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U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken speaks during a review conference for parties to the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons at the United Nations in New York City on August 1, 2022. (Photo: Kena Betancur/AFP via Getty Images)

With Threat at Historic High, Nuclear Powers Urged to Stop Violating Global Treaty

The head of ICAN said that as "tensions between nuclear-armed states are increasing, hiding behind vague affirmations and empty promises is not enough," and all nations should "join the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons as the pathway to save the NPT."

Jessica Corbett

As a treaty review conference kicked off in New York City, anti-war groups on Monday called out nuclear-armed countries—particularly the United States—for not complying with the decades-old agreement, especially as global tensions escalate.

"Nuclear-armed states are violating their disarmament obligations under the treaty and increasing the risk of catastrophic nuclear war."

Five of the nine nations with nuclear weapons—China, France, Russia, the United Kingdom, and the United States—are parties to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT), which entered into force in 1970. North Korea ditched the deal in 2003 and India, Israel, and Pakistan have not signed on to it.

In a joint statement Monday, CodePink and the Women's International League for Peace and Freedom U.S. Section (WILPF U.S.) urged the Biden administration "to remove its nuclear weapons from NATO countries and its anti-ballistic missiles from Romania and Poland, to dismantle its land-based intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs), to take all nuclear-armed missiles off hair-trigger alert, and reverse course on nuclear rearmament."

CodePink and WILPF U.S. demanded the declassification of the Biden administration's nuclear policy document and noted that leaders use the term "modernization" for arsenal updates—which the groups called "a euphemism designed to disguise violations" of the NPT. They also acknowledged how Russia's invasion of Ukraine and the response by the United States and other NATO nations have heightened global fears of nuclear war.

While the pair objected to the deployment of American nuclear weapons to several nations—including Belgium, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, Turkey, and the U.K.—they specifically pointed out that anti-ballistic missiles in Poland and Romania "escalate the arms race, sending a message that the U.S. and its NATO allies could launch a first strike on Russia protected from retaliation."

"At this tenuous time, the U.S. government is engaged in a protracted proxy war with Russia," the organizations said. "We at CodePink and WILPF U.S. raise our voices in thunderous protest at this warmongering and say steps must be taken to de-escalate the crisis."

The groups blasted not only President Joe Biden and others in his administration, but also members of Congress who are backing an $839 billion military budget. As they put it: "Instead of pursuing world peace and climate preservation for our children and their children, leaders of the U.S. are chasing a reckless and provocative foreign policy that pits the two most heavily armed nuclear nations, the U.S. and Russia, against each other, in an existential threat to humankind."

"Much as we condemn Russia's horrific invasion and brutal occupation of Ukraine, we acknowledge our part in this—with U.S. and NATO provocations—and we protest our government's decision to escalate the war with billions of dollars in weapons and military training rather than efforts to reach a negotiated settlement to build a new security architecture for Europe that will guarantee security to all in the region," CodePink and WILPF U.S. added.

Meanwhile, "Russia is threatening to deploy new strategic systems, including a nuclear-armed torpedo," and Russian President Vladimir Putin "recently suggested he might put nuclear weapons-capable missiles and aircraft in Belarus," the pair also highlighted. Additionally, other nuclear powers—specifically China and the U.K.—are dumping money into replacing and upgrading "their deadly arsenals."

The International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons (ICAN) on Monday similarly called out multiple countries, emphasizing in a statement that the United Nations conference in NYC "takes place amid a rapidly deteriorating international security environment," with nuclear-armed nations "increasing risks of use and proliferation of nuclear weapons."

"Russia's invasion of Ukraine under cover of the threat to use nuclear weapons has fractured the NPT community, heightened the risks of nuclear weapons being used, and increased the likelihood of nuclear proliferation," said ICAN executive director Beatrice Fihn. "At the same time, all five nuclear-armed states are violating their disarmament obligations under the treaty and increasing the risk of catastrophic nuclear war."

"Russia's nuclear threats have shown us the true nature of nuclear 'deterrence': intimidation, coercion, and facilitating illegal aggression," she continued. "This could drive other countries to consider nuclear weapons to defend themselves against nuclear-armed aggressors."

ICAN noted with alarm developments involving three countries that have no nukes of their own but are party to the NPT: Belarus offering to host Russian arms, and Sweden and Finland stating "publicly that they now support these weapons of mass destruction as a crucial part of their security policy and would be willing to participate in using them as part of their NATO membership application."

"These developments are extremely dangerous and undermine confidence in the NPT as a tool for enhancing global security," Fihn asserted, warning that "if Russia or any other nuclear-armed state were to use nuclear weapons, it would have catastrophic humanitarian consequences that would harm people all over the world."

Finn also flagged that "since the last NPT review conference, nuclear weapons, like chemical and biological weapons, are now comprehensively prohibited by international law."

ICAN received the 2017 Nobel Peace Prize for its work on the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons (TPNW), which entered into force last year. While that agreement has widespread support globally, it still lacks the backing of any of the nine nuclear powers.

"The NPT review conference must harness the energy and build on the achievements of the TPNW," Fihn argued. "At a time where tensions between nuclear-armed states are increasing, hiding behind vague affirmations and empty promises is not enough. It's time for all states to join the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons as the pathway to save the NPT."

After opening on Monday with a stark warning from U.N. Secretary-General António Guterres that "humanity is just one misunderstanding, one miscalculation, away from nuclear annihilation," and speeches from other key leaders including U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken, the NPT's 10th review conference is slated to run through August 26.

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