The UN secretary-general warned at the start of a nuclear non-proliferation conference on Monday that the risks of new nuclear weapons were growing as safeguards to prevent escalation weakened.
“Today, humanity is just one misunderstanding, one miscalculation away from nuclear annihilation,” Antonio Guterres said at the opening of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty Review Conference (NPT).
He warned that there were nuclear-related crises from the Middle East to the Korean Peninsula, as well as Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
He said there were nearly 13,000 nuclear weapons stored around the world.
“States pursue false security by stockpiling and spending hundreds of billions of dollars on doomsday weapons that have no place on our planet,” he said. Noting that people risk forgetting the lessons of World War II.
Guterres said he would travel to Japan to attend the August 6 commemorations in Hiroshima, where the United States dropped the world’s first atomic bomb 77 years ago in a bid to end this war.
Since its entry into force in 1970, the NPT has been the cornerstone of the nuclear non-proliferation regime. Under it, the parties are called upon to prevent the spread of nuclear weapons, to promote disarmament and international cooperation in the peaceful uses of nuclear energy.
António Guterres also urged nations to promote peaceful uses of nuclear technology to advance development, such as clean energy and medical breakthroughs.
“When used for peaceful purposes, this technology can be of great benefit to humanity,” he said.
Russian nuclear saber slams
Russia’s threat to use nuclear weapons in its war against Ukraine was condemned at the meeting by the leaders, as well as several regional groups, including those from the Pacific region and the Nordic countries.
US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said in January the five nuclear powers – Britain, China, France, Russia and the United States – all said nuclear war cannot be earned and should never be conducted.
“The following month, Russia launched a full-scale invasion of Ukraine,” Blinken said. “And he engaged in reckless and dangerous nuclear saber exchanges with his president. [Putin] warning that those who support Ukraine’s self-defense “risk consequences the likes of which you have never seen in your entire history”.
Blinken pointed to Russia’s seizure of Europe’s largest nuclear power plant, Zaporizhzhia, saying they are now using it as a military base because they know the Ukrainians cannot retaliate on their positions as they might hit a nuclear reactor.
“There is no place in our world – no place in our world – for nuclear deterrence based on coercion, intimidation or blackmail,” Blinken said. “We must come together to reject this.”
The Japanese prime minister echoed international concerns over Russia’s actions.
“The recent attacks on nuclear facilities by Russia must not be tolerated,” Fumio Kishida said.
“By attacking a country that has renounced nuclear weapons, Russia is brutally violating the assurances it gave in the Budapest memorandum,” German Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock said, referring to the 1994 accord in which Ukraine gave up nuclear weapons left on its territory after the collapse of the USSR in exchange for security guarantees.
The head of the UN’s nuclear watchdog, the International Atomic Energy Agency, said at the start of the Russian invasion that he had set out seven pillars of nuclear safety that must not be breached during the conflict, including the safety and security of the facilities and the personnel working there.
“All of these seven principles have been trampled on or violated since the start of this tragic episode,” chief executive Rafael Mariano Grossi said during the meeting.
Russia is expected to speak later in the debate.
Parties to the deal – there are 191 of them, including the five recognized nuclear-weapon states (China, France, Russia, UK and US) – are attending the conference, which runs until to August 26 and will consider implementation and ways to strengthen this.
Ahead of the conference, President Joe Biden said in a statement that the United States is committed to the NPT, its obligations as a nuclear state, and working for a nuclear-free world. He said his administration was ready to negotiate a new arms control framework with Moscow to replace New START when it expires in 2026.
“But negotiation requires a willing partner operating in good faith,” Biden said. “And Russia’s brutal and unprovoked aggression in Ukraine has shattered the peace in Europe and constitutes an attack on the fundamental principles of the international order.” He said Moscow should demonstrate that it is ready to resume work on nuclear arms control with the United States.
At the conference, Secretary Blinken said the United States was keeping its nuclear arsenal – which has shrunk 90% since the end of the Cold War – as a deterrent and would only use it in “extreme circumstances”. to defend their own vital interests or those of its allies and partners.
More than 133 governments and nuclear organizations will speak in the debate which started on Monday and will continue until Thursday.
Iranian Deputy Foreign Minister Reza Najafi is also due to speak this week. World powers have tried to bring Iran back to the 2015 nuclear deal, known as the JCPOA.
Britain and France, which are part of the deal, as well as the United States, which pulled out under former US President Donald Trump but is seeking a mutual return with Iran, said in a statement. that Iran should never develop a nuclear weapon.
“We regret that, despite intense diplomatic efforts, Iran has yet to seize the opportunity to restore full implementation of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action,” they said, urging Iran to return to agreement.
Progress on North Korea’s nuclear and missile programs were also of concern. Secretary Blinken said Pyongyang was planning its seventh illicit nuclear test.
IAEA chief Rossi said he hoped his agency’s inspectors could return to North Korea after being expelled in 2009. “Without that, there will be no trust and there will be no there will be no trust,” Rossie said.
Among those absent from the review conference are Israel, India and Pakistan. All are suspected of having nuclear weapons but are not NPT signatories.
Some countries have also expressed unease over China’s growing nuclear arsenal.
“China’s arsenal is growing,” Danish Foreign Minister Jeppe Kofod said on behalf of the Nordic countries. “We call on China to actively engage in arms control processes as a responsible nuclear weapon state.”