UNITED NATIONS - The world must return to the path of nuclear disarmament and diffuse a looming arms race among nations with atomic arsenals, UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres told the final major event of the General Assembly’s high level week on Friday.

The elimination of nuclear weapons is vital to the “survival of life on this planet”, he said in his remarks at the commemoration of the International Day for the Total Elimination of Nuclear Weapons, adding that it was the only way “to completely eliminate nuclear risk.”

“For the sake of all of our security, the world must return to a common path towards nuclear disarmament,” he said, emphasizing that countries must fulfill their disarmament commitments and take practical steps to reduce risks.  

With rising friction among the major Powers, such steps are more necessary than ever before, as the world today lives in the shadow of nuclear catastrophe, the UN chief said.  

While some countries view nuclear weapons as vital to their survival, the total elimination of these arms is vital to life on this planet, he said.  

Progress towards their total elimination has stalled — and is at risk of backsliding — amid growing distrust and tensions among nuclear-weapon States, which threatens to provoke a nuclear arms race based, in part, on faster, stealthier and more accurate weapons. 

 Moreover, the only treaty constraining the size of the world’s largest nuclear arsenals is set to expire in 2021

Against the backdrop of growing distrust and tension between Nuclear Weapon States (NWS) - and programmes that modernize arsenals for faster, stealthier and more accurate weapons, with costs Guterres called “simply staggering” - he said, pointedly, that the only treaty restricting the size of the world’s largest nuclear arsenals is set to expire early next year – threatening a return to “unconstrained strategic competition”.

The UN chief said that it is “imperative” for Russia and the United States to extend, “without delay”, the new Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (START) for the maximum duration of five years.

Among other things, START calls for halving the number of strategic nuclear missile launchers and establishing a new inspection and verification regime within seven years from the date the treaty enters into force.

The Secretary-General upheld that NWS “have a responsibility to lead”, including by honouring their existing commitments and taking steps to reduce nuclear risks.

“Especially in today’s tense international security environment, with rising friction between major powers, such steps are more necessary than ever”, he spelled out.

In conclusion, the Secretary-General advocated for “a strengthened, inclusive and renewed multilateralism built on trust” with human security at its centre, to “guide us to our shared goal of a world free of nuclear weapons”.

Meanwhile, Volkan Bozkir, President of the 75th session of the General Assembly, noted that amidst rising global tensions, the disarmament architecture is “under significant strain”.

“Parties have withdrawn from nuclear-related agreements and others are set to expire”, he elaborated, adding that “some Member States have threatened to restart nuclear testing”.

Bozkir stressed the need to return to “the common goal” of a nuclear-weapons free world weapons and flagged the cornerstone Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT) and Secretary-General’s Agenda for Disarmament, as the right tools to achieve it.

Noting that this year marks the 50th anniversary of the NPT, the Assembly president urged its States’ Parties to use the postponed 2020 NPT Review Conference next year, to renew their commitments and discuss “practical steps in nuclear disarmament”.

“Nuclear disarmament must remain a priority to all of us”, he underscored. “We cannot afford to waste any more time”.