just over 20 countries have ratified the Nuclear Weapons Ban Treaty. Keystone

The Swiss Federal Council (executive body) has postponed a decision on ratifying the United Nations treaty banning nuclear weapons until 2020, rejecting calls from Parliament to sign the treaty.

This content was published on April 3, 2019

In a statementExternal link released on Wednesday, the Federal Council said that it would like more time to reflect on Switzerland’s accession to the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons (TPNW) and take stock of the latest international developments and the security situation. This includes the recent withdrawal of the United States and the Russian Federation from the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty.  

In 2017, Switzerland approved the Nuclear Weapons Ban Treaty but last summer, decided not to sign it, drawing ire from non-governmental organisations who say it calls into question the Alpine nation’s humanitarian tradition. The Federal Council has argued that the reasons not to ratify the treaty outweigh the potential opportunities.

Concerns also stem from the belief that the treaty could potentially affect other international texts such as the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, which recognises the US, Russia, France, China and Britain as nuclear powers. 

+ Read more on recent diplomatic controversies and what they mean for Switzerland's moral voice in world affairs

The agreement creates an explicit ban on nuclear weapons. Signatories commit not to develop, test, produce, acquire, possess, stockpile, use or threaten to use nuclear weapons.

The anti-nuclear weapons organisation ICAN, which was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 2017, has long advocated a ban, as has the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC).

Parliament has strongly supported Switzerland’s ratification of the treaty as part of a strong political commitment to eliminate nuclear weapons. In December, Parliament adopted a motion calling on the Federal Council to sign the text as soon as possible.

In response, the Federal Council said on Wednesday that it "took Parliament's will seriously" and wanted to "carefully examine the various options". The executive body indicated that it will provide another assessment of the situation in 2020.

Switzerland was one of 122 states to adopt the UN treaty in July 2017. Some 70 countriesExternal link have signed the treaty and 22 have ratified it, which is below the 50 needed for the treaty to enter into force.

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