UN chief warns humanity is ‘just one short cut from nuclear annihilation’

UN chief António Guterres warned that a misunderstanding could trigger nuclear annihilation as the United States, Britain and France called on Russia to stop “its dangerous nuclear rhetoric and behavior.”
At the opening of a key Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) conference in New York on Monday, Guterres warned that the world was facing “a nuclear danger not seen since the Cold War.”

Referring to Russia’s war with Ukraine and tensions on the Korean peninsula and the Middle East, Guterres said he feared an escalation of “nuclear-tinged” crises.

“Today humanity is just one misunderstanding, one miscalculation separating 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 extremely lucky so far. But luck is not a strategy. And not a defense against geopolitical tensions escalating into nuclear conflict,” he added, urging countries to “set humanity on a new path towards a world free of nuclear weapons.”

The meeting, held at UN Headquarters in New York, has been postponed several times since 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic. It will last until August 26th.

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German Foreign Minister Annalena Burbock speaks at the 2022 Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty review conference at the UN in New York, August 1, 2022. Source: AFP / ANGELA WEIS/AFP via Getty Images

Mr Guterres said the conference was “a chance to solidify” the treaty and “make it fit for the troubled world around us.”

“The elimination of nuclear weapons is the only guarantee that they will never be used,” the secretary general pleaded, adding that he would visit Hiroshima on the anniversary of the atomic bombing of the Japanese city on August 6, 1945 by the United States.

“Currently, there are almost 13,000 nuclear weapons in arsenals around the world. And all this at a time when proliferation risks are rising and barriers to escalation are weakening,” Guterres added.
In January, the five permanent members of the UN Security Council — the United States, China, Russia, Britain and France — pledged to prevent further proliferation of nuclear weapons.

On Monday, America, Britain and France reaffirmed their commitments in a joint statement, saying that “a nuclear war cannot be won and must never be waged.”

“Need to act”

All three also targeted Russia, urging Moscow to comply with its international obligations under the NPT.
“After Russia’s unprovoked and illegal war of aggression against Ukraine, we call on Russia to stop irresponsible and dangerous nuclear rhetoric and behavior,” they said.
The announcement came after US President Joe Biden urged Russia and China to start talks on nuclear arms control.

The US leader reaffirmed in a statement that his administration is ready “to negotiate as soon as possible” to replace New START, a treaty limiting intercontinental nuclear forces in the United States and Russia that expires in 2026.

The NPT, which the signatories review every five years, aims to prevent the proliferation of nuclear weapons, promote complete disarmament, and promote cooperation in the peaceful uses of nuclear energy.
At the last review conference in 2015, the parties failed to reach agreement on substantive issues.
“The world will never be safe as long as every country has a nuclear weapon,” said Beatrice Fin, executive director of the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons, who attended the meeting in New York.

“And the NPT recognizes that,” she added. “That’s the reason the treaty exists. And now, more than ever, participating States need to act.”