That’s what UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said at the start of a conference to review a historic 50-year-old pact that aims to prevent nuclear weapons from spreading and finally achieves a world free of nuclear weapons.
The United States, Japan, Germany, the United Nations nuclear chief, and many other opening speakers at the meeting to review progress and agree to future steps to implement the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty, known as the NPT, raised the danger of increasing nuclear threats and a nuclear catastrophe.
North Korea is gearing up for its seventh nuclear test, Iran has “either been unwilling or unable” to accept a deal to return to the 2015 nuclear agreement aimed at reining in its nuclear programme, and Russia is “engaged in reckless, dangerous nuclear saber-rattling” in Ukraine, according to US Secretary of State Antony Blinken.
He referenced Russian President Vladimir Putin’s warning that any effort to meddle would have “consequences you have never seen” following its February 24 invasion, emphasising that his nation is “one of the most formidable nuclear powers”
Blinken argues that this violates Ukraine’s commitment to sovereignty and independence when it handed up its Soviet-era nuclear weapons in 1994, and that it sends “the worst conceivable message” to any government that believes it needs nuclear weapons to protect itself and prevent invasion.
Divisions in the world have grown since the last review conference, which ended with no consensus document, according to Japan’s Prime Minister Fumio Kishida.
Minister Annalena Baerbock of Germany’s foreign ministry has accused Russia of “brutally violating the assurances” it gave Ukraine in 1994 and said that Moscow’s “reckless nuclear rhetoric” since the invasion of its smaller neighbour “is putting at risk everything the NPT has achieved in five decades.”
Russia has captured Europe’s biggest nuclear power station in Zaporizhzhya and is using it to fire at Ukrainians “knowing that they can’t and won’t shoot back because they may mistakenly hit a nuclear reactor or highly hazardous garbage in storage,” according to Blinken.
He described it as “an altogether new and horrifying level” of having a “human shield.”
He said that “the spectre of a possible nuclear clash or mishap has risen its scary head again” in reference to the Ukraine war.
He expressed concern that “the situation is becoming more perilous by the day” at the Zaporizhzhya nuclear plant and urged all countries to assist in making possible his visit to the plant with an IAEA team of safety and security experts, saying his efforts for the past two months have been unsuccessful.
The month-long review conference is taking place “during a period of nuclear threat not witnessed since the height of the Cold War,” said Mr. Guterres, who spoke to several ministers, officials, and diplomats in the General Assembly Hall.
According to Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, the meeting is a chance to “pound out steps that will help prevent certain calamity, and to set mankind on a new road toward the world free of nuclear weapons.”
Guterres, on the other hand, expressed concern that “geopolitical weapons are hitting new highs,” noting that about 13,000 nuclear weapons exist throughout the globe and that nations seeking “false security” are investing hundreds of billions of dollars in “doomsday weapons.”
A time when proliferation risks are increasing and safeguards to avoid an escalation are diminishing, as well as crises — with nuclear overtones — festering across the globe, from the Middle East to the Korean peninsula, as well as Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
“Giving up is not an option,” said Kishida, who recalled Hiroshima as his home city where the first nuclear bomb was unleashed in August 1945, echoing many of Mr. Guterres’ concerns.
The NPT, which has been in effect since 1970, has the broadest membership of any pact aimed at limiting the spread of nuclear weapons.
Five original nuclear powers—the US, Russia (then the Soviet Union), Britain, and France—agreed to negotiate toward the elimination of their arsenals in return for a pledge to be allowed to develop nuclear energy for peaceful reasons under the terms of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT).
Non-NPT countries like India and Pakistan went on to develop nuclear weapons. After ratifying the treaty, North Korea stated that it was withdrawing. Israeli officials have refused to acknowledge or deny that their country has nuclear weapons. As a basis for world disarmament, the pact has been praised for reducing the number of nuclear immigrants (U.S. President John F. Kennedy originally predicted up to 20 nuclear-armed states).
Expectations are low for a significant agreement during the August 26 conference, which tries to develop a consensus on the next steps. As of Monday, there were 133 speakers and dozens more additional activities.
Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the five-year review of the NPT had to be postponed until 2021, at a time when the world was already facing several crises.
“President Putin’s threats to use nuclear weapons have horrified the international community,” said Patricia Lewis, a former director of the UN Institute for Disarmament Research who is currently in charge of international security programmes at Chatham House in London.