Ukraine war averted over UN meeting on legacy of nuclear treaty

Image Source: AP The total number of nuclear weapons worldwide has declined by more than 75 percent since the mid-1980s.

Russia Ukraine War: There was already enough trouble to talk about what a major UN meeting on the historic Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty was originally scheduled for in 2020.

Now, the pandemic-postponed conference finally begins Monday as Russia’s war in Ukraine rekindled fears of a nuclear confrontation and heightened the urgency of trying to strengthen the 50-year-old treaty.

“This is a very difficult moment,” said Beatrice Finn, executive director of the Nobel Peace Prize-winning International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons.

Russia’s invasion, with ominous references to its nuclear arsenal, “is very important to the treaty and is really going to put a lot of pressure on it,” she said. “How governments react to the situation is going to shape future nuclear policy.”

The four-week meeting aims to build consensus on next steps, but hopes are low – if any – for agreement. Still, Swiss President Ignazio Cassis, Japanese Prime Ministers Fumio Kishida and Fiji’s Frank Bainimarama, and foreign ministers from more than a dozen countries are expected to attend from at least 116 countries, according to a UN official. who spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak publicly before the conference.

Since 1970, the Non-Proliferation Treaty has the broadest adherence to any arms control agreement. Some 191 countries have joined it.

Nations without nuclear weapons promised not to acquire them, while nuclear-armed Britain, China, France, Russia (then the Soviet Union) and the United States agreed to negotiate toward someday eliminating their arsenals. . All supported the right of all to develop peaceful nuclear energy.

India and Pakistan, who did not sign, proceeded to receive the bombs. So did North Korea, which ratified the deal but later announced it was withdrawing. Non-signatory Israel is believed to have a nuclear arsenal, but neither confirms nor denies it.

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Nevertheless, the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty has been credited with limiting the number of nuclear entrants (US President John F. Kennedy once saw as many as 20 nuclear-armed nations by 1975) and a framework for international cooperation on disarmament. acted as.

The total number of nuclear weapons worldwide has declined by more than 75 percent since the mid-1980s, largely due to the end of the Cold War between the US and the former Soviet Union. But experts estimate that there are about 13,000 weapons around the world, most of which are in the US and Russia.

Meetings should be held every five years to assess how the treaty is working, but the 2020 conference has been repeatedly delayed due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Meanwhile the challenges have only increased.

When starting the Ukraine war in February, Russian President Vladimir Putin warned that any attempt to intervene would have “results you’ll never see” and emphasized that his country was “one of the most powerful nuclear powers.” ” A few days later, Putin ordered Russia’s nuclear forces on high alert, a move that UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres called “bone-chilling”.

“The prospect of a nuclear conflict, once unimaginable, is now back in the realm of possibility,” he said.

Events in Ukraine make a difficult choice for the upcoming conference, said Patricia Lewis, a former UN disarmament research official now at the international affairs think tank Chatham House, London.

“On the one hand, in order to support the treaty and what it means, governments have to address Russia’s behavior and threats,” she said.
“To do so, on the other hand, risks dividing the members of the treaty.”

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Another uneasy dynamic: The war has heightened the fears of some countries about not having nuclear weapons, especially since Ukraine once possessed but left a slew of Soviet nuclear weapons.

Conference participants may emphasize other security strategies or emphasize the costs and dangers of obtaining nuclear weapons, but “it is important not to be too preachy,” said Michael O’Hanlon of the Brookings Institution think tank in Washington. .

“The idea that we can just look other countries in the face and say, ‘You’re better off without the bombs’ — that’s a hard argument to carry out right now,” said O’Hallon, a senior. Fellow specialist Defense and Security Ukraine is hardly the only hot topic.

North Korea appears to have recently been preparing for its first nuclear weapons test since 2017. There is talk of resumption of an agreement to stop Iran from developing nuclear weapons.

The US and Russia have only one treaty left to reduce their nuclear arsenal and are developing new technologies. Britain last year raised a self-imposed limit on its reserves. China says it is modernizing – or, the US claims, expanding – the world’s third-largest nuclear arsenal.
Daryl Kimball, who heads the non-profit Arms Control Association in Washington, can’t remember another time when the Non-Proliferation Treaty “came up for review with so many difficulties in so many different areas, and where we’ve looked at the major Have seen such severe tension. Players.”
The president’s special representative for nuclear non-proliferation, US Ambassador Adam Shinman, said Washington expects a “balanced” outcome that “sets realistic goals and advances our national and international security interests.”

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“You can have no doubt that Russia’s actions will affect the climate and prospects of the agreed outcome document at the conference. Other difficult issues may complicate it. But I’m prepared to be somewhat optimistic,” he said. said in a telephone briefing.

The Associated Press sent inquiries to Russia’s United Nations mission about Moscow’s goals for the conference. There was no immediate reaction.
In Beijing, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian said that his country seeks to improve global nuclear governance and work towards maintaining the international order and “strongly strengthen the legitimate security and development interests and rights of China and the developing world”. will protect.”

If the world cannot speak in unison, advocates of disarmament say a strong statement from a large group of countries can send a meaningful message.

In recent years, frustration with the Non-Proliferation Treaty has catalyzed another agreement that bans nuclear weapons outright. Approved by more than 60 countries, it took effect last year, though without a nuclear-armed nation on board.

At a recent meeting in Vienna, participating countries denounced “any and all nuclear threats” and signed a protracted plan that includes considering an international trust fund for those harmed by nuclear weapons. Is.

Finn, whose Geneva-based group campaigned for a nuclear sanctions treaty, hopes the zealous United Nations conference in Vienna serves as inspiration – or notice – for countries to make progress. “If you don’t do it here,” she said, “we’re going somewhere else without you.”

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