Five of world’s most powerful nations pledge to avoid nuclear war | Nuclear weapons

Five of the most powerful nations in the world have agreed that “a nuclear war cannot be won and must never be fought” in a rare joint commitment to reduce the risk of such a conflict starting.

The pledge was signed by the United States, Russia, China, the United Kingdom and France, the five nuclear-weapon states recognized by the 1968 Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT), which are also the five permanent members of the UN Security Council. They are known as P5 or N5.

Such a joint statement on a major global security problem has become a rarity at a time of growing friction between Russia, China and the West. With Moscow threatening to invade Ukraine and China indicating its readiness to use military force against Taiwan, the joint declaration represents a renewed commitment to prevent any confrontation from turning into a nuclear disaster.

A senior US State Department official said the wording for the statement was worked out during P5 meetings over several months, despite the tense environment.

“At a grassroots level, to be able to say that’s how we think about these risks, and it’s a recognition that it’s something we want to avoid, especially during a difficult time, I think it is. is remarkable, ”the official said. .

The release of the statement was scheduled to coincide with the NPT quinquennial review conference, but that conference was postponed due to the spread of the Omicron variant of Covid-19 and disagreements over whether the session could be held virtually.

“We affirm that a nuclear war cannot be won and must never be fought,” the statement said, echoing a joint statement by Ronald Reagan and Mikhail Gorbachev at a 1985 summit in Geneva.

The NPT was a deal between the nuclear-weapon-free states, which pledged not to acquire them, and the five nuclear-weapon states, which pledged to disarm. The review conference, originally scheduled for 2020, was set to be controversial given the slowing momentum towards disarmament and the steps taken by the five weapon states to modernize their arsenals.

Four other countries with nuclear weapons not recognized by the NPT – Israel, India, Pakistan and North Korea – have also shown no signs of reducing their stocks.

Meanwhile, the breakdown of the 2015 nuclear deal with Iran, and the stalemate so far in attempts to save it, have increased the risks of nuclear proliferation, especially in the Middle East.

Monday’s joint statement aimed to improve the atmosphere at the NPT review conference.

Chinese Vice Foreign Minister Ma Zhaoxu called Monday’s statement “positive and important”, adding that it “would help increase mutual trust and replace competition between the great powers with coordination and cooperation”.

It took several months of negotiations over the wording of the declaration before the five powers were ready to agree. France in particular feared that such a declaration would undermine the deterrent effect of its arsenal.

“France has a nuclear doctrine reserving the right to use nuclear weapons as a ‘last warning’ to warn an aggressor or even a sponsoring state of terrorism,” said Oliver Meier, senior researcher at the Institute for search for peace and security policy.

Meier said the UK’s reservations were not so clearly expressed, but believed them to be similar.

A line in the joint statement saying that “nuclear weapons – as long as they continue to exist – should serve defensive purposes, deter aggression and prevent war” was added to address French concerns.

The five nuclear powers have also said that “strategic risk reduction”, ensuring that global tensions never lead to nuclear conflict, is one of their “primary responsibilities”.

“We underline our desire to work with all States to create a security environment more conducive to progress in disarmament,” the statement said.

A senior US official said the statement was the result of “a good, substantial and constructive conversation on how to reduce nuclear threats and possibly eliminate them.”

“Considering the security environment, I am quite shocked that the P5 can accept this,” said Heather Williams, senior lecturer in defense studies at King’s College London.

Williams and other nuclear experts have urged nuclear powers to improve their crisis communication channels as one of the ways to reduce the chances of an unforeseen clash escalating into nuclear conflict.

Arms control advocates broadly welcomed the declaration but called for it to be supported by a return to disarmament.

“With nine nuclear arsenals being improved and Covid issues beset submarines and nuclear facilities, this statement from five of the nuclear weapons leaders is welcome, but does not go far enough,” said said Rebecca Johnson, vice president of the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament, and the first president of the International Campaign for the Abolition of Nuclear Weapons.

“As long as nuclear weapons continue to be heralded and used by some, we are all at risk of nuclear war.”

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