To kick off the new year, the five nuclear-armed states recognized by the UN (referred to as the “Permanent Five” or the “P5”) graced us with a joint statement reaffirming the Reagan-Gorbachev principle that “a nuclear war cannot be won and must never be fought.” Contradicting their own guiding philosophy of nuclear deterrence wasn’t the only eyebrow-raising moment found in the statement. To get ahead of the wave of (justified) indignation from non-nuclear weapon states at the 10th review conference for the Treaty on the Nonproliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT), the P5 asserted they remain dedicated to fulfilling their nuclear disarmament commitments under Article VI of the NPT — but first, they asserted the need to “create the environment for nuclear disarmament.”
The P5 sounded like an emotionally unavailable tinder date: “Sorry, we can’t quite fully commit right now because the timing just isn’t right.” Except they didn’t even have the respect to take blame and hit us with “it’s not you, it’s me.” They blamed the vibes for their inaction.
The idea of some mythical “right time” to disarm is a cover for the P5 to perpetuate imperialism — rebranded as hegemony — and enforce a nuclear apartheid that holds the rest of the world hostage.
While it’s commendable that the P5 were able to get together and agree on something for once, their words hold little weight compared to their actions. The US continues to shower the military with billions and billions of dollars to upgrade and modernize its nuclear weapons arsenal. China appears to be in the process of significantly increasing its nuclear weapons stockpile, signaling concerns that it’s moving away from its No First Use Policy. Apart from also continuing to update its nuclear weapons arsenal while carrying out increasingly frequent and growing military exercises, Russia is threatening to invade Ukraine and making subtle threats to deploy more nuclear weapons in and around Ukraine as conflict escalates. The United Kingdom surprised many in 2021 by announcing that it would increase its nuclear weapons arsenal by 40% and would no longer be updating the public about its operational stockpile. France might be the only nuclear weapons state that isn’t overtly giving the proverbial middle finger to Article VI at the moment.
The P5 have to actually be delusional if they believe their actions are leading us down the path of nuclear disarmament and not a new nuclear arms race — or worse. If we entertain this notion that there exists a “right time” for disarmament, it won’t magically appear out of thin air. Action must be taken to create that environment. However, the P5 are barely lifting a finger to ease tensions and find paths forward for cooperation that would supposedly “set the mood” for nuclear disarmament. In reality, this idea of some mythical “right time” to disarm is a cover for the P5 to perpetuate imperialism — rebranded as hegemony — and enforce a nuclear apartheid that holds the rest of the world hostage. All they are truly doing is creating the environment for nuclear war.
IT’S TIME FOR ACTION, NOT RHETORIC
The P5 have skirted their responsibilities for long enough. If they want us to believe them when they say they’re committed to nuclear disarmament, they need to start actually doing something about it. This starts with engaging in more diplomatic efforts instead of the circus they are trying to pass as their current nuclear strategies. Most importantly, the nuclear weapon states — all of them, not just the five recognized under the UN — need to get together and negotiate amongst themselves an agreement to dismantle their nuclear weapons. This can be done in conjunction with the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons (TPNW).
Nuclear weapons keep no one safe. The only path toward safety and security for all is complete nuclear abolition. Many countries around the world recognize this fact, and have stepped up where the P5 could not, by adopting the TPNW in the UN. As the world celebrates the one-year anniversary of the entry into force of the treaty, perhaps the P5 can look to the non-nuclear weapon states, the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons, and activists around the world for inspiration as to what true diplomacy and commitment to nuclear disarmament looks like.
Jasmine Owens (she/her) is the Lead Organizer and Policy Coordinator for the Nuclear Weapons Abolition Program at Physicians for Social Responsibility. Her work and her passions focus on centering our collective humanity in the fight for a more just and equitable world, starting with the abolition of nuclear weapons.