UN chief invokes film, warns of nuclear disaster

Published March 19, 2024
Secretary-General of the United Nations Antonio Guterres looks on during a meeting of the United Nations Security Council at U.N. headquarters on the maintenance of International Peace and Security Nuclear disarmament and non-proliferation in New York City, US, March 18, 2024 — Reuters
Secretary-General of the United Nations Antonio Guterres looks on during a meeting of the United Nations Security Council at U.N. headquarters on the maintenance of International Peace and Security Nuclear disarmament and non-proliferation in New York City, US, March 18, 2024 — Reuters

UNITED NATIONS: UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres invoked Oscar-winning film Oppenheimer on Monday as he warned that the world faced the highest risk of nuclear war in decades.

At a Security Council session called by Japan, Guterres said that the biopic about the morally conflicted father of the atomic bomb “brought the harsh reality of nuclear doomsday to vivid life for millions around the world.”

“Humanity cannot survive a sequel to Oppenheimer,” Guterres said.

“We meet at a time when geopolitical tensions and mistrust have escalated the risk of nuclear warfare to its highest point in decades,” he said.

Russian President Vladimir Putin has made thinly veiled threats to use nuclear weapons as he warns the West against its support for Ukraine, which Moscow invaded more than two years ago. Without naming Putin, Guterres said, “Nuclear saber-rattling must stop.” “Threats to use nuclear weapons in any capacity are unacceptable,” he said.

Guterres says threats to use nuclear weapons in any capacity are unacceptable

Elsewhere in the world, tensions surrounding nuclear-armed North Korea have continued to rise and Iran has been enriching uranium closer to the level needed if it decides to build an atom bomb.

Israel, the Middle East’s only nuclear-armed power albeit an undeclared one, has been at war since Oct 7. Guterres called on the United States and Russia to resume negotiations, at a standstill since the Ukraine war, on a successor to the New START nuclear arms reduction treaty which expires in early 2026.

He also called for progress on other initiatives including the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons, which entered into force in 2021 but has little practical effect as no nuclear-weapons states are party to it.

“Investments in the tools of war are outstripping investments in the tools of peace. Arms budgets are growing, while diplomacy and development budgets are shrinking,” Guterres said.

The United States, the only country to have used nuclear weapons in warfare, said it would work on one area with ally Japan, whose cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki were devastated by atomic weapons in 1945.

The United States as well as France said they would join Japan in a coalition to push through the Fissile Material Cut-off Treaty, which would ban production of plutonium and highly enriched uranium, the key ingredients in nuclear weapons.

Most nuclear states have already stopped production. Discussions on a treaty have been blocked by Pakistan, which believes it would fall behind rival India and which enjoys diplomatic support from China.

“To forestall a potential arms race, we need to see an end to the production of fissile material for use in nuclear weapons, and continue pursuing negotiations on a Fissile Material Cut-off Treaty,” said the US ambassador to the United Nations, Linda Thomas-Greenfield.

Japanese Foreign Minister Yoko Kamikawa, who led the meeting, vowed that Tokyo “will further increase international and political attention” toward the treaty.

Published in Dawn, March 19th, 2024

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