Humanity one miscalculation away from ‘nuclear annihilation’, UN chief warns

UNITED NATIONS, Jun 02 (APP): Calling for the world to avoid the “suicidal mistake” of nuclear conflict, United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres stressed that while humanity had been extraordinarily lucky so far, “luck is not a strategy”, and the Treaty on Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT) was as crucial as ever, as the month-long Tenth Review Conference of that accord began in New York.

Noting the Conference takes place “at a time of nuclear danger not seen since the height of the cold war”, he added that he would visit Hiroshima on the anniversary of the first nuclear bombardment in human history.

Guterres highlighted some of the current challenges to global peace and security, with the world under greater stress due to the climate crisis, stark inequalities, conflicts and human rights violations, as well as the devastation caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.

He said the meeting was taking place amid those challenges, and at a time of nuclear danger not seen since the height of the Cold War.

“Geopolitical tensions are reaching new highs. Competition is trumping co-operation and collaboration. Distrust has replaced dialogue and disunity has replaced disarmament. States are seeking false security in stockpiling and spending hundreds of billions of dollars on doomsday weapons that have no place on our planet,” he said.

Currently, almost 13,000 nuclear weapons were now being held in arsenals around the world, he added.

“All this at a time when the risks of proliferation are growing and guardrails to prevent escalation are weakening.??And when crises — with nuclear undertones — are festering, from the Middle East and the Korean Peninsula. To the invasion of Ukraine by Russia, and to many other factors around the world.”

He said today, humanity was “just one misunderstanding, one miscalculation away from nuclear annihilation”.

The Secretary-General underlined the importance of the non-proliferation treaty, saying it was needed “as much as ever”, while the review meeting provided an opportunity “to put humanity on a new path towards a world free of nuclear weapons.”

He outlined five areas for action, starting with reinforcing and reaffirming the norm against the use of nuclear weapons, which required steadfast commitment from all parties to the treaty.

“We need to strengthen all avenues of dialogue and transparency. Peace cannot take hold in an absence of trust and mutual respect,” he said.

Countries , he stressed, also must “work relentlessly” towards the goal of eliminating nuclear weapons, which begins with new commitment to shrink their numbers.

“This will also mean reinforcing multilateral agreements and frameworks on disarmament and non-proliferation, which includes the important work of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA).”?

For his third point, Guterres focused on the need to address the “simmering tensions” in the Middle East and Asia.?

“By adding the threat of nuclear weapons to enduring conflicts, these regions are edging towards catastrophe.?We need to redouble our support for dialogue and negotiation to ease tensions and forge new bonds of trust in regions that have seen too little,” he said.??

The Secretary-General also called for promoting the peaceful use of nuclear technology, such as for medical purposes, as a catalyst for advancing the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

Finally, he urged governments to fulfill all outstanding commitments in the treaty, “and keep it fit-for-purpose in these trying times”.

The head of the IAEA, the UN’s nuclear watchdog, spoke of how the “spectre of war” has brought a new and unexpected dimension to nuclear safety in Ukraine.

Rafael Mariano Grossi said at the beginning of the conflict, now nearly six months old, he outlined seven pillars of nuclear safety that should never be violated. They included respecting the physical integrity of nuclear power plants, and ensuring staff could carry out their duties without undue pressure.

“All these seven principles have been trampled upon or violated since this tragic episode started,” he told the conference.

While the IAEA was able to work with Ukraine to restore the systems at the Chernobyl nuclear power plant, site of the 1986 disaster, Grossi continued to push for a mission to the Zaporizhzhya plant, the largest in the country, which is occupied by Russian forces.

“Ladies and gentlemen, we are ready to go,” he said. “We hope to be able to come to Zaporizhzhya because if something happens there, we will only have ourselves to blame for it. Not a catastrophe, not an earthquake, or tsunami. It will be our own inaction to blame for it.”

Grossi also addressed other issues, including related to monitoring of Iran’s nuclear programme.

“We know that for us to be able to give the necessary and credible assurances that every activity in the Islamic Republic of Iran is in peaceful uses, we need to work collaborative(ly) with them,” he said.

“It can be done, we have been doing it in the past, but we need – and I say this very clearly – we need to have the access that is commensurate with the breadth and depth of that nuclear programme.”

The situation in North Korea also remained a concern, he said and expressed the hope that the IAEA inspectors would be able to return to the country.

Geopolitical tensions, he said, were reaching new highs as “states seek false security in stockpiling and spending hundreds of billions of dollars on doomsday weapons that have no place on the planet. Almost 13,000 nuclear weapons are now being held in arsenals around the world, while from the Middle East and the Korean Peninsula to the Russian Federation’s invasion of Ukraine, humanity is just one misunderstanding, one miscalculation away from nuclear annihilation.”

“We need the Treaty on Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons as much as ever,” he stressed.

Citing areas for action, he called for reinforcing the 77-year-old norm against the use of nuclear weapons; finding practical measures to reduce the risk of nuclear war and return to the path of disarmament; and promoting the peaceful use of nuclear technology as a catalyst to advance the Sustainable Development Goals.

All parties must renew good faith negotiations — as well as listen to compromise and keep the lessons of the past in view, he added.


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