U.N. disarmament confab to start as Russia’s war raises nuke fears

United Nations headquarters in New York

A U.N. conference on nuclear disarmament will kick off Monday after multiple delays due to the coronavirus pandemic, as Russia’s war in Ukraine heightens fears nuclear weapons may be used and casts a shadow on the prospect of their elimination.

In a bid to inject fresh momentum toward nuclear disarmament efforts, Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida, representing the only country to have suffered atomic bombings in war, plans to deliver a speech in person on the first day of the four-week Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty review conference in New York.

He is expected to press for the continuation of the “no use of nuclear weapons” policy and call for more transparency over nuclear arsenals while outlining a road map toward the goal of a world free of nuclear weapons.

But the rift between nuclear-weapon states and non-nuclear states has only been deepening, leaving it unclear whether countries can come up with a consensus document to further the treaty’s nuclear disarmament and nonproliferation goals.

The meeting will be held for the first time after a U.N. treaty banning nuclear weapons entered into force in January last year, reflecting the buildup of frustration among the have-nots over the continuing lack of progress in nuclear arms reduction.

The U.S. government has said it does not believe the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons is an effective step that can lead to nuclear disarmament, with no nuclear powers currently supporting it.

Japan, despite its aspiration to rid the world of nuclear weapons, has also not joined the nuclear ban treaty, acting in consideration of its security alliance with the United States, which protects the Asian country through its nuclear arsenal.

The five nations officially recognized as possessing nuclear weapons under the NPT are Britain, China, France, Russia and the United States which developed and detonated nuclear weapons prior to Jan. 1, 1967. Under the treaty, nuclear powers pledge to work toward disarmament in exchange for promises from non-nuclear states not to acquire the extremely destructive weapons.

But the effectiveness of the NPT regime has been increasingly called into question amid sluggish progress in disarmament and Russia’s nuclear saber-rattling during its invasion of Ukraine in late February.

Moscow’s nuclear threat came despite promises by the five nuclear-weapon states not to use or threaten to use nuclear arms against non-nuclear-weapon states. It is also seen as out of step with a joint statement issued by the nuclear powers just weeks before the invasion that “a nuclear war cannot be won and must never be fought.”

The security environment also remains severe in Asia, with China believed to be rapidly expanding its nuclear arsenal and North Korea feared to be looking to conduct its seventh nuclear test.

According to the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute, or SIPRI, the nine nuclear-armed states continue to modernize their nuclear arsenals. Although the total number of nuclear weapons declined slightly between January 2021 and January 2022, the number is likely to increase in the next decade, it said.



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