Advancing the International Process of Nuclear Disarmament and Non-proliferation, Upholding Global Strategic Balance and Stability

By Fu Cong


In today’s world, majorchanges unseen in a century are unfolding.The global balance of power and strategic landscape are evolving at a faster pace.The trend towards multi-polarity is gaining momentum. The differences and frictions between major countries are on the rise. The international security environment is becoming increasingly complex, with much greater instabilities and uncertainties. Raging unilateralism and hegemony have seriously undermined the international process of nuclear disarmament and non-proliferation,putting global strategic balance and stability under stress. We are facing the most severe challenge for international security since the end of the Cold War. The multilateral arms control process has come to a crucial crossroads.

First,the heightened strategic security competition between major countries puts the global strategic stability architecture on a shaky ground. To maintain its supremacy as the sole superpower, the US has been hyping up major power competition and strengthening its military alliance to seek absolute strategic advantages. The US has planned on huge investments to upgrade its nuclear Triad, developed and deployed low-yield nuclear weapons, expanded the scope of its nuclear deterrence and lowered the threshold for the use of nuclear weapons. It has floated the idea of restarting nuclear testing. The US has withdrawn from a host of international treaties, including theIntermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treatyand theTreaty on Open Skies, which has seriously damaged the multilateral and bilateral arms control and disarmament regime established since the end of the Second World War. The US has also kept developing and deploying missile defense systems across the globe, and sought to deploy land-based intermediate-range missiles in the Asia-Pacific region and Europe, aiming for both offensive and defensive military advantages. These negative moves have profoundly impacted the strategic security environment of all countries, undermined the foundation for global strategic stability and fueled the strategic competition between major countries. To maintain its power equilibrium with the US, Russia has developed a series of new strategic weapons including Sarmat Intercontinental Ballistic Missile (ICBM), Avangard hypersonic vehicle, nuclear-powered underwater drone and nuclear-powered cruise missile. The UK has made major adjustments to its nuclear strategy and announced in March this year that it would raise the cap of its nuclear warhead stockpile from 180 to 260. France has vigorously pushed forward the modernization of its nuclear force and is developing a new generation of strategic nuclear submarines and bombers. The international community is worried about a reversal in the nuclear disarmament process or even a repetition of nuclear arms race.

Second,with an apparent lack of will and momentum, the US-Russia nuclear disarmament process presents an unpredictable future. In February this year, the US and Russia agreed to extend theTreaty on Measures for the Further Reduction and Limitation of Strategic Offensive Arms(New START Treaty) for five years. However, the Treaty only demands reduction of deployed nuclear warheads andmeans of delivery, and the reduced warheads andmeans of delivery will be put into stockpile instead of being dismantled. Quite a few non-nuclear-weapon States criticize the US and Russia for not pursuing nuclear disarmament in the real sense, and there is a growing call for the two countries to make further substantive reductions to their nuclear weapons. Though the two countries agreed to discuss future arrangements for nuclear disarmament, their goals cannot be further apart. The US demands that tactical nuclear weapons and Russia’s new strategic means of delivery be covered by the arrangement and the verification mechanism be strengthened. Russia, on its part, calls for limiting US global missile defense systems and covering non-nuclear weapon systems that affect strategic security, including the systems for cruise missiles, space weapons and hypersonic weapons. The US also tries every means to dodge its nuclear disarmament obligations, pushes for multilateralization of nuclear disarmament and seeks to include China in the process. Russia, on the other hand, calls for the inclusion of the UK and France.

