In the United Nations, review of nuclear control in the tense world is underway
The UN secretary-general warned on Monday at the start of a non-proliferation conference that the risk of more nuclear weapons is increasing as safeguards to prevent escalation weaken.
“Today, humanity is just a misunderstanding, a miscalculation away from nuclear annihilation,” Antonio Guterres told the opening of the Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) review conference.
He warned that there are crises with nuclear undertones from the Middle East to the Korean peninsula, as well as Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
He said there are nearly 13,000 nuclear weapons stockpiled around the world.
“States seek false security in stockpiling and spending hundreds of billions of dollars on doomsday weapons that have no place on our planet,” he said. Signs that people are in danger of forgetting the lessons of the Second World War.
Guterres said he would travel to Japan to attend commemorations on Aug. 6 in Hiroshima, where the United States dropped the world’s first atomic bomb 77 years ago in an effort to end the war.
Since it entered into force in 1970, the NPT has been a cornerstone of the nuclear non-proliferation regime. Under it, the parties are encouraged to prevent the spread of nuclear weapons, promote disarmament and international cooperation on the peaceful use of nuclear power.
Guterres also urged nations to promote the peaceful use of nuclear technology to promote development, such as clean energy and medical breakthroughs.
“When used for peaceful purposes, this technology can be of great benefit to humanity,” he said.
Russian nuclear saber rattling
Russia’s threat to use nuclear weapons in its war against Ukraine was condemned at the meeting by leaders, as well as several regional groups, including those from the Pacific region and Nordic countries.
US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said in January that the five nuclear powers – Britain, China, France, Russia and the US – all confirmed that a nuclear war cannot be won and must never be fought.
– The very next month, Russia started a full-scale invasion of Ukraine, said Blinken. “And it has engaged in reckless, dangerous nuclear saber-rattling, with its president [Putin] warns that those who support Ukraine’s self-defense “risk consequences that you have never seen in your entire history.”
Blinken pointed to Russia’s seizure of Europe’s largest nuclear power plant, Zaporizhzhia, and said they are now using it as a military base because they know the Ukrainians cannot fire back at their positions because they could hit a nuclear reactor.
“There is no place in our world — no place in our world — for nuclear deterrence based on coercion, threats or blackmail,” Blinken said. – We must stand together to reject this.
Japan’s prime minister echoed international concerns about Russia’s actions.
“The recent attacks on nuclear facilities by Russia must not be tolerated,” said Fumio Kishida.
“By attacking a country that gave up its nuclear weapons, Russia is brutally violating the assurances it gave in the Budapest Memorandum,” said German Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock, referring to the 1994 agreement in which Ukraine gave up nuclear weapons remaining on its territory after the Soviet Union’s collapse in exchange for security guarantees.
The head of the UN’s nuclear watchdog agency, the International Atomic Energy Agency, said at the start of Russia’s invasion that he laid out seven pillars of nuclear security that must not be violated during the conflict, including on the safety and security of facilities and personnel working at them.
“All seven of these principles have been trampled on or violated since this tragic episode began,” Director General Rafael Mariano Grossi said at the meeting.
Russia is expected to speak later in the debate.
The parties to the agreement – there are 191, including the five recognized nuclear weapon states (China, France, Russia, the UK and the US) – are attending the conference, which runs until August 26 and will review implementation and ways to strengthen it.
Ahead of the conference, President Joe Biden said in a statement that the US is committed to the NPT, its obligations as a nuclear power and working towards a nuclear-free world. He said his administration is ready to negotiate a new arms control framework with Moscow to replace New START when it expires in 2026.
“But negotiations require a willing partner operating in good faith,” Biden said. “And Russia’s brutal and unprovoked aggression in Ukraine has shattered the peace in Europe and constitutes an attack on fundamental principles of international order.” He said Moscow should demonstrate it is ready to resume nuclear arms control work with the United States
At the conference, Secretary Blinken said the United States is keeping its nuclear arsenal — which has shrunk by 90% since the end of the Cold War — as a deterrent and will only use it in “extreme circumstances” to defend its own vital interests or those of its allies and partners .
More than 133 governments and nuclear organizations will speak during the debate which started on Monday and continues until Thursday.
Iran’s Deputy Foreign Minister Reza Najafi will also speak this week. World powers have been trying to get Iran to return to the 2015 nuclear deal, known as the JCPOA.
Britain and France, which are part of the deal, along with the United States, which withdrew under former US President Donald Trump but is seeking mutual return with Iran, said in a statement that Iran must never develop a nuclear weapon.
“We regret that, despite intense diplomatic efforts, Iran has not yet seized the opportunity to restore full implementation of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action,” they said, urging Iran to return to the deal.
There were also concerns about progress in North Korea’s nuclear and missile programs. Minister Blinken said Pyongyang is planning its seventh illegal nuclear test.
IAEA chief Rossi said he hopes the agency’s inspectors can return to North Korea after being expelled in 2009. “Without that, there will be no trust and no confidence,” Rossie said.
Absent from the review conference include Israel, India and Pakistan. All are believed to have nuclear weapons but are not NPT signatories.
Some countries also expressed unease over China’s growing nuclear arsenal.
“China’s arsenal is growing,” Danish Foreign Minister Jeppe Kofod said on behalf of Nordic countries. “We urge China to actively engage in arms control processes as a responsible nuclear-weapon state.”