Will the Joint Statement by the P5 Usher in a New Era of Cooperative Governance by the World’s Most Powerful Nations?

After several months of deliberation, the five permanent members of the United Nations Security Council, the P5, released the Joint Statement of the Leaders of the Five Nuclear-Weapon States on Preventing Nuclear War and Avoiding Arms Races. The statement reads: “The People’s Republic of China, the French Republic, the Russian Federation, the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, and the United States of America consider the avoidance of war between Nuclear-Weapon States and the reduction of strategic risks as our foremost responsibilities.” The countries also emphasized, “a nuclear war cannot be won and must never be fought.” The joint statement isn’t contractually binding. Still, because of this diplomatic accomplishment, future generations may remember 2021 as the year humankind narrowly avoided a world war — and not just as the year the world was devastated by COVID-19.

‘Controlling Nuclear Weapons and Avoiding War’

The book “Peril,” written by The Washington Post’s associate editor Bob Woodward and political reporter Robert Costa, reveals exclusive details about President Donald Trump’s final days in office. As Trump’s term approached its slated end date, Gen. Mark Milley, America’s highest-ranking military officer, carefully monitored America’s nuclear stockpile and twice made secret calls to China’s military. The general hoped to avoid a situation in which an out-of-control Trump recklessly waged an attack on China.

The year 2021 was indeed one of turmoil. At the beginning of October, an international fleet of naval ships was notably present in the Western Pacific. Three aircraft carriers — belonging to the United States and the United Kingdom — and 17 warships from Japan, Canada, New Zealand and the Netherlands conducted six-nation joint military exercises in the Philippine Sea and Okinawa’s territorial waters. The People’s Liberation Army also dispatched more than 150 sorties — squadrons comprised of military planes, such as fighter jets and maritime patrol aircraft — that entered the southwest corner of Taiwan’s air defense identification zone. Soon after, the USS Connecticut, an American nuclear-powered submarine, collided with an unknown object while on a mission in the South China Sea.* In Europe last June, a British warship sailing on the Black Sea near the Crimean peninsula was driven away by Russian military forces that went so far as to open fire on the British vessel.** At year’s end, when Russia deployed more than 100,000 troops to its border with Ukraine, the fires of war could have ignited at any moment.

In 2021, China, America and Russia, three of the world’s most powerful nations, didn’t necessarily want to go to war; however, these countries were on the brink of it as they pressured and probed their geopolitical adversaries. Like expert fighters, they have already sized up their opponents from a distance; they roughly know their rivals’ strengths and weaknesses, as well as their intentions. Now they can sit down together and partition the globe among themselves. By releasing this joint statement, these five primary nuclear powers, in their capacities as permanent members of the U.N. Security Council, offer a reminder to the rest of the world. With the unique privilege of U.N. Security Council veto power and the “big stick” of nuclear weaponry, these five countries are determined to serve as the pillars of world order in the 21st century.

It is telling that the P5 nations chose to sign and release the joint statement before the upcoming U.N. Review Conference of the Parties to the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT Review Conference), which occurs only once every five years. Their actions and choice of timing show they are determined to cooperate on the issue of nuclear nonproliferation. China’s vice minister of Foreign Affairs, Ma Zhaoxu, weighed in on the importance of the statement. He said that the five countries should take the joint statement as their new starting point, promote mutual trust, increase cooperation and endeavor to establish widespread and lasting peace in the world.

The Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons, originally signed in 1968, is a pact between non-nuclear powers and the five recognized nuclear powers. To date, 191 countries have joined the agreement. It was intended to prevent nuclear proliferation and recognized the P5’s possession of nuclear weapons as legitimate. A further three countries that have nuclear weapons — India, Pakistan and Israel — have refused to sign the treaty. North Korea, another country with nuclear weapons, has even denounced the agreement. The NPT Review Conference was originally scheduled for this month; however, it was postponed due to several factors, including the omicron variant outbreak.

‘Preparing for America’s Abdication’

The joint statement’s chance at success is closely tied to China and Russia’s advances in nuclear projectile technology. Seeing the progress of its rivals, the U.S. recognizes the need to cooperate with other nuclear powers on the issues of the development, use and control of nuclear weapons. America has its reasons for needing to return to the Iran nuclear deal negotiations. Most notably, President Joe Biden has been unable to accomplish anything significant in domestic or foreign affairs. He desperately needs a foreign policy accomplishment to save his slumping poll numbers and reinvigorate the Democratic Party’s currently anemic election hopes. While Biden works to achieve his personal goals and his party’s political goals, the Iran nuclear deal negotiations will test the strength of the P5’s joint statement.

Meaningful progress on the nuclear deal would greatly benefit Iran. The country hopes to free itself from the stranglehold of sanctions as soon as possible; its economy is in dire straits, and its influence on Shiite Muslims in the region continues to wane. If the government fails to reach an agreement on the nuclear deal, the nation’s circumstances will worsen. The Iranian government would face intense domestic backlash — possibly even a social uprising — as well as condemnation and increased pressure from the international community. The joint statement puts significant pressure on Iran to make meaningful concessions and bring America back to the negotiating table. The move by the P5 may also put heat on North Korea. On Jan. 6, the Korean Central News Agency, North Korea’s state-run media, reported that the country’s Academy of National Defense Science conducted a hypersonic missile test the previous day. This move was prompted by the joint statement released by the P5.

At first glance, U.S.-China and U.S.-Russia relations appear to be defined by mutual antagonism; outwardly, the countries seem to be enemies as incompatible as fire and water. But in reality, there is plenty of room for cooperation in the realm of international governance, and these nations that appear to be geopolitical adversaries can actually benefit one another. If the P5 countries sincerely wish to tackle the issue of the use and proliferation of nuclear weapons, that itself is, at the very least, a sign of peace.

During the Cold War that followed World War II, the United States and the Soviet Union — at the time, the world’s two nuclear superpowers — exercised restraint and never used nuclear weapons against each other. By doing so, they avoided a thoroughly devastating military conflict. Although various proxy wars were fought during this period, the U.S. and USSR maintained nearly 50 years of relative peace. This joint statement may very well influence the future world order, perhaps steering it toward the spirit of cooperative governance among the world’s great powers that existed after World War II and fueled the founding of the U.N. This statement may also pave the way toward a world where America is no longer the sole dominant superpower. As Taiwan is directly on the front line of the conflict between the U.S. and China, it is even more critical that the Taiwanese precisely understand changes in the overall geopolitical climate and respond accordingly.

*Translator’s Note: It was later confirmed that the USS Connecticut collided with an underwater mountain.

**Translator’s Note: According to the BBC, the British warship HMS Defender passed south of Crimea, an area Russia annexed from Ukraine in 2014. The annexation of the Crimean peninsula has not been internationally recognized.

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