UN chief warns humanity is 'unacceptably close to nuclear annihilation'

UN chief warns humanity is 'unacceptably close to nuclear annihilation'
https://www.globalchange.gov/news/us-other-countries-partner-future-earth

In remarks ahead of the International Day for the Total Elimination of Nuclear Weapons on Sunday, United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres warned that humankind remains "unacceptably close to nuclear annihilation," with roughly 14,000 atomic bombs stockpiled across the globe.

"Now is the time to lift the cloud of nuclear conflict for good, eliminate nuclear weapons from our world, and usher in a new era of trust and peace," said Guterres, who observed in a statement last week that hundreds of nuclear bombs are just a "pushed button away from being launched."

At a disarmament conference on Thursday, Guterres urged all nations that possess nuclear technology to sign and ratify the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty (CTBT), which—if enacted—would prohibit "any nuclear weapon test explosion or any other nuclear explosion." The United States—the only country that has used nuclear weapons in war—is among the eight nuclear-equipped nations that have yet to ratify the CTBT.

"As a global family, we can no longer allow the cloud of nuclear conflict to shadow our work to spur development, achieve the Sustainable Development Goals, and end the Covid-19 pandemic," said Guterres. "Now is the time to lift this cloud for good, eliminate nuclear weapons from our world, and usher in a new era of dialogue, trust, and peace for all people."

In the U.S., anti-war veterans marked the International Day for the Total Elimination of Nuclear Weapons by imploring President Joe Biden to adopt a "no first use" policy and "make that policy credible by publicly decommissioning U.S. ICBMs that can only be used in a first strike."

"We represent millions of people who want nothing more than to see the United States make a dramatic 'Pivot to Peace,'" the advocacy group Veterans for Peace wrote in an open letter to Biden. "What better place to start than to step back from the brink of nuclear war? The billions of U.S. tax dollars saved could be applied to the very real national security threats of the climate crisis and the Covid-19 pandemic. What better legacy for the Biden administration than to begin a process that could lead to worldwide nuclear disarmament."

The organization's call came amid growing fears that Biden is building on the dangerous nuclear policies of his predecessor despite criticizing them on the campaign trail. As Kingston Reif of the Arms Control Association observed earlier this month, the Biden administration's first budget request "would continue the expensive and controversial nuclear weapons sustainment and modernization efforts pursued by the Trump administration pending the outcome of the Nuclear Posture Review."

The Biden administration also recently announced a new "security alliance" with Britain and Australia that will help equip the latter nation with nuclear-armed submarines.

According to the Congressional Budget Office, the U.S. is expected to spend $634 billion over the next decade on updating and maintaining its own nuclear arsenal.

On Wednesday, the Washington Post reported that the U.S. Defense Department "removed a top political appointee in charge of nuclear policy from her position, prompting concern among disarmament advocates that the Pentagon is sidelining those with less hawkish views as the Biden administration develops its official policy on nuclear weapons."

Jeffrey Lewis, a professor and nuclear weapons expert at the Middlebury Institute for International Studies, said in response to the department's ouster of Leonor Tomero that "firing her sends a clear message to everyone in the Pentagon that there is no tolerance for new ideas when it comes to our nuclear weapons policies."

"People wonder why we don't learn from failures like Vietnam, Iraq, and Afghanistan," said Lewis. "The reason is simple: People who point out alternatives to current national security policies are systematically driven out of positions of authority."

The Pentagon insists that Tomero's removal was part of a broader Defense Department "reorganization" effort, not an attempt to silence a critic of U.S. nuclear weapons policies.

In a letter (pdf) to Biden on Friday, progressive Sen. Ed Markey (D-Mass.) voiced concern that "the sudden departure of a top appointee, charged with presenting you options on the future of the U.S. nuclear weapons enterprise, will result in a draft Nuclear Posture Review that reflects the Cold War era's overreliance on nuclear weapons, rather than your lifetime of work championing policies that reduce nuclear weapons risks."

"Congress needs to understand whether ideology played any role in Ms. Tomero's dismissal," Markey wrote.

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