Since then, Chinese officials have insisted that they do not belong in US-Russian strategic-arms talks, because the two countries’ nuclear arsenals dwarf theirs.
However, as the US and Russia reduce their nuclear stockpiles, this excuse is becoming less valid, and China’s exclusion from negotiations is becoming an increasingly significant hindrance to disarmament.
Securing a binding commitment from China’s government to limit its nuclear development is crucial to reassuring the US and Russia that further strategic-weapons cuts will not undermine global or regional stability.
Several recent developments could help to minimize obstacles to trilateral cooperation. China’s new leadership is further removed from Maoist-era reflexive opposition to nuclear negotiations; Russian leaders’ confidence in their economic and military resurgence is waning; and both countries are increasingly frustrated by the lack of progress in nuclear talks with North Korea and Iran.
Meanwhile, faced with a large federal budget deficit, many US voters would welcome reduced spending on nuclear weapons.
The US should capitalize on this situation, leveraging Russian concerns and interests to induce China to join strategic arms-control efforts.
China might be willing to make a unilateral, but enforceable, commitment not to augment its nuclear arsenal, if Russia and the US reduce theirs further.
Determining the circumstances that might induce such restraint is crucial to reinvigorating nuclear disarmament efforts.
With Russia ostensibly on board, it is up to the US to initiate a transformation in the nuclear-negotiation framework — and that means convincing China to participate.
Richard Weitz is a senior fellow and director of the Center for Political-Military Analysis at the Hudson Institute.
Copyright: Project Syndicate