Describing crises that are "escalating, with nuclear overtones", from the Middle East to the Korean Peninsula and Russia's invasion of Ukraine, Antonio Guterres widely expressed fears of escalation.
"We have been extraordinarily lucky so far. But luck is not a strategy or a shield to prevent geopolitical tensions from escalating into nuclear conflict," he said at the opening of a conference of 191 countries signatories to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT).
"Today, humanity is at a misunderstanding, a miscalculation of nuclear annihilation", he hammered, believing that such "nuclear danger has not been known since the height of the Cold War".
"Humanity is in danger of forgetting the lessons of the terrifying conflagration of Hiroshima and Nagasaki," added the UN chief, who will travel to Hiroshima in a few days for the anniversary of the bombardment.
A concern shared by the president of this conference, which is being held until August 26 at the United Nations headquarters in New York.
"The threat posed by nuclear weapons (...) has returned to the same level as during the Cold War", declared the Argentinian Gustavo Zlauvinen.
“If we have learned anything from the pandemic, it is that low probability events can occur, with little or no notice, with catastrophic consequences for the world. The same is true for nuclear weapons ", he added.
So this meeting of the parties to the NPT, postponed several times since 2020 due to Covid-19, is an "opportunity to strengthen this treaty and bring it into line with today's world", declared Antonio Guterres, hoping a reaffirmation of the non-use of nuclear weapons but also of "new commitments" to reduce the arsenal.
"Eliminating nuclear weapons is the only guarantee that they will never be used."
- Unwinnable nuclear war -
"Nearly 13,000 nuclear weapons are stored in arsenals around the world. At a time when the risks of proliferation are growing and the safeguards to prevent this escalation are weakening," he insisted.
In early January, the five members of the Security Council (United States, China, Russia, United Kingdom and France), also nuclear powers, had pledged to "prevent the further dissemination" of nuclear power, just before a new postponement of the review conference. And before Russia invaded Ukraine.
On Monday, the United States, United Kingdom and France reaffirmed this commitment in a joint statement, reaffirming that "a nuclear war cannot be won and must never take place".
But the three nuclear powers also pointed the finger at Russia, calling on it to respect its international commitments.
"Following Russia's unprovoked and illegal aggression against Ukraine, we call on Russia to stop its nuclear rhetoric and its irresponsible and dangerous attitude," they added.
US President Joe Biden has called on Russia and China to start talks on nuclear arms control. He reiterated that his administration was ready to “negotiate quickly” a replacement for New START, the treaty capping intercontinental nuclear forces in the United States and Russia, which is due to expire in 2026.
The NPT, whose operation the parties review every five years, aims to prevent the spread of nuclear weapons, promote complete disarmament and promote cooperation in the peaceful use of nuclear energy.
But at the last review conference in 2015, the parties could not reach agreement on substantive issues.
"The world cannot be safe as long as a country has nuclear weapons", worried Beatrice Fihn, executive director of the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons (ICAN), present in New York for the occasion. .
"The NPT recognizes this. And the parties must act now."