Anti-nuclear activist urges Biden and Putin to back new gun talks

  • Nobel Peace Prize laureate hopes for nuclear commitment at summit
  • Strategic nuclear security on agenda of Biden-Putin talks in Geneva
  • Cuts to US and Russian arsenals could encourage more

GENEVA, June 14 (Reuters) – Joe Biden and Vladimir Putin have an opportunity this week to push for deep reductions in their nuclear arsenals, a step that could help persuade China to back off an arms race, said the leader of a Nobel Peace Prize winner. – winning campaign group said on Monday.

Despite well-publicized friction between U.S. and Russian leaders meeting in Geneva on Wednesday, Beatrice Fihn, head of the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons (ICAN), said she believed it was possible this would mark a “turning point” and cedes a commitment to new negotiations on nuclear weapons.

In February, the United States and Russia extended the New START arms control treaty for five years, preserving the last treaty limiting the deployments of the world’s two largest strategic nuclear arsenals.

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“There’s not a huge sense of expectation of something drastic, a strong commitment. But I do think it’s an opportunity to establish the beginning of a process to negotiate further cuts,” said Fihn in an interview at the ICAN offices, where a framed print of his 2017 Nobel Prize is displayed.

“I think this meeting could, hopefully, for the safety of the world, be a turning point and the beginning of a process to really get us out of this very dangerous position that we find ourselves in at the moment.”

The 2010 New START treaty limits the two countries to each deploying a maximum of 1,550 strategic nuclear warheads and imposes restrictions on land-based and submarine missiles and bombers to launch them.

“These two countries hold over 90% of the world’s (nuclear) arsenals. These two individuals basically have the ability to end the world as we know it,” Fihn said. “What’s important is that there is an expressed ambition to get to zero and start chipping away at nuclear arsenals.”

The past decade has seen a huge modernization and upgrade of US and Russian nuclear programs, with new types of nuclear weapons, which play an increased role in the security policies of both powers, she said.

Fihn noted that Britain announced in March that it would increase its stockpile of nuclear warheads by more than 40%.

“China has also increased its nuclear arsenals. Now they are still very small compared to the United States and Russia,” she said.

“So I think an agreement between the US and Russia to start negotiating nuclear disarmament cuts would really put a lot of pressure on China, on the UK, on ​​France to also come to the table and provide evidence or progress towards their commitment to disarmament.”

Despite the COVID-19 pandemic, nuclear-weapon states spent $72.6 billion on these weapons in 2020, little change from 2019, according to an ICAN report released last week. The United States accounted for more than half of this spending, followed by China.

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Reporting by Stephanie Nebehay Editing by Peter Graff

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Angela C. Hale