The Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons (TPNW) has forced the great powers to hand over a present in time for its first birthday (it ‘entered into force’ on 22 January 2021).
The crappy birthday present was a joint statement of five declared nuclear-weapon states on 3 January.
Britain, China, France, Russia and the US used language first adopted by Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev and US president Ronald Reagan in November 1985: ‘We affirm that a nuclear war cannot be won and must never be fought.’
(Russia and the US had earlier included this line in a June 2021 declaration; Russia and China repeated it in a statement of their own later that month; France and Britain seem to have been reluctant to take it up.)
The Nuclear Five (N5) also claimed – without evidence – that they remained committed to their obligation under the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) to ‘pursue negotiations in good faith on effective measures relating to cessation of the nuclear arms race at an early date and to nuclear disarmament’.
The N5 went on: ‘As nuclear use would have far-reaching consequences, we also affirm that nuclear weapons – for as long as they continue to exist – should serve defensive purposes, deter aggression, and prevent war.’
Not to be cynical
Security analyst Paul Rogers explained that: ‘Without sounding cynical, perhaps they hope [the statement] will take a tiny bit of pressure off them, particularly with the first anniversary of the [TPNW]’s ratification due shortly and the NPT review likely later this year.’
Rogers pointed out that all the N5 are upgrading their nuclear arsenals.
China and the UK are increasing their nuclear warhead stockpiles.
Russia’s Strategic Missile Forces are being re-equipped with new intercontinental ballistic missiles.
France has launched a four-year development phase for a third generation of nuclear-powered ballistic-missile submarines due to start coming into service in 2035. (Britain is spending billions on its own third-generation Dreadnought ballistic-missile submarine, now due in ‘the 2030s’.)
The US, meanwhile, plans to spend over £460bn over the next 10 years to maintain and upgrade its nuclear arsenal, including refurbishing or replacing nearly every nuclear warhead in its stockpile.
Nonproliferation specialist Rebecca Davis Gibbons wrote in the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists: ‘In broadcasting the large gulf between their rhetoric and actions, the five nuclear weapon states have undermined their credibility and, indeed, the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty.’