The risk of nuclear weapons being used is at its highest since World War II, a senior United Nations security expert said, calling it an "urgent" issue that the world should take more seriously.
Renata Dwan, director of the UN Institute for Disarmament Research (UNIDIR), said all states with nuclear weapons have nuclear modernisation programmes under way and the arms control landscape is changing, partly due to strategic competition between China and the United States.
Traditional arms control arrangements are also being eroded by the emergence of new types of war, with increasing prevalence of armed groups and private sector forces and new technologies that blurred the line between offence and defence, she told reporters in Geneva.
With disarmament talks stalemated for the past two decades, 122 countries have signed a treaty to ban nuclear weapons, partly out of frustration and partly out of a recognition of the risks, she said.
"I think that it is genuinely a call to recognise, and this has been somewhat missing in the media coverage of the issues, that the risks of nuclear war are particularly high now," she said.
"And the risks of the use of nuclear weapons, for some of the factors I pointed out, are higher now than at any time since World War II."
The nuclear ban treaty, officially called the Treaty for the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons, was backed by the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons (ICAN), which won the Nobel Peace Prize in 2017.
The treaty has so far gathered 23 of the 50 ratifications that it needs to come into force, including South Africa, Austria, Thailand, Vietnam and Mexico.
It is strongly opposed by the United States, Russia, and other states with nuclear arms.
Cuba also ratified the treaty in 2018, 56 years after the Cuban missile crisis, a 13-day Cold War face-off between Moscow and Washington that marked the closest the world had ever come to nuclear war.
Ms Dwan said the world should not ignore the danger of nuclear weapons.
"How we think about that, and how we act on that risk and the management of that risk, seems to me a pretty significant and urgent question that isn't reflected fully in the (UN) Security Council," she said.
Meanwhile, Tehran claimed yesterday that the United States and its supporters do not dare attack Iran because of its "spirit of resistance".
Tensions have spiked between Iran and the United States after Washington sent more military forces to the Middle East, including an aircraft carrier, B-52 bombers and Patriot missiles, in a show of force against what US officials claim are Iranian threats to its troops and interests in the region.
"If the criminal America and its Western and regional allies don't dare carry out a face-to-face military attack against our country, it is because of the spirit of resistance and sacrifice of the people and youth," Major General Gholamali Rashid said, according to the Fars news agency.
In a Twitter message addressed to US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo yesterday, an adviser to Iranian President Hassan Rouhani said the American military deployment to the region was a deliberate provocation.
"You @SecPompeo do not bring warships to our region and call it deterrence. That's called provocation. It compels Iran to illustrate its own deterrence, which you call provocation. You see the cycle?," the adviser, Hesameddin Ashena, tweeted in English.