UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres has called on nations around the globe to “put humanity on a new path” that is free of nuclear weapons as rising geopolitical tensions have put the planet just “one miscalculation away from nuclear annihilation.”
“We have been extraordinarily lucky so far. But luck is not a strategy. Nor is it a shield from geopolitical tensions boiling over into nuclear conflict,” Guterres said on August 1 at the start of the Tenth Review Conference of the Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) for nuclear weapons.
Signed in 1968 and in effect since 1970, the NPT is aimed at preventing the spread of nuclear weapons and weapons technology, to promote cooperation in the peaceful uses of nuclear energy, and to further the goal of achieving nuclear disarmament in general.
The treaty represents the only binding commitment in a multilateral treaty to the goal of disarmament by the nuclear-weapon states.
But Guterres warned the world currently faces “a nuclear danger not seen since the height of the Cold War,” as the war between Russia and Ukraine threatens to boil over and engulf the West.
“Today, humanity is just one misunderstanding, one miscalculation away from nuclear annihilation,” he said.
The meeting, which is being held at the UN’s headquarters in New York, has been postponed several times since 2020 due to the coronavirus pandemic.
“Almost 13,000 nuclear weapons are now being held in arsenals around the world. All this at a time when the risks of proliferation are growing and guardrails to prevent escalation are weakening,” Guterres said.
Russian President Vladimir Putin addressed the conference in a letter, saying there could be “no winners” in a nuclear war and it should “never be unleashed.”
“We proceed from the fact that there can be no winners in a nuclear war and it should never be unleashed, and we stand for equal and indivisible security for all members of the world community,” he said in the letter.
His words contrasted with earlier statements that have been interpreted in the West as implicit threats amid Russia’s ongoing full-scale invasion of Ukraine.
U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken accused Russia of using its nuclear weapons to intimidate and threaten by engaging in “reckless, dangerous nuclear saber-rattling.”
Blinken told the conference that there is no place in the world for “nuclear deterrence based on force and intimidation or blackmail.”
“We have to stand together in rejecting this,” Blinken added.
Speaking to reporters after addressing the conference, Blinken called Russia’s actions around Ukraine’s largest nuclear power plant “the height of irresponsibility.”
Russia was previously accused of firing shells dangerously close to the Zaporizhzhya plant in March as its forces took it over in the first weeks of its invasion of Ukraine.
Washington is “deeply concerned” that Moscow has been using the plant as a military base and firing on Ukrainian forces from around it, Blinken said.
“Of course the Ukrainians cannot fire back lest there be a terrible accident involving the nuclear plant,” he said.
The International Atomic Energy Agency, the UN’s atomic watchdog, should be given access to the plant, Blinken said.
While Blinken represented the United States at the conference, President Joe Biden issued a statement about nonproliferation before the meeting got under way.
Biden said the United States is ready to outline a new nuclear arms deal with Russia and called on Moscow to demonstrate its ability to negotiate in good faith. Biden also called on China “to engage in talks that will reduce the risk of miscalculation and address destabilizing military dynamics.”
Moscow and Washington in February extended their New START treaty, which caps the number of strategic nuclear warheads they can deploy and limits the land- and submarine-based missiles and bombers to deliver them.
“Today, my Administration is ready to expeditiously negotiate a new arms control framework to replace New START when it expires in 2026,” Biden said in the statement.
“But negotiation requires a willing partner operating in good faith. And Russia’s brutal and unprovoked aggression in Ukraine has shattered peace in Europe and constitutes an attack on fundamental tenets of international order,” Biden said. “Russia should demonstrate that it is ready to resume work on nuclear arms control with the United States.”
Biden said China also had a responsibility to play a leading role in nonproliferation.
“There is no benefit to any of our nations, or for the world, to resist substantive engagement on arms control and nuclear nonproliferation,” Biden said, citing the current “moment of uncertainty and upheaval on the global stage.”