Published on Monday, April 24, 2000 by Reuters at 12:07 PM ET
UN Chief Kofi Annan:
Nuclear War Is 'A Real Possibility'
by Anthony Goodman
UNITED NATIONS - U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan said on Monday the threat of nuclear war ``remains a very real, and very terrifying possibility'' at the beginning of the 21st century.

Without mentioning Washington by name, he also cautioned against plans to develop a ``star wars''-type National Missile Defense (NMD), saying this could lead to a new arms race.

Annan was welcoming delegates at the start of a month-long conference to review implementation of the key Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT).

Under the treaty, which entered into force in 1970, the five original nuclear powers -- the United States, Russia, Britain, China and France -- are permitted to retain their nuclear weapons in exchange for a pledge to move toward nuclear disarmament.

The other 182 parties to the treaty have renounced any ambitions to acquire nuclear weapons, while being assured access to the peaceful uses of nuclear energy.

But their resentment at what they regard as the big powers' foot-dragging on disarmament will be highlighted during the conference, held every five years.

Another focus is likely to be the four countries that have so far refused to sign the nuclear non-proliferation treaty. They are India and Pakistan, which carried out tit-for-tat underground tests in 1998; Cuba; and Israel, certain to be targeted by Arab states as possessing nuclear weapons.

Tests By India And Pakistan

Annan said the tests carried out by India and Pakistan were ''a serious setback against the global norms against nuclear testing and nuclear proliferation.''

Welcoming what he called ``an unmistakable record of achievement and hard-won progress'' in the disarmament field, Annan said this was ``no time for complacency when it comes to the threat of nuclear war.''

``Nuclear conflict remains a very real, and very terrifying possibility at the beginning of the 21st century. This is the stark reality confronting you today,'' Annan said.

Apparently alluding to weapons searches in Iraq after the Gulf war, he added: ``We need look no further than the discovery of clandestine nuclear-weapons development programs to realize the magnitude of this (non-proliferation) challenge.''

Annan said the most recent challenge in the area of nuclear disarmament was ``the growing pressure to deploy national missile defenses.''

``This pressure is jeopardizing the ABM (anti-ballistic missile) Treaty ... and could well lead to a new arms race, setbacks for nuclear disarmament and non-proliferation, and create new incentives for missile proliferation,'' he said.

``It is my hope that all states will take great care to weigh these dangers and challenges before embarking on a process which may well reduce, rather than enhance, global security,'' Annan said.

Russia, China Warn On Changes In Abm Treaty

Russia and China have repeatedly said any tampering with the 1972 ABM treaty would destroy the entire edifice of nuclear disarmament. The treaty is based on the theory that anti-missile systems would only tempt the other side to build more missiles to overwhelm the defenses.

Washington is to decide this summer whether to move ahead with a limited defense against missiles launched by what it regards as ``rogue states'' or terrorists.

Annan said that, on the positive side, former nuclear rivals were ``now cooperating to reduce threats posed by their weapons;'' nuclear safeguards had been strengthened; and membership in nuclear-weapon-free zones in several parts of the world had grown.

A Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty had been negotiated, Annan said, though it was not yet in force, and this month the Russian Parliament had ratified the START II (Strategic Arms Reduction) Treaty and the test ban treaty.

START II, reducing nuclear warheads from 6,000 to no more than 3,500 on each side by 2007, was ratified by the U.S. Senate in 1996. But the Senate's rejection last October of the test ban treaty, against the wishes of President Clinton, is certain to provide ammunition for Washington's critics during the conference.

Citing ``major challenges in fulfilling the disarmament aims'' of the non-proliferation treaty, Annan said: ``Some 35,000 nuclear weapons remain in the arsenals of the nuclear powers, with thousands still deployed on hair-trigger alert.''

Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, among the first speakers on Monday afternoon, intends to defend the extent of U.S. disarmament since the end of the Cold War.