4 Nations Gave-Up Their ‘Nuclear Weapons’ For Global Peace; One Was Left ‘Betrayed’ By US, UK & Russia

Russian President Vladimir Putin warned the West in March that his country was ready for nuclear war and that any actual or suspected American military deployment in Ukraine would result in a significant escalation.

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Meanwhile, the Japanese Deputy Permanent Representative of the UN, Mitsuko Shino, told a Security Council meeting on April 12 that Tokyo would not accept the Russian nuclear threat.

“As the only country that has ever suffered atomic bombings during war, Japan will never accept Russia’s nuclear threats, let alone any use of nuclear weapons. The catastrophes of Hiroshima and Nagasaki must never be repeated,” the official noted. However, ironically, the diplomat refrained from naming the country that dropped nukes on it.

Japan is the only country in the world to have suffered an atomic bombing that changed its destiny forever. During World War 2, the United States detonated two atomic bombs over the Japanese cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki on August 6 and  9. The bombing killed between 129,000 and 226,000 people, most of whom were ordinary civilians.

The dangers of a nuclear war returned with the Russian invasion of Ukraine. Since Russia launched its “special military operations” against Ukraine in February 2022, high-ranking officials and personnel have often indulged in nuclear saber-rattling.

This has brought attention back to the perils of states possessing nuclear weapons, some of which claim to have built them for deterrence against enemies. However, some states wilfully decided to take the route of disarmament and gave up their nuclear weapons.

The Countries That Gave Up Their Nukes


Following World War II, Sweden, a country that valued peace and neutrality, set out to construct its own atomic bomb as part of an ambitious strategy.

A covert nuclear weapons program was kick-started by the government at the Swedish National Defence Research Institute (FOA) from 1945 until 1972, which began operating as civilian defense research.

The FOA created “the Swedish line” in 1948 to enable Sweden to develop an atomic bomb based on plutonium without requiring outside help.

The research advanced to the point that underground testing was possible by the late 1950s. However, the weapons program’s slow pace became the reason for its demise. The program’s existence was disclosed in 1954 when Nils Swedlund, the Swedish commander-in-chief, claimed that these weapons were necessary to repel a Soviet invasion.

But at this point, the legislature and supreme decision-making body of Sweden Riksdag forbade the development of nuclear weapons and stated that research should only be conducted in order to defend against nuclear attack.

Around this time, several groups opposing nuclear arms rose and took center stage in Swedish politics. Nuclear weapons had not previously been a contentious topic in Swedish public discourse until May 1956, when the National Federation of Social Democratic Women in Sweden took a stand against them.

Furthermore, the US disapproval of the Swedish nuclear intentions was particularly significant considering the expanding defense cooperation between the US and Sweden in other domains, such as modifying Swedish airfields to receive US bombers.

Sweden abandoned its nuclear weapons production plans in 1966. The country also ended the program when it signed the Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) in 1968, and the Parliament opted to terminate it completely.

Declassified records from recent years have revealed that Sweden was far closer to obtaining a nuclear weapon than previously believed. Most of the bomb had already been constructed by 1965, and if the project had been approved, arming it would have taken an additional six months.


During the Cold War, Switzerland formulated elaborate plans to acquire and test nuclear weapons. It carried out its military nuclear program for 43 years until 1988.

Established on June 8, 1946, the Swiss government appointed Dr. Paul Scherrer, a physicist and professor at ETH Zurich, as the head of the Study Commission for Nuclear Energy (Schweizerische Studienkommission für Atomenergie, or SKA). The commission’s dual goals were to examine the peaceful applications of atomic energy and the scientific and technical underpinnings of developing nuclear weapons.

The Swiss nuclear strike capacity was seen by strategists as a component of a preemptive war against the Soviet Union, in addition to its primary military objective of deterrence.

It was believed that nuclear explosives could be carried all the way to Moscow by a Swiss Air Force Mirage III jet. They even proposed using the weapons against a potential invader on Swiss territory. However, the government failed to put money where its mouth was.

