The division among nuclear powers continues to grow. It can go deeper after G7 Non-Proliferation Directors Group statement 17th April, 2023.
Unfortunately, politicization is increasingly creeping into the realm of nuclear arms control. G7 Statement is another example. Instead of unbiased analysis of the current situation in the sphere of arms control it represents a combination of accusations and proclamations.
This document addresses such issues as Nuclear disarmament, non-proliferation and peaceful uses of nuclear technology; Regional proliferation concerns, Biological and chemical weapons, Conventional weapons, Countering the proliferation of missiles and other critical technology, the G7-led, 31-member Global Partnership Against the Spread of Weapons and Materials of Mass Destruction (GP) and finally Space Security.
Nuclear disarmament, non-proliferation and peaceful uses of nuclear technology
In the traditional manner, the Group Statement starts with accusing Russia of violating international law in connection with the Ukraine crisis. In the text of the Statement, the word “Ukraine” (16 mentions) is second only to “Russia” (28 mentions) and “the DPRK” (17 mentions).
However, there are positive signs as well. G7 stresses the inviolability of the three pillars of the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT). Japan managed to include in the statement the “Hiroshima Action Plan” of Prime Minister F. Kishida, calling for further reductions in nuclear arsenals and disclosure of fissile material production. In addition, the Group of Seven said that it “recalls” the January 3, 2022 Joint Statement of the Leaders of the Five Nuclear-Weapon States on Preventing Nuclear War and Preventing an Arms Race. The G7 calls on the Russian Federation to resume strategic dialogue with the United States and urges China to engage promptly in strategic risk reduction discussions with the U.S.
However, positive signals are overshadowed by unilateral demands. In case of Russia, the G7 demands that Russia resume its participation in the Treaty on Measures for the Further Reduction and Limitation of Strategic Offensive Arms (New START) and condemns the deployment of Russian tactical nuclear weapons (TNWs) in the Republic of Belarus. At the same the statement by its content only aggravates the reasons of the mentioned steps. Regarding New Start the Group statement ignores the main cause of Russian suspension of the Treaty, expressed in the Statement of the Russian Foreign Ministry which is «malicious escalation of the conflict in and around Ukraine» from the Western side. As noted by experts interviewed by the PIR Center, the decision to deploy TNWs in Belarus can be as well considered as a mirror response to this escalation.
In a whole, the Group statement on the NPT’s three pillars only reinforces the rift between the nuclear powers, as it directly ignores the interests not only of the Russian Federation, but also of non-Western countries in general. The G7 neglected the legal and political aspects of Australia’s plans to build a nuclear fleet as part of AUKUS. While stigmatizing other countries as non-democratic and hostile, the G7 countries remain leaders in military spending. According to SIPRI, the U.S. leads the world military spending ranking and actively modernizing both the nuclear triad and non-nuclear assets within the concept of integrated deterrence. Japan is steadily overcoming its peaceful status and by 2027 could become the third largest country in terms of military spending. At the same time, as the PIR Center report “The New Nuclear Nine?” highlights, Japan is a threshold state capable of weaponization in the short term.
Regional proliferation concerns
The second block of the Statement is devoted to regional problems of nuclear proliferation. It is focused on the nuclear missile program of the DPRK, the Iranian nuclear program, and the Middle East.
The G7’s demands on the DPRK reflect the essence of the U.S. policy of CVID – complete verifiable and irreversible nuclear dismantlement of the DPRK, which has been implemented since the neoconservatives led by George W. Bush came to power. The G7 views sanctions as the main means of interaction with the DPRK. On this case Representatives of North Korea, as well as Russian and Chinese politicians and experts have repeatedly spoken about the futility of this approach and its detrimental effect, first of all, on the population of DPRK. While refusing to recognize North Korea’s legitimate security interests, G7 leaders turn a blind eye to dangerous trends within the Western bloc. For example, the U.S. and its partners did not react in any way to the South Korean president’s statement about the possibility of placing TNWs on South Korean territory. It is worth noting that South Korea, like Japan, is a threshold state and may pursue a military nuclear program. The decision to develop its own nuclear weapons, according to the CHEY Institute of Advanced Studies, is supported by 75% of citizens.
