UN chief warns world is one step away from ‘nuclear annihilation’


The United Nations chief warned the world on Monday that “humanity is just one misunderstanding, one miscalculation away from nuclear annihilation.”

Secretary-General Antonio Guterres gave the dire warning at the opening of the long-overdue high-level meeting to review the landmark 50-year-old treaty aimed at preventing the proliferation of nuclear weapons and ultimately achieving a free world. of nuclear weapons. He especially cited the war in Ukraine and the threat of nuclear weapons to conflicts in the Middle East and Asia, two regions “on the brink of catastrophe.”

Guterres told many ministers, officials and diplomats attending the month-long conference to review the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty that the meeting is taking place “at a critical time for our collective peace and security” and “at a time of nuclear danger not seen since the height of the Cold War”.

The conference is “an opportunity to work out the measures that will help avert certain disaster and put humanity on a new path towards a world free of nuclear weapons,” the secretary-general said.

But Guterres warned that “geopolitical weapons are reaching new highs,” nearly 13,000 nuclear weapons are in arsenals around the world, and countries seeking “false security” are spending hundreds of billions of dollars on “doomsday weapons.” “.

“All of this at a time when proliferation risks are rising and barriers to escalation are weakening,” he said, “and when crises, with a nuclear background, are festering from the Middle East and the Korean peninsula to the invasion Ukrainian Russian.”

Guterres called on conference participants to take several steps: urgently strengthen and reaffirm “the 77-year rule against the use of nuclear weapons,” work tirelessly toward the elimination of nuclear weapons with new commitments to reduce arsenals, address “latent tensions in the Middle East and Asia” and promote the peaceful use of nuclear technology.

“Future generations are counting on your commitment to step back from the abyss,” he implored ministers and diplomats. “This is our time to confront this pivotal test and lift the cloud of nuclear annihilation once and for all.”

In force since 1970, the Non-Proliferation Treaty known as the NPT has the widest adherence of all arms control agreements, with some 191 countries being members.

Under its provisions, the original five nuclear powers (the United States, China, Russia (then the Soviet Union), Britain, and France) agreed to negotiate to one day eliminate their arsenals, and nations without nuclear weapons promised not to acquire them in return. for a guarantee to be able to develop nuclear energy for peaceful purposes.

India and Pakistan, who did not join the NPT, got the bomb. So did North Korea, which ratified the pact but later announced that it was withdrawing. Israel, which is not a signatory, is believed to have a nuclear arsenal, but neither confirms nor denies this. Nonetheless, the treaty has been credited with limiting the number of nuclear newcomers (US President John F. Kennedy once envisioned as many as 20 nuclear-armed nations) as a framework for international disarmament cooperation. .

The meeting, which ends Aug. 26, is aimed at building a consensus on next steps, but expectations are low for a substantial deal, if any.

Still, Swiss President Ignazio Cassis, Prime Ministers Fumio Kishida of Japan and Frank Bainimarama of Fiji, and more than a dozen nations’ foreign ministers are among those expected in attendance from at least 116 countries, according to a UN official who spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak publicly ahead of the conference.

Other speakers at Monday’s opening include UN nuclear chief Rafael Grossi, the head of the International Atomic Energy Agency, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken and German Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock.

The five-year review of the NPT was supposed to take place in 2020, when the world was already facing many crises, but it was delayed due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

It comes at a time of heightened fears of a nuclear confrontation, spurred by comments from Russia following its February 24 invasion of neighboring Ukraine.

Russian President Vladimir Putin then warned that any attempt at interference would bring “consequences you have never seen” and emphasized that his country is “one of the most powerful nuclear powers.” Days later, Putin ordered Russia’s nuclear forces to be placed on high alert.

Patricia Lewis, a former director of the UN Disarmament Research Institute who is now in charge of international security programs at the Chatham House international affairs think tank in London, said “President Putin’s threats to use weapons nuclear weapons have shocked the international community.

Russia is not only a signatory to the NPT but also a depositary of treaty ratifications, and in January joined the other four nuclear powers in reiterating former US President Ronald Reagan and former Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev’s statement that “you can never win a war nuclear power and should never fight,” he told The Associated Press.

Lewis said the countries participating in the review conference will have a difficult decision to make.

To support the treaty and what it stands for, “governments will have to address Russia’s behavior and threats,” he said. “On the other hand, doing so risks dividing treaty members, some of whom have been swayed by Russia’s propaganda or at least are not as concerned, for example, as the NATO states.”

And “Russia will undoubtedly strongly object to being named in the declarations and in any outcome document,” Lewis said.

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