The Nuclear Risk Is “Higher Than it has been since the Darkest Days of the Cold War”

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In an interview, Izumi Nakamitsu, the United Nations’ leading disarmament official, warns that the risk of a nuclear war is greater than ever. She says that the lack of dialogue between nations has created an extremely dangerous situation today.

Interview Conducted By Dietmar Pieper

06.08.2020, 12.19 Uhr

DER SPIEGEL: The global system of nuclear arms treaties is eroding. The INF treaty is history. The ongoing negotiations surrounding the New START treaty have been difficult. There is even talk of new nuclear testing in the United States. Are we about to lose everything that has been achieved during the Cold War and the time since?

Nakamitsu: Arms control and disarmament instruments provide tangible security and stability benefits. It is highly concerning that some governments appear to forget this lesson. Instead, we should work together to maintain what we have. And there are some important elements still standing.

DER SPIEGEL: What are you thinking of?

Nakamitsu: We are encouraging the United States and the Russian Federation to extend the New START treaty, which limits the number of deployed strategic nuclear warheads. The norm against nuclear testing is also one of the greatest achievements of the post-Cold War era. We consistently encourage countries to identify means that will accelerate the entry into force and universalization process of the treaty banning nuclear tests.

About Izumi Nakamitsu

Foto: M. Migliorato/ CPP/ IPA/ Catholic Press Photo/ imago images
Japanese diplomat Izumi Nakamitsu, 57, holds degrees in law and international relations from universities in Washington, D.C., and Tokyo. After her studies, she began working for the United Nations. She has also taught international relations at Tokyo’s Hitotsubashi University. Nakamitsu has served as the UN under-secretary-general of disarmament affairs since 2017.

DER SPIEGEL: The famous Doomsday Clock, published by the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, is now closer to midnight than ever. Do you think the underlying assessment of nuclear risk is correct?

Nakamitsu: The Doomsday Clock is a very effective way of informing the public about how dangerous things have become. I share the concern. The risk of use of nuclear weapons, whether intentional or by accident, is higher than it has been since the darkest days of the Cold War. But the greatest danger is through miscalculation.


Nakamitsu: After the Cuban missile crisis in 1962, which brought the world to the brink of nuclear war, the U.S. and the Soviet Union installed special communication channels. One very important factor is: We don’t have the same dialogue channels for risk management between Washington and Moscow that existed during the Cold War, especially at a working level. The lack of dialogue today creates a very dangerous situation.


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