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For the first time in history, China, France, Russia, the UK and the U.S., the permanent five(P5) members of the United Nations Security Council (UNSC), released a joint statement on preventing nuclear war and avoiding arms race. Chinese Vice Foreign Minister Ma Zhaoxu said on January 3 that the five countries should take this as a "new starting point to enhance mutual trust, strengthen coordination and play a positive role in building a world with lasting peace and common security."
Nuclear weapons – whether it is its development or reduction in stockpiles – have always been the touchiest subject among the five UNSC members. The Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT) set out the ultimate goal of eliminating the signatories' nuclear arsenals. But, compounded by the legacy of the Cold War and the need of today's military deterrence, the march towards that goal has been moving at a glacial pace.
This statement could indeed be a new start. These five countries are the only five legally recognized nuclear-weapon states under the NPT and there have been major frictions and conflicts between them. Americans and Russians are haggling over Ukraine. The South China Sea is becoming a cauldron with military presence from multiple parties. And the Taiwan Straits have become a hotspot, with incoming U.S. naval vessels keeping the Chinese military on alert.
The commitment that "a nuclear war cannot be won and must never be fought" is the clearest illustration of P5's understanding of their responsibility to exercise restraint. Despite the conflicts, allowing the situation to spiral out of hand dooms everyone on this planet and it would be in defiance to the responsibility of being a nuclear-armed state. We have different geopolitical and military interests, but we have one common devotion to the existence of our race and planet.
Commitment is good, but actions are even better. The joint statement is a sign of moral and reputational investment in the issue of nuclear weapons, but we also need solid legally binding and militarily significant actions to bring about real change that would ultimately lead to eliminating all nuclear arsenal and use the technology in peaceful ways.
China's leadership on the issue has led the statement to include a reaffirmation that none of the nuclear weapons are targeted at each other or at any other state. But as long as there's geopolitical tensions and instability, there would always be incentives to keep a considerable stockpile to deter each other and for the non-nuclear states to labor to acquire one.
The five countries need to present a united front not just in words, but also in deeds. We can begin with making sure actions like the backing out of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action never happen again and working together to provide security and peace guarantees to countries that worry about their place in the world. We can start by altering our own actions of ramping up military presence in a certain region against each other. We can achieve that by having the parties with the largest nuclear arsenals to make real and meaningful progress on reducing their stockpiles so that the rest of the P5 would have the confidence and assurance to do the same.
It's going to be hard. With changes in countries' domestic politics and the rising nationalistic sentiment, the war-mongering and combative policies are on the rise. But carrying the responsibility of wielding nuclear weapons requires everyone to make the hard choices and sacrifice short-term interest for long-term benefits.
Because, in the end, it is really up to us and only us. Only China, France, Russia, the UK and the U.S. have the power to take nuclear weapons out of the equation. And we should better use that power and do the job.
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