In the 18th annual NATO Conference on Arms Control, Disarmament and Weapons of Mass Destruction and Non-Proliferation on Tuesday, NATO Secretary Jens Stoltenberg warned that the global arms control system is on the verge of collapse.
“We stand at a crossroads,” the NATO chief said during the conference, which was organized by the international alliance and the U.S. State Department.
“In one direction lies the collapse of the international arms control order and the unrestricted proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, with profoundly dangerous consequences,” he added.
Stoltenberg also warned that this is a “deeply challenging period – for arms control and for our security in general” and that Russia’s war against Ukraine should be seen as a long pattern of aggressive behavior. He further cautions that Moscow now seeks to “undermine the foundations of the international rules-based system.
Ignoring, violating or abandoning much of the network of international arms control agreements that have kept the world safe.”
These remarks come just weeks after Moscow suspended its participation in the last remaining nuclear arms control treaty it had with Washington, while it also put a coda on a period of eroding arms control pacts worldwide, Politico reported.
According to recent reports from the Federation of American Scientists, Russia now possesses 5,977 nuclear warheads – the most of any nation in the world – followed by the United States, which maintains an arsenal of 5,428 warheads.
It is believed that around 1,500 of Russia’s warheads may be retired, yet still intact – while 2,889 are in reserve and 1,588 are deployed strategic warheads. That includes 812 on land-based launchers, 576 on submarines and 200 at heavy bomber bases.
Beyond the Russian Threat
The nuclear threat goes way beyond that of Russia, the NATO head also noted.
“China is rapidly growing its nuclear arsenal without any transparency about its capabilities,” said Stoltenberg. “Iran and North Korea are blatantly developing their own nuclear programmes and delivery systems.”
He also noted that in the longer term, the West must rethink and adapt its approach to a more dangerous and competitive world. That will mean engaging with China, which is estimated to have 1,500 warheads by 2035.
“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 continued. “NATO is a unique platform where we engage with China and the wider international community for our mutual benefit.”
The address this week follows recent reports that have noted China’s nuclear build-up. An Arms Control Association report from earlier this year noted that Beijing’s nuclear arsenal already exceeds 400 warheads, and the Pentagon’s estimates are that China could have 700 warheads by 2027 and 1,000 by 2030.
More worrisome is the fact that North Korea is suspected of having an arsenal of 40 to 50 nuclear weapons, while Iran has an enriched uranium stockpile that already contains sufficient uranium to fuel at least five nuclear warheads with further enrichment.
Truly we are at a crossroads like no other.
Author Experience and Expertise: A Senior Editor for 19FortyFive, Peter Suciu is a Michigan-based writer. He has contributed to more than four dozen magazines, newspapers, and websites with over 3,200 published pieces over a twenty-year career in journalism. He regularly writes about military hardware, firearms history, cybersecurity, politics, and international affairs. Peter is also a Contributing Writer for Forbes and Clearance Jobs. You can follow him on Twitter: @PeterSuciu.