In the build-up to the 50th anniversary of the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons, Donald Trump has reached out to Moscow aspiring to create a three-way arms control pact with Russia and China – three nations with some of the largest stockpiles of nuclear weapons. Trump will hold a meeting with members of the United Nations Security Council, including the United Kingdom and France, both of whom possess nuclear weapons, to discuss the possibility of such a pact.
In February 2020, the United Kingdom held its 9th annual meeting between the five nuclear-weapon states – the U.K., U.S., Russia, China and France. During this meeting, Fu Cong, Director-General of the Department of Arms Control of the Foreign Ministry stressed the growing instability surrounding global arms control, “The current world sees escalating competition among major countries, backpedalling of nuclear disarmament of the U.S. and Russia, and accelerated development of new technologies used for military purposes, which harm the global strategic stability”. A similar concern is also shared by the UN’s Disarmament Chief, Izumi Nakamitsu, who states that “relationships between states – especially nuclear-weapon states – are fractured […] distrust and a dearth of dialogue are increasingly the norm”. Despite this, Donald Trump has reiterated his commitment to non-proliferation by suggesting a new pact between Russia, “Russia wants to make a deal very much on arms control and nuclear […] so do we”. Trump also suggested the idea of incorporating China – a nation with rising stockpiles of nuclear weapons into talks, “And we’ll also certainly bring in, as you know, China”. China, however, has declared hesitancy in being brought into such talks. Fu Cong stated, “the Chinese side has an order-of-magnitude difference in nuclear forces from that of the U.S. and Russia […] it is neither fair nor reasonable to encourage the Chinese side to join trilateral arms control negotiations”.
Trump’s commitment to an arms control pact with Russia and China is vital both militarily and culturally. Indeed, the successfulness of this tripartite pact will prove influential going into the 50th anniversary of the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons in March 2020. Echoing the comments of Izumi Nakamitsu, the current world persists in a culture of nuclear fear, competition and distrust; an anarchical world with no overriding authority. Although the U.S.’ political motives for including China in arms control talks can be questionable, it is definitely an important step in achieving nuclear non-proliferation. For Russia and the U.S., the last remaining nuclear treaty between the two – the New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty, is set for extension and, therefore, is a positive sign. If a tripartite arms control pact exists between three of the major powers in the world, it just might encourage other nuclear-weapon nations, specifically India, to follow suit.
The U.S., Russia and China are all signatories to the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons. The U.S. and Russia contain roughly 6,000 warheads each, with China maintaining around 300. In 2018, Trump withdrew from the landmark Iranian Nuclear Deal – the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, threatening instability in the region. Again, in 2019, the Trump withdrew from other nuclear deal, this time the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty between Russia and the U.S..
Despite the surrounding pessimism leading up to the 50th anniversary of the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons, the extension of the New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty between the U.S. and Russia, and the proposed trilateral pact including China are vital measures needed to preserve global peace and non-proliferation. Whilst the past few years have seen drawbacks in arms control, the current proposals must be encouraged. The aspired arms control pact would keep China, Russia and the U.S. in close cooperation and may serve to encourage other powers, such as India, to cooperate in terms of arms control and nuclear non-proliferation.
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