U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres is warning that the world is living “in the shadow of nuclear catastrophe,” fueled by growing distrust and tensions between nuclear-armed nations
By EDITH M. LEDERER
UNITED NATIONS — U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres warned Friday that the world is living “in the shadow of nuclear catastrophe,” fueled by growing distrust and tensions between the nuclear powers.
The U.N. chief told a high-level meeting to commemorate the recent International Day for Total Elimination of Nuclear Weapons that progress on ridding the world of nuclear weapons “has stalled and is at risk of backsliding.” And he said strains between countries that possess nuclear weapons “have increased nuclear risks.”
Without naming any countries, Guterres said programs to modernize nuclear arsenals “threaten a qualitative nuclear arms race,” not to increase the number of weapons but to make them “faster, stealthier and more accurate.”
The secretary-general said the nuclear non-proliferation treaty or NPT, which marks its 50th anniversary this year, remains the cornerstone of nuclear disarmament and efforts to prevent the spread of nuclear weapons.
The five-year review of its implementation was postponed because of the COVID-19 pandemic until next year and Guterres urged its 191 parties to use the extra time to strengthen the treaty, including making “tangible progress towards the elimination of nuclear weapons.”
Guterres said he also looks forward to the entry into force of the first-ever treaty to ban nuclear weapons, which was adopted in July 2017 by 122 countries. Once it has 50 ratifications, the treaty will enter force in 90 days, and with Malaysia’s ratification on Sept. 30 it now has 46.
Of the major nuclear powers, Russia and China were on the speakers list but didn’t get to speak. The United States Britain and France skipped the meeting. So did North Korea and Israel, which is widely reported to have a nuclear arsenal but has never admitted it publicly. India and Pakistan were scheduled to speak, but only India got to deliver remarks.
Many speakers recalled that the meeting took place 75 years after the United States dropped nuclear bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, which killed 210,000 people and sped the end of World War II.
Iran’s Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif, whose country is still part of a 2015 agreement with Russia, China, Britain, France and Germany aimed at preventing the Islamic Republic from obtaining nuclear weapon, said the meeting “provides a unique opportunity to mobilize the world to liberate humanity from the nuclear nightmare.”
The Iranian minister also called on the General Assembly “to declare as a binding norm of international law that a nuclear war cannot be won — and must never be fought,” and to develop a concrete program for “time-bound nuclear disarmament.”
“Just imagine if the billions wasted on instruments of global annihilation were allocated to help fund the fight against COVID-19,” Zarif said.
India’s Foreign Minister Harsh Vardhan Shringla reiterated the country’s longstanding commitment to nuclear disarmament through a step-by-step process, and said all states possessing nuclear weapons need to hold a “meaningful dialogue” to build trust and confidence.
Swedish Foreign Minister Ann Linde said in spite of the “catastrophic humanitarian consequences” of the atomic bombings, “the nuclear threat is as present as ever and multilateralism is under severe pressure.”
“Polarization and a lack of trust” are “a dangerous mix, one which we cannot afford to ignore,” she said.
Sweden has launched the Stockholm Initiative on Nuclear Disarmament with 15 non-nuclear nations aimed at building “political support for a result-oriented disarmament agenda within the NPT framework,” she said, urging other countries to join the effort.
Indonesia’s Foreign Minister Retno Marsudi said “no significant progress” has been made by nuclear weapon states in reducing their arsenals, and their current modernization efforts have resulted in “the ever-enlarging trust deficit among countries.”