April 19, 2024

Joe Biden has accused Russia of “shredding longstanding arms control agreements” but pledged that the US would “lead by example” in limiting the spread of weapons of mass destruction.

In his address to the UN general assembly, Biden castigated the Putin regime for its suspension, in February this year, of the 2010 New Start treaty, the last arms control agreement between the two countries.

That suspension, coupled with Russia’s withdrawal from the Conventional Forces in Europe treaty in 2007, was “irresponsible and makes the entire world less safe”, the president said.

However, Biden insisted that the US “is going to continue to pursue good faith efforts to reduce the threat of weapons of mass destruction and lead by example, no matter what else is happening in the world”.

The statement appeared to be a confirmation that the US would continue the policy it has pursued since Vladimir Putin’s suspension of New Start, by not going beyond the treaty’s limits of 1,550 deployed strategic nuclear warheads, and 700 deployed delivery systems.

At the time of Moscow’s suspension of the New Start treaty, Russian officials said their government would continue to observe those limits, but there have been no inspections of Russian nuclear weapons facilities since the start of the Covid pandemic, and Russia has ceased to share data that was required by the agreement.

In his speech, Biden said the US also remained committed to diplomatic means to containing North Korean’s nuclear weapons programme and would “remain steadfast in our commitment that Iran must never acquire nuclear weapons”.

Daryl Kimball, the head of the Arms Control Association, welcomed Biden’s statement on the New Start limits.

“I’m glad that Biden said this to keep the flame going, if you think about how you don’t have much room in a UN speech,” Kimball said. “It’s a positive signal that the United States remains ready to engage in serious dialogue on nuclear weapons production and arms control despite whatever else has happened in the Russian relationship.”

In his address, Biden urged the UN general assembly to uphold the UN charter in its approach to the Russian invasion of Ukraine, framing it as a matter of principle, national sovereignty and territorial integrity that was essential to all UN members.

“Russia believes that the world will grow weary and allow it to brutalise Ukraine without consequence,” Biden said. “But I ask you this: if we abandon the core principles … to appease an aggressor, can any member state in this body feel confident that they are protected? If we allow Ukraine to be carved up, is the independence of any nation secure?

“I respectfully suggest the answer is no,” the president added. “We must stand up to this naked aggression today to deter other would-be aggressors tomorrow.”

Much of the rest of Biden’s speech was dedicated to the principles of global cooperation to take on basic issues of poverty, human rights and the climate crisis. The US and other supporters of Ukraine are well aware that many countries at the UN, especially the developing nations in the Group of 77, are becoming restive at the focus on Ukraine, when the death toll from conflict, famine and climate change is so enormous in the global south. Biden stressed that he takes these concerns seriously.

“My country has to meet this critical moment to work with countries in every region, in common cause to join together with partners who share a common vision of the future of the world,” he said. “The United States seeks a more secure, more prosperous, more equitable world for all people, because we know our future is bound up with yours … No nation can meet the challenges of today alone.”

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