Columns

UN Chief: AI, Hypersonic Weapons Could Threaten Lives in Ways World 'Cannot Even Imagine'

UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres speaks at the Conference on Disarmament at the European headquarters of the United Nations in Geneva, Switzerland, on Feb. 25, 2019. (Salvatore Di Nolfi/Keystone via AP)

UN Secretary-General António Guterres warned today of new weapons technologies threatening lives “in ways we do not yet understand and cannot even imagine.”

Speaking at the Conference on Disarmament in Geneva, Guterres called for actions to “take us back from the nuclear brink” as “key components of the international arms control architecture are collapsing.”

“The continued use of chemical weapons with impunity is driving new proliferation. Thousands of civilian lives continue to be lost because of illicit small arms and the use in urban areas of explosive weapons designed for open battlefields,” he said. “…Over the past seven decades, United Nations member states have made great gains in these fields. But our efforts are in increasing jeopardy. States are seeking security not in the proven collective value of diplomacy and dialogue, but in developing and accumulating new weapons. And the situation is particularly dangerous as regards nuclear weapons.”

On the demise Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty, which the U.S. suspended on Feb. 1 citing Russian noncompliance, Guterres predicted that “insecurity and instability will be keenly felt here in Europe.” He also called for the U.S. and Russia to renew the New START Treaty before it expires in 2021 and “consider further reductions in their strategic nuclear arsenals.”

“The slow demise of the Cold War-era arms control regime is already having profound consequences. Member states cannot let the world sleepwalk into a new nuclear arms race. And I urge you in the strongest possible terms to take a decisive action to safeguard and preserve the existing system through dialogue that will help restore trust,” the UN chief said. “The development of risk reduction measures fit for this evolving environment, including transparency and confidence-building tools, would help to alleviate tensions and take us back from the nuclear brink.”

“Such steps could take into account regional nuclear challenges, as well as technological developments including cybersecurity, artificial intelligence and so-called ‘hypersonic weapons’ that could be used to launch attacks at unprecedented speed.”

Guterres said he hope the Hanoi summit this week between President Trump and dictator Kim Jong-un could yield “concrete steps for sustainable, peaceful, complete and verifiable denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula.”