World powers pledge to prevent the spread of atomic weapons

World powers pledge to prevent the spread of atomic weapons

01/03/2022

World powers US, UK, China, Russia and France pledge to prevent the spread of atomic weapons and avoid nuclear conflict

  • Commitment came in a rare joint statement on Monday ahead of treaty review
  • It came after the review of the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT) was postponed to later this year due to the Covid-19 pandemic 
  • Tensions between both China and Russia and their Western partners have been rising in recent months, but they set aside the differences for the statement
  • ‘A nuclear war cannot be won and must never be fought,’ the statement said 

Five world powers – the United States, United Kingdom, China, Russia and France – have pledged to prevent the spread of atomic weapons and avoid nuclear conflict.

The commitment came in a rare joint statement on Monday ahead of a review of a key nuclear treaty later this year. 

‘We believe strongly that the further spread of such weapons must be prevented,’ said permanent UN Security Council members China, France, Russia, the UK and United States, adding: ‘A nuclear war cannot be won and must never be fought.’

Five world powers – the United States, United Kingdom, China , Russia and France – have pledged to prevent the spread of atomic weapons and avoid nuclear conflict

The statement was issued after the latest review of the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT) – which first came into force in 1970 – was postponed from January 4 to later in the year due to the Covid-19 pandemic.

Putting aside current differences that have caused major tensions between both China and Russia and their Western partners, the five world powers said they saw ‘the avoidance of war between nuclear-weapon states and the reduction of strategic risks as our foremost responsibilities.’

‘As nuclear use would have far-reaching consequences, we also affirm that nuclear weapons – for as long as they continue to exist – should serve defensive purposes, deter aggression, and prevent war,’ they said according to the English text released by the White House.

The powers added: ‘We each intend to maintain and further strengthen our national measures to prevent unauthorised or unintended use of nuclear weapons.’

The statement comes as tensions between Russia and the United States have reached heights rarely seen since the Cold War over a troop build-up by Moscow close to the Ukrainian border.

That has raised fears that the Kremlin is planning a new attack on its pro-Western neighbour.

‘As nuclear use would have far-reaching consequences, we also affirm that nuclear weapons – for as long as they continue to exist – should serve defensive purposes, deter aggression, and prevent war,’ they said according to the English text released by the White House (pictured)

The rise of China meanwhile under President Xi Jinping has also raised concerns that tensions with Washington could lead to conflict, notably over the island of Taiwan.

Beijing considers Taiwan part of its territory and has vowed to one day seize it, by force if necessary.

China said the pledge the five nations signed will increase mutual trust’ and reduce the risk of nuclear conflict.

The official Xinhua news agency quoted vice foreign minister Ma Zhaoxu as saying the joint agreement ‘will help increase mutual trust and replace competition among major powers with coordination and cooperation’.

Ma described the agreement as ‘positive and weighty’, adding it would help create a ‘balanced relationship between major powers’.

The statement ’embodies the political will of the five countries to prevent nuclear war and expresses the common voice of maintaining global strategic stability and reducing the risk of nuclear conflict,’ Xinhua quoted Ma as saying.

‘The five countries should take the joint statement as a new starting point, increase mutual trust, strengthen cooperation, and play an active role in building a world of lasting peace and universal security,’ the report added.

Pictured: The numbers behind the global arms race between Russia, China and the US

Russia also welcomed the declaration by the atomic powers and expressed hope it would reduce global tensions.

‘We hope that, in the current difficult conditions of international security, the approval of such a political statement will help reduce the level of international tensions,’ Moscow’s foreign ministry said in a statement.

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told the RIA Novosti news agency that Moscow still considered a summit between the world’s major nuclear powers to be ‘necessary’.

The rare joint statement was signed by China, France, Russia, the UK and the United States. It pledged to ensure a nuclear war is never fought.

The foreign ministry also said it hoped the agreement will ‘help build confidence and form the foundations of future control over offensive and defensive arms’.

It claimed the pledge was the result of Moscow’s initiative.

