Vanguard-class submarine HMS Vengeance, which carries the UK's nuclear deterrent (Picture: MOD).
Nuclear

World one step from nuclear annihilation, UN chief warns

Antonio Guterres cited the war in Ukraine and the threat of nuclear weapons in conflicts in the Middle East and Asia.

Vanguard-class submarine HMS Vengeance, which carries the UK's nuclear deterrent (Picture: MOD).

The United Nations chief has warned the world that "humanity is just one misunderstanding, one miscalculation, away from nuclear annihilation".

Secretary-general Antonio Guterres gave the dire warning at the opening of the long-delayed high-level meeting to review the landmark 50-year-old treaty aimed at preventing the spread of nuclear weapons and eventually achieving a nuclear-free world.

He cited especially the war in Ukraine and the threat of nuclear weapons in conflicts in the Middle East and Asia, two regions "edging towards catastrophe".

Mr Guterres told ministers, officials and diplomats attending the month-long conference to review the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty that the meeting is taking place "at a critical juncture for our collective peace and security" and "at a time of nuclear danger not seen since the height of the Cold War".

The conference is "an opportunity to hammer out the measures that will help avoid certain disaster, and to put humanity on a new path towards a world free of nuclear weapons", he said.

But Mr Guterres warned that "geopolitical weapons are reaching new highs", almost 13,000 nuclear weapons are in arsenals around the world, and countries seeking "false security" are spending hundreds of billions of dollars on "doomsday weapons".

"All this at a time when the risks of proliferation are growing and guardrails to prevent escalation are weakening," he said, "And when crises – with nuclear undertones – are festering from the Middle East and the Korean peninsula to Russia's invasion of Ukraine."

He called on conference participants to urgently reinforce and reaffirm "the 77-year-old norm against the use of nuclear weapons", work relentlessly towards the elimination of nuclear weapons with new commitments to reduce arsenals, address "the simmering tensions in the Middle East and Asia", and promote the peaceful use of nuclear technology.

"Future generations are counting on your commitment to step back from the abyss," he told the ministers and diplomats. "This is our moment to meet this fundamental test and lift the cloud of nuclear annihilation once and for all."

In force since 1970, the Non-Proliferation Treaty, known as the NPT, has the widest adherence of any arms control agreement, with 191 countries as members.

The meeting, which ends on 26 August, aims to generate a consensus on next steps, but expectations are low for a substantial agreement.