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Appreciating the P5

May 21, 2014

The P5 are feeling unappreciated about everything they’ve done for nuclear disarmament. They’ve made enormous progress over the years, give or take a few setbacks (and what junkie doesn’t slip on the way to recovery?). If they could only do a better job of telling their story, maybe all this talk about humanitarian consequences and a ban treaty would fade away and they could get back to the step-by-step task of keeping their nuclear weapons safe and reliable for as long as they exist. Which will probably be for another 100 years or so at the pace the P5 are setting, but then Hiroshima wasn’t destroyed in a day. Oh, wait…

odysseusSo during a windy, rainy April in New York, the three nuclear-armed States that joined the Non-Proliferation Treaty in 1968 and the two that waited until 1992 made the daunting—and often bewildering—journey to the Trusteeship Council Chamber of the United Nations, like Odysseus returning to Penelope with wondrous tales of monsters slain and order restored to the world.

In other words, Russia, the United Kingdom, and the United States (1968) China, and France (1992), all submitted reports “Pursuant to Actions 5, 20, 21 of the 2010 Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty Review Conference Final Document.” In a display of increased cooperation, if not exactly solidarity (reserved for their coordinated boycotts of the Oslo and Nayarit conferences), the P5, meeting recently in Beijing, agreed to use exactly the same format, not to mention identical language in the opening paragraphs of their reports. This, from countries that only decades ago had some 70,000 nuclear weapons pointed at each other, is admittedly a confidence builder.

Just to be clear at the outset, these reports were supposed to describe steps taken over the past four years to implement the NPT 2010 Action Plan. The first 22 of 64 actions, largely restatements of goals that have been on the table for 10 or 20 years, relate to disarmament. For the record, Action 20 called for these reports and Action 21 recommended that the nuclear-armed States agree on a standard form for their reports as a confidence-building measure. Done and done. Action 5 spelled out some measures of “concrete progress on the steps leading to nuclear disarmament,” most of them going back to the 2000 NPT Review, when talk of an “unequivocal undertaking” was followed by another decade and a half of equivocating.

So how are the P5 doing, according to their own narratives? Let’s turn this space over to them for a moment.


The United States

“As of September 30, 2013, the total stockpile of nuclear warheads was 4,804, reflecting a further reduction of 309 warheads compared with the total stockpile as of September 30, 2009. Further, an additional 1,204 nuclear warheads have been dismantled since September 30, 2009.”

“A major step…is the U.S.-Russia New START Treaty, which when fully implemented by 2018 will cap U.S. and Russian deployed strategic warheads at 1,550, the lowest levels of these weapons since the late 1950s.

“It is US policy not to develop new nuclear weapons. Life extension programs for remaining nuclear warheads will not support new military missions or provide for new military capabilities for nuclear weapons.”

“The United States participates in the P5 Working Group on ‘Glossary of Definitions of Key Nuclear Terms’ chaired by China. The group is making progress and expects to report to the 2015 NPT Review Conference.”


“The signing of the Treaty between the Russian Federation and the United States of America…on April 8, 2010 [New START], was an extremely important step in nuclear disarmament….Thus, Russia continues to undertake practical steps for large-scale strategic offensive arms reductions.”

“Along with strategic nuclear weapons, the Russian Federation significantly, by many times, reduced the number of its non-strategic nuclear weapons. Currently, non-strategic nuclear capability of Russia is not more than 25% of the USSR level in 1991. Besides, all Russian non-strategic nuclear weapon became non-deployed.”

“The efforts made by US and Russia are no longer sufficient for further progress towards nuclear disarmament. Furthermore, it would remain difficult to attain full and complete elimination of nuclear weapons if the process is confined to only the P-5.”


“In 2013, China issued the white paper The Diversified Employment of China’s Armed Forces. In above-mentioned documents, China clearly explains its nuclear strategy, role of nuclear weapons, employment policy, development of nuclear forces, command and control of nuclear forces and its alert status.”

“In 1964, on the very first day when China possessed nuclear weapons, the Chinese Government issued a statement solemnly proposing a world summit to discuss the issue of complete prohibition and thorough destruction of nuclear weapons. China also calls for the negotiation and conclusion of a convention on the complete prohibition of nuclear weapons.”

“China is leading the work of P5 Working Group on Glossary of Definition for Key Nuclear Terms. It hosted 2 experts’ meetings in Beijing in September 2012 and September 2013 and made great efforts to promote smooth compilation. As agreed, P5 will submit a nuclear glossary in Chinese, English, French and Russian to the 2015 NPT Review Conference.”

United Kingdom

“Since the 2010 NPT Review Conference the UK has unilaterally decided to cut our stockpile of nuclear warheads, as outlined in the SDSR [Strategic Defence and Security Review]. Today we have fewer than 225 warheads, all of a single type. We have committed to reducing this maximum stockpile to no more than 180 by the mid 2020s, with the requirement for operationally available warheads at no more than 120, a target that the UK is steadily working towards…. We have also committed to reduce the number of deployed warheads from 48 down to 40 per SSBN. In conjunction, each submarine will then field eight operational Trident ballistic missiles.”

“The P5 are, under China’s leadership, developing a glossary of nuclear terms to aid understanding between states in discussing related matters. The UK has strongly supported the authoring of this glossary and looks forward to using this multilingual handbook in future work.”


“France has less than 300 nuclear warheads. It possesses no non-deployed weapons. All its weapons are operational and deployed.”

“The French doctrine is regularly explained publicly. Its basic principles, in particular, are contained in the French President’s public speeches and in the White Papers on national defence and security, the latest of which was released in 2013. These statements reaffirm the validity and the principles of nuclear deterrence as conceived by France and help build confidence. It is necessary to make these public statements regularly, even in the absence of new developments. The confirmation of earlier-stated principles constitutes valuable information and provides a form of predictability that is likely to strengthen stability.”

“Nuclear disarmament only makes sense provided that it does not lead to an arms race in other areas.”


You can read all 125 pages of these reports if you’d like, but other than a few more details about force composition that we knew anyway, a lot of ancient history of arms control negotiations (not all of them successful) going back to the 1960s, and tiring explanations of why the necessity for nuclear deterrence continues to push nuclear disarmament off into some unspecifiable future (France really talks about nothing else), you won’t find much.

Nor will you find any references to the billions of dollars being spent on modernization programs. The US failed to mention the new B61-12 bomb, which has new capabilities and new missions as part of the NATO-deployed force, despite official claims to the contrary. The UK alluded to Trident replacement as though it were an element of step-by-step disarmament. Russia was silent about the upgrades to its multiple-warhead missiles, submarines, and its bomber fleet. France probably thought the ongoing modernization of its nuclear warheads and delivery systems and production facilities wasn’t worth mentioning. And while China releases no information at all about the size and composition of its nuclear forces, at NPT meetings or anywhere else, independent experts report it’s in the process of replacing its older nuclear weapons with “better” ones.

So to sum things up from the P5 perspective, the numbers of nuclear weapons have gone steadily down since the end of the Cold War and are approaching numbers—albeit in the thousands—that we can all be comfortable with for several more decades; deterrence works and we can be thankful for that; modernization is disarmament; and we can all look forward to a great new glossary next year.

What’s not to appreciate?

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