United Nations secretary general António Guterres gave a dire warning that the world is just one misstep away from nuclear annihilation.

The remarks came during a meeting held to review the landmark 50-year-old Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT). Guterres said that the world faced "a nuclear danger not seen since the height of the cold war."

"Today, humanity is just one misunderstanding, one miscalculation away from nuclear annihilation," Guterres told the ministers and bureaucrats present at the review.

The meeting was supposed to be held much earlier, but was delayed due to the Covid-19 pandemic. It is "an opportunity to hammer out the measures that will help avoid certain disaster, and to put humanity on a new path towards a world free of nuclear weapons," Guterres said.

He spoke at length about how countries are spending billions of dollars on "doomsday weapons," and added that the world currently has almost 13,000 nuclear weapons. The statement from the UN chief come against the backdrop of rising global tensions since the Russian invasion of Ukraine earlier this year.

Russia has strengthened its rhetoric on the potential use of nuclear weapons, and countries like the United States, Britain, and France have urged Russia to stop.

The UN chief believes that geopolitical tensions are "reaching new highs" due to the Russia-Ukraine war, and tensions on the Korean peninsula and in the Middle East.

"We have been extraordinarily lucky so far. But luck is not a strategy. Nor is it a shield from geopolitical tensions boiling over into nuclear conflict," he warned, stating that the world needs to rethink its path.

The Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, or NPT, was signed in 1968 with the objective of stopping the spread of nuclear weapons. It came into existence after the Cuban missile crisis, when the world came really close to a nuclear war.

As many as 191 countries are signatories, including the US, Britain, and France. It intends to promote complete disarmament and cooperation amongst countries. It is reviewed every five years, writes the BBC.

United Nations head Antonio Guterres
United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres speaks to the media regarding Russia's invasion of Ukraine, at the United Nations Headquarters in New York City, U.S., March 14, 2022. Photo: Reuters / ANDREW KELLY