Unlike the May 09, 2022 G7 statement, where the parties expressed support for the resumption of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, the current statement lacks this support. Instead, the parties make strong demands to Iran on the fulfillment of its obligations to the IAEA.
As a result, the G7 clearly demonstrates the logic of double standards and the division of the world into «friends» and «foes».
Biological and chemical weapons
In the sections on the BTWC and the CWC the Group of Seven supports accusations of Russia in the notorious cases of the Skripal Family and Navalny, who, according to the G7, was poisoned by a «Novichok».
At the same time, with regard to the BTWC, the G7 is silent on the fact that the key initiatives of Russia, China and other states on the last Review conference were blocked by Western delegations as “non-core” or “insufficiently elaborated”. Igor Kirillov, head of Russian NBC Protection Troops, stated on this occasion that the desire of the United States to be a global frontrunner hinders the implementation of the Convention.
The double-standard approach is present with regard to outer space, calling on the global community to ban anti-satellite weapon (ASAT) tests. It seems, that by global community the G7 means only those countries, who challenge their ambitions.
On April 14, the annual Space Threat Assessment 2023, prepared by CSIS (Center for Strategic and International Studies (USA), was released. From the U.S. perspective, there are two types of threats in space. Firstly, technologies that allow to achieve advantages possessed by the United States developed by Russia and China. Secondly, Chinese and Russian offensive capabilities that deny access to space to the US and partners, including those in commercial space sector.
At the same time, neither the G7 Statement nor the CSIS report mentions U.S. plans to develop a coorbital ASAT.
As a result, the document can be described as contradictory at the very least. On the one hand, it emphasizes the importance of combating proliferation and expresses support for a number of important initiatives in this area. On the other hand, these initiatives are predominantly Western, and the nature of the G7 claims on Russia, China, Iran, and North Korea can only provoke a negative reaction from the latter and further divide nuclear powers.
The Group statement reflects a desire to bring rule-based order to the sphere of non-proliferation as well. The nature of the threats to the G7 and their sources largely coincide with the threats outlined in the U.S. national security strategy. Thus, from an informal element to maintain global stability, the G7 is increasingly becoming a club to advanced US-led global order. Thus, Non-Proliferation Directors Group statement contradicts the course on the maintenance of international law and multilateral system, declared in the Bali Declaration of the G20 Summit 2022. Accusations against Russia, China, DPRK and Iran were made in the statements of the G7 before. However, the April 19, 2021 Statement contains a whole paragraph about strengthening the existing international institutions (Strengthening Institutions through Improved Implementation) in the field of security. The 2023 document does not mention the term “international institutions” at all.
It is clear that Non-Proliferation Directors Group statement is the result of meticulous diplomatic work. The chosen language and all accusations are part of an overall strategy aimed primarily at domestic audiences. Such statements called for underscoring the West’s unity in a changing world. As expert A. Levchenko stresses, “On the political-strategic level, the purpose of such events is to send unambiguous signals to member countries of the alliance about the reality of mutual obligations, and to adversaries – about their readiness for proportional response in case of actualization of the threat and escalation of the conflict. In other words, it is about ideological feeding of the allies and intimidation of the opponents. The expert D. Polikanov notes that in the era of post-truth it is not a statement of facts which is important, but their presentation and interpretation. In this regard, the statement sends a clear message to Russia, China, North Korea, Iran and other countries that their interests will be ignored until the principles of liberal democracy are accepted.
This unilateral stance causes reciprocal frustration, which consequently splits nuclear powers and further erodes the Arms Control regime. This Frustration has a cumulative effect which is undesirable in the relations between nuclear powers. Most experts agree that in the current international environment, the focus should be made on the means of reducing the risks of nuclear use in all of its forms. It is worth noting that among the accusations against Russia and China, the High-Level Panel on Nonproliferation finds room for paragraphs on resuming dialogue to work out such mechanisms. Hopefully, those paragraphs represent not only diplomatic language but contain a real desire to be followed by real action.
Key words: NPT; Nuclear nonproliferation