WASHINGTON DC (Arms Control): The majority of the Group of 20 (G-20) condemned Russia’s war in Ukraine and Russian President Vladimir Putin’s threats of nuclear use in a statement after its 2022 summit in Bali, Indonesia.
“Most members strongly condemned the war in Ukraine and stressed it is causing immense human suffering and exacerbating existing fragilities in the global economy,” said the statement, which was officially published Nov. 16. “The use or threat of use of nuclear weapons is inadmissible.”
The G-20, as suggested by the name, has 20 members, including countries such as China, France, Germany, India, Japan, South Korea, Russia, Turkey, the United Kingdom, the United States, as well as the European Union.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov criticized the statement, describing it as “politicized.”
The G-20 statement came after U.S. President Joe Biden and Chinese President Xi Jinping met in-person Nov. 14 for the first time since Biden took office. During the meeting, the two “reiterated their agreement that a nuclear war should never be fought and can never be won and underscored their opposition to the use or threat of use of nuclear weapons in Ukraine,” according to a White House readout.
Xi’s statement with Biden garnered particular attention given the longtime close partnership between China and Russia that has further strengthened over the course of the war as Beijing stands by and offers support to Moscow.
The Chinese president had issued his first veiled condemnation of Russia’s actions in Ukraine in a Nov. 4 statement, in which he urged the international community to “jointly oppose the use of, or threats to use, nuclear weapons” and to “advocate that nuclear weapons cannot be used, a nuclear war cannot be waged, in order to prevent a nuclear crisis” in Europe or Asia.
With the war entering its ninth month, Putin continues to issue nuclear threats. When announcing the partial mobilization order and the illegal referenda in four Ukrainian regions on Sept. 21, the Russian president said that, “in the event of a threat to the territorial integrity of our country and to defend Russia and our people, we will certainly make use of all weapon systems available to us.” This statement expanded the four scenarios in which Moscow may consider nuclear use.
The Russian president signed treaties to begin the illegal annexation of the Donetsk, Luhansk, Zaporizhzhia, and Kherson regions of Ukraine on Sept. 30, with the process finalizing Oct. 5.
In a speech at the signing ceremony, Putin argued that the United States set the precedent for nuclear use with the 1945 bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki and declared that an attack on the four annexed regions will constitute an attack on Russia. “We will defend our land with all the forces and resources we have, and we will do everything we can to ensure the safety of our people,” Putin said.
At the same time, however, Putin and other Russian officials have denied issuing any nuclear threats and stated that employing tactical nuclear weapons in Ukraine makes no political or military sense for Russia.
“We have never said anything proactively about Russia potentially using nuclear weapons,” Putin insisted Oct. 27.
U.S. President Joe Biden has repeatedly urged the Russian president against the consideration of nuclear weapons use. “Don’t. You will change the face of war unlike anything since World War II,” Biden said in September.
“We have not faced the prospect of Armageddon since [U.S. President John F.] Kennedy and the Cuban Missile Crisis” in October 1962, commented Biden Oct. 6. The president later shared that he views Putin as “a rational actor” and does not think Putin will ultimately choose to use tactical nuclear weapons.
National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan disclosed on Sept. 25 that the Biden administration has “communicated directly [and] privately to the Russians at very high levels that there will be catastrophic consequences for Russia if they use nuclear weapons in Ukraine.” The White House has repeatedly declined to detail what the U.S. response might be, whether economic, diplomatic, or military. NATO has also said that the alliance has communicated to Russia the “unprecedented” consequences of nuclear use.
France, the United Kingdom, and NATO have also denounced Putin’s threats of nuclear use and promised severe consequences. In addition, French President Emmanuel Macron said Oct. 13 that France will not use nuclear weapons if Russia employs nuclear weapons in Ukraine, and NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg commented the same day that “the circumstances in which NATO might have to use nuclear weapons are extremely remote.”
Tensions spiked on Nov. 15 in light of reports that Russian forces launched an estimated 85 conventional missiles intended to take out Ukraine’s power facilities, with some crossing into Poland. Polish President Andrzej Duda, however, issued the findings from an initial assessment the next day, which found that “Ukraine’s defense was launching their missiles in various directions, and it is highly probable that one of these missiles unfortunately fell on Polish territory.”
U.S. Nuclear Posture Emphasizes Arms Control
WASHINGTON DC (Arms Control): The United States will need to deter both China and Russia by the 2030s, according to the long-awaited unclassified versions of the Biden administration’s national security and nuclear posture strategies released in October.
This mission will require the modernization of the U.S. nuclear triad and infrastructure and the reinforcement of U.S. extended deterrence commitments, according to the National Security Strategy published by the White House on Oct. 12.
At the same time, the Biden administration remains “equally committed to reducing the risks of nuclear war,” including by “taking further steps to reduce the role of nuclear weapons in our strategy and pursuing realistic goals for mutual, verifiable arms control, which contribute to our deterrence strategy and strengthen the global non-proliferation regime.”
The United States will “ultimately engage Beijing on more formal arms control efforts” and develop “a more expansive, transparent, and verifiable arms control infrastructure to succeed New START,” the White House document states.
The National Security Strategy set the guidelines for the related Defense Department documents released on Oct. 27, including the National Defense Strategy (NDS), the Nuclear Posture Review (NPR), and the Missile Defense Review. The Pentagon sent the classified versions of its three reports to Congress in March.
The NDS reiterated the Biden administration’s focus on China as “the most comprehensive and serious challenge” and Russia “as an acute threat.”
Beijing and Moscow will create “new stresses on strategic stability” with their “modern and diverse nuclear capabilities,” the strategy determines.
The NPR continued to outline the Biden administration’s priorities with the future of nuclear disarmament and arms control and the posture, modernization, and maintenance of the U.S. nuclear arsenal.
“Russia will remain a focus of U.S. efforts given the size, diversity, and continuing modernization of its nuclear arsenal,” states the review. “However, we will need to account for [China’s] nuclear expansion in future U.S.-Russia arms control discussions.”
The Biden administration’s priority vis-à-vis Russia is for the expeditious negotiation of a successor arms control framework to New START upon its expiration in 2026. Yet, the negotiation, the NPR continues, “requires a willing partner operating in good faith.”
As for China, Washington aims to engage Beijing in bilateral and multilateral fora on “a full range of strategic issues, with a focus on military de-confliction, crisis communications, information sharing, mutual restraint, risk reduction, emerging technologies, and approaches to nuclear arms control.”
The NPR also emphasizes the P5 process as a venue in which to undertake future efforts designed “to deepen engagement on nuclear doctrines, concepts for strategic risk reduction, and nuclear arms control verification.” The P5 process includes China, France, Russia, the United Kingdom, and the United States.
For declaratory policy, the review established that “the fundamental role of nuclear weapons is to deter nuclear attack on the United States, our Allies, and partners.”
On nuclear capabilities, the NPR canceled the sea-launched cruise missile program, introduced in the Trump administration’s 2018 NPR, and dictated the retirement of the megaton class B83-1 gravity bomb, as reported by press earlier this year.