China nuclear war with West could be triggered by a 'miscalculation' UK security adviser fears

Sir Stephen Lovegrove said we "need to start thinking about the new security order" as he raised concerns about China's nuclear arsenal

Published Last updated

A UK security adviser has warned of the risks over a potential nuclear war involving the West and China.

Sir Stephen Lovegrove said China’s “disdain for engaging with any arms control agreements” was a “daunting prospect”, adding that Britain had concerns over Beijing’s nuclear arsenal expansion.

Speaking during a talk at the Centre for Strategic and International Studies in Washington, US, Sir Stephen went on to say that the safeguards which once stopped a nuclear war with the USSR may no longer be in force.

Sir Stephen said: “What is happening in Ukraine is also a manifestation of a much broader contest unfolding over the successor to the post-Cold War international order.

Sir Stephen Lovegrove
Sir Stephen Lovegrove
The war in Ukraine continues
The war in Ukraine continues

“This contest has profound implications.

“It will decide whether we live in a world in which regionally-aggressive powers such as China and Russia can pursue ‘might is right’ agendas unchecked – or a world in which all states can ensure their sovereignty, competition does not spill over into conflict, and we cooperate to protect the planet.

“As this contest unfolds, we are entering a dangerous new age of proliferation, in which technological change is increasing the damage potential of many weapons, and those weapons systems are more widely available.

“We need to start thinking about the new security order.

He later continued: “During the Cold War, we thought in terms of escalation ladders thanks to Herman Kahn: largely predictable, linear processes that could be monitored and responded to.

“Now, we face a much broader range of strategic risks and pathways to escalation, 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.

“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.

"Indeed, Rebecca Hersman and Heather Williams – former and current directors of the CSIS Project on Nuclear Issues – have argued that we are now more likely to see escalation wormholes – sudden, unpredictable failures in the fabric of deterrence causing rapid escalation to strategic conflict."

Sir Stephen added: "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.

"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."