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Washington and its allies in the Group of 7 advanced democracies are exasperated. Despite repeated calls to Beijing for transparency, discussion and engagement by U.S. officials and other governments, China appears unwilling to discuss limits to its nuclear arsenal while accelerating an opaque modernization program that will catapult Beijing into the club of nuclear superpowers whose current members include only the United States and Russia. Hence, a new arms race is thought to be inevitable, with billions more spent by Washington and Beijing on nuclear weapons just as costs for European security and rebuilding Ukraine are rising.

This narrative asserts that Beijing has "never" engaged on negotiating any limits to its nuclear forces. But that is not the case. From 1993 to 1996, China played a key and even at times constructive role in negotiations that led to the conclusion of the Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty, or CTBT, banning any nuclear explosive testing. When the CTBT was opened for signature in September 1996 at the United Nations General Assembly, China was the second country to sign, following the U.S. under President Bill Clinton. There are lessons from the test ban negotiations that President Joe Biden and his G7 allies should now put to the test.

Lesson one: Conduct an administration review led by the White House National Security Council staff and in consultation with key allies to determine what we want in nuclear negotiations with China. At the beginning of the Clinton era, National Security Adviser Anthony Lake signed a presidential review directive on U.S. policy on CTBT negotiations. That review lasted four months, and led to a directive signed by Clinton detailing which countries needed to participate in negotiations, the options for where to negotiate a new treaty, desired outcomes on key treaty issues and additional topics for review.

This first step is essential. Issuing a formal presidential review, then seeing it through, underlines the president's personal commitment, sets a strategy for achieving the objectives set, and establishes an internal process and participants that provide consistency in executing administration policy. In short: We need to decide what we and our friends and partners want from China and what we are prepared to give in return, and assemble a team to get there. Otherwise, we are nowhere.

Lesson two: Go to Beijing, and then keep going back. Within two weeks after completing the presidential review in July 1993, Clinton sent a senior interagency team from the National Security Council staff, State Department, Office of the Secretary of Defense, Joint Chiefs of Staff and Department of Energy to Beijing (stopping in London and Paris on the way) for CTBT consultations. They were met by a senior team of Chinese officials, who then engaged in a genuine back-and-forth on how best to launch negotiations.

These bilateral U.S.-China consultations continued over the next three years, in capitols and in correspondence, between Clinton and Chinese President Jiang Zemin, Secretary of State Warren Christopher and his Chinese counterpart Qian Qichen, and the two ambassadors who were leading the negotiations for their respective nations, Stephen Ledogar and Sha Zukang. Broader consultations were also held with a group of five countries that included France, Russia and the United Kingdom.

It was by no means a sure thing that China would agree to receive that initial U.S. delegation or participate in CTBT negotiations. Beijing had the most to lose of any nuclear armed nation by agreeing to talk, or to a ban. China had conducted far fewer nuclear tests than the U.S. or Russia, and had much to learn from further testing. Moreover, it felt that it lacked negotiating expertise on a topic the U.S. and Russia had engaged on for decades.

Why did China agree? First, it was convinced the Clinton administration would take into account Beijing's views on the negotiating venue, and negotiations would begin in a forum where China was comfortable proceeding — the United Nations Conference on Disarmament in Geneva, where China had been a member since 1980.

Second, China did not want to be isolated as opposing a measure that had strong support from not just Clinton but the leaders of other nuclear weapon states (then-Russian President Boris Yeltsin and French President Francois Mitterrand were both committed to a testing moratorium and negotiations leading to a test-ban treaty) and a broad swath of the international community.

Which leads to lesson three: Go high, and go multilateral. The incentives for China to avoid engaging on its nuclear program are there today. China's military does not want diplomacy that could frustrate its plans for growth, and believes the transparency inherent in nuclear arms control work against its security.

The same was true with respect to nuclear testing in 1993. Then, engaging senior Chinese political leaders in Beijing to weigh in on China's calculus regarding whether to negotiate and agree to a CTBT was essential. So was involving other nations, both nuclear and non-nuclear weapon states, in a leading role in negotiations, all of whom had influence with Beijing.

One can dismiss any historical template by noting that the project of the 2020s and the 2030s is different from the project of the 1990s. Today, Washington's focus in Asia — witness the Washington Declaration concluded in April between President Joe Biden and South Korea's President Yoon Suk Yeol underlining America's willingness to use its nuclear deterrent to protect South Korea — is on strengthening our allies against China and North Korea. This may be necessary, but it is also insufficient. What's needed to avoid an arms race in Asia is a clear vision for nuclear threat reduction. The CTBT template is the only one that can work to limit China's nuclear program. Let's try, and keep trying.

Steve Andreasen was the National Security Council's staff director for defense policy and arms control from 1993 to 2001 and teaches at the Hubert H. Humphrey School of Public Affairs at the University of Minnesota.