‘This document was prepared on our initiative and with the most active participation of Russian representatives,’ the statement said.

The statement also comes as the world powers seek to reach agreement with Iran on reviving the 2015 deal over its controversial nuclear drive, which was rendered moribund by the US walking out of the accord in 2018.

Washington, which has never ruled out military action against Iran, has repeatedly warned time is running out to agree a deal.

A high time for hypersonic missiles – but who has what?

Darpa, the US army’s scientific wing, recently announced successful tests of what it called a HAWC missile (Hypersonic Air-breathing Weapon Concept)

AMERICA 

The US military has a number of hypersonic weapons programs across the Navy, Army and Air Force but most are still in development phase and highly top secret. 

However the known programs are all more conventional hypersonic weapons that strike from high altitude, rather than orbital bombardment systems that strike from space which the Chinese were revealed to have developed tis week. 

The only US hypersonic weapon know to have been successfully tested is the Air Force’s GM-183 ARRW which is designed to be launched from a large bomber aircraft. 

It then accelerates to hypersonic speeds using of up to 15,345mph using a supersonic combustion ramjet to strike targets within 1,000 miles. Donald Trump refered to a ‘super duper missile’ while in office and this is believed to be the AGM-183 ARRW.

The Navy’s submarine launched Long Range Hypersonic Weapon is expected to be operational by 2023 and will have a range of 1,725 miles.  

Darpa, the US army’s scientific wing, recently announced successful tests of what it called a HAWC missile (Hypersonic Air-breathing Weapon Concept) but kept details such as range, speed and payload secret. 

The missile uses oxygen in the atmosphere as part of its fuel – marking the first successful test of that class of weapon since 2013.

The missile, which is built by Raytheon, was released from an aircraft just ‘seconds’ before the scramjet engine from Northrop Grumman kicked on, Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) said. 

The engine works by compressing incoming air with hydrocarbon fuel to create a fast airflow mixture, one capable of reaching over 1,700 meters per second, or five times the speed of sound. 

Earlier this year, a test of a hypersonic missile from the U.S. Air Force was abandoned after it was unable to complete its launch sequence.  

On March 19 last year, the Pentagon flight-tested a hypersonic glide vehicle at its Pacific Missile Range Facility in Kauai, Hawaii. It deemed the test a success and ‘a major milestone towards the department’s goal of fielding hypersonic warfighting capabilities in the early- to mid-2020s.’

Unlike Russia, the United States says it is not developing hypersonic weapons for use with a nuclear warhead. As a result, a U.S. hypersonic weapon will need to be more accurate, posing additional technical challenges.

In 2004, NASA’s experimental unmanned hypersonic aircraft X-43 reached 7,366mph (Mach 9.6) using a scramjet engine, setting the current record.

In 2019, DailyMail.com reported that the Raytheon and Northrop Grumman-developed missile would use an engine made by a 3D printer. 

Last year, DARPA said it was working with Aerojet Rocketdyne on a nearly $20 million project to develop a hypersonic rocket that could intercept enemy missiles mid-air. 

Russia recently launched a hypersonic missile, the Zircon, from a submarine and has the hypersonic nuclear-capable Avangard missiles 

RUSSIA  

Russia recently launched a hypersonic missile, the Zircon, from a submarine, and since late 2019 has had the hypersonic nuclear-capable Avangard missiles in service. The Avangard can travel at up to Mach 27, changing course and altitude.  

The range of Russia’s hypersonic missile, the Zircon, is 621 miles with a speed of 9,800mph.

But the missile flies below the atmosphere and uses fuel to power itself to hypersonic speeds rather than the Earth’s orbit. 

Earlier this month, Russia  announced it has successfully test-fired the Zircon from a nuclear submarine for the first time. 

The 6,670mph weapon hit a target in the Barents Sea according to the Moscow defence ministry, who claims the missile is capable of Mach-9 speeds and able to evade all Western defences. 

