Miscalculation and Beijing’s “disdain” for arms control may lead to a global conflict, the UK’s national security adviser said
Western powers and China are at risk of sleepwalking into nuclear war due to a miscalculation, the UK’s national security adviser warned on Wednesday.
Speaking at a virtual event hosted by the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington DC, Stephen Lovegrove noted that during the Cold War the West and the US benefited from a series of negotiations with the Soviet Union, which meant that the two sides could understand each other relatively well, thus reducing the risk of a direct clash.
“This gave us both a higher level of confidence that we would not miscalculate our way into nuclear war. Today, we do not have the same foundations with others who may threaten us in the future – particularly with China,” Lovegrove said, adding that for this reason the UK welcomes the planned talks between US President Joe Biden and Chinese leader Xi Jinping.
However, the UK’s national security adviser voiced concerns over China expanding and modernizing its nuclear and conventional arsenals, as Beijing has demonstrated “disdain” for concluding any arms control agreements.
“We should be honest – strategic stability is at risk,” he reiterated. “We need to start thinking about the new security order.”
Meanwhile, Beijing has repeatedly accused the UK, along with the US and Australia, of meddling in its domestic affairs, especially in Hong Kong. In 2019, in particular, Dominic Raab, the UK’s then-Foreign Secretary, called for a “fully independent investigation” into the protests that rocked Hong Kong at the time.
“China solemnly demands that the British side immediately stop all actions that meddle in Hong Kong affairs and interfere in China’s internal affairs,” said the Chinese Foreign Ministry at the time, adding that Britain is “stirring up trouble” in the city.
Speaking of the conflict in Ukraine, Lovegrove also noted that it had become a symptom of a much broader global contest fraught with serious consequences. This stand-off, he said, would decide whether the West would see the world in which “regionally-aggressive powers such as China and Russia can pursue ‘might is right’ agendas,” or a world where all states have guaranties that they will remain sovereign.
The UK, however, is not a bystander in the Ukraine conflict, and has supplied Kiev with a large amount of military equipment to help it fight off Moscow’s offensive. As of late June, military support amounted to £2.3 billion ($2.8 billion) this year.
Russia has repeatedly warned the West against sending weapons to Kiev, saying it only prolongs the conflict, increases the number of casualties, and will result in long-term consequences.
To avoid a disaster, according to Lovegrove, the West should strengthen confidence-building measures to “reduce, or even eliminate the causes of mistrust, fear, tension and hostility.” Another step in the right direction, he argued, would be to renew deterrence and arms control, “taking a more expansive and integrated approach to both.”
The UK’s national security adviser issued the warning about a potential nuclear stand-off after the RAND Corporation, the Pentagon’s foremost think-tank, said on Tuesday that the US and NATO should take steps to avoid a direct conflict with Russia over Ukraine. RAND also noted that if the West deploys long-range strike capabilities in the Baltic States, Poland, and Romania, that it might lead to the “plausible” use of nuclear weapons, given that Moscow could be threatened by such a development.