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NATO chief warns global arms control system at risk of ‘collapse’

NATO chief warns global arms control system at risk of ‘collapse’

by host

The global system that once limited the rapid proliferation of arms is at risk of extinction, NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg warned on Tuesday, as he rebuked Russia and China.

“We stand at a crossroads,” the NATO chief said at a conference on arms control organized by the 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,” Stoltenberg said. 

But, he added: “There is an alternative way ahead — one where we do the work, however difficult.”

His remarks come just weeks after Russia suspended its participation in the last remaining nuclear arms control treaty it had with the United States — putting a coda on a period of eroding arms control pacts worldwide.  

The development has occurred alongside a significant arms buildup from both Russia and China, as well as Moscow’s wartime nuclear saber-rattling.

In his speech on Tuesday, the NATO chief laid out serious concerns about Russia and China’s behavior — but still left the door open to new arms control arrangements. 

“The Kremlin has chosen to dismantle arms control and undermine strategic stability,” the secretary-general said, pointing to Russia’s decision to suspend participation in the New START Treaty, failure to comply with the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty and threat to deploy tactical nuclear weapons in Belarus.

And while describing Russia as “the most direct threat to our security,” he acknowledged there are other challenges. 

China, the NATO chief said, “is rapidly growing its nuclear arsenal without any transparency about its capabilities,” while “Iran and North Korea are blatantly developing their own nuclear programs and delivery systems.”

But he also signaled NATO’s willingness to help bring countries to the table. 

“We need to remember that arms control agreements are not made between friends,” he said, “they are made between adversaries.”

“Some of the most successful arms control agreements were reached in periods of heightened tensions,” he noted, adding: “That is what happened during the Cold War — and it can happen again now.” 

Stoltenberg specifically underscored the potential for working with Beijing on arms control. 

“In the longer term, we need to rethink and adapt our approach to our more dangerous and competitive world,” he said. “And this means engaging with China, which is estimated to have 1,500 warheads by 2035.” 

And while not addressing Chinese officials directly, Stoltenberg appeared to be sending a quiet message to Beijing. 

“As a global power,” he said, “China has global responsibilities.”

“Beijing, too,” he added, “would benefit from the increased transparency, predictability and security of arms control agreements.”

NATO, Stoltenberg said, “is a unique platform where we engage with China and the wider international community for our mutual benefit.”

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