Following are UN Secretary-General António Guterres’ remarks at the High‑Level Plenary Meeting to Commemorate and Promote the International Day for the Total Elimination of Nuclear Weapons, held today:
Nuclear disarmament has been a priority of the United Nations since the very beginning of the Organization’s existence. Yet 75 years since the founding of the United Nations and since the horrific bombings at Hiroshima and Nagasaki, the world continues to live in the shadow of nuclear catastrophe.
Some States view nuclear weapons as vital to their national security and survival. But the elimination of nuclear weapons is vital to something beyond the fate of any single State: the survival of life on this planet.
Unfortunately, progress towards the total elimination of nuclear weapons has stalled and is at risk of backsliding. Growing distrust and tension between the States that possess nuclear weapons have increased nuclear risks. Programmes to modernize arsenals threaten a qualitative nuclear arms race, based not on numbers but faster, stealthier and more accurate weapons. The opportunity cost of spending money on such ill‑conceived upgrades is simply staggering.
The only treaty constraining the size of the world’s largest nuclear arsenals is set to expire early next year, raising the alarming possibility of a return to unconstrained strategic competition. For this reason, it is imperative that the Russian Federation and the United States of America extend, without delay, the “New START” Treaty for the maximum duration of five years.
For the sake of all of our security, the world must return to a common path towards nuclear disarmament. States possessing nuclear weapons have a responsibility to lead this endeavour, including by fulfilling their existing disarmament commitments and by taking practical steps to reduce nuclear risk. Especially in today’s tense international security environment, with rising friction between major Powers, such steps are more necessary than ever.
Ultimately, however, the only way to completely eliminate nuclear risk is to completely eliminate nuclear weapons. The Treaty on the Non‑Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons remains the cornerstone of the nuclear disarmament and non‑proliferation regime. I call on States parties to use the extra time afforded to them by the postponement of the Tenth Review Conference to ensure a meaningful outcome that strengthens this bastion of nuclear non‑proliferation and includes tangible progress toward the total elimination of nuclear weapons. I look forward to the entry into force of the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons, which reflects the desire of a large number of States to free the world of the threat.
The COVID‑19 pandemic has not only extracted a grim toll in lives and economic destruction, but has also exposed the fragility of the international community’s ability to act in common cause. We have seen yet again that to confront global threats, we need a strengthened, inclusive and renewed multilateralism built on trust, based on international law and with human security at its centre. Let this approach also guide us to our shared goal of a world free of nuclear weapons.