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West Risks Accidental Nuclear War With China, UK Says

UK National Security Adviser Sir Stephen Lovegrove says there is an absence of safeguards to prevent nuclear war, particularly with China.

President Xi Jinping speaks at an award ceremony marking the 100th anniversary of the Communist Party of China, in Beijing, on June 29, 2021. Reuters image from CCTV video.


Britain’s national security adviser warned that the west risks stumbling into a nuclear war with China.

During the Cold War with the former Soviet Union, the world benefited from a series of treaties and other safeguards that improved mutual understanding and prevented nuclear war between the 1940s and 1990s, said Sir Stephen Lovegrove in a speech at a virtual event by the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington on Wednesday.

“This gave us both a higher level of confidence that we would not miscalculate our way into nuclear war,” he said. “Today, we do not have the same foundations with others who may threaten us in the future – particularly with China.”

China is ignoring arms control agreements set up during the Cold War and expanding and modernising its nuclear arsenal, while showing disdain for engaging in any arms control agreements, he said, adding that the risks are complicated by new weapons such as space-based systems and lasers, he said.

“Strategic stability is at risk,” Lovegrove said. “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 regionally aggressive powers such as China were pursuing “might is right” agendas unchecked and that the situation is exacerbated by Russia’s repeated violations of its treaty commitments.


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Lovegrove also identified possible threats from Russia, North Korea and Iran. He urged the major powers to “reset strategic stability” and find a balance so there can be no collapse into uncontrolled conflict.

Lovegrove urged the west to initiate a dialogue with Beijing rather than tit-for-tat escalation, adding that the UK strongly supported US President Joe Biden’s proposed talks with China President Xi Jinping.

Biden and Xi are expected to speak in a phone call later on Thursday. It will be their first discussion since March and comes at a time of simmering tensions over a possible visit to Taiwan by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi.

“We must create and preserve space and channels for dialogue to build trust and counter disinformation,” Lovegrove said.

He harked back again to the Cold War and its negotiations and dialogues “that improved our understanding of Soviet doctrine and capabilities – and vice versa.”

The aim, Lovegrove said, was to give both sides confidence that they would not miscalculate their way into nuclear war.

“Now, we face a much broader range of strategic risks and pathways to escalation,” he said. These are “driven by developments of science and technology including rapid technological advancement, the shift to hybrid warfare, and expanding competition in new domains such as space and cyber,” he added.


  • George Russell



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George Russell

George Russell is a freelance writer and editor based in Hong Kong who has lived in Asia since 1996. His work has been published in the Financial Times, The Wall Street Journal, Bloomberg, New York Post, Variety, Forbes and the South China Morning Post.


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