Nuclear arms control must be balanced


The five permanent members of the United Nations Security Council which are also the largest nuclear powers pledged on Monday to work together to prevent a nuclear war, avoid arms races and prevent nuclear proliferation. A joint statement issued simultaneously by China, France, Russia, the United Kingdom and the United States said "a nuclear war cannot be won and must never be fought", stressing that reducing strategic risks is their "foremost responsibility".

"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," the joint statement said, and called on all states to create a security environment "more conducive to progress on disarmament with the ultimate goal of a world without nuclear weapons with undiminished security for all".

Goal is to protect global security

The five permanent UN Security Council members have come together to play a constructive role in safeguarding global security, and the Security Council has kept in pace with the times since 1992 when China and France signed the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty.

The five countries have also contributed to several nonproliferation negotiations including the negotiations on the Comprehensive Nuclear Test-Ban Treaty in 1996, provided security guarantee to persuade Ukraine, Kazakhstan and Belarus to give up their nuclear weapons programs and, as permanent members of the Security Council, opposed the nuclear tests conducted by India and Pakistan in 1998.

While all the five nuclear powers have encountered increasing challenges, the US became an uncertain factor in global security during the Donald Trump administration. Despite the efforts of other countries to regularize communication for the review of the NPT, Trump tried his best to cripple the international arms control and nuclear nonproliferation system, by pulling the US out of the Iran nuclear deal in 2018, the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty in 2019 and the Open Skies Treaty in 2020.

In 2018, as "specially affected states" and "persistent objectors", the five states opposed the UN Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons, insisting that the Non-Proliferation Treaty be maintained as the cornerstone of the nonproliferation system.

Crucial global meeting to be held in March

Yet in spite of the cooperation among the five states, the differences among them and some radical non-nuclear states grabbed headlines. Therefore, the first meeting of the parties to the TPNW will be held in Vienna in March to resolve the differences and discuss the goals to be realized in the next decade.

In March 2020, on the 50th anniversary of the NPT, foreign ministers of the five nuclear powers reiterated their faith in the treaty, saying they are committed to fulfilling their obligations, strengthening the NPT mechanism, and making efforts to strike a balance between preventing nuclear proliferation and using nuclear energy for peaceful purposes.

The Joe Biden administration has reversed many of Trump's unilateral decisions. Since his inauguration in 2021, Biden has extended the New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty with Russia for five years, making the two nuclear superpowers a part of the arms control regime again. The Biden administration has also resumed negotiations on the Iran nuclear deal and offered talks with the Democratic People's Republic of Korea "anywhere and at any time" without preconditions.

That the Biden administration is said to be planning a "nuclear posture review" suggests it is mulling reducing the role of nuclear weapons in the US' security strategy. Perhaps the administration's agenda may follow the "Roosevelt tradition" to seek US leadership in world affairs through "restoration and extension".

But to create more room for the five nuclear powers to jointly promote nuclear nonproliferation, the Biden administration should support international organizations and multilateral problem-solving mechanisms.

What the Biden administration has done, instead, is forming AUKUS(a security alliance among Australia, the UK and the US) in 2021, under which the US and the UK will provide nuclear-powered submarines for Australia. In fact, the formation of AUKUS indicates nuclear nonproliferation has given way to US security concerns, triggering worldwide dismay. Which prompted the International Atomic Energy Agency to include AUKUS in its agenda to address the grave concerns of the international community over the US' action.

The arms control and nuclear nonproliferation regimes still face many challenges, with the great power competition continuing to impact the UN-centric international security mechanism and strategic stability, and multilateral cooperation. The great power competition is also causing regional tensions and confrontations, threatening peace and security in Europe, the Middle East, Northeast Asia and South Asia.

The development of weapons technology and the concept of "trans-domain deterrence" have pushed the international arms control mechanism into a very complicated situation, especially because the demands of the nuclear powers and non-nuclear states are diverse.

Proliferation threat becoming more immediate

The threat of nuclear proliferation in Northeast Asia, the Middle East and South Asia has become more real, yet not enough efforts are being made to reduce that threat. This means the five states have a greater responsibility to balance nuclear nonproliferation and peaceful use of nuclear energy.

On Nov 3, 2021, the First Committee of 76th Session of the UN General Assembly, approved a China-proposed draft resolution, titled "Promoting international cooperation on peaceful uses in the context of international security", which stresses that "all countries have the right to exchange equipment, materials, and science and technology for peaceful purposes, and that all countries should take concrete measures to promote peace while fulfilling their obligations to prevent the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction and their means of delivery". This is part of China's efforts to safeguard the global nonproliferation regime. To prevent nuclear proliferation and promote nuclear disarmament, the five nuclear powers need to first take some concrete measures. They should, for example, pledge to not deploy and store nuclear weapons on the territory of other states-this applies exclusively to the US, as it is the only country that has deployed weapons on foreign soil.

Five nuclear powers must make more efforts

They should also reduce the role of nuclear weapons in their respective security strategy, refrain from first-use of nuclear weapons, and jointly maintain regional and global strategic stability to achieve the ultimate goal of a nuclear-weapon-free world by dismantling their nuclear weapons.

To achieve these goals, the five nuclear powers need to follow the principle of peaceful coexistence, and also help resolve nonproliferation hotspot issues using political and diplomatic means, in order to build a security environment conducive to the development of all countries.

They should also abandon the Cold War mentality, so as to prevent great power competition from undermining their security cooperation, and work together to upgrade the NPT so it can meet the evolving security challenges, promote strategic stability and improve global governance. There is much larger scope for cooperation if they sincerely engage in promoting common interests.

The author is a senior research fellow at the Center for Arms Control and Non-proliferation Studies, Institute of American Studies, Chinese Academy of Social Sciences.

The views don't necessarily represent those of China Daily.