by NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg at the 18th Annual NATO Conference on Arms Control, Disarmament and Weapons of Mass Destruction Non-Proliferation

  • 18 Apr. 2023 -
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  • Last updated: 18 Apr. 2023 17:22

(As delivered)

Thank you so much.
Deputy Secretary Sherman,
Ambassador Jenkins,
Ladies and gentlemen.

Thank you for that kind introduction 
I am very pleased to join you today, and to thank you for hosting this important event in Washington.

This is a deeply challenging period - for arms control and for our security in general.
Russia’s war against Ukraine is part of a long pattern of aggressive behaviour.

Russia seeks to undermine the foundations of the international rules-based system.
Ignoring, violating or abandoning much of the network of international arms control agreements that have kept the world safe.
The Kremlin has chosen to dismantle arms control and undermine strategic stability.
By suspending its participation in the New START Treaty.
Failing to comply with the INF Treaty. 
Increasing provocative nuclear rhetoric.
And threatening to deploy tactical nuclear weapons in Belarus. 

These are irresponsible acts.
Designed to deter NATO Allies from supporting Ukraine.

But they will not work.
Because while we take Russia’s threats seriously, we will not be intimidated.

Russia is the most direct threat to our security.
But the broader global security landscape is also troubling.
China is rapidly growing its nuclear arsenal without any transparency about its capabilities.
Iran and North Korea are blatantly developing their own nuclear programmes and delivery systems.

And new technologies, from Artificial Intelligence to autonomous systems come with great potential risks that need to be understood and managed.

Our world is more dangerous and less predictable than it has been for generations.
And the arms control regimes that we have depended on for so long are unravelling.

But we need to remember that arms control agreements are not made between friends.
They are made between adversaries.
And some of the most successful arms control agreements were reached in periods of heightened tensions.
That is what happened during the Cold War.
And it can happen again now.

So now it’s the time to roll up our sleeves and to do what is needed, to reduce risks, increase our security, and consider how to achieve a more peaceful, stable, and prosperous future.
NATO plays a vital role in this effort.

NATO will remain a nuclear Alliance for as long as nuclear weapons exist.
We will always maintain the appropriate mix of capabilities to ensure our security.

Our Strategic Concept, published last year, emphasises the importance of arms control, disarmament and non-proliferation for our deterrence and defence.

So in the short term, we need to bolster existing global arms control regimes.
Principally the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty and the Chemical and Biological Weapons Conventions.
Key pillars of the existing architecture.
And we should push back against efforts that risk undermining the existing non-proliferation framework.
Including the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons. 

We also need to engage with other countries around the world, including those in the global south.
The use of nuclear and other weapons of mass destruction fundamentally changes the nature of conflict.
This is something we can all agree on.
It’s a starting point for making progress.

As we look to the future, there are further areas that need our attention.
The rapid spread of new, disruptive technologies demands an entirely new approach.

We cannot simply count and limit the number of algorithms or Artificial Intelligence systems a country has, as we would missiles and warheads.
Ensuring strategic stability in this more complex technological environment will require a different approach.
Through effective confidence-building, transparency, verification and compliance for a new era.
And we need to develop the expertise to understand and to manage these new risks, so different from those faced by previous generations. 

We are determined to develop a shared, universal gold standard for the responsible use of new technologies in defence.
At NATO, we have started this process with our Artificial Intelligence Strategy and its principles of responsible use.

Another example is the United Kingdom’s work at the United Nations to establish behavioural norms to reduce space threats.
Including preventing the use of anti-satellite missiles and directed energy weapons.
This has the full support of all Allies as well as widespread support in the General Assembly.

In the longer term, we need to re-think and adapt our approach to a more dangerous and competitive world.
And this means engaging with China.
Which is estimated to have 1,500 warheads by 2035.

As a global power, China has global responsibilities.
And Beijing too would benefit from the increased transparency, predictability and security of arms control agreements.

NATO is a unique platform where we engage with China and the wider international community for our mutual benefit. 
And for Allies to consult on arms control, disarmament and non-proliferation.

We stand at the crossroads.
In one direction lies the collapse of the international arms control order.
And the unrestricted proliferation of weapons of mass destruction.
With profoundly dangerous consequences.

But there is an alternative way ahead.
One where we do the work, however difficult.
Where we build trust, develop new behaviours, and increase our security.
It will not be easy, and it will not be quick. But it is vital that we do it.

Our security environment may have changed, but the principles for maintaining security have not.

NATO is the world’s most successful Alliance because we stand together.
United in our values and in our commitment to one another’s security.
And determined to protect the freedom and security of our one billion citizens in our 31 Allies.

NATO is determined to continue to play our part in the future of arms control.
This meeting is a crucial step forward in that effort.
And I call on you to do what is necessary to shape the future of arms control, disarmament and non-proliferation. 

