On January 3, the leaders of the five nuclear-weapon states (the United States, Russia, China, the United Kingdom 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 much-anticipated 10th Review Conference (RevCon) of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT), was significant for several reasons.
In the statement, leaders agreed that “nuclear war can never be won and should never be fought,” echoing a landmark declaration made by Ronald Reagan and Mikhail Gorbachev at the 1985 summit in Geneva. The United States, Russia and China have reiterated the Reagan-Gorbachev Declaration on various occasions in recent years. However, the United Kingdom and France, who argue that affirming the pledge could undermine the deterrence value of their nuclear arsenal, have long resisted doing so. France, which has a nuclear doctrine under which it reserves the right to use tactical nuclear weapons against aggressors as a “last warning”, has been particularly resistant. Thus, the agreement of France and the United Kingdom to include this pledge in the joint statement was a major development.
In the statement, the five leaders also put nuclear risk reduction as one of their “first responsibilities.” This was likely in response to the efforts of the Stockholm Initiative on Nuclear Disarmament, launched in 2019 by 16 non-nuclear-weapon states with the aim of promoting a “successful outcome of the Tenth Review Conference of the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons” by building political support for a pragmatic and oriented agenda. The results of nuclear disarmament”.
In 2020, to mark the fiftieth anniversary of the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons, members of the Stockholm Initiative adopted a set of proposals, or “staging points” aimed at reducing the risks of the use of nuclear weapons, notably through stated commitments. On January 3, the five nuclear powers fulfilled this requirement by including a strong commitment to “avoid nuclear war” in their joint statement.
In the statement, the nuclear-weapon states also declared their willingness to “work with all nations to create a security environment more conducive to advancing disarmament,” thus restoring their support for the US initiative to create an environment for nuclear disarmament (CEND). In 2018. The reaffirmation of the CEND agreement is significant because it includes the nuclear weapon states outside the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty and is therefore more comprehensive. Furthermore, it allows participation in informal settings and leaves room for flexible discussions, unlike NPT RevCons which require lengthy preparations and only allow strict formal discussions. However, it is important to note that the CEND initiative has received criticism from various quarters as an attempt to divert attention from the failure of the nuclear-weapon states to move forward with disarmament pledges. The initiative has also created long-standing tensions between deterrence advocates who prioritize the stability of relations between nuclear-weapon states, and disarmament advocates who push for a reduction in nuclear arsenals.
Altogether, the January 3 joint statement hit all the right notes on an explanatory level, and served its purpose by alleviating slightly the tensions around the rapidly deteriorating relations between the United States and Russia on the one hand and the United States and China on the other. However, for all its positive aspects, the statement is unlikely to reflect the continuing negative trajectory of global non-proliferation on the ground.
Indeed, plans to modernize the nuclear power of all five nuclear-weapon states are moving forward relentlessly. Instead of cutting spending on nuclear weapons, the Biden administration plans to spend $634 billion on operating, maintaining, and modernizing the US nuclear arsenal between 2021 and 2030. Likewise, China continues to expand its nuclear arsenal and is moving toward building a “nuclear triad”—a three-pronged military force structure That includes land-based nuclear missiles, submarines armed with nuclear missiles, and strategic aircraft with nuclear bombs and missiles.Beijing has been known to test modern weapons systems such as the hypersonic glide vehicle, and has also reportedly begun building hundreds of new ballistic missile silos across the country. The country On January 4, just a day after the joint statement was issued, China said it would continue to “modernize” its nuclear arsenal and called on the United States and Russia, which together have more than 90 percent of all warheads in the world, to reduce their nuclear arsenals instead. The AUKUS security agreement concluded in September 2021 between the United States, the United Kingdom and Australia, as part of which the Australian Army will receive nuclear-powered submarines, has also shaped An alarming precedent for the future of the non-proliferation regime.
Nor did the joint statement of the five nuclear-weapon states provide any indications that important steps towards nuclear disarmament might be taken in the near future. Several important initiatives that could help the world move toward disarmament, such as the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty, were not even mentioned in the joint statement. All this indicates that, at least for the time being, the focus of the nuclear-weapon states is limited to risk reduction measures, and that there is no real desire for direct discussions on disarmament.
The focus of the nuclear weapon states’ lack of desire for disarmament really began when the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons, which seeks a comprehensive and unequivocal ban on developing and possessing nuclear weapons, entered into force. In January 2021. None of the nuclear-weapon states support the agreement. Many non-nuclear members of NATO including Germany, along with countries such as Australia and Japan, also do not support the agreement, because although they support non-proliferation in theory, they believe that the nuclear United States The arsenal of weapons enhances their general security.
There are many other indications that the future of nuclear non-proliferation is at stake. Recent failures of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, including the inability of its members to adopt a common set of recommendations for 2020 RevCon at the 2019 Preparatory Committee, and the demise of important arms control agreements such as the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty and the Open Treaty of Heaven And, rising tensions between the United States and Russia, as well as the United States and China, many advocates of denuclearization with little hope for the future.
In this context, the January 3rd statement should perhaps be seen as a very small, but still important, step in the right direction. There is no indication that there will be any major changes to 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 pledge to avoid nuclear weapons, and this should still be celebrated.
The opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial position of Al Jazeera.