Nearly eight decades after the United States dropped an atomic bomb codenamed “Fat Man” on the Japanese city of Nagasaki, United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres on Wednesday was among the voices around the world renewing calls for eliminating nuclear weapons.
In a message to the Nagasaki Peace Memorial on the 78th anniversary of the 1945 bombing, Guterres said that “this ceremony is an opportunity to remember a moment of unmatched horror for humanity.”
“We mourn those killed, whose memory will never fade. We remember the terrible destruction wrought upon this city and Hiroshima,” he continued, referencing the Japanese city that was bombed a few days earlier. “We honor the unrelenting strength and resilience of the people of Nagasaki to rebuild.”
“And we recognize the brave hibakusha, whose powerful and harrowing testimonies will forever stand as a reminder that we must achieve a world free of these inhumane weapons,” he added, using the Japanese term for survivors of the World War II attacks.
In their name and in memory of the devastation decades ago, Guterres has made eliminating nuclear weapons the U.N.’s highest disarmament priority—at a time when the world is facing fresh threats of nuclear war.
Without naming any nations, Guterres declared Wednesday that “despite the terrible lessons of 1945, humanity now confronts a new arms race. Nuclear weapons are being used as tools of coercion.”
“Weapons systems are being upgraded, and placed at the center of national security strategies, making these devices of death faster, more accurate, and stealthier. All this, at a moment when division and mistrust are pulling countries and regions apart,” he pointed out. “The risk of nuclear catastrophe is now at its highest level since the Cold War.”
Like the Cold War, the United States and Russia have by far the largest stockpiles of the nine nuclear-armed nations—though China is working to significantly boost its arsenal. The other countries with nukes are France, India, Israel, North Korea, Pakistan, and the United Kingdom.
Fears of a potential nuclear catastrophe have ramped up since early last year, when Russia invaded Ukraine, which is receiving military and humanitarian aid from multiple countries, including the United States.
Leaders in Moscow have repeatedly made nuclear threats throughout the ongoing war. Citing a 2020 decree from Russian President Vladimir Putin, Dmitry Medvedev—a former president who is now deputy chair of the country’s Security Council—said late last month that if Ukraine’s counteroffensive to force out invaders and reclaim territories is successful, “we would be forced to use a nuclear weapon.”
Just days later, leading medical journals published a joint editorial warning that “current nuclear arms control and nonproliferation efforts are inadequate to protect the world’s population against the threat of nuclear war by design, error, or miscalculation.”
Noting that a U.S.-Russia war involving nukes “could kill 200 million people or more in the near term and potentially cause a global ‘nuclear winter’ that could kill 5-6 billion people, threatening the survival of humanity,” the editorial stresses that “the prevention of any use of nuclear weapons is therefore an urgent public health priority” and advocates for abolition.
Guterres similarly said that “we will not sit idly by as nuclear-armed states race to create even more dangerous weapons” and “the only way to eliminate the nuclear risk is to eliminate nuclear weapons.”
“The United Nations will continue working with global leaders to strengthen the global disarmament and nonproliferation regime—including through the Treaty on Nonproliferation of Nuclear Weapons and the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons,” pledged the U.N. chief, who last month launched a New Agenda for Peace policy brief that prioritizes disarmament.
“We can never forget what happened here,” he added of the devastation in Japan. “We must lift the shadow of nuclear annihilation, once and for all. No more Nagasakis. No more Hiroshimas.”
Guterres was far from alone in using the somber occasion to demand the abolition of nuclear weapons.
A peace declaration read during the Wednesday ceremony by Nagasaki Mayor Shiro Suzuki—and translated to English by The Mainichi—notes that the 1945 attack “stole the lives of 74,000 people by the end of the year. The hibakusha who survived developed leukemia, cancer, and other diseases years and decades after the bombing battle with suffering and anxiety due to the effects of radiation even now.”
Echoing Hiroshima Mayor Kazumi Matsui’s Sunday speech about that city’s bombing, the Nagasaki declaration asserts that “as long as states are dependent on nuclear deterrence, we cannot realize a world without nuclear weapons. Eliminating nuclear weapons from the face of the Earth is the only way to truly protect our safety.”
“Please visit the atomic bombing sites, see with your own eyes and sense the consequences of nuclear weapons. Please listen to the testimonies of hibakusha, a common inheritance of humankind that must continue to be talked about throughout the world,” said Suzuki, whose parents were survivors. “Knowing the reality of the atomic bombings is the starting point for achieving a world without nuclear weapons, and could also be the driving force for changing the world.”