WASHINGTON — The United States and its nuclear allies rebuked Russia on Monday for “irresponsible and dangerous” talk about possibly deploying nuclear weapons, as a review of the keystone nuclear treaty opened at the United Nations.
“Following Russia’s unprovoked and unlawful war of aggression against Ukraine, we call on Russia to cease its irresponsible and dangerous nuclear rhetoric and behavior, to uphold its international commitments,” said the United States, France and Britain in a statement.
“Nuclear weapons, for as long as they exist, should serve defensive purposes, deter aggression, and prevent war. We condemn those who would use or threaten to use nuclear weapons for military coercion, intimidation, and blackmail,” they said.
The call was issued as leaders met at the United Nations in New York for the 10th review conference of the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT), which came into force in 1970.
It comes as concerns are rising about the spread of nuclear technology, especially in Iran and North Korea, and China’s rapid expansion of its nuclear arsenal.
While five leading nuclear powers are among the 191 states party to the pact, some are not, including India, Pakistan and North Korea. Israel, which is widely reported to have a nuclear arsenal but does not confirm or deny it, is also not a member.
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“The NPT has reduced the risk of a devastating nuclear war, and further reduction of that risk must be a priority for all NPT states parties and for this Review Conference,” the US-France-Britain statement said.
They said that Iran, currently in negotiations to limit its nuclear development, “must never develop a nuclear weapon,” and called on North Korea to halt its nuclear-related tests and launches.
In a separate statement, US President Joe Biden called on Russia and China to demonstrate their commitment to limiting nuclear arms.
Russia should demonstrate its willingness to renew a separate bilateral nuclear arms reduction pact, the New START Treaty, when it expires in 2026, Biden said.
“My administration is ready to expeditiously negotiate a new arms control framework to replace New START,” he said.
“But negotiation requires a willing partner operating in good faith. And Russia’s brutal and unprovoked aggression in Ukraine has shattered peace in Europe and constitutes an attack on fundamental tenets of international order.”
In his address to the NPT Review Conference later Monday, Russian President Vladimir Putin said that there could be “no winners” in a nuclear war and it should “never be unleashed.” He further insisted that Russia remained faithful to the treaty’s “letter and spirit.”
“There can be no winners in a nuclear war and it must never be unleashed,” he said.
Ties between Russia and the West have been unraveling since Putin sent troops to pro-Western Ukraine on February 24.
Since the start of Moscow’s military intervention in Ukraine, Putin has made thinly veiled threats hinting at a willingness to deploy Russia’s tactical nuclear weapons, which Russian military doctrine holds can be used to force an adversary to retreat.
Russian state propaganda has also argued for using nuclear weapons in the conflict.
.@POTUS: My administration is committed to reducing the existential threat posed by nuclear weapons, protecting the American people and reinvigorating the global nuclear order to reduce the risk of use or proliferation of nuclear weapons. pic.twitter.com/VgbPCeLAAj
— Department of State (@StateDept) August 1, 2022
In May, Russian editor and Nobel Peace Prize laureate Dmitry Muratov warned that the Kremlin’s “propaganda warriors” were striving to make nuclear weapons use more palatable to the Russian public.
“The health of the NPT has always rested on meaningful, reciprocal arms limits between the United States and Russian Federation. Even at the height of the Cold War, the United States and the Soviet Union were able to work together to uphold our shared responsibility to ensure strategic stability,” Biden said.
“The world can be confident that my administration will continue to support the NPT and seek to strengthen the nonproliferation architecture that protects people everywhere.”