Third, there are significant differences in the international disarmament process and intense debate overwhere it is headed. Some countries are selective when pushing forward the multilateral nuclear disarmament agendas, leading to a long-standing stalemate in the Conference on Disarmament (CD) in Geneva. This reinforces the tendency of inventing new venues, which will undermine the authority of the CD. Some radical non-nuclear-weapon States, dissatisfied with the stalled nuclear disarmament process, have brought theTreaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons(TPNW)into force in January this year, with a view to banning nuclear weapons on a legal basis once and for all. This has further exposed the division between non-nuclear-weapon States and nuclear-weapon States. Some countries, which are not confident that the US and Russia will continue with nuclear disarmament, call for “interim measures” such as enhancing nuclear transparency, lowering nuclear risks and discussing nuclear disarmament verification. The five nuclear-weapon States are also markedly divided over nuclear disarmament. Whether they can advance cooperation on the basis of putting aside differences and seeking common ground has become the focus of international attention.

Fourth, military application of emerging technologies, which is growing rapidly, has an increasing impact on strategic stability. As technologies in outer space, biology, cyberspace and artificial intelligence are used in the military arena, their effect of mass destruction and potential of neutralizing or diminishing nuclear deterrence continue to emerge. In the meantime, the absence of rules in these areas has become a prominent problem in strategic security governance. The US and some other countries have declared outer space as a new war-fighting domain. And they have established space forces and space commands and developed and tested offensivecounter spacecapabilities. The outer space is increasingly being weaponized and turned into a battle ground, heightening the risk of an arms race in outer space. Some countries take cyberspace as a new battle field, where they pursue a strategy of deterrence by forging military alliances and introducing rules of engagement, thus increasing the risk of frictions and conflicts between countries in cyberspace. Military application of AI has also become a new area for strategic competition among major countries. Some Western countries have been upgrading military application of AI and forming exclusive circles at the same time in an attempt to dominate the international rule-making and contain the growth of other countries’ capabilities. Against the backdrop of the COVID-19 pandemic, bio-security has become all the more important. The international community has had more in-depth thinking and discussions on key topics such as tackling global outbreaks of major emerging infectious diseases, guarding against the immediate threat of bio-weapons and bio-terrorism, and regulating and advancing the research and application of bio-technologies.

Fifth, regional nuclear hot-spots bear on the international non-proliferation regime and regional peace and stability, and there is a strong tendency of politicization in this area. The Trump administration reneged on its commitments, withdrew from the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action(JCPOA) and imposed maximum pressure on Iran, which seriously undermined efforts for political and diplomatic settlement of the Iranian nuclear issue and heightened tensions in the Middle East. The Biden administration intends to come back to the JCPOA. And the relevant parties have launched negotiations in Vienna on the US and Iran resuming compliance with the deal. But the prospects of the negotiations hinge on whether the US could truly lift its sanctions against Iran. There are vocal calls for the establishment of a weapons of mass destruction (WMD)-free zone in the Middle East, but repeated obstruction from the US and Israel has led to greater trust deficit among regional countries and cast a shadow over the 10th Review Conference of theTreaty on the Non-proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT). The situation of the Korean Peninsula nuclear issue is generally stable, but uncertainties and instabilities are still on the rise. At the same time, it is worrisome to see some countries impose illegal unilateral sanctions arbitrarily, abuse multilateral export control mechanisms, and even draw lines along ideology and politicize the non-proliferation issue. Going against the international trend, the US attempts to form the so-called techno-democracy alliances such as D10 and T12, disrupting normal international technology and business exchanges.


Great visionand right direction lead to a bright future. Faced with a complex strategic security situation, the international community should work together to strengthen dialogue, enhance mutual understanding, forge consensus and deepen cooperation. Efforts should be made to actively and prudently advance the international process of nuclear disarmament and non-proliferation and safeguard global strategic balance and stability so as to contribute to building a nuclear-weapon-free world and upholding peace and security.

