In the longer term, another pressing concern is extending arms control beyond the US and Russia to other nuclear weapon states – China in particular. Reliable information on Chinese nuclear weapons is in short supply, but most estimates put its total stockpile at over 300 warheads. Although this is not even one-fifteenth the size of the US and Russian arsenals, the lack of transparency is a concern, as is the prospect that this figure is likely to rise. According to one Pentagon official, Beijing could double its nuclear arsenal over the next decade (although in the past similar forecasts of Chinese nuclear expansion have proved wrong).
As already mentioned, in 2020 the US pressed China to join New START negotiations. However, Beijing declared that it would only be willing to participate if the US agreed to reduce its arsenal to the size of China’s, which it claims is 20 times smaller. So long as China has far fewer nuclear weapons, it has no incentive to accept the same limits as Russia and the US. Nor is Beijing likely to agree to transparency measures of the kind included in New START, given that secrecy about its nuclear forces helps to compensate for their relatively small size.
For its part, Russia has declared itself open to multilateral initiatives – especially if they include US ‘nuclear allies’ the UK and France – and also has an obvious interest in limiting Chinese nuclear forces, but considers Washington’s attempt to involve Beijing in bilateral US-Russia relations to be ‘completely far-fetched’.