UN chief issues grim warning of risk of ‘nuclear annihilation’
The UN secretary-general warned on Monday that humanity was ‘just a misunderstanding, a miscalculation away from nuclear annihilation’, citing the war in Ukraine among conflicts driving the risk to an all-time high since the height of the Cold War.
“All of this at a time when proliferation risks are rising and safeguards to prevent escalation are weakening,” said the official, António Guterres. “And when crises – with nuclear overtones – escalate from the Middle East and the Korean Peninsula to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.”
Guterres was speaking at the opening session of a conference at UN headquarters in New York on upholding and securing the 50-year-old Global Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons, intended to prevent the spread of nuclear weapons, aiming for eventual disarmament.
The conference took place after a two-year delay due to the Covid-19 pandemic and brought together high-level representatives from member states, including the Prime Minister of Japan, the US Secretary of State and dozens of ministers and Foreign Affairs delegations.
The threat of a nuclear confrontation or nuclear accident resulting from Russia’s invasion of Ukraine was a recurring theme in many of the day’s speeches.
Our coverage of the Russian-Ukrainian war
President Vladimir V. Putin and other Russians have repeatedly suggested that a nuclear war could break out if NATO intervenes in the war in Ukraine. His forces used the site of the Chernobyl nuclear disaster as a spring staging ground and have now turned a nuclear power plant, Europe’s largest, in the southern Ukrainian city of Zaporizhzhia into a fortress of fight.
In his remarks to the session, Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken said the treaty had made the world safer but was under increasing pressure. Mr. Blinken mentioned Russia, Iran and North Korea as examples of nuclear concerns.
Mr Blinken condemned Russia for engaging in “reckless and dangerous nuclear saber-rattling”, and said North Korea was preparing to conduct its seventh round of nuclear tests. He said Iran had not yet agreed to return to its commitments to a nuclear deal with world powers and “remained on a path of nuclear escalation”.
Russia and Iran are among the 191 signatories to the non-proliferation treaty. Iran says its nuclear program is for peaceful energy purposes, a position the West has questioned, and which has prompted efforts to strike a deal with Iran to blunt its nuclear ambitions.
Mr Blinken also criticized Russia for using the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant as a base for attacks on Ukrainian forces, saying the Ukrainians were unable to retaliate for fear of hitting a nuclear reactor or storing waste radioactive.
“It takes the notion of having a human shield to a whole different, horrific level,” Blinken said.
The conference, which normally meets every five years, will review the treaty’s three priorities: preventing the spread of nuclear weapons, promoting and supporting peaceful nuclear energy and working for global disarmament. But few concrete results are expected, given the current divisions between world powers.
Mr Putin, who put his nuclear forces on “special combat readiness” in the early days of the invasion in February, also sent a message to the non-proliferation conference.
“We believe that there can be no winner in a nuclear war and that it must never be fought,” Putin wrote, according to Tass, the Russian news agency. “We advocate equal and indivisible security for all members of the international community.”