First, we need to keep in mind that humankind lives in a community with a shared future and act on a vision of common security. The main problem in arms control and non-proliferation now is the competition between multilateralism and unilateralism. All countries must follow a common, comprehensive, cooperative and sustainable security approach and build a security architecture featuring fairness, justice, joint contribution and shared benefits. Countries should respect and accommodate each others’ legitimate security concerns and give up pursuing absolute military advantages so as to build an international and regional environment of universal security and remove the root causesof arms race and nuclear proliferation. As the country equipped with the biggest and most advanced nuclear arsenal, the US needs to reject the Cold War mentality, stop stoking ideological confrontation, stop arbitrary use of force or smears and accusations against other countries and stop seeking to counter other countries’ nuclear deterrenceand disrupt strategic stability through deployment of nuclear weapons.

Second, we need to adhere to the international consensus that the two countries with the largest nuclear arsenalshould take the lead in nuclear disarmament. According to the Final Document of the First Special Session on Disarmament (SSOD-I) and other UN documents, the US and Russia bear special and primary responsibilities for nuclear disarmament. This international consensus must not be breached, otherwise the international nuclear disarmament and non-proliferation regime with the NPT as its cornerstone would be undermined and the basic principle of “maintaining global strategic stability” and “undiminished security for all countries”would be violated. Today, the US and Russia collectively possess over 90% of the world’s nuclear weapons. They should make full use of the five-year extension of theNew START Treatyto make furtherand substantive reduction in their nuclear warheads and means of delivery in an irreversible manner, including nuclear weapons in stockpile, so as to create conditions for other nuclear-weapon States to join negotiations on nuclear disarmament.

Third, we need to take concrete measures to reduce the risk of nuclear war and safeguard global strategic stability. Nuclear-weapon States should strengthen dialogues on nuclear policy and strategy, reaffirm the formula that “a nuclear war cannot be won and must never be fought” and do not target nuclear weapons at any country. In the meantime,they must significantly reduce the role of nuclear weapons in national security policy and give up on such doctrines and practices as the pre-emptive use of nuclear weapons, expanding the scope of nuclear deterrence, launch-on-warning posture, and the development of low-yield nuclear warheads so as to avoid accidents and crises caused by strategic miscalculation. The nuclear-weapon States should negotiate and conclude an international legal instrumenton unconditionally not using or threatening to use nuclear weapons against non-nuclear-weapon States or nuclear-weapon-free zones. They should actively explore mutual commitment of no-first-use of nuclear weapons and conclude a treaty on mutual no-first-use of nuclear weapons as soon as possible. The US should commit itself to “no-first-use” policy, abandon its nuclear umbrella, abolish the nuclear-sharing policy and bring all of its overseas nuclear weapons back home. It should stop developing its global missile defense system and refrain from attempts to deploy land-based intermediate-range missiles in the Asia-Pacific region or Europe.

Fourth, we need to regulate the military application of emerging technologies and mitigate its impact on global strategic stability. While countries’ rights to the peaceful uses of emerging technologies should be respected and protected, it is necessary toproperly regulate the military application of such technologies. The international community must resolutely oppose the weaponization of outer space, prevent an arms race in outer space and commit to negotiating and concluding an outer international legally binding instrument on outer space at the CDat an early date. We must oppose cyber warfare, arms races in cyberspace and attempts ofabusing “national security” as a pretext to restrict the legitimate development of and cooperation on information and communications technologies. We should be fully cognizant of and properly evaluate the security risks as well as legal, ethical and moral issues that may arise from the military use of artificial intelligence, and take precautionary measures accordingly. In the context of the COVID-19 pandemic, it is all the more important that the international community enhance its ability to tackle global outbreaks of major emerging infectious diseases and guard against the threats of bio-weapons and bio-terrorism. Efforts would include strengthening of the mechanism under theBiological Weapons Convention, an early launch of negotiations on a legally binding protocol with verification mechanism to the Convention, and formulation of a necessary code of conduct on activities such as biological research. The international community should turn the aforementioned new strategic frontiers into new fields for cooperation rather than arenas of rivalry.

