US and China spar over nuclear weapons build-up

Both countries accused each other of spurring an arms race.

US and China spar over nuclear weapons build-up

Beijing and Washington have accused each other of propelling a new nuclear arms build-up, with an American official on Friday suggesting a possible increase in the U.S. stockpile may be needed in response to the rapidly growing arsenal of China, Russia and North Korea.

Speaking to a meeting of the Arms Control Association in Washington on Friday, Pranay Vaddi, the top arms control official on the White House National Security Council, said the U.S. rivals were “expanding and diversifying their nuclear arsenals at a breakneck pace.”

“We may reach a point in the coming years where an increase from current deployed numbers is required,” Vaddi said, adding that efforts to engage in arms-control talks had been repeatedly rebuffed.

A video screenshot shows Pranay Vaddi speaking at the 2024 Annual Meeting of Arms Control Association June 7, 2024 in Washington. (Arms Control Association via Youtube)

In a response in Russian state media on Saturday, an unnamed Chinese diplomat accused the United States of hypocrisy, noting that Washington “sits on the largest and most advanced nuclear arsenal in the world” and has refused to put conditions on the use of its arms.

“The U.S. should stop undermining the international nuclear disarmament and nuclear non-proliferation regime, reduce the role of nuclear weapons in national and collective security policies and act responsibly for the welfare of the world,” the official said.

Treaty failure

The war of words comes amid the deterioration in a system of treaties aimed at non-proliferation that began at the height of the Cold War.

In February 2023, Russian President Vladimir Putin withdrew from the 2010 New START treaty, which had restricted the two countries to only 1,550 deployed strategic nuclear warheads. Since then, Moscow has repeatedly threatened nuclear war with the West over Ukraine.

Russian Security Council Deputy Chairman and the head of the United Russia party Dmitry Medvedev, right, looks at drones during a visit to the Pesochnensky training ground in the Leningrad Region near Sertolovo, Russia, Monday, May 27, 2024. (Ekaterina Shtukina, Sputnik Pool Photo via AP)

China, meanwhile, has been busily stockpiling its own nuclear arsenal, even though it has publicly disavowed the use of its weapons in a “first use” capacity. Not subjected to any non-proliferation treaties, Beijing has reportedly doubled the supply of its warheads in recent years.

A 2022 report from the Pentagon said China’s People’s Liberation Army is on track to have 1,500 nuclear warheads by 2035.

In the background, though, Beijing has been pushing the world’s nuclear states to sign-on to a multilateral treaty codifying its pledge never to use a nuclear weapon without being attacked by one first.

Edited by Malcolm Foster.