Former U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon warned Wednesday that the risks of nuclear conflict "are higher than they have been in several decades" and said it is past time for the five nuclear powers to take steps toward disarmament.
Ban told the Security Council the failure of the U.S., Russia, China, Britain and France to make progress on disarmament risks undermining the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty, the world's single most important pact on nuclear arms.
The treaty is credited with preventing the spread of nuclear weapons to dozens of nations since entering into force in 1970 and it has succeeded in doing this via a grand global bargain. Under the treaty, nations without nuclear weapons committed not to acquire them, those with nuclear weapons committed to move toward their elimination, and all nations endorsed everyone's right to develop peaceful uses of nuclear energy.
Treaty members include every nation but India, Pakistan and North Korea, all of which possess nuclear weapons, as well as Israel, which is believed to be a nuclear power but has never acknowledged it.
Ban said it is in the interests of the five nuclear powers, which are the permanent veto-wielding members of the Security Council, "to get serious about disarmament if they wish to maintain the near universal international commitment to preventing nuclear proliferation, particularly in the lead up to next year's NPT review conference."
"The consequences of failure do not bear contemplation," he said.
Ban, who is a co-chair of the group of prominent world leaders founded by Nelson Mandela known as The Elders, spoke at a Security Council meeting on conflict prevention and mediation.
He reiterated that his group believes nuclear weapons and climate change "pose two of the most severe existential threats to life on Earth as we know it."
When it comes to nuclear nonproliferation, Ban said, "the international community is confronted with two serious challenges, namely the Iranian nuclear development programs and securing the complete denuclearization of North Korea."
He expressed deep concern at the United States' withdrawal from the 2015 Iran nuclear deal with six world powers, saying that "it not only weakens the regional stability of the Middle East, but also sends the wrong signal to ongoing negotiations over North Korea's nuclear issue."
As for negotiations between the U.S. and North Korea, Ban said that unfortunately they "have come to a deadlock since the failure of the Hanoi summit last February" between President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un.
Ban, a former South Korean foreign minister, expressed support for U.S. efforts to achieve the complete denuclearization of North Korea and urged all countries to implement U.N. sanctions against Pyongyang.
He expressed hope that U.S.-North Korean negotiations will resume "as soon as possible."