De-escalate Russia’s nuclear threats with no-first-use declarations

Statement by NoFirstUse Global*

Russia’s threats to potentially use nuclear weapons in the Ukraine conflict should be de-escalated, and nuclear war prevented, through no-first-use declarations by the USA and NATO, plus pressure on Russia to also adopt such a policy and step back from the brink of nuclear war.

On February 24th, President Putin issued a warning to other nations that if they interfere with the achievement of the objectives of Russia’s “special military operation” in Ukraine they risk “consequences such as they have never seen in their history.”  Three days later, Putin eliminated any ambiguity as to whether this was a nuclear threat by heightening the readiness of Russia’s nuclear arsenal.  In the intervening days, Russia performed exercises of its nuclear forces, including hypersonic missiles

The nuclear threat has been further elevated by statements last week (March 21-15) by Russian leaders Dmitry Medvedev, Deputy Chair of Russia’s Security Council, and Dmitry Peskov, the Kremlin spokesperson, that Russia has a ‘right’ to use nuclear weapons in the Ukraine conflict in response to conventional weapon threats or an ‘existential threat’ to Russia.

What makes Russia’s threat especially dangerous is that it has been made in the context of ongoing bloody warfare.  Even if this threat were meant solely to intimidate, the fog of war sharply increases the chances of a nuclear war through inadvertent escalation, miscalculation or accident. The current humanitarian impact of Russia’s illegal invasion of Ukraine is horrific and must be stopped – but it pales in comparison to the catastrophic impact a nuclear war would have on Europe and the entire world.

On January 3, the five nuclear weapon States parties to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (China, France, Russia, the UK and the United States) affirmed that ‘a nuclear war cannot be won and must never be fought’. Russia, the United States and the other nuclear weapon states should follow-up this very important statement by committing to never launch a nuclear war, i.e. to never use nuclear weapons first in any conflict.

This is the primary call of Fulfil the NPT: From nuclear threats to human security, an Open Letter to the 10th Review Conference of the NPT which takes place from August 1-26, 2022. The Open Letter, which is organised by NFU Global, has received endorsements from a large number of highly distinguished people including retired foreign and defence ministers, prime ministers, generals, Nobel Prize winners, and prominent public figures as well as over one thousand experts and activists. It remains open for endorsement until the beginning of August.

Photo: kar881am from 123RF

* This statement is released by the Steering Committee of No-First-Use Global, an initiative of nine co-founding and 75 participating organizations supporting the adoption of no-first-use policies to de-escalate conflicts, help prevent the use of nuclear weapons and pave the way for comprehensive nuclear disarmament.