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

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UNITED NATIONS — The head of the United Nations warned the world on Monday that “humanity is just one misunderstanding, one miscalculation away from nuclear destruction,” citing the war in Ukraine, nuclear threats in Asia and the Middle East, and many other factors.

Secretary-General Antonio Guterres issued the dire warning at the opening of the long-delayed high-level meeting to review the historic 50-year treaty aimed at preventing the proliferation of nuclear weapons and ultimately achieving a nuclear-free world.

The danger of increasing nuclear threats and nuclear catastrophe was also raised by the United States, Japan, Germany, the UN nuclear chief and many other opening speakers at the meeting to discuss progress and agree on future steps to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, known as the NPT.

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said North Korea is preparing to conduct its seventh nuclear test that Iran is “unwilling or unable” to accept a deal to return to the 2015 nuclear deal. on curbing its nuclear program, and Russia is “involved in reckless, dangerous nuclear saber-rattling” in Ukraine.

He quoted Russian President Vladimir Putin’s warning after the February 24 invasion that any attempt at interference would lead to “consequences you’ve never seen before,” stressing that his country is “one of the most powerful nuclear powers.”

This goes against the guarantees Ukraine received of its sovereignty and independence when it gave up its Soviet-era nuclear weapons in 1994, Blinken said, and it sends “the worst possible message” to any country that thinks it needs nuclear weapons to defend and deter themselves. aggression.

Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida said world divisions have deepened since the last review conference in 2015, which ended without a consensus document, stressing that the Russian threat to use nuclear weapons in the war in Ukraine has contributed “to the global concern that yet another catastrophe from the use of nuclear weapons is a real possibility.”

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German Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock accused Russia of “brutal breach of guarantees” it gave Ukraine in 1994, saying that Moscow’s “reckless nuclear rhetoric” since the invasion of its smaller neighbor “is everything the NPT has seen in five decades.” has achieved endangers”.

Blinken recently said that Russia seized Europe’s largest nuclear power plant in Zaporizhzhya and is using it as a military base to fire on Ukrainians, “knowing that they cannot and will not fire back because they could accidentally hit a nuclear reactor or use radioactive waste.” in storage.” He said this takes the idea of ​​having “a human shield to a whole other and horrifying level.”

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

He warned that at the Zaporizhzhya nuclear power plant “the situation is getting more dangerous by the day”, and he urged all countries to help make his visit to the plant possible with a team of safety and security experts from the IAEA. two months failed.

Guterres told many ministers, officials and diplomats gathered in the General Assembly room that the month-long review conference is taking place “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 prevent a particular disaster, and to set 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 “doomsday weapons.”

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“All this at a time when risks of proliferation are mounting and the barriers to prevent escalation are weakening,” he said, “and when crises — with nuclear undertones — from the Middle East and the Korean Peninsula proliferate toward invasion. from Ukraine through Russia and many other factors around the world.”

Guterres called on conference participants to take several actions: urgently strengthening and reaffirming “the 77-year-old standard against the use of nuclear weapons”, working relentlessly to eliminate nuclear weapons with new pledges to reduce arsenals, addressing “the simmering tensions in the Middle East and Asia” and promote the peaceful use of nuclear technology.

“Future generations are counting on your commitment to stepping back from the abyss,” he pleaded with ministers and diplomats. “Now is our time to pass this fundamental test and lift the cloud of nuclear destruction once and for all.”

Japan’s Kishida, recalling its hometown of Hiroshima, where the first atomic bomb was dropped in August 1945, echoed many of Guterres’ points that the path to a world without nuclear weapons has become more difficult, but “giving up is not an option.”

The Non-Proliferation Treaty, in effect since 1970, known as the NPT, has the highest compliance of all arms control agreements, with some 191 member countries.

Under its terms, the five original nuclear powers — the United States, China, Russia (then the Soviet Union), Britain, and France — agreed to one day negotiate to eliminate their arsenals, and pledged countries without nuclear weapons. in exchange for a guarantee to develop nuclear energy for peaceful purposes.

India and Pakistan, which did not join the NPT, continued to pack the bomb. So did North Korea, which ratified the pact but later announced it would withdraw. Non-signatory Israel is believed to have a nuclear arsenal, but neither confirms nor denies this. Nevertheless, 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 countries) as a framework for international cooperation on disarmament.

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The meeting, which ends on August 26, aims to reach a consensus on next steps, but expectations for a substantial – if any – agreement are low. Monday there were 133 speakers, plus dozens of side events.

The five-yearly review of the NPT was scheduled to take place in 2020, when the world was already experiencing a lot of crisis, but was postponed due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

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

Russia is not only a signatory to the NPT, but a depository for the ratification of the treaty, and in January, along with the four other nuclear powers, reiterated the statement by former US President Ronald Reagan and former Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev that “a nuclear war can never be won and should never be fought,” she told The The Bharat Express News.

Lewis said countries participating in the review conference will face a difficult decision.

To support the treaty and what it stands for, “governments will need to address Russia’s behavior and threats,” she said. “On the other hand, you risk dividing the treaty members – some of whom are convinced by Russian propaganda or at least not as concerned as, say, NATO states.”

And “Russia will no doubt strongly object to mention in statements and any outcome documents,” Lewis said.