Accidental nuclear war with China a 'growing risk' – The Telegraph

West must not stumble into uncontrolled conflict with Beijing, warns Sir Stephen Lovegrove, the UK’s national security adviser
The West and China could “miscalculate our way into nuclear war”, the UK’s national security adviser warned on Wednesday night.
Sir Stephen Lovegrove said Britain had “clear concerns” that Beijing was expanding and modernising its nuclear arsenal, adding that China’s “disdain” for arms control agreements was a “daunting prospect”.
In a hardening of the UK position, Sir Stephen warned that the world may no longer have the Cold War safeguards that prevented nuclear war with the USSR and raised the prospect of an “uncontrolled conflict” between China and the West.
He said the world was entering a “dangerous new age of proliferation”, with threats from genetic weapons, space-based systems and lasers.
“We should be honest – strategic stability is at risk,” Sir Stephen said in a speech at the Centre for Strategic and International Studies in Washington. “We need to start thinking about the new security order.”
It came as Liz Truss warned of the “malign influence” of China as she unveiled plans to build closer ties among the 56 “freedom-loving” Commonwealth nations.
The Tory leadership contender’s plan, announced as the Commonwealth Games get under way in Birmingham on Thursday, would fast-track the signing of trade deals between member states.
“As one of the largest groups of freedom-loving democracies, we must ensure there are clear benefits to remaining a member of the Commonwealth and offer nations a clear alternative to growing malign influence from Beijing,” she said.
Meanwhile, a leaked paper cast doubt on her Tory rival Rishi Sunak’s claims to be a China hawk. The Treasury document showed he was close to signing a new economic agreement with Beijing earlier this year to make the UK the “market of choice” for Chinese companies.
Mr Sunak has significantly hardened his line on China, describing it as the “biggest threat” facing the UK and vowing to ban Confucius Institutes at British universities. He hit back at Ms Truss, highlighting comments she made while environment secretary in 2016 that relations with Beijing were “entering a golden era”.
Joe Biden, the US president, is set to confront Xi Jinping, his Chinese counterpart, over Taiwan on Thursday in the pair’s first direct talks since March. 
Concerns are growing in Washington that Russia’s invasion of Ukraine may have persuaded Mr Xi to try to seize Taiwan sooner than previously estimated.
In his speech, Sir Stephen warned that China could plunge the world into conflict through the development of hybrid weapons as well as nuclear.
“During the Cold War, we benefited from a series of negotiations and dialogues that improved our understanding of Soviet doctrine and capabilities, and vice-versa,” he said.
“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.”
Sir Stephen said that, in the modern world, there was a “much broader range of strategic risks and pathways to escalation”.
“These are all exacerbated by Russia’s repeated violations of its treaty commitments, and the pace and scale with which China is expanding its nuclear and conventional arsenals and the disdain it has shown for engaging with any arms control agreements,” he added.
Sir Stephen cited experts who warned of “escalation wormholes – sudden, unpredictable failures in the fabric of deterrence causing rapid escalation to strategic conflict”.
He said: “Moreover, the Cold War’s two monolithic blocs of the USSR and Nato, though not without alarming bumps, were able to reach a shared understanding of doctrine that is today absent.
“Doctrine is opaque in Moscow and Beijing, let alone Pyongyang or Tehran. So the question is how we reset strategic stability for the new era, finding a balance amongst unprecedented complexity so there can be no collapse into uncontrolled conflict.”
Sir Stephen warned of the danger that existing nuclear states were investing in novel nuclear technologies and developing new “warfighting”’ nuclear systems, which they are integrating into their military strategies and political rhetoric to seek to “coerce others”.
“For example, we have clear concerns about China’s nuclear modernisation programme that will increase both the number and types of nuclear weapon systems in its arsenal,” he said. “Combined, this is a daunting prospect.”
He called for the lines of communication to be kept open with adversaries, drawing on a quote from Sir Winston Churchill as he said: “We want jaw-jaw, not war-war.”
The Federation of American Scientists estimates that China has 350 nuclear warheads, compared with Russia’s 6,257 and America’s 5,600.
But in its latest assessment of China’s military capabilities, the US department of defense forecasts that it will have roughly tripled its current stock of nuclear warheads to 1,000 by 2030. 
China is also reported to be building at least 250 new missile silos in the north-west of the country.
US officials have framed the planned talks between Mr Xi and Mr Biden as part of an effort to maintain open lines of communication to ensure that US-China relations do not veer into unintended conflict.
Nancy Pelosi, the House Speaker, is set to visit Taiwan next month, but the US military has expressed concern that her trip could trigger a violent response from Beijing, which claims the self-governed island as a breakaway province.
The US does not officially recognise Taiwan as an independent country under Washington’s “one China” policy.
“If the US insists on going its own way and challenging China’s bottom line, it will surely be met with forceful responses,” Zhao Lijian, China’s foreign ministry spokesman, said on Wednesday. “All ensuing consequences shall be borne by the US.”
Earlier this year, Beijing said it would continue to “modernise its nuclear arsenal for reliability and safety issues”. It has not signed or ratified the treaty on the prohibition of nuclear weapons, which was agreed by 86 states in 2017. Neither the UK nor the US has signed the treaty.
Last month, Nicholas Burns, America’s ambassador to Beijing, said US-China relations had deteriorated to probably “the lowest moment” since diplomatic relations resumed in 1972.
Beijing has become increasingly aggressive on the world stage since Mr Xi came to power in 2013, alarming the West in particular with its military buildup in disputed areas of the South China Sea. China claims sovereignty over more than 100 disputed bits of land in the sea.
In 2016, the UN-backed permanent court of arbitration in the Hague ruled in favour of a complaint from the Philippines over China’s claims, saying that Beijing “had no historic rights to resources in the waters of the South China Sea.” China has refused to accept the verdict.
Beijing has poured £50 billion a year into its Belt and Road initiative over the last decade, funding building projects in 144 countries, largely through loans. There have been growing concerns that it is using the arrangement to gain a stranglehold over those nations by effectively owning their key infrastructure.
While much of the funding has been targeted at developing countries, especially in Africa, six EU members have also received cash injections.
China’s buying up of European ports, including Piraeus in Athens and Genoa and Trieste in northern Italy, has sparked Nato security concerns. 
We rely on advertising to help fund our award-winning journalism.
We urge you to turn off your ad blocker for The Telegraph website so that you can continue to access our quality content in the future.
Thank you for your support.
Need help?
Visit our adblocking instructions page.


Leave a Comment