China, the United States, France, the United Kingdom and Russia - the five permanent members of the UN Security Council and the only nuclear powers officially recognised under the Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) - issued a joint statement this week. In the communiqué, the heads of government and state of the signatory countries underlined their primary responsibility to "prevent war between states and reduce strategic risks", stressing the importance of countering potential nuclear threats and preventing "further proliferation of nuclear weapons".
The NPT entered into force in 1970 with the aim of preventing the multiplication of nuclear weapons on the international stage, and today more than 190 countries are party to the agreement. However, under the terms of the treaty, only China, the US, Russia, the UK and France are considered "nuclear-armed states", although Pakistan, India, Israel and North Korea are presumed to possess atomic weapons as well. In relation to the communiqué issued this week, the first three of these powers have decided not to sign the commitment, while North Korea, for its part, has denounced it.
The five nuclear powers have ratified, through the declaration, their "commitment to the Non-Proliferation Treaty, including Article VI", which establishes the obligation to "negotiate in good faith and find effective measures related to the cessation of arms races under strict international control". The signatories have therefore stressed the importance of complying with "bilateral and multilateral nuclear non-proliferation, control and disarmament agreements".
"We declare that in a nuclear war there would be no winners and it must never be fought. Given that the use of nuclear weapons would have far-reaching consequences, we reaffirm that these weapons - as long as they remain in existence - must serve defensive purposes, deter aggression and prevent war," the communiqué stated.
In issuing the statement, the French authorities stressed the willingness of the signatory countries to "work with all States to create an atmosphere of security conducive to further progress in disarmament", with the aim of moving towards a nuclear-weapon-free world.
The announcement of this statement coincides with the resumption of negotiations to save the nuclear deal with Iran signed in 2015. The eighth round of negotiations began last December and, despite the cautious optimism shown by some parties, the Islamic Republic has continued to enrich uranium in order to strengthen its negotiating position. Now, as representatives of China, Russia, France, the UK, Germany and Iran - along with US intermediaries - are expected to return to the table in the coming days, the estimated timeframe for Tehran's nuclear weapons capability has been reduced to just a few months.
As if that were not enough, the communiqué came shortly before the 10th Review Conference of the Parties to the Non-Proliferation Treaty, which should have been held from Tuesday under the auspices of the UN in New York, but which has been postponed because of the pandemic. All this, moreover, against a backdrop of tension in Washington's bilateral relations with Moscow and Beijing. In the case of Russia, diplomatic ties have fallen to their lowest levels since the Cold War period because of the Ukrainian conflict, while Sino-US ties have been affected by estimates of the growth of the Asian giant's nuclear arsenal by 2030.
The joint statement on the call for nuclear appeasement has not left senior international diplomats indifferent. In this regard, the reaction of the President of the United Nations General Assembly, Abdulla Shahid, has been positive, and very supportive of the efforts of the five powers.
His spokesperson, Paulina Kubiak, told the Sputnik news agency: "Shahid welcomes the joint statement made by the permanent members of the Security Council. The commitment to the obligations of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) and the desire to increase mutual understanding and trust, and prevent an arms race that would benefit no one and endanger all, is the right message for the whole planet as we begin a new year.
Similarly, the spokesman for the UN Secretary General, Stéphane Dujarric, said that António Guterres, the organisation's secretary general, also welcomed and supported this communiqué.
On the other hand, Dmitri Peskov, the Kremlin's spokesman, said that he hoped that this compromise would help to reduce tensions between all the powers, but that, nevertheless, he still considered it "necessary" to hold a summit of the permanent members of the UN Security Council.