Humanity is just one misunderstanding away from ‘nuclear destruction’, UN chief warns

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The UN chief spoke at the opening of the Tenth Review Conference of the Parties to the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons, which will run until August 26.

Mr Guterres highlighted some of the current challenges to global peace and security, with the world under increased pressure from the climate crisis, major inequalities, conflict and human rights violations, as well as the devastation caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Disarmament not division

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

“Geopolitical tensions are reaching new heights. Competition wins over cooperation and cooperation. Mistrust has replaced dialogue and division has replaced disarmament. States seek false security in stockpiling and spend hundreds of billions of dollars on doomsday weapons that have no place on our planet,” he said.

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

“All this at a time when the risks of proliferation are increasing and the barriers to prevent escalation are weakening. And when crises – with nuclear undertones – are feuding, 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 that humanity was “just one misunderstanding, one miscalculation away from nuclear destruction.”

A new path

The Secretary General underlined the importance of the Non-Proliferation Treaty and said it is necessary “as much as ever”while the review meeting offers an opportunity “to set humanity on a new path to a world without nuclear weapons.”

He outlined five areas of action, starting with strengthening and reaffirming the standard against the use of nuclear weapons, which requires steadfast commitment from all parties to the treaty.

“We have to strengthen all avenues of dialogue and transparency. Peace cannot last without trust and mutual respect,” he said.

Countries must also work “relentlessly” towards the goal of eliminating nuclear weapons, which starts with a new commitment to reduce their numbers.

This also means strengthening multilateral disarmament and non-proliferation agreements and frameworks, including the important work of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA).

Approach ‘simmering tensions’

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

“By adding the threat of nuclear weapons to ongoing conflict, these regions are headed for catastrophe. We must redouble our support for dialogue and negotiations to ease tensions and forge new bonds of trust in regions that have seen too little,” he said.

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

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

Unexpected Dimension

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

Rafael Mariano Grossi said that at the start of the conflict, now almost six months old, he outlined seven pillars of nuclear safety that must never be violated. This includes respecting the physical integrity of nuclear power plants and allowing staff to perform their duties without undue pressure.

“All these seven principles are trampled or violated since this tragic episode began,” he told the conference.

While the IAEA was able to work with Ukraine to restore systems at the Chernobyl nuclear power plant, the site of the 1986 disaster, Mr Grossi continues to push for a mission to the Zaporizhzhya power plant, the country’s largest, which is being occupied by Russian troops.

“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 have only ourselves to blame. No disaster, no earthquake or tsunami. It will be our own passivity to blame it.”

Iran and DPRK

Mr Grossi also addressed other issues, including oversight of Iran’s nuclear programme.

“We know that in order to provide the necessary and credible assurances that any activity in the Islamic Republic of Iran is being used peacefully, we must work with them,” he said.

“It can be done, we’ve done it in the past, but we need – and I say this very clearly – we need access commensurate with the breadth and depth of that nuclear program.”

The situation in the Democratic Republic of Korea (DPRK) also remains a concern and he expressed hope that IAEA inspectors could return to the country.

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