Former Portugal Prime Minister and United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres warned that the world is one step away from “nuclear annihilation” in a speech on Monday.
The UN chief, 50, gave the opening speech at the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT) conference in New York, a meeting which was originally planned for 2020 but was pushed back due to COVID-19.
Under the original NPT from 1970, which was signed by some 191 countries, the five original nuclear powers — the U.S., China, Russia (the Soviet Union at the time), Britain and France — agreed to work towards eventually eliminating their nuclear arms.
Several countries who were not members, including India, Pakistan and North Korea, went on to attain nuclear weapons. Israel is believed to also have a nuclear arsenal, which the country has yet to confirm or deny.
To a crowd composed of ministers, officials and diplomats from around the globe, Guterres started the speech by emphasizing that the climate crisis, human rights conflicts and the COVID-19 pandemic have “put our world in the greatest stress that it has faced in our lifetime.”
A daily dose of Asian America's essential stories, in under 5 minutes.
Get our collection of Asian America's most essential stories to your inbox daily for free.
Unsure? Check out our Newsletter Archive.
He stated that the problems are occurring simultaneously at a time of “nuclear dangers, not seen since the height of the Cold War.”
According to the secretary-general, the world is in danger of repeating the mistakes of the Cold War, adding that “humanity is just one misunderstanding, one miscalculation away from nuclear annihilation.” He cited growing international tensions, which were exponentially magnified by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine earlier this year.
The meeting is scheduled to last the whole month and end on Aug. 26, with 133 speakers scheduled to give speeches at various side events.
Guterres called on countries to take action, including reaffirming “the 77-year-old norm against the use of nuclear weapons.”
To date, the U.S.’ atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki in 1945, which resulted in catastrophic suffering and hundreds of thousands of deaths, remain the only incidents of nuclear weapons used in armed conflict.
The secretary-general warned that countries are seeking “false security” by spending hundreds of billions of dollars on “doomsday weapons.” Approximately 13,000 nuclear weapons exist in arsenals around the world today.
He concluded his opening by reiterating that we have been “extraordinarily lucky so far,” but “luck is not a strategy.”
Instead, he said that the world “must work relentlessly towards this goal” of eliminating nuclear weapons so that it does not need to take a chance on politics.
“Future generations are counting on your commitment to step back from the abyss,” he urged the audience. “This is our moment to meet this fundamental test and lift the cloud of nuclear annihilation once and for all.”