The world's five leading nuclear powers -- all permanent members of the United Nations Security Council -- have issued a pledge to stop the spread of atomic weapons and to do all they can to ensure a nuclear war never occurs.
In a rare joint statement issued on January 3, just ahead of the review of a key nuclear treaty this year, France, the United States, Russia, China, and the United Kingdom said they were determined to prevent nuclear war and avoid a nuclear arms race, adding that "a nuclear war cannot be won and must never be fought."
"We affirm that a nuclear war cannot be won and must never be waged," the statement said.
"In view of the far-reaching consequences of the use of nuclear weapons, we also affirm that they, as long as they exist, must be used for defensive purposes, deterrence and prevention of war. We firmly believe in the need to prevent the further spread of these weapons," it added.
The statement comes a day before the Tenth Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT) Review Conference takes place at the United Nations headquarters in New York.
The NPT, which took force in 1970, allows for signatories to gather every five years to review the treaty's operation. The conference was originally set for April 2020, but then delayed due to the coronavirus pandemic. It was then postponed until 2022 as the pandemic persisted.
In the January 3 joint statement, the five Security Council members reaffirmed the importance of dealing with nuclear threats and stressed the need "to preserve and respect our bilateral and multilateral agreements and commitments on non-proliferation, disarmament and arms control."
"We remain committed to fulfilling our obligations under the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT), including that contained in Article VI to 'continue in good faith negotiations on effective measures relating to the cessation of nuclear weapons. early nuclear arms race and nuclear disarmament, and on a general and complete disarmament treaty under strict and effective international control.'"
The conference at the UN, which runs until January 28, comes amid a rise in tensions to near Cold War levels over a build-up of troops by Moscow close to the Ukrainian border.
Beijing said the nuclear statement will 'increase mutual trust' among world powers, while officials in Russia said they hoped the pledge would help to reduce world tensions over global security.
Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told the RIA Novosti news agency that even with the pledge, Moscow still considers it "necessary" to hold a summit between the world's major nuclear powers to address outstanding issues.
U.S. President Joe Biden and his Russia counterpart Vladimir Putin on December 30 held a phone call in which Biden said the United States and its allies would impose severe sanctions on Russia if it invades Ukraine.
During the call Biden warned Putin against invading Ukraine, while the Kremlin leader said anti-Moscow sanctions would be a "colossal mistake." But both leaders indicated support for further diplomacy.
Russia has demanded sweeping security guarantees from the United States and NATO, including that Ukraine and other former Soviet countries will not join NATO and a rollback of military deployments in Central and Eastern Europe. Putin has urged the West to meet the demands “immediately.”
Russia has defended its troop buildup, saying it could not remain indifferent to perceived NATO aggression on its "doorstep."