UN Institute for Disarmament Research director Renata Dwan has issued a chilling warning to the world: we are facing the highest risk of nuclear weapons being used since World War II.

Seventy-four years since the nuclear blasts that devastated Hiroshima and Nagasaki, the senior security expert has told reporters in Geneva that a changing arms control landscape, due in part to competition between the US and China, is placing the globe in danger.

Citing the erosion of traditional arms-control arrangements due to the emergence of armed groups and private sector forces Dwan said: "I think that it's 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, 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."

New Zealander John Borrie, research co-ordinator at the UNIDIR, added that Europe was a particular flashpoint, with tensions between Russia and Nato higher than they have been for many years: "Both sides are unveiling new capabilities, or the intention to develop new capabilities.

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"They've also been in each other's faces more, we've seen an increase in patrols for example."

Borrie also raised North Korean nuclear testing and strained relations between India and Pakistan as concerns.

Dwan warned that the world cannot afford to 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.