Russia said it had completed flight tests of the new-age missile from a frigate – the Admiral Gorshkov – and a coastal mount, but it had not previously been launched from a submarine.

The Zircon has been identified by Moscow’s state-controlled TV as Vladimir Putin’s weapon of choice to wipe out coastal American cities in the event of an atomic conflict.

He has declared the missile as ‘truly unparalleled anywhere in the world’, and the Russians have boasted it is ‘unstoppable’ by Western defences.

Putin first announced the development of an array of new hypersonic weapons in 2018, insisting that they would be able to hit almost any point in the world and evade a US-built missile shield. 

The Zircon is due to go into service next year, and will first be deployed via the Admiral Golovko frigate which carries significant stealth-technology. 

A key use of the missile is taking out enemy ships and reports suggested its maximum range is between 188 and 620 miles.

But there have been unconfirmed reports its true range is some 1,200 miles.

The missile system’s design and development have been conducted in deep secrecy, and Putin has warned that foreign spies have tried to steal its secrets.

It is one of a number of hypersonic missiles Russia is deploying including the 188-tonne Sarmat – known in the West as Satan-2 – which will be the biggest beast in Russia’s nuclear arsenal, due for tests in the autumn with deployment slated for next year.

In May, Russia said it tested three ‘invincible’ hypersonic ‘Satan 2’ missiles that some have said could wipe out areas the size of England and Wales. 

China launched the dummy weapon into space on board a Long March 2C rocket (pictured) during a test in mid-August which it did not disclose at the time and was only revealed at the weekend by security analysts assigned to work out its purpose

CHINA 

The hypersonic orbital bombardment system that China tested in August reportedly reaches a top speed of 21,000 mph and strikes from space.  

The core concept of China’s ‘new’ weapon – deliver a warhead into orbit and have it circle the globe before hitting a target – was first developed by the Soviets in the 1960s. 

Called a Fractional Orbital Bombardment System, or FOBS, it was developed to evade powerful US radar arrays and missile defence systems.

Those systems work by detecting launches of ICBMs – very long-range missiles that can be tipped with nukes – and tracking them into space, then firing at the warheads as they come down in the hope of blowing them up before they hit their targets.

This is possible because ICBMs and their warheads follow a predictable trajectory that rises high into space – making them relatively easy to spot and allowing defence crews to calculate where they are aimed so they can be shot out of the sky. 

FOBS aim to negate these defences by firing their warheads along a much-flatter trajectory – assisted by Earth’s gravity. 

This means they pass under the scope of many radar detection arrays and are harder to track. It also makes the warheads much harder to shoot down because their trajectory is harder to calculate.  

The use of orbit makes a warhead’s range potentially unlimited, meaning it can be fired at its target from any direction. This helps to avoid radar systems which generally point at a fixed spot in the sky – in America’s case, over the North Pole.

Meanwhile, China  has also unveiled a hypersonic medium-range missile, the DF-17, in 2019, which can travel around 2,000 kilometres and can carry nuclear warheads.

In October, China deployed the DF 17 missile to coastal areas in preparation for a possible invasion of Taiwan.  

The weapon has a maximum range of 2,500 kilometres (1,550 miles) and is capable of achieving speeds of up to 7,680 miles per hour (12,360 kph) – or 10 times the speed of sound – while carrying a nuclear warhead, according to previous reports.

It has been billed as ‘a death sentence’ to aircraft carriers within its range.

Hypersonic missiles travel at more than five times the speed of sound in the upper atmosphere – or about 6,200 km per hour (3,850 mph). This is slower than an intercontinental ballistic missile, but the shape of a hypersonic glide vehicle allows it to manoeuvre toward a target or away from defences.

Combining a glide vehicle with a missile that can launch it partially into orbit – a so-called fractional orbital bombardment system (FOBS) – could strip adversaries of reaction time and traditional defences mechanisms.

Intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs), by contrast, carry nuclear warheads on ballistic trajectories that travel into space but never reach orbit. 

China on Monday insisted that the test in August was a routine one for a spacecraft rather than a missile.

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