The United Nations disarmament chief on Friday called for de-escalatory talks to curb the risk of nuclear war amid global concerns about Russian President Vladimir Putin's plan to station so-called "tactical" nuclear weapons in Belarus.
Roughly 13 months into the Russian invasion of Ukraine, Putin announced what critics
called the "extremely dangerous escalation" last weekend, as United Nations High Representative for Disarmament Affairs Izumi Nakamitsu noted at the beginning of her briefing to the U.N. Security Council—which Russia, a permanent member, is set to lead for a month starting on Saturday.
Nakamitsu's remarks came as Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko, in a speech to his country's Parliament,
claimed without evidence that the United States and other Western nations plan to take over both Belarus and neighboring Poland, and vowed that "we will protect our sovereignty and independence by any means necessary."
"States must avoid taking any actions that could lead to escalation, mistake, or miscalculation."
Nakamitsu said that "the risk of a nuclear weapon being used is currently higher than at any time since the depths of the Cold War. The war in Ukraine represents the most acute example of that risk. The absence of dialogue and the erosion of the disarmament and arms control architecture, combined with dangerous rhetoric and veiled threats, are key drivers of this potentially existential risk."
"States must avoid taking any actions that could lead to escalation, mistake, or miscalculation," she continued. "They should return to dialogue to de-escalate tensions urgently and find ways to develop and implement transparency and confidence-building measures."
Putin justified the deployment plan in part by insisting that the weapons will remain under Russian control and pointing to the U.S. nukes that have been
stationed in allied European countries for decades. The United States—which has the world's second-largest nuclear arsenal after Russia—is believed to have about 100 such bombs spread across Belgium, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, and Turkey.
Both Russia and the United States are parties to the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT). Nakamitsu stressed Friday that all parties to the treaty, whether or not they have nukes, "must strictly adhere to the commitments and obligations they have assumed under the treaty."
The issue of a state without its own weapons hosting some from one of the world's nine nuclear-armed nations "has existed for decades, across various regions and under different arrangements. These arrangements pre-date the NPT, with the exception of the recent announcement," Nakamitsu acknowledged. "The issue of so-called 'nuclear sharing' was debated intensely during the negotiation of the NPT" and "has been the subject of subsequent discussions."
After echoing U.N. Secretary-General António Guterres'
call for Russia and the United States "to return to full implementation of the New START Treaty and commence negotiations on its successor," Nakamitsu said that "the accelerated implementation of commitments under the NPT can also contribute to undergirding international stability. I therefore appeal to all states parties of the NPT to fully adhere to their obligations to the treaty, and to immediately engage in serious efforts to reduce nuclear risk and de-escalate tensions."
Meanwhile, the U.S. and Russian ambassadors took aim at each other's countries during the U.N. Security Council meeting.
"We are pursuing cooperation with Belarus without violating obligations," argued Vassily Nebenzia, the Russian ambassador, highlighting the U.S. warheads across Europe. "We are not transferring nuclear weapons."
According toU.N. News:
Russia must take "all requisite measures" in response to "provocative steps," [Nebenzia] said, given the fraying global security architecture, dictated exclusively by Washington, along with London's recent decision to deploy armor-piercing ammunition to Ukraine.
"A nuclear war cannot be won," he said.
Russia's suggestion that this intended deployment is justified because of the use of armor-piercing ammunition supplied by Western forces, containing depleted uranium, is "ludicrous," U.S. Ambassador Robert Wood said.
"Armour-piercing ammunition is in no way analogous to tactical nuclear weapons," he said, adding that the Kremlin is attempting to limit and deter Ukraine's efforts to defend itself, and manipulate matters to win the war.
"Any use of nuclear weapons in Ukraine would have severe consequences and would fundamentally change the nature of this war," Wood added, urging Russia to reconsider its decision to deploy nukes in Belarus.