Thank you so much.

Under Secretary for Arms Control and International Security Bonnie Jenkins Bonnie Jenkins: Really wonderful inspiring words, especially as we look toward the next two days here on in his conference, and really do hope that we can walk away with some challenging questions, but also some good answers to those challenging questions. So thank you so much for that.
We will now open the floor for questions to both Secretary General Stoltenberg and Deputy Secretary Sherman, and I'm happy to have the Department of State's deputy spokesperson Nathaniel Tek moderate.

Deputy Spokesperson at U.S. Department of State Nathaniel Tek: Thanks you to all our distinguished speakers, Undersecretary Jenkins, Deputy Secretary Sherman and Secretary General Stoltenberg.
We'll open the floor for questions. When I call on you, please clearly state your name, your affiliation and your question. So delegates are welcome to ask from their desks, or there's also mics on the sides as well.
Our colleague from Denmark. Thank you.

Danish delegation: Thank you very much. Indeed. My name is Jan Gammelgaard, I’m from the Danish Ministry of Foreign Affairs. First of all, thank you very much indeed to Undersecretary Jenkins serves as our host and to the NATO Secretariat for organizing this extremely important event. And thank you also very much to the U.S. Deputy Secretary of State Sherman and NATO Secretary General for very, very important statements to kick off this meeting.
I noted that in both of the statements, the issue of China came up, also in both those statements there was a lot of challenges kind of described, but I think the issue of China was one important element. I wonder whether you could expand a little bit more on how can we collectively engage China, collectively and maybe also internationally, individually? Ideas on that - I think Secretary General has mentioned a number of issues - but maybe concretely, what can we do? It has been difficult to engage China on these issues.
And then a second question would be that one thing is NATO coherence. I think that's extremely important. But beyond NATO coherence, it's also important to reach out beyond NATO. I think the Global South was mentioned and again, what can we do more to be successful in reaching out to the Global South, also to engage them on this very important agenda? Thank you very much.

U.S. Deputy Secretary of State Wendy Sherman: So let me make a couple of comments and then turn it over to the Secretary General. I think these two come together, the questions that you've asked about China and about the Global South. I think in this very dangerous and uncertain world, many people are beginning to think about whether they should get nuclear weapons, or whether they should have access to nuclear weapons. And I think one of the most important things that this conference can do is to in fact put together a strategy to reaffirm the importance of the NPT and reaffirm the importance of not gaining nuclear weapons: What are the downsides if countries in the Global South and countries that don't have nuclear weapons decide that the world has gotten so dangerous they must seek nuclear weapons or seek access to nuclear weapons?
And I think having a strategy to have those conversations for what the risks are in doing so - and what the responsibility is to having nuclear weapons - would be something that would be incredibly worthwhile to come out of this conference. Because I think in this uncertain environment, a lot of countries are saying, “Well, maybe we should join this club, because otherwise we have no deterrence”. And NATO is a defensive organisation. It is all about deterrence. And so how do we extend that deterrence to the rest of the world?
Where China is concerned, there's no question, as the United States has said, it is the only country with the capability to change the rules-based international order, which we believe Xi Jinping intends to do. And so any country, any alliance that can build levels of communication with China to increase transparency is critical. That is all NATO partners and Allies. That is each of us alone.
I just want to make clear to everybody here: The United States does not seek conflict with the People's Republic of China. We want to compete vigorously. We want to align with all of you and with other partners in the world to affirm the rules-based international order, including arms control orders, and we're going to compete with China. But we want to do so on a fair playing field. And we're going to invest in our own country to make sure that we have resilience, that we have the supply chains that we need, that we have the technology that we need. And if we don't, then partners and allies with whom we can rely do so that we can be redundant and resilient with each other. So I do think, as the Secretary General said, we are at a crossroads, and you all can do quite a bit to ensure that we are headed in the right direction. Why don't I stop there and turn it to the Secretary General for his comments.

NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg: First on China: I fully agree with what Deputy Secretary Sherman just said, that of course it is in the interest of all of us to engage with China. And that's exactly what NATO does: We engage at the staff level, we engage regularly with Chinese officials, I met with the Chinese Foreign Minister some months ago. And the message is that we are ready to engage as a NATO Alliance, but also as individual Allies.
As we stated in the Strategic Concept that NATO agreed to at the Madrid Summit last July, we don't regard or assess China as an adversary. But China poses some challenges to our interests, to our NATO values and to our security. And that makes it even more important to engage with China, because we see that they're investing heavily in new modern capabilities, long-range missiles, more than tripling the number of nuclear warheads within a few years. So of course all this matters for our security and for the security of the whole Alliance, for all NATO Allies.
And the message is that it will be also in the interest of China to have verifiable limits on their nuclear arsenals. Predictability, transparency and verification is in the interest of all of us. And therefore China should also be willing to sit down and engage in more arms control agreements - including limits on their number of nuclear warheads.
Then one aspect of what we address when we engagement with China is of course the consequences for our security of any military use of new disruptive technologies, including artificial intelligence. And as I said, NATO is determined to develop shared universal standards - the gold standard - for the responsible use of new technology in the military domain. We have started this process with the strategy on artificial intelligence. We have already agreed at the Alliance that outlines some principles for responsible use, and of course, the next step would be to then engage with China - both on these values and principles, but also to perhaps agree on some rules of the road for responsible use. And to follow up on this, my staff remain in regular contact with their counterparts in different capitals, including in Beijing.
Then, just briefly, let me also say that NATO engages with partners globally to send out the message - and NATO remains a defensive Alliance - that NATO is about shared security, about collective defence. And by having a strong Alliance that guarantees the security, we have also helped to prevent the proliferation of nuclear weapons because we have the nuclear sharing arrangements and the deterrence that those Allies – especially the United States - with nuclear weapons are providing to all NATO Allies.

Deputy Spokesperson Tek: Thank you so much. We have time for just one more question, if colleagues have one more question.

Polish delegation: Thank you very much. Adam Bugajski, Security Policy Director of the Polish MFA. I have a question concerning the recent announcement of Mr. Putin on the deployment of tactical nuclear weapons to Belarus. For us, it's more than an announcement, but a well-developed plan. And, of course, it's an attempt to proliferate nuclear weapons in the region. So my question to both Deputy Secretary of State and Secretary General is: How can potential reaction from NATO and NATO Allies look like? Thank you.

Deputy Spokesperson Tek: Mr. Secretary General, I'll turn it over to you.

Secretary General Stoltenberg: Well, we are of course closely monitoring what Russia does. And the new announcements from Moscow about their intentions, the plans to deploy short-range or tactical weapons to Belarus is part of a pattern we have seen actual many years, but especially since the brutal invasion of Ukraine, of dangerous, irresponsible nuclear rhetoric.
We are, as I said, monitoring very closely what they're doing. We are vigilant. So far, we haven't seen any changes in the Russian nuclear posture that demands any changes in our nuclear posture.
But we are ready and we have over the years, as response to this pattern of Russian military build-up, but also use of force against the neighbours - Georgia in 2008, and we have to also remember that the war in Ukraine didn't start last year, it started in 2014 - so especially since 2014, NATO has implemented the biggest reinforcement or collective defence since the end of the Cold War. With, for the first time in our history, combat-ready troops in the eastern part of the Alliance, including in Poland, a US-led the battle group, there but also in the Baltic countries in the Black Sea region with more pre-positioned equipment, with more air policing, naval presence and also with higher readiness of armed forces and, perhaps most importantly, with increased defence spending across the whole Alliance since 2014.
So since the announcement regarding Belarus, [which] is actually part of a pattern we have seen over many years, NATO has adapted to that already, and we will continue to adapt and do what is necessary to ensure that that all our Allies are safe, and that our deterrence and defence remain credible.
And now one more thing, and that is that after invasion of Ukraine, NATO's responsibility has fundamentally been two things: One is to provide support to Ukraine, as the two Allies do, but the other is to ensure that we remove any room for misunderstanding in Moscow about our readiness to protect and defend our Allies. And we've done that by further increasing our presence on the eastern borderlines. Thank you.

Deputy Secretary of State Sherman: Thank you very much. I endorse everything Secretary General just said. I would just add: We have all watched and worried that Vladimir Putin would use what he considers a non-strategic tactical nuclear weapon, or would do some demonstration effect to escalate, but in a managed-risk escalation. All of us have been very watchful of this, and it is very critical to remain watchful of this. I think his announcement of sending nuclear weapons to Belarus is his effort to use this threat in a managed way. And as the Secretary General has said, it hasn't happened yet. So I think we all must react, we must all call it out. It is a dangerous escalation. No doubt about it.
One of the things the United States has done throughout this conflict and we will continue to do is, as we can, to downgrade intelligence and to share it with you all so that everybody knows where things are and where we stand. And I think the sharing of intelligence is one of the tools that we have in our toolbox that we have not used in quite the way we have now. And I think we will try to continue to do so. But more than anything, what the Secretary General has said about this pattern by Vladimir Putin, is absolutely what has happened and what will continue to happen. And our best efforts are our deterrence, and our eyes wide open about what the play is here.
Thank you all very much. And I am so excited that you're going to be part of this for the next two days. And you will solve all of the issues that the Secretary General and I have laid out for you today. So, in advance, we are quite grateful. Thank you.