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Nuclear Weapons: Mounting Tensions Worldwide Signal Return To Cold War Mentalities

Achieving a world free of nuclear weapons is “one of the most crucial debates of our time,” United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon declared Tuesday. He emphasized that the international tide of nuclear abolition – so strong in 2010 – has ebbed, and that mounting tensions between nuclear-armed states have produced a return to Cold War mindsets.

“Nuclear weapons are again becoming embedded in national defense strategies. Support has deepened for misguided doctrines of deterrence,” Ban Ki-moon said in a message delivered by UN High Representative for Disarmament Affairs Angela Kane to the "Symposium and High-Level Panel on the Non-Proliferation Treaty, Nuclear Disarmament, Non-Proliferation and Energy; Fresh Ideas for the Future."

“Modernization programs envisage retention of these deadly weapons for decades to come. Nuclear weapon states have not demonstrated the leadership required to break the status quo, instead attaching hollow conditions to their disarmament obligations,” Ban Ki-moon stated.

The symposium, a companion event held in connection with the 2015 Review Conference of the Parties to the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT) at UN headquarters this week.

For more than four decades, the treaty has been a bulwark against the spread of the most dangerous and inhumane weapons ever devised, and has been a central and essential mechanism for their elimination. Calling it “indispensable,” Ban Ki-moon said the treaty has strengthened the security of all states parties, serving as a foundation for international security. Over the course of its history, the NPT has also helped cope with multiple challenges and competing positions.

While the ultimate goal of NPT – to prevent the spread of nuclear weapons and to bring about their elimination – has not changed, the international security climate has evolved and continues to do so, causing new problems “testing our resolve,” Ban Ki-moon said.

To be effectively implemented, the treaty requires constant tending to ensure it remains strong and capable of safeguarding against the existential threat posed by nuclear weapons.

“We need new ideas to shore up the NPT, to confront new obstacles head on, and to overcome them,” Ban Ki-moon said. “Proliferation challenges persist. The Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK) continues with its dangerous and destabilizing activities, flouting international law and the will of the international community.”

In a separate statement, Director General of the International Atomic Energy Agency Yukiya Amano echoed Ban Ki-moon’s apprehension regarding nuclear proliferation, conceding he’s “seriously concerned” about North Korea’s nuclear program, and that his agency remains unable to conclude “all nuclear material in Iran is in peaceful activities.”

Nevertheless, Amano said, efforts to render the Middle East free of nuclear weapons continued amid some optimism following a recent forum held on the issue. The "Forum on Experience of Possible Relevance to the Creation of a Nuclear-Weapon-Free Zone in the Middle East," he explained, had shown that it was possible “to have constructive dialogue on the establishment if a nuclear-weapon-free zone in this region, despite the complexity of the issue and differences of view among states concerned.”

Ban Ki-moon underscored the impact of nuclear weapons at the conference as he called on member states to urgently ramp up efforts in tackling nuclear disarmament. “We have seen the sheer emergence of a movement seeking to address the humanitarian consequences of nuclear weapons,” he said. “This has re-energized a frozen debate, reminding us that the indiscriminate and catastrophic costs of nuclear weapons are, at their core, human costs.”

The 2015 Review Conference will run at UN Headquarters in New York through May 22. The President-designate of the Conference is Ambassador Taous Feroukhi from Algeria.

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