by NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg at the 16th Annual NATO Conference on Weapons of Mass Destruction, Arms Control, Disarmament and Non-Proliferation

  • 10 Nov. 2020 -
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  • Last updated: 10 Nov. 2020 13:37

(As delivered)

Speech by NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg at the 16th Annual NATO Conference on Weapons of Mass Destruction, Arms Control, Disarmament and Non-Proliferation

Thank you so much.

And thank you Minister Aurescu, Bogdan,
and many thanks to Romania, for organising this NATO Conference under very challenging circumstances.

NATO has been at the forefront of nuclear disarmament for decades.
Because our ultimate goal is a world free of nuclear weapons.
Together, we have reduced the number of nuclear weapons in Europe by more than 90 percent over the past 30 years.

But in an uncertain world, these weapons continue to play a vital role in preserving peace.

Only three NATO allies possess nuclear weapons.

But all NATO allies benefit from the security guarantees they provide.

Our nuclear deterrent is our strongest deterrent.

At the same time, there are legitimate concerns about nuclear weapons and their proliferation.

Russia and China are investing heavily in sophisticated and diverse nuclear arsenals.

North Korea continues its nuclear expansion.
And in Iran, the centrifuges are spinning again.  

With this, the prospect for complete nuclear disarmament seems remote.  

But it’s not less relevant.

Today, we need to pursue nuclear arms control and disarmament as a matter of urgency.

Yet we need to do this in a balanced, reciprocal and verifiable way.

So today, I will set out three steps that are critical in our efforts towards nuclear disarmament.

First, we must continue to invest in the tools that have worked, such as the Treaty on Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons – the NPT.

Earlier this year, we marked the 50th anniversary of the entry into force of the NPT. 

A treaty that all NATO Allies strongly support.

And that has successfully limited the global spread of nuclear weapons.


In the past five decades, thanks directly to the NPT, tens of thousands of nuclear weapons have been eliminated.

It has also provided a framework for countries like Belarus, Kazakhstan, South Africa and Ukraine to abandon their nuclear programmes.

And it has established a robust safeguards and verification regime.

Allowing non-nuclear weapons states to take advantage of peaceful uses of nuclear energy.

So it has achieved a lot.

But we cannot take its enduring success for granted.

It requires sustained commitment and effort.
NATO Allies are playing their part.

In March this year, we called on all parties to the Treaty to work together towards a successful NPT Review Conference next year. 

Because this conference is a major opportunity for the international community to strengthen the NPT.


We must all seize this opportunity. To not undermine the NPT or challenge its vital role.


I know that there are those that look at the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons – or the Ban Treaty – as an alternative solution.

To eliminate all nuclear weapons.

At first glance it seems attractive.

But the reality is that it will not work.

The Ban Treaty has no mechanism to ensure the balanced reduction of weapons.

And no mechanism for verification.

Moreover, it has not been signed by any state that possesses nuclear weapons.

Simply giving up our deterrent without any guarantees that others will do the same is a dangerous option.

Because a world where Russia, China, North Korea and others have nuclear weapons, but NATO does not, is not a safer world.

On the contrary, it would leave us vulnerable to pressure and attack.

And it would undermine the security of our Alliance.


The second step to nuclear disarmament is to preserve the bilateral arms control regime between the United States and Russia.

We no longer live in a Cold War reality with two superpowers.

But the US and Russia still have, by far, the largest nuclear arsenals in the world.

So they hold a special responsibility to lead the way on nuclear arms control and disarmament.

Historically, they have.

When the first START Treaty entered into force in 1994, the US and Russia were limited to 6,000 deployed nuclear warheads each.

Now, under New START, they are limited to no more than 1,550 deployed strategic warheads each.

For the US, this is a reduction from over 30,000 during the Cold War.
That is very significant.

Now, the future of New START is at stake.
It expires early next year.
We should not find ourselves in a situation where we have no treaty limiting the number of strategic nuclear weapons.

So therefore, I welcome the dialogue between the US and Russia to find a way forward.

Just as they have in the past, they must continue to lead the way on arms control.

But China must play its part too.

And that brings me to the third step.

We must develop a global nuclear arms control regime suited to a multipolar world.

A regime that takes account of the rise of China.

The time when China was at the margins of nuclear weapons development is over.
As a global power with a large military and a growing nuclear arsenal, it has a responsibility to engage openly and constructively in arms control negotiations.

Regrettably, Beijing has so far refused to join any talks.

And the lack of transparency on its nuclear capabilities and intentions is of concern.

But ultimately, I am convinced that China, like the rest of the world, would benefit from an arms control regime that limits the number of nuclear weapons,

increases transparency,

and enhances predictability.
Those are the foundations for international stability.

Ladies and gentlemen,

NATO’s nuclear deterrent has preserved peace in Europe for more than seventy years.
At a time when threats to our security are more complex and unpredictable than ever before, we need a credible nuclear deterrent combined with effective arms control.

To preserve peace and our freedom.

But our ultimate goal remains unchanged:
a world free of nuclear weapons.

I have set out steps that would move us towards that goal.
All of us participating in this conference today – Allies, partners and non-partner countries – have a responsibility to make the world a safer place.

Thank you very much.

And I wish you a very successful conference.