File:Swiss Air Force Dassault Mirage III S high side view.jpg - Wikimedia Commons
Swiss Air Force Dassault Mirage III- Wikimedia Commons

The defense budget had financial difficulties in 1964, making it impossible to allocate the large amounts needed. The planned endeavor could not get off the ground due to ongoing financial difficulties.

This reinforced hostility in some political groups and the public towards the Swiss nuclear program, as did a significant accident in 1969 that resulted in a partial meltdown in one of its nuclear reactors.

Switzerland ratified the treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT) on November 27, 1969, although the Federal Department of Defense initially opposed the procedure. The treaty was ratified by Switzerland on March 9, 1977.

Swiss nuclear weapons program, which lasted 43 years, came to an end on November 1, 1988, when Federal Councillor Arnold Koller signed the dissolution order, which was later dissolved on December 31, 1988


Three decades ago, the newly independent nation of Ukraine ranked as the third-largest nuclear power globally for a brief period, next only to Russia and the US. After the Soviet Union disintegrated in 1991, Moscow abandoned thousands of nuclear weapons on Ukrainian territory.

The collapse of the Soviet Union essentially left the newly independent Ukraine with about 5,000 nuclear weapons that Moscow had stationed on its territory. Its military bases had underground silos containing long-range missiles with up to ten thermonuclear warheads.

However, Ukraine decided to fully denuclearize in the years that followed.

Former nuclear base commander Volodymyr Tolubko, who was elected to the Ukrainian Parliament, maintained that Kyiv should never cede its nuclear superiority. He said there would be enough missile force left over to “deter any aggressor.” In 1993, the Ukrainian government even considered taking over operational control of its bombers and nuclear missiles. However, that never materialized.

Nuclear complex SS-20 Saber in Vinnytsia- Wikipedia

Ukraine insisted that it required absolute security guarantees in return for nuclear disarmament, which formed the core of the deal that the US, Russia, and Ukraine inked in Moscow in 1994.

In 1994, the Budapest Memorandum, signed by the United States, Russia, Ukraine, and Britain, stated that all parties would respect Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity and would not use force or threats against it.

Sadly, it could not prevent the Russian ‘Special Military Operations’ in Ukraine, and American & British security guarantees proved useless.

In addition, the pact promised that in the event of aggression, the signatories would immediately request that the UN Security Council intervene on behalf of Ukraine.

The final nuclear weapons from Ukraine were returned to Russia in May of 1996. It had taken five years to complete the repatriations. Former Soviet republics Kazakhstan and Belarus also likewise gave up their nuclear weapons, which were sent to Russia.

Japan nuclear
Representational Image

South Africa

Unlike Ukraine, Sweden, and Switzerland, South Africa dismantled the nuclear weapons that it had built to complete the disarmament. In 1993, violence erupted in South Africa as black leader Nelson Mandela and white president F.W. de Klerk bargained to end apartheid.

Amidst all the chaos, de Klerk made an unexpected declaration one evening on television: he claimed that South Africa had covertly manufactured six nuclear warheads but had since disassembled them and halted the program.

Let us convince the world we are not playing games, that we have broken those bombs down, that we can account for every milli-milli-milligram of material in it — and that is exactly what we did,” de Klerk said at a 2012 event.

Bomb casings at South Africa’s abandoned Circle nuclear bomb production facility- Wikipedia

According to De Klerk, the firearms were just meant to serve as a deterrence. The country’s immense gold and mineral wealth gave the white rulers cause for concern that the Soviet Union was collaborating with local black and communist factions to seize control of South Africa.

The Cold War ended, and the Soviet menace vanished with the fall of the Berlin Wall in November 1989. Mandela was freed from prison, and negotiations with his African National Congress began the following year, thanks to de Klerk. 

De Klerk decided to shelve the nuclear weapons development about the same period. Despite having signed the Nuclear Non-proliferation Treaty in 1991, South Africa took two years to declare the destruction of its weapons.