World one step away from ‘nuclear annihilation’, UN chief says

The head of the United Nations (UN) has warned that the world is one step away from “nuclear annihilation” and faces dangers not seen since the Cold War.

UN Secretary-General António Guterres said on Monday that “humanity is just one misunderstanding, one miscalculation separating from nuclear annihilation” the war in Ukraine, along with other nuclear threats around the world.

He made the comments during a conference on the decades-old Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT), which aims to prevent the proliferation of nuclear weapons and ultimately achieve a world free of nuclear weapons.

In his opening remarks, Guterres said the pandemic-postponed meeting, which aims to renegotiate the historic deal, is taking place amid “a nuclear danger not seen since the Cold War.”

The conference is “an opportunity to develop measures that will help avoid imminent catastrophe and put humanity on a new path to a world free of nuclear weapons,” he said.

“Proliferation risks are rising and barriers to prevent escalation are weakening,” Guterres added, noting that “crises – with a nuclear tinge – are festering from the Middle East and the Korean Peninsula.”

The United States (USA), Japan, Germany, the head of the UN nuclear service and many other speakers also spoke about the threat of a nuclear catastrophe.

US Secretary of State Anthony Blinken said that Russia, which did not speak at the conference at the scheduled time, “is engaged in reckless and dangerous nuclear saber-rattling” in Ukraine.

He cited Russian President Vladimir Putin’s warning that any intervention in the conflict could have “consequences you’ve never seen” and that his country is a “powerful nuclear power.”

Blinken also highlighted the dangers posed by North Korea’s upcoming nuclear test and by Iran, which he said is “unwilling or unable” to accept an agreement to return to the 2015 nuclear deal aimed at curbing its nuclear program.

Putin appeared to be distracted from his past nuclear warnings when the conference began.

“We believe that a nuclear war cannot be won and never waged,” the Russian president said in a message of greetings to the NPT participants posted on his website on Monday. “We stand for equal and indivisible security for all members of the world community.” “.

Blinken also claimed that Russia was using Europe’s largest Ukrainian nuclear power plant in Zaporozhye as a military base, having seized it from Kyiv at the start of the war.

Russian forces fired at the Ukrainians from the spot, “knowing that they cannot and will not fire back because they could accidentally hit a nuclear reactor or highly radioactive waste in a storage facility,” he said.

“[This brings the idea of] human shield to an entirely different and terrifying level.”

The Russian delegation at the conference vehemently denied Blinken’s assertion in a statement made Monday evening, saying that a small number of its personnel are at the power plant “for safety”. [its] Safety and security.”

Rafael Grossi, director general of the International Atomic Energy Agency, said the conflict in Ukraine is “so serious that the specter of a potential nuclear confrontation or accident has once again reared its terrifying head.”

He warned that the situation in Zaporozhye was “becoming more dangerous every day” and called on both sides to allow a team of IAEA safety experts to visit the plant, which had been unsuccessful for the past two months.

Guterres urged the conference participants to take measures to prevent a nuclear catastrophe.

These include the urgent reaffirmation and strengthening of the “77-year norm against the use of nuclear weapons” and the relentless work to eliminate nuclear weapons with new commitments to reduce arsenals.

He also asked world leaders to address “smoldering tensions in the Middle East and Asia” and promote the peaceful uses of nuclear technology.

“Future generations are counting on your drive to step back from the abyss,” he told diplomats. “This is our moment to pass this fundamental test and dispel the cloud of nuclear annihilation once and for all.”

The NPT, in force since 1970, has been signed by 191 parties, making it one of the most widely respected arms control agreements.

According to its provisions, the five original nuclear powers – the US, China, Russia (then the Soviet Union), Britain and France – agreed to negotiate the elimination of their arsenals in the future, while countries without nuclear weapons promised not to acquire them. . in exchange for guarantees, they could develop nuclear energy for peaceful purposes.