“Establish a research cluster in Sweden for nuclear disarmament and non-proliferation work”

Debate article by Fredrik Hassel and Lars van Dassen, both from the Swedish Radiation Safety Authority. Mr Hassel is the Deputy Director General, and Mr van Dassen is the Director of the Office for International Relations. This article was published in Swedish on 4 April 2019 in the daily newspaper Svenska Dagbladet.  

“Regardless of whether or not Sweden signs the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons, there is a need for a research cluster located in Sweden for work relating to nuclear disarmament and non-proliferation. This would enable Sweden to maintain its position in the field of nuclear disarmament,” write the Swedish Radiation Safety Authority’s Fredrik Hassel and Lars van Dassen.

Sweden has a strong heritage in the field of non-proliferation. Starting in the 1960s, Sweden was in the forefront internationally, representing non-nuclear-weapon states, and campaigning for disarmament controls and an end to the arms race. This role was made possible through a unique combination of impassioned and knowledgeable politicians, with backing from scholars and civil servants with a high level of expertise in the specific areas. Sweden was capable of countering arguments against the possibility of disarmament, thanks to objectivity and expertise: factors that won respect and gave influence. Today’s politicians are still dedicated to the area of disarmament. However, the solid base of knowledge that used to be present in Sweden has gradually eroded. Now, only fragments remain to back up the points of view communicated from Sweden.

At government agency level, the knowledge base is represented by two relatively small teams of experts: staff of the Swedish Radiation Safety Authority (SSM) and the Swedish Defence Research Agency (FOI). Some activities are still pursued in academia, for example at Stockholm University, though to a limited extent. In our assessment, the total volume of knowledge in the field today is subcritical, a situation that risks resulting in disappearance of the knowledge base in Sweden in these areas. Without a real knowledge base, it will become increasingly difficult for Sweden to maintain its position in the field of disarmament. Reversing the downward trend presupposes academia receiving the necessary resources and assignments in relevant areas, in the natural and political sciences alike.

We propose that the Swedish Government build on the pre-existing bearers of knowledge on public sector level, in other words, represented by the Swedish Radiation Safety Authority and Swedish Defence Research Agency. This work should be carried out in combination with an in-house programme launched at the Government Offices of Sweden to promote long-term knowledge management. This should be implemented in parallel with inviting Swedish industry to take part in these efforts, by sharing their know-how and innovative capability.

The next priority should be to build upon the knowledge base relating to the verification of nuclear disarmament.

There is currently no global system for verifying nuclear disarmament. Without this kind of verification system, there is a risk that all political ambitions will be crushed by sets of problems of a technical and methodological origin facing the country that resolutely decides to end its nuclear weapons programme. In our perception, the lack of a functioning system for verification may delay or completely undermine de facto disarmament if an opportunity arises for one or more nuclear weapon states to present credible ambitions for nuclear disarmament. Once these ambitions arise, it is too late to lay the groundwork. Can the world afford to miss an opportunity that is this golden? Work is in progress in several forms of cooperation and partnerships where Sweden is involved, and the developments appear promising although key stakeholders, such as China and the Russian Federation, are not attending at the present time.

One issue that has long slowed disarmament efforts is the approach to dealing with the legitimate right of non-nuclear-weapon states to take part in verification work within the framework of a disarmament process. These uncertainties are resolvable. If this is successful, Sweden can join efforts with a number of other countries having the same initial standpoint on the need to establish a forum for knowledge on verification of states’ nuclear disarmament. If this opportunity is realised, the capability may have a global impact.

In our consultation response, we only briefly discuss the articles of the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons, and the present and future impacts of Swedish accession to the Treaty. From our perspective, however, the main point is that the advent of the Treaty coincides with several other initiatives arising, which both individually and collectively create new dynamics for disarmament work. Sweden already has a significant role in these contexts, although our resources are limited. When implementing a programme similar to the focus described above, Sweden would be capable of taking action to influence the true potential for nuclear disarmament. This would be part of an integrated process involving today’s nuclear weapon states. Therefore, we recommend that the Government appoint an inquiry to analyse and produce detailed suggestions on how to establish a research cluster in Sweden for nuclear disarmament work.

Fredrik Hassel, Deputy Director General of the Swedish Radiation Safety Authority

Lars van Dassen, Director, Office for International Relations at the Swedish Radiation Safety Authority