Fifth, we need to work for political and diplomatic solutions of regional nuclear hot-spots and safeguard the authority and effectiveness of the international nuclear non-proliferation regime. The US needs to return to the JCPOA unconditionally and lift unilateral sanctions and at the same time Iran should resume compliance with nuclear-related commitments, so as to restore the full and effective implementation of the agreement. All stakeholders need to stay firmly committed to resolving the Korean Peninsula nuclear issue through dialogue and consultation, making parallel progress on both denuclearization and the establishment of a peace mechanism on the Peninsula, and accommodate the concerns of all sides in a balanced way through phased and synchronized actions. The international community should firmly implement the outcome documents of the NPT Review Conference and relevant resolutions of the UN General Assembly (UNGA), and make collective efforts for establishing a Middle East zone free of nuclear and other weapons of mass destruction. We must reject double standards, oppose drawing lines along ideology, and set up an open and inclusive global non-proliferation export control mechanism. The existing multilateral non-proliferation export control mechanism shall be made more just, inclusive and non-discriminatory.

Sixth, we need to enhance strategic communication and mutual trust and foster stable strategic security relations among major countries. Closer strategic coordination between China and Russia, as evidenced by the extension of theAgreementbetween the Government of the People’s Republic of China and the Government of the Russian FederationonNotification ofLaunches of Ballistic Missiles and Space Launch Vehicles, is of great importance for strengthening strategic mutual trust and strategic stability. It also has a positive impact on safeguarding the international arms control regime and promoting world peace and security. China and the US need to engage in dialogues on strategic security and arms control on the basis of mutual respect and equality in order to increase mutual trust, explore cooperation and manage differences. Efforts like these will help build a stable strategic security relationship between the two countries, which will serve as an anchor of stability for the bilateral ties. 

Seventh, we need to uphold the authority and effectiveness of the multilateral nuclear arms control regime and strengthen international security governance. Countries should maintain the international system of nuclear disarmament and non-proliferation based on the NPT and make the tenth NPT Review Conference a success. We need to resolutely oppose unilateral actions such as willful withdrawal from international treaties or organizations and preserve the sanctity of the nuclear arms control treaties. We need to uphold the authority of theComprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty(CTBT) and prepare for its implementation. Nuclear-weaponStates must observe their commitment to the moratorium on nuclear testing. We need to support the CD in starting the negotiation on a “fissile material cut-off treaty” (FMCT) according to the mandate contained in the Shannon report (CD/1299) on the basis of a comprehensive and balanced Programme of Work. We must maintain the existing multilateral arms control mechanisms such as the UN and the CD and resist attempts to form small groups or circles that might undermine their authority.


Ever since China possessed nuclear weapons, it has advocated for the complete prohibition and thorough destruction of nuclear weapons. China has demonstrated maximum transparency on its nuclear strategy, exercised tremendous restraint on developing nuclear capabilities and acted with extreme prudence in the use of nuclear weapons.

China pursues a nuclear strategy of self-defense. China’s goal in developing limited nuclear capabilities is to deter others from using or threatening to use nuclear weapons against China and ensure national strategic security. China will not engage in a nuclear arms race with any country and always keeps its nuclear capabilities at a minimum level required for national security. China has never deployed nuclear weapons on foreign soil. Under current circumstances, China’s development of limited nuclear capabilities is driven by a need to defend national security. It will help deter and stop nuclear wars, reduce nuclear risks and safeguard global strategic stability.

China is committed to a policy of not being the first to use nuclear weapons at any time and under any circumstances and not using or threatening to use nuclear weapons against non-nuclear-weapon States or nuclear-weapon-free zones unconditionally. China is also the only one among the five nuclear-weapon States to pledge no-first-use of nuclear weapons. China has honored its commitment whether during the Cold War period when the country faced nuclear threats and nuclear blackmail or during post-Cold War times when the international security environment went through tremendous changes. China has pushed for a multilateral agreement on no first use of nuclear weapons among nuclear-weapon States and worked actively to seek bilateral or multilateral commitments with other nuclear-weapon States on mutual no first use of nuclear weapons.

