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A billowing white mushroom cloud, mottled with orange, pushes through a layer of clouds during Operation Ivy, the first test of a hydrogen bomb

A billowing white mushroom cloud, mottled with orange, pushes through a layer of clouds during Operation Ivy, the first test of a hydrogen bomb, at Enewetak Atoll in the Marshall Islands on November 1, 1952. (Photo: Corbis via Getty Images)

'No Winners in a Nuclear War': US, Russia, China, UK, and France Issue Rare Joint Statement

However, disarmament campaigners noted that the five nations are "expanding nuclear arsenals, spending billions on modernizing, and constantly prepared to start a nuclear war."

Brett Wilkins

As the leaders of five of the world's nine nuclear powers on Monday released a rare joint statement acknowledging that there can be no victors of a nuclear war, disarmament campaigners called on them to "walk the talk" and pursue meaningful action to reduce the risk of thermonuclear armageddon by reducing—and ultimately eliminating—their own atomic stockpiles.

"As Greta Thunberg said, 'blah, blah, blah.' They write this 'nice' statement but [are] doing exactly the opposite in reality."

In a verbatim repetition of a historic 1985 proclamation by former U.S. President Ronald Reagan and Soviet Premier Mikhail Gorbachev, the leaders of the United States, Russia, China, the United Kingdom, and France—the five permanent United Nations Security Council members, or P5—affirmed that "a nuclear war cannot be won and must never be fought."

"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 continued. "We believe strongly that the further spread of such weapons must be prevented."

None of the five countries, nor any of the other four nuclear powers, signed the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons (TPNW)—a landmark 2017 agreement outlawing nukes that took effect last January and has been ratified by 56 nations.

Peace advocates reacted to the leaders' statement by noting the yawning chasm between their words and actions.

"As Greta Thunberg said, 'blah, blah, blah,'" Beatrice Fihn, executive director of the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons, tweeted in response to the leaders' proclamation. "They write this 'nice' statement but [are] doing exactly the opposite in reality. They're in a nuclear arms race, expanding nuclear arsenals, spending billions on modernizing, and constantly prepared to start a nuclear war."

The mission of Peru—which ratified the TPNW late last month—to the European Union said Monday that "it is important that all our countries advance together to a nuclear-weapon-free world by prohibiting their use!"

Darryl G. Kimball, director of the Arms Control Association (ACA), called the leaders' new declaration a "welcome respite from the usual bickering amongst the NPT's five nuclear-armed states," a reference to the landmark 1968 Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT), to which all five statement signatories are party.

"But it is important to keep this in perspective since there is less here than meets the eye," Kimball said, noting that Reagan and Gorbachev issued a nearly identical proclamation four decades ago.

Allen Hester, the legislative representative for nuclear disarmament and Pentagon spending at the Friends Committee on National Legislation, a Quaker advocacy group, called on the United States to renounce its first-strike nuclear doctrine.

"If the P5 can all agree that nuclear war can't be won and should never be fought, a no first use policy is a logical next step," he tweeted. "We need policies that match the (positive) rhetoric if the U.S is going to lead on reducing nuclear risk."

In the United States—the only country to have ever waged nuclear warfare—the ACA last year lamented that the administration of President Joe Biden has continued "every part of the unnecessary and unsustainable nuclear weapons spending plans it inherited from the Trump administration," including an expansion of Obama-era programs such as "more usable lower-yield nuclear capabilities."

"If the P5 can all agree that nuclear war can't be won and should never be fought, a no first use policy is a logical next step."

Meanwhile, the ACA says that China has endeavored to increase its nuclear arsenal from around 350 to 700 warheads by 2027, and 1,000 by the end of the decade.

Russia—which, with over 6,000 warheads, is home to the world's largest nuclear arsenal—is modernizing its missile delivery systems while developing two new types of intercontinental ballistic missiles, including the road-mobile RS-26 Rubezh, according to the U.S. Congressional Research Service.

In a move that disarmament campaigners called a violation of Britain's NPT obligations, Prime Minister Boris Johnson last year announced a plan to increase the size of the nation's nuclear arsenal by up to 40%.

"The problem," said Kimball of the five statement leaders, "is that each advances deterrence strategies that depend on making the threat of use of nukes 'credible' and possible," adding that they "must walk the talk."


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