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United Nations chief Guterres urges disarmament now as nuclear risk reaches ‘highest point in decades’
UN Secretary-General António Guterres (centre right) attends a Security Council meeting on nuclear disarmament and non-proliferation. Photo Courtesy: UN Photo/Evan Schneider

United Nations chief Guterres urges disarmament now as nuclear risk reaches ‘highest point in decades’

| @indiablooms | 19 Mar 2024, 06:24 pm

Almost 80 years after the incineration of the Japanese cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, nuclear weapons still represent a clear and present danger to global peace and security, UN Secretary-General António Guterres told the Security Council on Monday.

Calling for disarmament now, he urged States with nuclear arsenals to lead the way across six areas for action that include dialogue and accountability.

“Nuclear weapons are the most destructive weapons ever invented, capable of eliminating all life on Earth. Today, these weapons are growing in power, range and stealth. An accidental launch is one mistake, one miscalculation, one rash act away,” he warned.

Doomsday Clock ticking loudly

The meeting on nuclear disarmament and non-proliferation was convened by Japan, Security Council president for March and, as Mr. Guterres noted, the only country that knows better than any other "the brutal cost of nuclear carnage".

It was being held at a time “when geopolitical tensions and mistrust have escalated the risk of nuclear warfare to its highest point in decades”, the UN chief said.

He said the Doomsday Clock – the symbol for humanity’s proximity to self-destruction – “is ticking loudly enough for all to hear”. 

Meanwhile, from academics and civil society groups to Pope Francis, youth and the survivors of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, known as Hibakusha, have been clamouring for peace and an end to the existential threat.

No ‘Oppenheimer’ sequel

Even the Oscar-winning Hollywood film Oppenheimer “brought the harsh reality of nuclear doomsday to vivid life for millions around the world", he said, adding that “humanity cannot survive a sequel”.

Despite these appeals for the world to step back from the brink, “States possessing nuclear weapons are absent from the table of dialogue”, he said, while “investments in the tools of war are outstripping investments in the tools of peace.”

Guterres stressed that disarmament is the only path to “vanquish this senseless and suicidal shadow, once and for all”.

Dialogue and confidence-building

He appealed to States armed with nuclear weapons to take the lead in six areas, starting with re-engaging in dialogue to develop transparency and confidence-building measures to prevent any use of a nuclear weapon.

“Second, nuclear saber-rattling must stop,” he said. “Threats to use nuclear weapons in any capacity are unacceptable.”

Nuclear weapon States must also reaffirm moratoria on nuclear testing, which includes pledging to avoid actions that would undermine the 1996 Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty (CTBT), whose entry into force must be a priority.

From commitment to action

Furthermore, disarmament commitments must become action, together with accountability, under the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT). The landmark accord, signed more than 50 years ago, is the only binding commitment to the goal of disarmament by States that officially stockpile nuclear weapons. 

The Secretary-General also highlighted the need for a joint first-use agreement.

“Nuclear weapon States must urgently agree that none of them will be the first to use nuclear weapons. As a matter of fact, none should use them in any circumstances,” he said.

Reducing stockpiles

Finally, he called for reductions in the number of nuclear weapons. In this regard, he urged the United States and Russia – the world’s largest nuclear weapons holders – to take the lead and also find a way back to negotiations towards the full implementation of the New START Treaty and agree on its successor.

Guterres pointed to the responsibility of non-nuclear weapon States to fulfil their own non-proliferation obligations and to support disarmament efforts.

He said the Security Council has a leadership role, including “to look beyond today’s divisions and state clearly that living with the existential threat of nuclear weapons is unacceptable”.

Test-Ban Treaty

Robert Floyd, head of the organization overseeing the CTBT, also briefed the Council on the treaty’s impact and the need to push further.

“A lot has changed since I was last here in 2021, but one thing hasn't changed – the case for the CTBT’s entry into force,” he said.

The treaty prescribes a global network of 337 monitoring facilities to detect any significant explosion anywhere on Earth almost immediately and envisions more verification tools. 
It has been signed by 197 States and ratified by 178. However, entry into force requires signing and ratification by 44 specific nuclear technology holding States, eight of which have yet to ratify: China, Egypt, India, Iran, Israel, the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK), Pakistan and the United States.

Last year, nuclear weapon holder Russia, which had signed and ratified the CTBT, announced that it had revoked its ratification. 

Arms race fears: Japan

Japan’s Foreign Minister, Yoko Kamikawa, who chaired the meeting, stated that the catastrophes of Hiroshima and Nagasaki must never be repeated. 

Although the international community has become even more divided over how to advance nuclear disarmament, “nevertheless, we must steadily advance realistic and practical efforts toward a world without nuclear weapons,” she said.

She warned that a rapid build-up of nuclear capabilities by certain countries could spark a nuclear arms race.

“Russia's nuclear threats, let alone any use of nuclear weapons in the context of the situation in Ukraine, are absolutely unacceptable,” she said, while urging the country to return to the full implementation of the New START treaty.

DPRK and Iran concerns

The Foreign Minister voiced Japan’s strong hope for dialogue leading to the development of a broader framework of arms control that covers a wider range of weapon systems with appropriate governance.

She pointed to the DPRK, commonly known as North Korea, which tested another ballistic missile on Sunday.

“Such activities by North Korea threaten the peace and stability of the region and international community. It is totally unacceptable. Moreover, there is a possibility of further provocations, including a nuclear weapons test,” she said.

Kamikawa stressed that in this context, the role of the Security Council’s DPRK sanctions committee and panel of experts is critically important and needs to be maintained.

Turning to other matters, she noted that “with no clear outlook in resolving Iran's nuclear issue.

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