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World powers vow to prevent spread of nuclear weapons

  • Category
    International Relations
  • Published
    12th Jan, 2022

Context

In a joint statement, permanent members of the UN Security Council (UNSC) pledge to ensure a nuclear war is never fought, amid rising world tensions.

Background

  • Nuclear weapons are the most dangerous weapons on earth.  One can destroy a whole city, potentially killing millions, and jeopardizing the natural environment and lives of future generations through its long-term catastrophic effects.  
  • The dangers from such weapons arise from their very existence.  
  • Although nuclear weapons have only been used twice in warfare—in the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki in 1945—about 13,400 reportedly remain in our world today and there have been over 2,000 nuclear tests conducted to date.  
  • Thus, disarmament is the best protection against such dangers. However, achieving this goal has been a tremendously difficult challenge.

The weapon of destruction

Nuclear bombs are weapons of mass destruction. They harness the forces that hold the nucleus of an atom together by using the energy released when the particles of the nucleus (neutrons and protons) are either split or merged.

Types of Nuclear Energy

  • Nuclear fission – the nucleus of an atom is split into two smaller fragments by a neutron. This method usually involves isotopes of uranium (uranium-235, uranium-233) or plutonium (plutonium-239).
  • Nuclear fusion – two smaller atoms are brought together, usually hydrogen or hydrogen isotopes (deuterium, tritium), to form a larger one (helium isotopes); this is how the sun produces energy.

Atomic Bomb

  • Nuclear fission produces the atomic bomb, a weapon of mass destruction that uses power released by the splitting of atomic nuclei.
  • When a single free neutron strikes the nucleus of an atom of radioactive material like uranium or plutonium, it knocks two or three more neutrons free. 
  • Energy is released when those neutrons split off from the nucleus, and the newly released neutrons strike other uranium or plutonium nuclei, splitting them in the same way, releasing more energy and more neutrons. 
  • This chain reaction spreads almost instantaneously.

Analysis

Important Treaties to prevent nuclear proliferation

    • The United Nations has sought to eliminate such weapons ever since its establishment. The first resolution adopted by the UN General Assembly in 1946 established a Commission to deal with problems related to the discovery of atomic energy among others. 
    • A number of multilateral treaties have been established since then. These include the 
    • Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT)
        • Treaty Banning Nuclear Weapon Tests In The Atmosphere, In Outer Space And Under Water, also known as the Partial Test Ban Treaty (PTBT)
        • Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty (CTBT), which was signed in 1996 but has yet to enter into force
    • Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons (TPNW)  
      • Other initiatives include:
        • the Nuclear Suppliers Group
        • the Missile Technology Control Regime
        • the Hague Code of Conduct against Ballistic Missile Proliferation
        • the Wassenaar Arrangement

      Key-highlights of the Statements

      • The statement said that the United States, United Kingdom, Russia, China and France – who are the permanent members of the United Nations Security Council – consider it their primary responsibility to avoid war between the nuclear states and to reduce strategic risks, while aiming to work with all countries to create an atmosphere of security.
      • They believe strongly that the further spread of such weapons must be prevented.
      • A nuclear war cannot be won and must never be fought.
      • The statement also stressed the importance of preventing conflict between nuclear-weapon states from escalating, describing it as a "foremost responsibility."
      • The joint pledge was issued ahead of what was to be the latest review of the Treaty of the Non-proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT).
      • The five pledged to adhere to the 1970 Nuclear Non-proliferation Treaty (NPT) which obligates them "to pursue negotiations in good faith on effective measures relating to cessation of the nuclear arms race at an early date and to nuclear disarmament."

      Non-proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT)

      • The NPT aims to prevent the spread of nuclear weapons and weapons technology, to foster the peaceful uses of nuclear energy, and to further the goal of disarmament.
      • The Treaty establishes a safeguards system under the responsibility of the IAEA, which also plays a central role under the Treaty in areas of technology transfer for peaceful purposes.
      • Date of adoption: 12 June 1968
      • Place of adoption: United Nations, New York
      • Date of entry into force: 5 March 1970
      • Depositary Governments: Russian Federation, United Kingdom, United States
      • India never signed the NPT and possesses nuclear arsenals.

      What can be the reason behind the statement?

      • The statement comes as tensions between the world powers have risen to heights rarely seen in recent decades. 
      • In Europe, Russia is massing troops along its border with Ukraine, raising alarms in Washington, London and Paris. 
      • And in Asia, increased Chinese military activity around the self-governed island of Taiwan has spiked tensions between Beijing and Washington and its Pacific allies.

      Who has what at a Glance (nuclear weapons)?

      • The nuclear-weapon states (NWS) are the five states—China, France, Russia, United Kingdom, and the United States—officially recognized as possessing nuclear weapons by the NPT. 
      • Russia is believed to have the world's biggest stockpile of nuclear warheads, with 6,255, followed closely by the United States at 5,550, according to the Arms Control Association (ACA). 
      • China (350), France (290) and the UK (225) round out the top five.

      The numbers

      • France: About 290 warheads.
      • United KingdomAbout 225 strategic warheads, of which an estimated 120 are deployed and 105 are in storage.
      • United States: 5,550 warheads 
      • China: About 350 total warheads.
      • India:  Approximately 156 nuclear warheads.
      • Israel: An estimated 90 nuclear warheads, with fissile material for up to 200
      • Pakistan:  Approximately 165 nuclear warheads.
      • North Korea: Estimated to have approximately 40-50 warheads (as of January 2021)

      Significance of the pledge

      • Confidence enhancement: The agreement will “help build confidence and form the foundations of future control over offensive and defensive arms”.

      Building trust and reducing conflicts: The pledge will “increase mutual trust” and reduce the risk of nuclear conflict.

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