WATFORD, England — NATO leaders will attempt to move China into an international arms control regime, as the alliance pins down its approach to the communist country somewhere between hopeful and wary, according to NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg.
“We have started to address how we can include China in relevant arms control arrangements in the future,” Stoltenberg told journalists at his closing news conference for the NATO leaders’ meeting outside London. “That process is not over.”
He acknowledged a lack of specifics on what officials have described as a key result of the summit. But the act of all NATO members subscribing to a China-related objective is an achievement in and of itself, as the alliance historically devoted its energy to the Soviet Union and Russia, Stoltenberg argued.
“We see that China invests heavily in new, modern capabilities,” Stoltenberg said. “A few weeks ago, they demonstrated a new intercontinental ballistic missile able to reach Europe and North America. They demonstrated hypersonic missiles, gliders.”
China previously rebuffed attempts to be coaxed into the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty between the U.S. and Russia. That treaty expired this summer over what NATO officials said was yearslong noncompliance from Russia.
At the Munich Security Conference in February, German Chancellor Angela Merkel made a proposal to salvage the then-languishing INF Treaty with the help of the Chinese government, asking a high-ranking Chinese official in the audience to consider cooperating. But that official proceeded to take the stage shortly thereafter only to turn the chancellor down.
That anecdote aside, NATO getting into the business of defending and even extending global arms control regimes is sure to be an uphill battle. That is because the United States, NATO’s principal actor, appears to have little appetite for such agreements while President Donald Trump is in office.
In addition, an extension of the landmark arms control pact between the United States and Russia, known as New START, beyond its expiration date of February 2021 is by no means assured.
In the case of China, tactical considerations would make it unlikely the country will give up its large arsenal of intermediate-range missiles, which would have been prohibited under the INF Treaty, experts say. Many of weapons are directed at Taiwan, which China claims as its territory.
Sebastian Sprenger is Europe editor for Defense News, reporting on the state of the defense market in the region, and on U.S.-Europe cooperation and multinational investments in defense and global security. He previously served as managing editor for Defense News.