Un Chief Says the World is “One Mistake Away From Nuclear Annihilation.”
António Guterres, the secretary general of the United Nations, said that a misunderstanding could lead to nuclear destruction. At the same time, the United States, Britain, and France were telling Russia to stop “its dangerous nuclear rhetoric and behavior.”
Guterres warned at the start of an important nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) conference in New York that the world was facing “a nuclear danger not seen since the height of the cold war.”
Guterres said he was worried that crises “with nuclear undertones” could get worse. He pointed to Russia’s war with Ukraine and tensions on the Korean peninsula and in the Middle East as examples.
“Today, humanity is just one misunderstanding, one miscalculation away from nuclear annihilation,” Guterres told the 10th review conference of the NPT, an international treaty that came into force in 1970 to prevent the spread of nuclear weapons.
“We have been extraordinarily lucky so far. But luck is not a strategy. Nor is it a shield from geopolitical tensions boiling over into nuclear conflict,” he added, calling on nations to “put humanity on a new path towards a world free of nuclear weapons”.
The Covid-19 pandemic has caused the meeting to be moved back several times since 2020. It is held at the UN headquarters in New York.
Guterres said that the conference was “a chance to strengthen” the treaty and “make it fit for the worrying world around us.”
“Eliminating nuclear weapons is the only way to be sure they will never be used,” the secretary-general said, adding that he would go to Hiroshima for the anniversary of the US dropping an atomic bomb on the Japanese city in August 6, 1945.
“Right now, there are almost 13,000 nuclear weapons in arsenals all over the world. All of this is happening at a time when the risks of proliferation are rising and the barriers that keep things from getting worse are getting weaker,” Guterres said.
In January, the US, China, Russia, Britain, and France, which are the five permanent members of the UN Security Council, made a promise to stop the spread of nuclear weapons.
In a joint statement released on Monday, the US, Britain, and France reaffirmed their commitment, saying that “a nuclear war cannot be won and should never be fought.”
The three also aimed at Russia, which said it had put its nuclear forces on alert soon after invading Ukraine on February 24. They urged Moscow to live up to the international agreements it has made under the NPT.
“Following Russia’s unprovoked and unlawful war of aggression against Ukraine, we call on Russia to cease its irresponsible and dangerous nuclear rhetoric and behavior,” they said.
President Vladimir Putin insisted that Russia remained faithful to the treaty’s “letter and spirit” and that there could be “no winners” in a nuclear war, according to the Kremlin.
While many speeches focused on Russia, the US secretary of state, Antony Blinken, also denounced North Korea, which “continues to expand its unlawful nuclear program”, and Iran, which “remains on a path of nuclear escalation … And so we come together at a critical moment,” he said.
In a statement made earlier, Joe Biden asked Russia and China to talk about how to limit the number of nuclear weapons they have.
The US president reiterated that his administration was ready to “expeditiously negotiate” a replacement to New Start, the treaty capping intercontinental nuclear forces in the United States and Russia, which is set to expire in 2026.
The NPT is reviewed by the 191 countries that have signed it every five years. Its goals are to stop the spread of nuclear weapons, work toward complete disarmament, and help countries work together to use nuclear energy for peaceful purposes.
At the last review conference, which was in 2015, the parties could not agree on important issues.
“Since then, the division within the international community has become only greater,” lamented the Japanese prime minister, Fumio Kishida. “A path to a world without nuclear weapons has become even harder. Nevertheless giving up is not an option.”