UN Secretary-General Warns World Is 'One Misunderstanding, Miscalculation Away From Nuclear Annihilation'

UN Secretary-General Warns World Is 'One Misunderstanding, Miscalculation Away From Nuclear Annihilation'
U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres addresses reporters during a news conference in New York on June 8, 2022. (Mary Altaffer/AP Photo)
Katabella Roberts

The world is facing a "nuclear danger not seen since the height of the Cold War," and humanity is just "one miscalculation away from nuclear annihilation," United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres has warned.

The U.N. chief issued the stark warning in New York on Monday at the opening of the Tenth Review Conference for countries signed up to the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT).

During the conference, Guterres pointed to some of the current challenges facing global peace and security, noting that the world is under greater stress from climate change issues, conflicts around the world, human rights violations, and the ongoing impact of the COVID-19 pandemic.

"Geopolitical tensions are reaching new highs. Competition is trumping cooperation and collaboration. Distrust has replaced dialogue and disunity has replaced disarmament. States are seeking false security in stockpiling and spending hundreds of billions of dollars on doomsday weapons that have no place on our planet," Guterres said.

"We have been extraordinarily lucky so far. But luck is not a strategy. Nor is it a shield from geopolitical tensions boiling over into nuclear conflict," he continued.

The U.N. chief noted that there are currently nearly 13,000 nuclear weapons being held in arsenals around the world.

"Today, humanity is just one misunderstanding, one miscalculation away from nuclear annihilation," Guterres said before urging nations to "put humanity on a new path towards a world free of nuclear weapons."

The NPT is an international treaty that came into force in 1968, a few years after the Cuban missile crisis, and is aimed at reducing nuclear weapons and weapons technology globally.

'Treaty Needed as Much as Ever'

A total of 191 states have joined the treaty, including the five biggest nuclear powers.

However, India, Israel, North Korea, and Pakistan have not signed the treaty and are suspected of harboring, in some cases, huge amounts of nuclear weapons.

The review of the treaty happens once every five years but was delayed in 2020 because of COVID-19. It will run through Aug. 26 this year.

Guterres on Monday stressed the importance of the NPT, saying it is needed "as much as ever," and that the review gives a chance to "put humanity on a new path towards a world free of nuclear weapons."

He also cited Russia's war in Ukraine and tensions on the Korean peninsula and in the Middle East.

Countries also must "work relentlessly" toward the goal of eliminating nuclear weapons, the U.N. chief said, noting that this begins with a commitment to reduce the number of nuclear weapons.

Monday's review of the treaty comes after New York City last month launched a public service announcement informing residents of what they should do if a nuclear attack were to occur.

While officials say the likelihood of a nuclear weapon incident occurring in or near New York City is very low, they believe it is important for residents to know how to stay safe.

Elsewhere on Monday, Russian President Vladimir Putin wrote a letter to the NPT conference, saying that a nuclear war should never be allowed to happen.

“There can be no winners in a nuclear war and it must never be unleashed, and we stand for equal and indivisible security for all members of the world community,” he wrote.

At the start of Russia's invasion of Ukraine in February, Putin had referenced Moscow's vast nuclear weapons arsenal and warned NATO and the United States not to interfere.