Five of the world’s largest nuclear powers pledged on Monday to work together toward “a world without nuclear weapons” in a rare statement of unity amid rising East-West tensions.
“A nuclear war cannot be won and must never be fought,” said the joint statement, which was issued simultaneously by the United States, Russia, China, the United Kingdom and France. “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 statement also stressed the importance of preventing conflict between nuclear-weapon states from escalating, describing it as a “foremost responsibility.”
The statement comes as tensions between the world powers have risen to heights rarely seen in recent decades. In Europe, Russia is massing troops along its border with Ukraine, raising alarms in Washington, London and Paris. And in Asia, increased Chinese military activity around the self-governed island of Taiwan has spiked tensions between Beijing and Washington and its Pacific allies.
Russia is believed to have the world’s biggest stockpile of nuclear warheads, with 6,255, followed closely by the United States at 5,550, according to the Arms Control Association (ACA). China (350), France (290) and the UK (225) round out the top five.
Pakistan (165), India (156), Israel (90) and North Korea (40-50) also have nuclear weapons, according to the ACA, but are not party to the Nonproliferation Treaty.
The five pledged to adhere to the 1970 Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT) which obligates them “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.”
Some of the text of the statement, including the pledges to work toward a world free of nuclear weapons, echoes a statement issued by the five nations after a December conference in Paris that laid the groundwork for the since delayed review of the treaty.
And the statement that a nuclear war cannot be won was identical to language that the US and Russian Presidents, Joe Biden and Vladimir Putin, used after their June summit in Switzerland.
It was also the same language used by then-US President Ronald Reagan and Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev after their 1985 summit in Geneva.
The director-general of the Chinese Foreign Ministry’s arms control department, Fu Cong, said that Beijing remained committed to a policy of no first use and deterrence, despite modernizing its nuclear capabilities.
“Nuclear weapons are the ultimate deterrence. They are not for war fighting. By saying that nuclear war cannot be won and must never be fought shows that this is an understanding shared by all the P5. So it is important that we have this in mind while we talk about the tension,” said Fu when asked about tensions over Taiwan.
“This applies everywhere and it applies with our bad relations with the US … This is something that we hope could reduce tension, and it would help clarify certain misunderstandings,” he added.