The U.S. government’s disarmament negotiator has warned that China is considering developing new nuclear weapons technology that could undermine strategic stability.
Robert Wood, the U.S. special envoy to the Geneva Conference on Disarmament, said Thursday that China is “considering” developing autonomous nuclear weapons systems at sea and in the air. He warned that any similar development could undermine strategic stability.
Wood said China has not yet developed such technology or the capability to weaponize it. But he said China is interested in “exotic nukes” such as nuclear-powered underwater drones and nuclear-powered cruise missiles that Russia is developing.
“It’s something they’re considering,” Wood said, “and if they go ahead and develop those kinds of weapons and air systems, it could be a powerful change in the strategic stability environment.”
Wood noted that “this is not the China of a decade ago.” He said China has been on an “upward trajectory” in terms of the quantity and quality of its nuclear weapons systems, and “they are looking to develop some nuclear-powered delivery systems similar to what the Russians have been looking to develop.”
The United States has neither nuclear-powered underwater drones nor nuclear-powered cruise missiles, the Associated Press said.
Russia has said it is developing such weapons to counter U.S. defenses against ballistic missiles. The Russian government is concerned that such defenses could ultimately undermine the viability of Russia’s strategic offensive nuclear weapons. The U.S. government, for its part, points out that U.S. missile defense systems are designed to protect the U.S. homeland from North Korean missiles, not to defend against Russian and Chinese missiles.
Hans Kristensen, director of the nuclear information program at the Federation of American Scientists, told the Associated Press, “It’s not surprising that China is developing and exploring technologies that are being developed by other countries.” He noted that developing weapons systems but shelving them rather than deploying them “is an old Chinese trademark.”
Wood’s comments are part of a broader U.S. effort to bring China into the strategic talks. He criticized the lack of transparency in China’s nuclear weapons development and the lack of communication channels between the U.S. and China.
Wood said, “Until China sits down for bilateral negotiations with the United States, the danger of a catastrophic weapons race will continue to grow, and that’s not in anyone’s interest.”