Thu. Jan 20th, 2022

On January 3, leaders of the five nuclear-weapon states (the US, Russia, China, the UK and France, collectively known as P5) issued a joint statement on “preventing nuclear war and avoiding arms races”.

The statement, which came after the third COVID-19 related postponement of the long-awaited 10th Review Conference (RevCon) of the Nuclear Non-proliferation Treaty (NPT), was important for several reasons.

“A nuclear war can not be won and must never be fought,” the leaders agreed in the statement, reflecting a landmark statement by Ronald Reagan and Mikhail Gorbachev at a 1985 Geneva summit. The US, Russia and China have reaffirmed the Reagan-Gorbachev Declaration on several occasions in recent years. The UK and France, however, arguing that confirming the promise could undermine the deterrent value of their nuclear arsenal, have long resisted it. France, which has a nuclear doctrine under which it reserves the right to use tactical nuclear weapons against aggressors as a “last warning”, was particularly resilient. Thus, France and the UK to agree to the inclusion of this promise in the Joint Declaration was a major development.

In the statement, the five leaders also listed nuclear risk reduction as one of their “main responsibilities”. This was probably in response to the efforts of the Stockholm Initiative for Nuclear Disarmament, launched in 2019 by 16 non-nuclear-weapon states with the aim of “promoting a successful outcome of the NPT’s 10th Review Conference by providing political support” build”. for a pragmatic and results-oriented nuclear disarmament agenda ”.

In 2020, in celebration of the 50th anniversary of the NPV, members of the Stockholm Initiative adopted a set of proposals or “stepping stones” aimed at reducing the risk of nuclear weapons use, mainly through declaratory commitments. On January 3, the five nuclear states met this requirement by including a firm commitment to “nuclear war avoidance” in their joint declaration.

In the statement, nuclear weapons countries also announced their desire “to work with all states to create a security environment that is more conducive to advancing disarmament”, and thus their support for the Creating an Environment for Nuclear Disarmament (CEND) initiative restored by the US. in 2018. The reaffirmation of the CEND is important because it involves nuclear weapons that own countries that are outside the NPT, and therefore much more inclusive. In addition, it enables involvement in informal environments and leaves room for flexible debates, unlike NPT RevCons which requires lengthy preparations and allows only rigid, formal discussions. It is important to note, however, that the CEND initiative has received criticism from various quarters as an attempt to divert attention from nuclear weapons states’ failure to move forward with their disarmament promises. The initiative also brought long-standing tensions to the surface between proponents of deterrence prioritizing the stabilization of nuclear-weapon relations, and proponents of disarmament calling for the reduction of nuclear arsenals.

All in all, the January 3 joint statement hit all the right notes at the explanatory level, and its purpose was served by tensions over the rapidly deteriorating relations between the US and Russia on the one hand and the US and China on the other slightly. to relieve. Despite all its positive aspects, the statement is unlikely to reverse the ongoing negative trajectory of global non-proliferation on the ground.

Indeed, nuclear-power modernization plans from all five nuclear-weapon states are moving relentlessly forward. Instead of reducing spending on nuclear weapons, the Biden administration plans to spend a whopping $ 634 billion on the operation, maintenance and modernization of the US nuclear arsenal between 2021 and 2030. Similarly, China continues to expand its nuclear arsenal and moves to build a strong “nuclear triad” – a three-pronged military power structure that includes land-launched nuclear missiles, nuclear-armed submarines and strategic aircraft with nuclear bombs and missiles. Beijing is known to be testing modern weapons systems such as the hypersonic glider and has reportedly begun building hundreds of new ballistic missile silos across the country, and on January 4, just one day after the joint statement was issued, China said it would continue to to “modernize” its nuclear arsenal and calls on the US and Russia, which together own more than 90 percent of all explosives in the world, to rather reduce their nuclear arsenals.The AUKUS Security Treaty of September 2021 between the US, the UK and Australia, as part of which the Australian military will acquire nuclear-powered submarines, has also set a worrying precedent for the future of the non-proliferation regime.

The joint statement by the five nuclear weapons states also gave no indication that important steps towards nuclear disarmament could be taken in the near future. Many important initiatives that could help the world move towards disarmament, such as the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT), were not even mentioned in the joint statement. All of this suggests that the focus of nuclear weapons states is limited, at least for now, to risk mitigation measures, and that there is no real appetite for direct disarmament talks.

The nuclear weapons states’ lack of appetite for disarmament was already sharply focused when the Nuclear Weapons Convention (TPNW), which envisages a comprehensive and unequivocal ban on the development and possession of nuclear weapons, came into force. in January 2021. None of the nuclear weapons states supports the agreement. Many of the non-nuclear-armed members of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), including Germany, along with states such as Australia and Japan, also do not support the agreement, because despite supporting non-proliferation in theory, they believe the American nuclear power. arsenal increases their overall security.

There are many other signs that the future of nuclear non-proliferation is in jeopardy. The recent failures of the NPT, including its members’ inability to adopt a common set of recommendations for the 2020 RevCon at the 2019 PrepCom, the demise of key arms control agreements such as the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Convention and the Open Skies treaty, and growing tensions between the US and Russia, as well as the US and China have left many proponents of nuclear disarmament without much hope for the future.

In this context, the January 3 statement may be seen as a very small, yet important step in the right direction. There is no indication that there will be any significant changes in the status quo in the near future. But with this statement, five of the world’s most powerful nations came together for the first time in a promise to avoid nuclear power, and it still needs to be celebrated.

The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect Al Jazeera’s editorial views.

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