A J-10 fighter jet attached to an aviation brigade of the air force under the PLA Southern Theater Command takes off for a round-the-clock flight training exercise. (eng.chinamil.com.cn/Photo by Wu Gaoming)

The world is at risk of a “devastating arms race,” says a US ambassador.

And he’s pointing the finger directly at Beijing, which he says might soon obtain “exotic nukes” such as underwater drones and nuclear powered missiles, DW.com and Associated Press reported.

According to Robert Wood, the US ambassador to the Conference on Disarmament in Geneva, Robert Wood, China is seriously “looking at” developing advanced nuclear weapons system that could disrupt “global strategic stability.”

Wood also said satellite images showing China building 119 new silos in the north west of the country similar to those which house its current nuclear weapons were “of great concern.”

China is looking to raise the stakes by upgrading its nuclear arsenal with the latest technology so their weapons could hit US targets, Wood says.

The Pentagon estimated last year that China already has more than 200 nuclear warheads and is looking to double that number, the report said.

“This is not where China was 10 years ago,” Wood said, adding that the Far Eastern economic superpower was now “pursuing weapons similar to some of the nuclear-powered delivery systems that the Russians have been pursuing.”

Russia is looking at new ways to counter US ballistic weapons defense systems, including so-called exotic nukes such as nuclear-powered underwater drones and cruise missiles, and Wood suspects China is following suit.

Launched from the Barents Sea or other waters in the Arctic, Russia’s so-called “Doomsday Drone” can cross the North Atlantic autonomously.

In a detonation outside the east coast of the United States, the nuclear warhead could trigger a tsunami wave several dozen meters high, in addition to the damage caused by the nuclear explosion itself.

It is planned to deploy 16 Poseidon drones in combat operations with the Northern Fleet. Two special-purpose submarines are to carry the weapons, the Belgorod and the Khabarovsk, both of which were built at the Sewmash shipyard in Severodvsk.

The problem, Wood argued, is that while Russia and the US, that have over 11,000 nuclear warheads between them, have “frameworks for addressing these issues,” this point of contact does not exist with China, the report said.

Wood’s comments are part of a broader push by the United States to draw China into strategic talks.

He decried a lack of transparency from Beijing and a shortage of US-China communication along the lines of that between the US and Russia — and the former Soviet Union — for decades.

The drone, which is shaped like a giant torpedo, is designed to carry a nuclear warhead weighing several megatons and is described by weapons analysts as a “doomsday drone.” The Poseidon torpedo is powered by a small nuclear reactor and has an assumed range of 10,000 kilometers. (Credit: Sputnik News)

“Until China sits down with the United States bilaterally, the risk of a devastating arms race will continue to increase and that benefits no-one,” said Wood.

Russia has said its development of such weaponry is aimed at countering the United States’ defenses against ballistic missiles, Newsweek reported.

Moscow has expressed concern that such defenses could eventually undermine the viability of its strategic offensive nuclear forces, although Washington insists that its defensive system is designed to protect the US homeland from North Korean missiles, not Russia’s or China’s.

Although the ambassador said China claimed it was “a responsible nuclear power” with only defensive capability, “when we see a lot of what China has been doing, it runs counter to what it has been saying.”

“It is in everyone’s interest that nuclear powers talk to one another directly about reducing nuclear dangers and avoiding miscalculation,” Wood said.

Meanwhile, Germany is joining 15 other countries at the nuclear disarmament conference aiming to build momentum after a US-Russia summit renewed hopes for more arms control between the two nuclear powers.

German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas said that the threat of a nuclear arms race grows “where tension and mistrust predominate.”

“More than ever, we need steps that encourage trust through verifiable agreements created between nuclear-weapons states,” Maas said before departing to Madrid for a meeting of the Stockholm Initiative, which brings together 16 countries advocating global nuclear arms reduction.

The conference follows last month’s summit in Geneva between US President Joe Biden and Russian President Vladimir Putin pledged to start talks on arms control.

In February, the US and Russia agreed to extend the New START disarmament treaty. It limits the nuclear arsenals of both countries to 800 launchers and 1,550 ready-to-use nuclear warheads each.

At the beginning of 2021, the US, Russia, the UK, France, China, India, Pakistan, Israel and North Korea possessed a total of 13,080 nuclear warheads, a decrease of 320 from the previous year, according to the Stockholm Peace Research Institute SIPRI annual report.

However, SIPRI researchers say the report shows worrying trends regarding global nuclear arsenals. 

“The overall number of warheads in global military stockpiles now appears to be increasing, a worrisome sign that the declining trend that has characterized global nuclear arsenals since the end of the Cold War has stalled,” SIPRI researcher Hans M. Kristensen said.

Sources: Deutsche Welle, Associated Press, Agence France-Presse, Newsweek, SIPRI, Polar Journal