ISSN 2330-717X

The Nuclear Hypocrisy – OpEd

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On January 3, 2022, a joint statement by the permanent five members (China, France, Russia, the UK and the US) of the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) asserted that a nuclear war cannot be won and must never be fought. There was also an affirmation that nuclear weapons for as long as they continue to exist should serve defensive purposes, deter aggression, and prevent war only. Another expectation was that this agreement may help in future to increase mutual trust by replacing competition among major powers with coordination and cooperation, enshrined in the commitments made under the 1968 Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT). 

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The agreement comes at a time when the relations are tense among global powers as the Russian troops are amassing near Ukrainian border and Secretary of State Antony John Blinken warns Russia of stern consequences over Ukraine episode. The US is also worried in denotations that Russia may deploy its tactical nuclear weapons (TNWs) to the border. Tensions between China and the US still continue in 2022, including in the areas of geopolitics, security and human rights. Currently, the world is preoccupied with the new variants of COVID-19 (Omicron) and augmented grimness of climate change. Nevertheless, the probability of stockpiling and arms modernization remains perilously high. 

The theme for the Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) 2022 Review Conference might be hypocrisy. Hypocrisy of the great powers for focusing on the modernization programme under the NPT. Hypocrisy of nuclear-armed states agreeing on replacing competition among major powers with coordination and cooperation. Hypocrisy in the disarmament system, in which militarism and might make right and those who spend most on weapons get to have the biggest say in global affairs. They often express concerns about the proliferation of nuclear weapons, but at the same time defend the necessity of certain states possessing destructive weapons. Hypocrisy occurs when the nuclear power states assert that not only is the the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons (TPNW) but even past nuclear disarmament commitments are not relevant for the current international security environment. Hypocrisy is when the new AUKUS security partnership in the Indo-Pacific launched by the US, UK, and Australia affects an already crippled non-proliferation regime.  

Since the Cold War, there has been a significant reduction of the number of nuclear weapons in the world, estimating around 13,100 nuclear weapons globally in early-2021. While the number of nuclear warheads decreased since the Cold War, the pace of reduction is slowing and now only appears to be the dismantling of retired weapons, not removing weapons from active service. The year book of Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI) 2021 notes that, although the total number of nuclear weapons had declined in early 2021 as compared to the previous year, the projected number of nuclear weapons deployed with operational forces had climbed to 3825, up from 3720 in the previous year.

In fact, there is a significant challenge in trying to build a rules-based order for future weapon systems while the rules relating to existing weapons are disintegrating.  Since the world leaders join hands together to stop further proliferation of nuclear weapons, the question arises that whether nuclear proliferation can be separated from other processes and phenomena, such as arms racing and domestic coalition-building. In the Classical Realist view, nuclear weapons acquisition is a logical reaction to the ultimate threat to a state’s survival: the threat of nuclear proliferation. States think that non-proliferation of weapons is no longer viable in light of the expanding security environment, which includes an increasing spectrum of technical and ideological challenges. Though, the limited empirical evidence that has come to light suggests that perceived threats from neighboring states, and from enemies further afield, have played a crucial role in the process of nuclear proliferation during the Cold War and since, providing important pieces of the puzzle. Furthermore, there are a few governments that are primarily interested in profiting from the manufacturing and ownership of nuclear weapons. 

Many nations see the duplicity of major powers and reject this strategy. To follow the discussions on a treaty that also disarms nations with pre-existing stockpiles is critical for collective survival. It is not impossible to have nukes and stop other states not to acquire them. For a world free of aggression and more nuclear weapons, it is up to the major powers to take the necessary and real actions rather than just resolutions or words spoken in conference rooms. In short, there is a need to improve relations between states and peoples rather than believing in a shared hypocrisy. 

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*Gulshan Rafiq works for Islamabad Policy Research Institute (IPRI).

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