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The New Urgency of Nuclear Disarmament

After making some progress toward nuclear disarmament in the 1990s, the world has been subject to heightened nuclear risks, reflected in Russia's dangerous saber-rattling. Fortunately, states that support a ban on nuclear weapons represent a global majority, and thus are not powerless to effect change.

VIENNA/WELLINGTON – Austria and New Zealand may be far apart geographically, but we are connected by shared values and principles. Particularly relevant today is our longstanding opposition to nuclear weapons and our shared concern about the lack of progress on nuclear disarmament.

While the threat of nuclear weapons never went away after the end of the Cold War, steep cuts to nuclear stockpiles in the early 1990s represented progress. But the trend toward disarmament stalled. Three decades on, nine nuclear-armed states possess some 13,000 nuclear warheads, and, far from phasing out their arsenals, these states are modernizing and expanding them. The risks of nuclear escalation, miscalculation, and accident are mounting, even though we have a better understanding than ever of the catastrophic consequences that would follow from the use of nuclear weapons.

We recently received a fresh wake-up call. In early January, the five nuclear powers on the United Nations Security Council reaffirmed the 1985 statement by US President Ronald Reagan and Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev that “a nuclear war cannot be won and must never be fought.” Yet, the following month, Russian President Vladimir Putin’s regime threatened to unleash those same vastly destructive and indiscriminate weapons in the context of Russia’s war of aggression against Ukraine.

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