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SG/SM/20935
28 September 2021

Mass Destruction Arsenals Not Self-Defence But Suicide, Secretary-General Tells General Assembly, Marking International Day for Elimination of Nuclear Weapons

Following are UN Secretary-General António Guterres’ remarks to the high‑level meeting of the General Assembly to commemorate the International Day for the Total Elimination of Nuclear Weapons, held today:

In 1946, in the great burst of hope and activity that followed the creation of the United Nations, this Assembly reached its first resolution.  In part, the resolution called for the creation of a commission to eliminate atomic weapons and other weapons of mass destruction.

Your predecessors in this Assembly understood the fatal flaw behind the use of these weapons:  that the only inheritance for the victor would be a broken and barren world; that mutual distrust could lead to mutual destruction and even eradicate all life on the planet; [and] because ultimately, nuclear conflict has no victors, only victims.

But, in the decades that followed, countries ignored this cold logic, and instead, engaged in a perilous competition, matching weapon for weapon, stockpile for stockpile, each enlargement further eroding the bonds of trust and dialogue needed to ensure a peaceful world and recklessly pushing the world to the brink of nuclear catastrophe.

The shadow of the cold war haunted generations to follow.  Children learned to hide under their desks.  Parents wondered what kind of future they were building for their children.  And countries justified their actions as self‑defence.  A nuclear arsenal is not self-defence.  It is suicide.

Today, 76 years later, we have yet to achieve the goals of that historic resolution.  These weapons are not yesterday’s problem.  They remain today’s threat.  A clear and present danger.

Almost 14,000 nuclear weapons are stockpiled around the world.  While the total number has been decreasing, we are seeing worrying signs of a new arms race.  States continue to modernize their arsenals.  Tensions remain elevated.  Trust is in short supply.  And in this unstable environment, the chance of misunderstandings, miscalculations and malfunctions is frighteningly high.  Nuclear risk has reached levels not seen in almost four decades.  The threat is real.

But, there are signs of hope.  The decision by the Russian Federation and the United States to extend the New [Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty] (START) and begin a strategic dialogue is a welcome step.  So, too, was January’s entry‑into‑force of the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons.

I call on all States to support the Treaty’s goals and recognize its place in the global disarmament architecture.  And the next year will bring fresh opportunities for Member States to build on these developments.  This includes the long-delayed Review Conference of the Parties to the Treaty on the Non‑Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons.

A critical moment to reaffirm and build on past commitments.  As part of these discussions, we have a window of opportunity to adopt new measures to reduce the risk of a nuclear detonation.  Of course, eliminating nuclear risk means eliminating nuclear weapons.  And we must continue working towards that goal.

This is at the core of the disarmament agenda — the elimination of weapons of mass destruction, but also addressing the proliferation of conventional and new battlefield technologies.  But, until nuclear weapons are eliminated, it is in the interests of all States to prevent any possible use.

I look forward to working with all Member States to make these upcoming meetings a success and support their efforts to operationalize the new Treaty.  The global family faces a long list of challenges.

And COVID-19 has taught us to expect the unexpected.  Catastrophes that are unimaginable today can dominate our lives tomorrow.  Against this unstable backdrop, the cloud of nuclear destruction looms largest.  Humanity remains one misunderstanding, one misstep, one miscalculation, one pushed button away from annihilation.  This cloud has cast its shadow over humanity for too long.  Too many generations have lived under it.

Let’s seize the opportunities this year and make sure that we move closer to our goal of eliminating these weapons.  Let’s reject the poisonous and flawed logic of endless nuclear competition.   Let’s lift this cloud for good and usher in a new era of dialogue, trust and peace for all people.  Thank you.

For information media. Not an official record.