The U.S., Russia, China, United Kingdom and France in a statement this week said a nuclear war cannot be won and must never be fought, and agreed that the further spread of nuclear weapons should be stymied.
The powerful countries, and five permanent members of the United Nations Security Council, said it is their primary responsibility to avoid war with one another and foster an environment of communication and eventual disarmament.
“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,” reads the rare statement.
The Jan. 3 pledge comes amid global tensions: Washington and Moscow are feuding as Russian troops mass on the Ukrainian border, and the threat of a Chinese invasion of Taiwan lingers.
On the other hand
The director of a Columbia-based watchdog group this week panned a statement issued by world nuclear powers, describing it as “disingenuous at best.”
The declaration, backed by the U.S., Russia, China, United Kingdom and France, reiterates the belief that a nuclear war cannot be won and must not be fought. It also said the countries are committed to arms control and disarmament agreements.
Savannah River Site Watch Director Tom Clements on Wednesday said he found the declaration “really offensive,” citing ongoing work in the U.S., including plutonium pit production ventures in South Carolina and New Mexico.
Plutonium pits are used in nuclear weapons. Dozens could be made every year at the Savannah River Site. They would eventually be used on the W87-1, a new warhead.
“The U.S. is not meeting its disarmament goals as required by the Treaty on the Nonproliferation of Nuclear Weapons,” Clements said. “And that’s demonstrated by the pursuit of the new nuclear weapons,” among other things.
It also comes as countries continue to modernize their respective nuclear weapons, arsenals capable of incredible destruction.
While the U.S. works to upgrade its arms and related infrastructure — including at the Savannah River Site, with a potential $11 billion pit production plant and a new tritium footprint — so does China. The Department of Defense last year reported the eastern power intends to have “at least 1,000 warheads by 2030, exceeding the pace and size” of prior estimates.
“Over the next decade, the PRC aims to modernize, diversify, and expand its nuclear forces,” the department’s report to Congress stated. (Former Secretary of State Mike Pompeo in July 2021 told the Aiken Standard that an increasingly powerful and assertive China necessitates a “forceful, serious response.”)
The language of the recent joint statement is reminiscent of an agreement struck decades ago by then-President Ronald Reagan and then-Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev. In 1985, the two sides emphasized there are no winners in a nuclear war, and such a conflict should never occur.
The Savannah River Site has long been a vital cog in the U.S. national defense machine. For years it pumped out plutonium for the nation’s atomic armaments, and the site continues to handle and package tritium — a nuclear weapon booster, of sorts — for the military. SRS also is involved with nonproliferation efforts; the Savannah River National Laboratory has extensive experience in the field and supports the Department of Energy, intelligence communities and other organizations.