Guterres says world is plunging into a new nuclear arms race as North Korea accuses US of pushing it to the brink of war.
United Nations chief Antonio Guterres has warned of “humanitarian catastrophe of epic proportions” due to the geopolitical mistrust and competition that has made nuclear risk escalate to Cold War levels.
“Any use of a nuclear weapon – anytime, anywhere and in any context – would unleash a humanitarian catastrophe of epic proportions,” he told the UN General Assembly on the final day of its yearly session on Tuesday as North Korea warned that the US was pushing it to the brink of war.
With an evolving nuclear order in which armed nations are expanding and modernising their arsenals, the UN chief called on countries to strengthen their commitments to reducing and, eventually, eliminating nuclear weapons.
In a statement released on the International Day for the Total Elimination of Nuclear Weapons, Guterres reminded UN member states of the recently launched policy brief on A New Agenda for Peace – which calls for a recommitment to non-proliferation of nuclear weapons.
“On this important Day, we re-affirm our commitment to a world free of nuclear weapons and the humanitarian catastrophe their use would unleash,” Guterres said in the statement.
“This means nuclear-weapon States leading the way by meeting their disarmament obligations, and committing to never use nuclear weapons under any circumstances.”
North Korea on ‘brink of nuclear war’
Meanwhile, North Korea, in one of the last speeches of the week-long UN General Assembly debate, accused the United States of driving the peninsula “closer to the brink of nuclear war” because of its tighter cooperation with South Korea.
Kim Song, North Korea’s ambassador to the United Nations, pointed to the recent formation of the Nuclear Consultative Group, through which the US hopes to integrate its nuclear capacity better with South Korea’s conventional forces.
The two allies would increase information sharing and contingency planning, which Kim alleged was to execute a “preemptive nuclear strike” against North Korea.
“Due to its sycophantic and humiliating policy of depending on outside forces, the Korean peninsula is in a hair-trigger situation with imminent danger of nuclear war,” Kim said.
An envoy from South Korea took the floor to object to the remarks.
“Do you really believe, as the DPRK pretends, the Republic of Korea together with the United States conspires to provoke a nuclear war on the Korean peninsula without reasons that will cause catastrophic casualties,” he asked.
Hours earlier, South Korea staged its first military parade in a decade, with some 4,000 troops marching through a rainy Seoul.
Yoon Suk-yeol, South Korea’s president, had earlier said that “if North Korea uses nuclear weapons, its regime will be brought to an end by an overwhelming response from the ROK-US alliance”.
Rising nuclear arms
In June this year, the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute reported that the world’s nuclear powers, and China in particular, increased investment in their arsenals for a third consecutive year in 2022.
While the total number of nuclear warheads held by Britain, China, France, India, Israel, North Korea, Pakistan, Russia and the United States had fallen by about 1.6 percent to 12,512 over the previous year, SIPRI said the declining trend was on the cusp of a reversal.