By Andrew Thornebrooke
China’s communist regime is rapidly building its nuclear capabilities without any apparent regard for the safety of the world or itself, according to NATO’s chief diplomat.
The regime is not cooperating with international norms and laws regarding nuclear proliferation, and will not be honest with the international community about the extent of its nuclear expansion, according to NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg.
“China is rapidly growing its nuclear arsenal without any transparency about its capabilities,” Stoltenberg said on April 18 at the 18th annual NATO conference on arms control, nonproliferation, and disarmament.
“We should push back against efforts that risk undermining the existing nonproliferation framework, including the treaty on the provision of nuclear weapons.”
CCP Seeks Nuclear Weapons at World’s Expense
The Chinese Communist Party (CCP), which rules China as a single-party state, has long refused to participate in arms control talks to date. While that refusal previously was viewed with some annoyance by the international community, the regime’s sudden push to create a world-leading nuclear arsenal has triggered widespread alarm.
Pentagon reports estimate the regime will obtain 1,000 nuclear weapons by 2030 and 1,500 by 2035. Likewise, the regime now fields more launchers for land-based intercontinental ballistic missiles than the United States.
Stoltenberg said that China is part of a broader movement of authoritarian nations—including Russia, Iran, and North Korea—seeking to destabilize the international community through nuclear proliferation.
To that end, he said, NATO would need to push back against such threats while engaging with Beijing to bring it to the negotiating table.
“As a global power, China has global responsibilities. And Beijing, too, would benefit from the increased transparency, predictability, and security of arms control agreements,” Stoltenberg said.
“In the longer term, we need to rethink and adapt our approach to a more dangerous and competitive world,” he added. “This means engaging with China.”
Stoltenberg said that NATO presented a unique vehicle for pursuing arms control and nonproliferation talks with the CCP, and that such agreements would be of “mutual benefit” to both China and NATO.
He underscored that the alliance’s Strategic Concept did not view China as an enemy, though he recognized that “China offers some challenges to our interests, our NATO values, and our security.”
By engaging, building trust, and altering behaviors to increase the mutual safety of China and NATO alike, Stoltenberg said, the powers could forge a “different approach” for an era characterized by increased instability and unpredictable new technologies.
Stoltenberg admitted that such a mission was a tall order but said that if NATO and the Warsaw Pact countries could pursue arms control at the height of the Cold War, NATO and China could do the same now.
“Our world is more dangerous and less predictable than it has been for generations,” he said. “The arms control regimes that we have depended on for so long are unraveling.
“But we need to remember, arms control agreements are not made between friends. They are made between adversaries.”
New Technologies Increase Risk of Nuclear Catastrophe
New technologies, including artificial intelligence, further magnify the threat posed by the CCP, said U.S. Deputy Secretary of State Wendy Sherman at the same event.
While nuclear weapons have been around for 80 years, she said, the decreasing timeframes for decision-making and the risk of automation triggering a catastrophic response increase the danger of such weapons.
“For all the wonders wrought by rapid advances in innovation and invention, for all the excitement brought by developments we cannot fathom or predict or imagine yet, in the realm of arms control, those leaps forward bring a new degree of fear and uncertainty along with promise,” Sherman said.
With that in mind, Sherman said the United States “does not seek conflict” but is weary of Beijing’s ambition to undermine and displace the greater international order.
“China, as the United States has said, is the only country with the capability to change the rules-based international order, which we believe [CCP leader] Xi Jinping intends to do,” Sherman said.
“Even in this era, when progress seems distant, we can never resort to inaction,” she said. “Even in this moment, when technology raises more questions than it seems to answer, we can never abandon our work toward advanced arms control measures. We can never shrink from the challenge of nonproliferation.”