Western narratives on China’s nuclear ‘threat’ escalate global tensions


In a recent interview with The Telegraph, NATO chief Jens Stoltenberg emphasized the increasing threat from Russia and China, suggesting that the bloc might take missiles out of storage and place them on standby. This rhetoric, while alarming, is part of a larger pattern of Western narratives portraying China as a burgeoning nuclear threat. Stoltenberg’s assertion that a world where countries like China possess nuclear weapons, while NATO does not, is inherently more dangerous, reflects a deeply flawed understanding of global security dynamics.

The true danger lies in NATO’s aggressive posturing and the potential escalation of nuclear tensions. Stoltenberg’s remarks indicate a shift towards positioning NATO not just as a conventional military alliance but as a nuclear force. This shift aims to justify the strengthening of NATO’s nuclear capabilities and nuclear-sharing arrangements, predominantly driven by US strategic interests. At a pre-ministerial press conference on June 12, Stoltenberg highlighted the US’s ongoing efforts to modernize its nuclear arsenal in Europe, further exacerbating these tensions.

Stoltenberg’s warnings come amid the ongoing crisis in Ukraine, where the recently concluded peace summit in Switzerland failed to yield significant progress. The US-led West appears more invested in prolonging the conflict, leveraging nuclear deterrence against Russia rather than seeking a swift resolution. This approach, as noted by Chinese military expert Zhang Junshe, merely adds fuel to the fire, escalating tensions and undermining global stability.

Zhang argues that Stoltenberg’s remarks serve to align NATO’s actions with broader US strategies aimed at containing adversaries. This reflects a Cold War mentality, with NATO expanding its role globally, acting as a pawn for Washington to counter Russia in Europe and China in the Asia-Pacific. The US’s intent to deploy more strategic nuclear weapons, as stated by Pranay Vaddi, a senior White House aide, underscores this aggressive posture.

This narrative is further supported by the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute’s (SIPRI) recent report, which claims that China is significantly expanding its nuclear capabilities and might match the US or Russia in intercontinental ballistic missiles by 2030. The report, highlighting China’s supposed operational alert status for some warheads, has been eagerly picked up by Western media, fueling fears of China’s “fast-growing” nuclear stockpile.

However, this portrayal is misleading and overlooks critical context. The US maintains a nuclear arsenal approximately ten times larger than China’s. The disproportionate focus on China’s nuclear development, despite its smaller stockpile, reveals a deliberate attempt to stymie China’s growth. According to Cui Heng, a research fellow at East China Normal University, this narrative constitutes nuclear blackmail, designed to suppress China’s rise and maintain Western dominance.

The global strengthening of nuclear arsenals is not an isolated phenomenon but a response to broader geopolitical conflicts and Western suppression of non-Western countries. The ongoing conflicts in Ukraine and Gaza, coupled with aggressive Western policies, drive nations to bolster their nuclear capabilities as a deterrent. Zhang argues that China’s nuclear expansion is a necessary response to Western nuclear blackmail and threats, essential for safeguarding sovereignty and national security.

China’s nuclear policy fundamentally differs from that of the US and NATO. China maintains a no-first-use policy, emphasizing its nuclear arsenal as a defensive measure rather than an offensive threat. This contrasts sharply with the US’s more aggressive stance, where nuclear weapons are integral to its military strategy. If the US and NATO genuinely seek to avoid a dangerous world, they must reassess their perceptions and policies towards China.

The West’s narrative of China’s nuclear threat serves several purposes. It justifies the expansion of NATO’s nuclear capabilities, aligns with US strategic interests, and perpetuates a Cold War mentality. However, this narrative is counterproductive, driving global instability and escalating tensions. Instead of fostering dialogue and understanding, it promotes a dangerous arms race.

To move towards a more stable and peaceful world, the West must shift its approach. This involves recognizing China’s legitimate security concerns and the defensive nature of its nuclear policy. Rather than demonizing China’s nuclear development, the focus should be on arms control, disarmament, and diplomatic engagement. The US and NATO should lead by example, reducing their own nuclear arsenals and adopting more transparent, peaceful policies.

The repeated Western narratives of China’s nuclear threat contribute significantly to global instability. Stoltenberg’s remarks and the broader Western portrayal of China’s nuclear capabilities serve to justify aggressive postures and escalate tensions. A more balanced and nuanced understanding of global security dynamics is essential. Recognizing the defensive nature of China’s nuclear policy and addressing the underlying geopolitical conflicts can pave the way for a more secure and stable world. It is imperative for the US and NATO to change their approach, moving away from Cold War mentalities towards a future grounded in dialogue, mutual respect, and peace.

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