As an NPTsignatory and nuclear-weapon State, China never shirks its responsibilities on nuclear disarmament. China has participated in each of the NPT review processes in a constructive manner and stands ready to work with other signatories to implement the positive outcomes of the previous review conferences and make the tenth Review Conference a full success. China has honored its commitment to the moratorium on nuclear testing. China signed the CTBT in 1996 and has since actively supported global efforts for early entry into force of the treaty and steadily advanced preparations for domestic compliance. China became the second largest contributor to the treaty organization last year. China plays a constructive role in the Group of Governmental Experts on Nuclear Disarmament Verification, supports the group in carrying out its work in strict accordance with the mandate of relevant UNGA resolutions, and has contributed to the adoption of the consensus-based work report. China holds a positive attitude regarding the FMCT, sees the CD as the single multilateral disarmament negotiating forum and the only appropriate venue for negotiating the FMCT. China supports the CD in reaching a comprehensive and balanced work plan and on this basis kick-starting substantive work including negotiations on the FMCT.

As the global security landscape becomes more complex and challenging, China advocates and pushes for greater strategic communication among the five nuclear-weapon States, and calls for efforts to manage differences and disagreements in order to jointly safeguard global strategic stability. Since the Beijing conference in 2019, China has worked to advance cooperation among the five nuclear-weapon States, and achieved a number of positive outcomes. In March last year, the five nuclear-weapon States issued a joint statement on the 50th anniversary of the entry into force of the NPT, reaffirming their political support for the treaty. Phase II of the P5 Working Group on the Glossary of Key Nuclear Termsled by China is about to be completed and will be submitted to the 10th NPT Review Conference. On behalf of the five nuclear-weapon States, China has conducted multiple rounds of communication with ASEAN countries on restarting dialogue on the signing of theProtocol to theTreatyon the Southeast Asia Nuclear-Weapon-Free Zone. China has explored dialogue and cooperation with the other four nuclear-weapon States on issues such as nuclear strategies and policies, mitigation of nuclear risks, the FMCT, and peaceful uses of nuclear energy.

China firmly opposes the proliferation of nuclear weapons and their means of delivery and maintains that non-proliferation goals should be achieved through political and diplomatic means. China faithfully fulfills its non-proliferation obligations, fully implements the relevant resolutions of the UN Security Council, and actively participates in global cooperation on non-proliferation. Over the years, China has acted in a highly responsible manner andgradually established sound systems for non-proliferation and export control. In both domestic regulation and export control, the Chinese government adopts strict measures to ensure effective enforcement of relevant regulations. These efforts represent China’s important contributions to safeguarding the global nuclear non-proliferation regime. China has played an active role in the political settlement of regional nuclear hotspot issues. China has worked with relevant countries on reaching the JCPOA, remained committed to upholding and implementing the agreement after US withdrawal, and actively pushed forward negotiationson resumption of compliance by the US and Iran. China stays committed to realizing denuclearization and maintaining peace and stability on the Korean Peninsula as well as settlement of the nuclear issue through dialogue and consultation. China calls on all sides to work toward the same goals and firmly advance the political settlement of the Korean Peninsulaissue through a dual-track approach. In addition, China has signed and ratified all relevant protocols to nuclear-free zone treaties that are open for signature. China actively supports the establishment of a Middle East zone free of nuclear weapons and other weapons of mass destruction. 

China is a defender of and contributor to the international order. China has never had the intention of competing for dominance or engaging in an arms race with any country. China will continue to stand with the overwhelming majority of the international community in putting multilateralism into practice, maintaining and improving the international arms control and non-proliferation mechanisms, and advancing the international process of nuclear disarmament and non-proliferation. These collective efforts will be conducive to global strategic stability and world peace and security. We will work tirelessly with the rest of the world to build a community with a shared future for mankind and realize the ultimate goal of creating a world free of nuclear weapons.

Fu Cong is Director-General of the Department of Arms Control of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.