Start of page

Nuclear disarmament – the road to global zero

Thousands of nuclear weapons are still in existence. The risks posed by nuclear weapons are higher than at any time since the end of the Cold War. For this reason, Switzerland is actively involved in all multilateral forums on nuclear disarmament and supports numerous measures and instruments aimed at bringing us closer to the long-term goal of a world free of nuclear weapons.

The improved international security situation after the Cold War allowed for the dismantling of thousands of nuclear warheads. However, the disarmament curve flattened considerably. Today we are seeing countervailing trends.

New agreements now seem to be off the table and nuclear weapons risks are higher than at any time since the end of the Cold War. This is attributable to several factors, in particular the following:

  • importance of nuclear weapons in light of the current global political situation;
  • strategic rivalries among certain nuclear powers;
  • the ongoing crisis of confidence among the major powers;
  • the violation of existing arms control agreements;
  • adjustments to strategies and doctrines;
  • offensive training manoeuvres;
  • modernisation and technological developments (e.g. cyberattacks and hypersonic weapons).

Switzerland is actively involved in all multilateral forums on nuclear disarmament. It cautions against a renewed arms race and supports confidence- and transparency-building measures. Every effort must be made to improve the starting position for further nuclear disarmament steps and to build bridges between stakeholders with differing security interests. To this end, Switzerland has adopted the following approaches and priorities:

Humanitarian consequences of nuclear weapon explosions

The final document of the 2010 Review Conference of the Parties to the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons spotlighted the catastrophic consequences of nuclear weapons. Switzerland holds the position that it is extremely doubtful that nuclear weapons could ever be used in accordance with international humanitarian law and works to ensure that the humanitarian consequences of the past use and testing of nuclear weapons underpin all efforts towards nuclear disarmament.

In Switzerland's view, the catastrophic humanitarian consequences of the use of nuclear weapons are a strong reason to step up disarmament and non-proliferation efforts.  

Humanitarian consequences of nuclear weapons: resolution adopted by the UN General Assembly, United Nations Digital Library

De-alerting

A large number of nuclear warheads worldwide are on high alert. The risk of a misunderstanding or an uncontrolled nuclear escalation is therefore high. Nuclear doctrines that allow such high alert levels are at odds with efforts to reduce the role and number of nuclear weapons. Numerous studies point out that lowering alert levels is not only judicious, but also militarily feasible without compromising deterrent capability.

With the de-alerting resolution presented to the UN General Assembly, Switzerland and like-minded states have since 2007 been calling for nuclear weapons to be removed from high alert status. Each time the resolution is presented, it is approved by a large majority.

Decreasing the operational readiness of nuclear weapons systems: Resolution adopted by the General Assembly, United Nations Digital Library

Switzerland remains convinced that practical steps must be taken to achieve a world free of nuclear weapons and that the verifiability of disarmament agreements must be guaranteed:

Practical steps

Switzerland supports concrete measures that bring us closer to the long-term goal of a world free of nuclear weapons. Reducing the salience of nuclear weapons and nuclear deterrence in security doctrines is an important step in the right direction.

Switzerland calls on the nuclear-weapon states to take additional unilateral, bilateral or multilateral measures in line with the Action Plan to strengthen the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT) so as to further reduce the number of nuclear warheads and associated delivery systems. 

Nuclear disarmament verification

Mechanisms for nuclear disarmament verification are key to achieving a world free of nuclear weapons. However, an agreement to establish such mechanisms is currently not in sight. The necessary concepts, instruments and technologies can nonetheless already be developed. Switzerland supports numerous initiatives in this area.

The International Partnership for Nuclear Disarmament Verification (IPNDV) enables non-nuclear-weapon states to play an important role in identifying and developing credible, practical and effective multilateral verification measures. Switzerland supports the IPNDV, other UN efforts and think tank projects in the field of verification.

International Partnership for Nuclear Disarmament Verification (IPNDV)

Fissile Material Cut-off Treaty

In addition to existing agreements, limits on stockpiles of materials that can be used to make nuclear weapons are also necessary. This is why Switzerland supports negotiations on a Fissile Material Cut-off Treaty (FMCT).  Switzerland believes that a treaty on fissile material for nuclear weapons is long overdue.

Last update 26.01.2022