I recently put together a series of three columns on the inclusion of China in multilateral nuclear arms control. Long story short, it’s basically a scam to kill existing arms control agreements. First, on the argument for China’s inclusion:
There’s nothing at all wrong with trying to cooperate on specific issues in context of broader competition. We can imagine a series of interlocking agreements that would benefit all three countries by limiting expansion of intermediate-range missile arsenals, limiting the extent of China’s nuclear growth while also producing great transparency, and limiting the sophistication and extent of U.S. missile defense systems. Asymmetric treaties, which place different obligations upon different members, are complicated but can work. Under the Washington Naval Treaty, for example, Japan accepted numerical inferiority to Great Britain and the United States in return for concessions on the fortification of bases in the Pacific.
Second, on the technical problems of trying to include China:
There are also technical problems, especially in the short term. While the Chinese diplomatic service is large and exceedingly professional, it does not have extensive expertise in conducting arms control negotiations. Such negotiations are extremely demanding, requiring a careful two-level game between domestic and foreign interests. They require diplomats to have a command of the technical details of military systems, which itself requires tight trust between military, diplomatic, political, and industrial authorities. Such expertise requires years to develop, and is often politically perilous; Japanese negotiators in the inter-war period, for example, faced death threats for making concessions to their Western counterparts. The sort of interlocking arrangements described in my previous column would be enormously challenging for even the most experienced and accomplished of arms control negotiators. While there were some exceptions, both the great arms control agreements of the interwar period and those at the end of the Cold War were based largely around reciprocity, in which states traded and regulated symmetric systems.
Finally, on the folly of trying to coerce China to the table:
But the United States cannot, at present, threaten to swamp China. Both Japan and the Soviet Union struggled to compete with the U.S., devoting far greater percentages of their economies to defense spending than Washington. Today, the opposite holds; China spends less as percentage of its GDP than the United States. There surely are concerns about the vitality China’s long-term economic growth (although the same can be said of the United States) but China nevertheless has sufficient slack in its defense spending to maintain its military position relative to the United States without risking bankruptcy.