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World powers vow to stop spread of nuclear weapons

Context:

Five global nuclear powers pledged to prevent atomic weapons spreading and to avoid nuclear conflict, in a rare joint statement ahead of a review of Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT) in 2022.

Relevance:

GS-II: International Relations (Important International Treaties and Agreements, Foreign Policies affecting India’s Interests)

Dimensions of the Article:

  1. Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT)
  2. About the recent joint statement
  3. Highlights of the SIPRI Year Book 2021

Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT)

  • The Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons, commonly known as the Non-Proliferation Treaty or NPT, is an international treaty whose objective is to prevent the spread of nuclear weapons and weapons technology, to promote cooperation in the peaceful uses of nuclear energy, and to further the goal of achieving nuclear disarmament and general and complete disarmament
  • The NPT is often seen to be based on a central bargain: “the NPT non-nuclear-weapon states agree never to acquire nuclear weapons and the NPT nuclear-weapon states in exchange agree to share the benefits of peaceful nuclear technology and to pursue nuclear disarmament aimed at the ultimate elimination of their nuclear arsenals.”
  • The treaty defines nuclear-weapon states as those that have built and tested a nuclear explosive device before 1 January 1967; these are the United States, Russia, the United Kingdom, France, and China.
  • Four other states are known or believed to possess nuclear weapons: India, Pakistan, and North Korea have openly tested and declared that they possess nuclear weapons, while Israel is deliberately ambiguous regarding its nuclear weapons status.
  • The Treaty has 189 States Parties, which is the largest number of any arms control agreement.
  • However, India, Israel and Pakistan have not signed the NPT.
  • North Korea announced its withdrawal in 2003, and further announced that it had conducted an underground nuclear explosion in 2006 and 2009.

About the recent joint statement

  • In January 2022, UN Security Council members China, France, Russia, the U.K. and U.S. – said that they believe strongly that the further spread of such weapons must be prevented, and a nuclear war cannot be won and must never be fought.
  • Putting aside current differences that have caused major tensions between both China and Russia and their Western partners, the five world powers said they saw “the avoidance of war between nuclear-weapon states and the reduction of strategic risks as our foremost responsibilities.”
  • “As nuclear use would have far-reaching consequences, we also affirm that nuclear weapons — for as long as they continue to exist — should serve defensive purposes, deter aggression, and prevent war,” they said.
  • The statement comes as tensions between Russia and the United States have reached heights rarely seen since the Cold War over a troop build-up by Moscow close to the Ukrainian border.
  • The rise of China meanwhile under President Xi Jinping has also raised concerns that tensions with Washington could lead to conflict, notably over the island of Taiwan.

Highlights of the SIPRI Year Book 2021

  • The overall number of warheads in global military stockpiles now appears to be increasing, a worrisome sign that the declining trend that has characterized global nuclear arsenals since the end of the cold war has stalled.
  • According to the year book, India possessed an estimated 156 nuclear warheads at the start of 2021 compared to 150 at the start of 2020, while Pakistan had 165 warheads, up from 160 in 2020.
  • China’s nuclear arsenal consisted of 350 warheads up from 320 at the start of 2020.
  • The nine nuclear armed states – the U.S., Russia, the U.K., France, China, India, Pakistan, Israel and North Korea – together possessed an estimated 13,080 nuclear weapons at the start of 2021.
  • Russia and the U.S. together possessed over 90% of global nuclear weapons and have extensive and expensive modernisation programmes under way, SIPRI said.

Signs that decline in nuclear arsenals has stalled

  • The nine nuclear-armed states—the United States, Russia, the United Kingdom, France, China, India, Pakistan, Israel and the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (North Korea)—together possessed an estimated 13080 nuclear weapons at the start of 2021. This marked a decrease from the 13400 that SIPRI estimated these states possessed at the beginning of 2020.
  • Despite this overall decrease, the estimated number of nuclear weapons currently deployed with operational forces increased to 3825, from 3720 last year. Around 2000 of these—nearly all of which belonged to Russia or the USA—were kept in a state of high operational alert.
  • While the USA and Russia continued to reduce their overall nuclear weapon inventories by dismantling retired warheads in 2020, both are estimated to have had around 50 more nuclear warheads in operational deployment at the start of 2021 than a year earlier.
  • Russia also increased its overall military nuclear stockpile by around 180 warheads, mainly due to deployment of more multi-warhead land-based intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs) and sea-launched ballistic missiles (SLBMs).
  • Both USA’s and Russia’s deployed strategic nuclear forces remained within the limits set by the 2010 Treaty on Measures for the Further Reduction and Limitation of Strategic Offensive Arms (New START), although the treaty does not limit total nuclear warhead inventories.
Country 
Russia 
France 
India 
Israel 
Total 
Deployed warheads* 
1 800 
1 625 
120 
280 
3 825 
Other warheads* * 
750 
4 630 
105 
10 
156 
go 
[40-50] 
g 255 
Total 2021 
5 550 
6 255 
225 
2go 
156 
go 
[40-50] 
13 080 
Total 2020 
5 800 
6 375 
215 
2go 
150 
go 
[30-40] 
13 400 
Source: SIPRI Yearbook 2021.

Other nuclear-armed states investing in future capabilities

  • All the other seven nuclear-armed states are also either developing or deploying new weapon systems or have announced their intention to do so.
  • The UK’s ‘Integrated Review of Security, Defence, Development and Foreign Policy’, published in early 2021, reversed a policy of reducing the country’s nuclear arsenal and raised its planned ceiling for nuclear weapons from 180 to 260.
  • China is in the middle of a significant modernization and expansion of its nuclear weapon inventory, and India and Pakistan also appear to be expanding their nuclear arsenals.
  • North Korea continues to enhance its military nuclear programme as a central element of its national security strategy. While it conducted no nuclear test explosions or long-range ballistic missile tests during 2020, it continued production of fissile material and development of short- and long-range ballistic missiles.

-Source: The Hindu

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