Explaining Nuclear Forbearance: A Case Study on Sweden | Wilson Center
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Explaining Nuclear Forbearance: A Case Study on Sweden

Why did Sweden choose, in the late 1960s, to abandon its long-standing nuclear weapons plans? A number of historical investigations have analyzed some aspects of this issue, particularly as it related to the public political debate in Sweden and the formulation of the Swedish defense doctrine in the postwar years. Some studies have attempted to explicate, from a more overarching perspective, why Sweden opted not to develop nuclear weapons capability, but these efforts have generally been hampered by heavy dependence on secondary source materials consisting of published English-language works. Taken together, these studies provide a far-from-complete picture of Sweden’s historical nuclear weapons plans. The main reason for this lack of a comprehensive picture has been the paucity of primary sources. Today, however, the end of the Cold War and the declassification of large parts of the relevant documentary record, especially concerning the technical preparations for nuclear weapons production, have created the prerequisites for a more penetrating analysis of this important historical issue. The purpose of this presentation is to summarize the research on Sweden’s plans to acquire nuclear weapons based on primary sources. This overarching analysis is then tested against International Relations theories which have sought to explain factors of proliferation and non-proliferation.

Thomas Jonter is a professor of International Relations in the Departmenbt of Economic History at Stockholm University. His research focuses on nuclear non-proliferation and energy security. He is also chair of the ESARDA (European Safeguards and Research Development Association) working group for Training and Knowledge Management. Currently, he is heading a research project of Swedish Disarmament policy during the Cold War.


  • Thomas Jonter

    Director of the Stockholm University Graduate School of International Studies