By Samuel Hickey
China’s efforts to increase its military strength and the signs that it may seek to increase its stockpile of nuclear warheads by the end of the decade are indeed challenges. However, as my colleague John Erath has noted, the initial response in Washington has had the wrong focus. It is time to think creatively to jumpstart engagement with Beijing that could set some rules for the road ahead.
Here’s the problem: the United States’ nuclear arsenal is significantly larger than China’s (around 15-20 times greater, depending on which estimate one uses), so conventional Cold War-type arms control is simply not an option because of this disparity. I sought to find an arms control-related issue area that Beijing had already shown interest in engaging on: membership in the Missile Technology Control Regime (MTCR). Bringing China into the MTCR is not the silver bullet to resolving bilateral issues, but maybe it can spark a chain reaction of engagement on a host of issues.
When it comes to the U.S.-China relationship, no idea is perfect. But the positives, in this case, may outweigh the negative repercussions.
“The United States has a long-running concern about China’s abuse of intellectual property rights, which would require careful negotiation of the terms of admittance to the regime. Yet, this is the point of engaging in an arms control dialogue with strategic competitors. Such a dialogue could bring significant non-proliferation benefits by increasing transparency about China’s policies and capabilities, including where the civilian and military arms of China’s space program interact and how the decision-making process works. Further, this could provide an opportunity for China to demonstrate that it is serious about upholding international standards while allaying concerns over its past behavior.”
Read, “How to Jumpstart a Dialogue With China on Arms Control,” in The Diplomat Magazine.