UN chief warns world is one step away from ‘nuclear annihilation’
UNITED NATIONS – The head of the United Nations warned on Monday that “humanity is just a misunderstanding, a miscalculation away from nuclear annihilation”, citing the war in Ukraine, nuclear threats in Asia and the Middle East and many other factors.
Secretary-General Antonio Guterres gave the stark warning at the opening of the long-delayed high-level meeting to review the historic 50-year-old treaty aimed at preventing the spread of nuclear weapons and ultimately achieving a nuclear-free world.
The danger of increased nuclear threats and nuclear catastrophe was also raised by the United States, Japan, Germany, the UN nuclear chief and many other opening speakers during the meeting to review progress and agree on future steps in the implementation of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, known as the NPT.
“carried out reckless and dangerous nuclear saber-thrusts” in Ukraine.
He cited Russian President Vladimir Putin’s warning after his February 24 invasion that any attempt to interfere would have “consequences you’ve never seen”, pointing out that his country is “one of the most more powerful”.
This is contrary to assurances given to Ukraine of its sovereignty and independence when it renounced its Soviet-era nuclear weapons in 1994, Blinken said, and sends “the worst possible message” to any country thinking that it needs nuclear weapons to defend itself and deter. assault.
Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida said divisions around the world since the last review conference in 2015, which ended without a consensus document, have deepened, stressing that Russia’s threat to use weapons weapons in the war in Ukraine has contributed “to global concern that yet another catastrophe through the use of nuclear weapons is a real possibility.”
German Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock accused Russia of “brutally violating the assurances” it gave Ukraine in 1994 and said that Moscow’s “reckless nuclear rhetoric” since its invasion of its smaller neighbor ” jeopardizes everything the NPT has achieved in five decades”.
Putin appeared to backtrack on his nuclear warning in a message of greetings to NPT participants posted on his website Monday.
“We believe that a nuclear war cannot be won and should never be fought, and we stand for equal and indivisible security for all members of the global community,” the Russian leader said.
Putin said his country “consistently follows the letter and the spirit” of the NPT and expects all parties to “strictly adhere to their commitments” and make “a significant contribution” at the conference to strengthening the non-compliance regime. -proliferation “to ensure peace, security and stability in the world.”
More recently, Blinken said that Russia seized Europe’s largest nuclear power plant in Zaporizhzhya and is using it as a military base to fire on the Ukrainians, “knowing that they cannot and will not retaliate because they could accidentally hit a nuclear reactor or heavily stored radioactive waste.” He said this takes the notion of having “a human shield to an entirely different and gruesome level.”
Russia’s delegation to the NPT issued a statement Monday evening strongly rejecting Blinken’s claim that Russia is using the Zaporizhzhya power plant as a military base, saying a limited number of military personnel are there “to ensure the safety and security of the power plant”.
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 an accident, has once again reared its terrifying head. “.
He warned that at the Zaporizhzhya nuclear power plant “the situation is becoming more and more perilous day by day”, and he urged all countries to help make possible his visit to the plant with a team of experts in IAEA safety and security, claiming its efforts for the past two months without success.
António Guterres told scores of ministers, officials and diplomats gathered in the General Assembly Hall that the month-long review conference was being held “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 avert certain disasters and put humanity on a new path towards a world without nuclear weapons”, the secretary-general said.
But Guterres warned that “geopolitical weapons are reaching new heights,” nearly 13,000 nuclear weapons are in arsenals around the world, and countries seeking “false security” are spending hundreds of billions of dollars on “weapons apocalyptic”.
“All this at a time when the risks of proliferation are increasing and when the safeguards to prevent escalation are weakening”, he said, “And when the crises – with nuclear connotations – escalate from the Middle East and the Korean Peninsula to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, and many other factors around the world.”
António Guterres called on conference participants to take several steps: urgently strengthen and reaffirm “the 77-year-old norm against the use of nuclear weapons”, work tirelessly to eliminate 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 get out of the abyss,” he implored the ministers and diplomats. “Now is the time for us to take up this fundamental test and lift the cloud of nuclear annihilation once and for all.”
Japan’s Kishida, recalling his hometown of Hiroshima where the first atomic bomb was dropped in August 1945, echoed many of Guterres’ points saying the path to a world without nuclear weapons has become more difficult but “giving up n is not an option”.
In force since 1970, the Non-Proliferation Treaty, known as the NPT, is the most widely adhered to of all arms control agreements, with some 191 member countries.
Under its terms, the original five nuclear powers – the United States, China, Russia (then the Soviet Union), Britain and France – agreed to negotiate for the elimination of a their arsenals and the nations without nuclear weapons have promised not to acquire them in exchange. for a guarantee of being able to develop nuclear energy for peaceful purposes.
India and Pakistan, which did not join the NPT, got the bomb. North Korea followed suit, which ratified the pact but later announced it was withdrawing. Non-signatory Israel is suspected of having a nuclear arsenal but neither confirms nor denies it. Nonetheless, the treaty has been credited with limiting the number of nuclear newcomers (US President John F. Kennedy once predicted up to 20 nuclear-armed nations) as a framework for international disarmament cooperation.
The meeting, which ends Aug. 26, aims to generate consensus on next steps, but expectations are low for substantial agreement, if any. There were 133 speakers on Monday, plus dozens of side events.
The five-year review of the NPT was due to take place in 2020, when the world was already facing many crises, but was delayed due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Patricia Lewis, former director of the United Nations Institute for Disarmament Research, who is now in charge of international security programs at international affairs think tank Chatham House in London, said that “threats of President Putin to use nuclear weapons shocked the international community”.
Russia is not only a signatory to the NPT but a repository of treaty ratifications and in January joined the other four nuclear powers in reiterating the statement of former US President Ronald Reagan and the former Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev that “a nuclear war can never be won and must never be fought,” she 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 confront Russia’s behavior and threats,” she said. “On the other hand, it risks dividing the members of the treaty – some of whom have been convinced by Russian propaganda or at least are not as concerned, for example, as NATO states.”
And “Russia will no doubt vigorously oppose being named in statements and any outcome document,” Lewis said.
Associated Press writer Jennifer Peltz contributed to this report.