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(EDITORIAL from Korea Times on Jan. 6)

Editorials from Korean dailies 07:01 January 06, 2022

Rare move toward peace
Practical steps needed to reduce nuclear threats

Five global nuclear powers ― the United States, Russia, China, Britain and France ― adopted a joint statement Monday, vowing to avoid nuclear war and prevent the proliferation of nuclear weapons. "We believe strongly that the further spread of such weapons must be prevented. A nuclear war cannot be won and must never be fought," according to the statement adopted by the permanent members of the United Nations Security Council (UNSC).

They emphasized the avoidance of war between nuclear-armed states and the reduction of strategic risk as their foremost responsibilities. The agreement by the nuclear-armed states is meaningful as it comes amid growing signs of a new Cold War. It is rare for the nuclear-weapons nations to stress their responsibility to avert nuclear war and prevent unauthorized or unintended use of such weapons.

Notably, the statement was adopted amid escalating Sino-U.S. tensions in the Taiwan Strait and the brewing conflict between the U.S.-led Western allies and Russia over Ukraine. Russia has been mobilizing armed forces along its border with Ukraine, indicating a possible military intervention and prompting the U.S. and North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) nations to vow retaliatory measures.

The Monday statement is largely expected to help mitigate the tensions in the two regions, though it stopped short of mentioning them by name. It stands in stark contrast to previous ones that only called on non-nuclear states such as Iran and North Korea to abide by the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT). It is encouraging to see the nuclear-armed states embrace their responsibilities via the statement.

The agreement can be construed as the first step toward a "nuclear-free world." Currently, there are 13,000 nuclear warheads around the globe, of which 90 percent are possessed by the U.S. and Russia. Despite the rising expectations, the agreement fails to refer to specific measures over how to implement it.

The UNSC member countries should provide follow-up measures to abide by their pledges to reduce nuclear weapons. Contrary to the expectation, however, China announced it would continue efforts to modernize its nuclear arsenal, Tuesday only hours after the joint statement was adopted, calling on the U.S. and Russia to curtail their nuclear weapons first.

The U.S. has been expressing concerns that China can probably increase its nuclear arsenal to 700 warheads by 2027 and 1,000 by 2030. The U.S. and Russia earlier agreed to reduce the number of their nuclear weapons to 1,550 each, but have failed to make tangible progress so far. We expect the joint statement will have a positive impact on establishing peace on the Korean Peninsula.

Yet, it is regrettable that North Korea fired a projectile, presumed to be a ballistic missile, into the East Sea again Wednesday. Pyongyang should end such provocative acts, and come to the dialogue table to discuss key issues such as denuclearization, exchanges and cooperation.

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