Six Country Coalition Criticises the Modernisation of Nuclear Weapon Programmes

Viewpoint by Sergio Duarte

The writer is President of Pugwash Conferences on Science and World Affairs and former UN High Representative for Disarmament Affairs.

NEW YORK (IDN) — On the eve of the opening of the Tenth Review Conference* of the Parties to the Treaty on the Non-proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT), the five states recognized as possessors of such armament—China, United States, France, United Kingdom and Russia—issued a Joint Declaration recalling the affirmation by presidents Ronald Reagan and Mikhail Gorbachev that “a nuclear war cannot be won a should never be fought”, adding that those weapons should serve defensive objectives, prevent aggression and avoid war.

The Declaration seems to have had the objective of responding to the growing dissatisfaction of the non-nuclear parties of the NPT with the absence of effective measures of nuclear disarmament. The lack of such measures, 52 years after the entry into force of the instrument, has resulted in a serious deterioration of the confidence and authority of the Treaty. Lately, several civil society organizations have been calling with increased vehemence for the fulfilment of the disarmament obligations contained in Article VI of the NPT.

At the end of January 2022, the New Agenda Coalition (NAC), an informal group of non-nuclear parties to the NPT composed of Brazil, Egypt, Ireland, Mexico, New Zealand, and South Africa, issued a note emphasizing the need to turn that statement by the two presidents into concrete actions for nuclear disarmament. Moreover, the NAC considers that the current effort to “modernize” nuclear arsenals in which the nuclear-weapon states are engaged detracts from the disarmament commitments and increases the risk of use of nuclear weapons and of a new arms race.

In the Joint Declaration, the five possessor states express the wish to work together with other countries to the creation of conditions more conducive to progress in disarmament with the ultimate objective of a world free of such weapons. The NAC, for its part, rejected the implicit idea that disarmament obligations are subject to conditionalities.

In fact, a constructive attitude from nuclear-armed states would require the definition of the defensive character of their armament and the recognition of the urgent need to negotiate and adopt measures directly turned toward the elimination of nuclear arms. The continued existence of such weapons is obviously incompatible with the aspirations of humankind as expressed in countless documents, agreements, and international treaties.

One of the main objectives of the NPT is to prevent the proliferation of nuclear weapons. This applies both to the emergence of new nuclear-capable nations and to the introduction of technological improvements and expansion of existing arsenals.

Security is a public good that belongs to all, and a world free of nuclear weapons will result in an increase in everyone’s security. In his comment on the Joint Declaration, the United Nations Secretary-General, António Guterres, reiterated his belief that the only way to eliminate nuclear risks is to eliminate nuclear weapons.

Decisive and responsible action by the nations possessing such armament in accordance with their commitments would be a valuable contribution to the realization of this common endeavour. The international community expect no less.

*The Conference had to be postponed for the third time due to Covid-19, and a new date has not yet been set.

Following is the statement by the New Agenda Coalition—Brazil, Egypt, Ireland, Mexico, New Zealand and South Africa—issued on January 25, 2022.

1 – The New Agenda Coalition (NAC) takes note of the ‘Joint statement on preventing nuclear war and avoiding arms races’ issued by China, France, Russia, the United Kingdom and the United States of America on 3 January 2022.

2 – The NAC also takes note of the joint statement’s emphasis on the continued pursuit of ‘bilateral and multilateral diplomatic approaches to avoid military confrontations, strengthen stability and predictability, increase mutual undistracting and confidence, and prevent an arms race that would benefit none and endanger all.

3 – At a time when tension is heightened, the NAC sees the joint-statement as a necessary effort to stabilise strategic relations and we hope it signals the beginning of greater cooperation between the nuclear-weapon States in the fulfilment of their nuclear disarmament obligations. In particular, the joint affirmation that ‘a nuclear war cannot be won and must never be fought’ is an important signal, which must now be translated into concrete action towards the total elimination of nuclear weapons.

4 – While diplomatic cooperation is needed and welcome, the NAC is concerned about recent policy statements by the nuclear-weapon States relating to the modernisation of their nuclear weapon programmes. These statements undermine their commitment to nuclear disarmament and increase the risk of the use of nuclear weapons and of a new anus race. Nuclear disarmament is not only an international legal obligation, it is a humanitarian and moral imperative.

5 – The NAC is of the view that nuclear weapons and security policies grounded in nuclear deterrence cannot provide meaningful stability or predictability and potentially risks encouraging proliferation. The continued existence of nuclear weapons further aggravates tensions in the international security environment and represents a grave threat to humanity. Stabilisation efforts are not sufficient on their own without each of the nuclear-weapon States taking tangible steps towards diminishing the salience of nuclear weapons in their strategic doctrines, leading to the elimination of their nuclear arsenals. Such intermediary steps could include the provision of legally-binding negative security assurances.

6 – The NAC supports measures aimed at reducing the risks of nuclear war. We believe that risk reduction efforts are interim solutions and that the total elimination of nuclear weapons is the only guarantee against their use or threat of use. Without a direct link to the ultimate goal of a nuclear-weapon-free world, strategic and nuclear risk reduction measures only contribute to the illusion that we can live with nuclear weapons indefinitely. While nuclear weapons continue to exist, they will always pose an unacceptable risk to humanity,

7 – In this regard, the NAC recalls the expression of deep concern at the 2010 Review Conference of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) at the catastrophic humanitarian consequences of any use of nuclear weapons and its resolve to seek a safer world for all and to achieve the peace and security of a world without nuclear weapons. Grave concern at the danger to humanity posed by nuclear weapons should inform all deliberations, decisions and actions relating to nuclear disarmament.

8 – The NAC stresses the unequivocal undertaking of the Nuclear-Weapon States to accomplish the total elimination of their nuclear arsenals leading to nuclear disarmament, to which all States Parties are committed under Article VI of the NPT. The NAC rejects the notion that these obligations are conditional, as suggested in the statement of the nuclear-weapon States. The current global security environment reinforces the need for urgency and determination in their implementation,

9 – The NAC advocates for the implementation of concrete, transparent, mutually reinforcing, verifiable and irreversible nuclear disarmament measures. We also call for the urgent fulfilment of obligations and commitments within the framework of the NFU, which remain valid until implemented.

10 – Finally, the NAC is disappointed that, due to the Covid-19 pandemic, the Tenth NPT Review Conference, which was due to convene in New York in January 2022, was further postponed. However, the postponement now provides the nuclear-weapon States with an opportunity to publicly reiterate and make progress on the full implementation of their unequivocal undertaking. Such a reaffirmation, matched by actionable, specific measures, would bolster the ‘NM’ and its Review Process, and give additional effect to the efforts referred to by the nuclear-weapon States in their joint statement. [IDN-InDepthNews – 28 January 2022]

Image: Nuclear weapon programmes worldwide. Wikimedia Commons.

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