According to the UK’s national security advisor, the world is now in a “dangerous new era of proliferation” with threats from nuclear warheads and genetic weapons.
Sir Stephen Lovegrove raised concern about a “collapse in uncontrolled conflict” if there are no means to deter hostilities or to impose limits on the easy acquisition of more deadly weapons.
In a rare, but very honest public speech, he warned that the mechanisms created during the Cold War between the West and the Soviet Union to stop either side from triggering nuclear exchanges were no longer adequate.
He raised concerns about China’s nuclear weapons program.
Sir Stephen stated at the Centre for Strategic and International Studies, Washington that “We should be truthful – strategic stability may be at risk.”
He described Russia’s war against Ukraine as an expression of a larger contest that is challenging international order.
Analysts view this as a clash of values between the liberal democracies around the world, which are led by Western allies and authoritarian states like China and Russia.
The top British security official stated that “as this contest unfolds we are entering into a dangerous new age in proliferation” and that technological change is increasing damage potential of many weapons. These weapons are also more readily available.
“We must start thinking about the new security system.”
It is becoming easier to obtain Dangerous Weapons
This required an urgent look at two factors that have contributed to global peace and stability since the end the Second World War.
The ability of Western allies and allies to resist attacks by their enemies was the first.
The second network was an international network of agreements that controlled the spread of weapons including biological and chemical.
Sir Stephen stated, “The question is how do we reset strategic stability in the new era? Finding a balance between unprecedented complexity and ensuring there’s no collapse into uncontrolled conflicts?”
“The circle cannot be re-opened unless we renew both arms control and deterrence, and take a more comprehensive and integrated approach to each.”
Sir Stephen stated that there are a growing number of weapons available, and this is not limited to national governments.
Cyber weapons, drones, and chemical and biological threats are all included.
While they may not be sufficient to cause war, they could lead to instability and unpredictable results.
The national security adviser stated that there are a number of emerging technologies that can only be developed by the most powerful countries, and could “upset” the strategic balance.
Sir Stephen stated that Cyber is included in this category along with “space-based system”, “genetic weapons”, nuclear-powered cruise missiles and directed energy weapons, as well as “space-based technologies”, cyber, and other hypersonic glide vehicle types.
Although so-called genetic weapons may sound like something from a science fiction novel, a member the US Congress stated last week at a security forum held in Aspen, Colorado that bio-weapons were being developed that target’s DNA is used to pursue only that person.
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Concerns about China’s nuclear modernisation
The British national security advisor warned of “novel nukes technologies”, focusing on China.
He stated that “we have clear concerns about China’s nuclear modernization programme that will increase both number and types nuclear weapon systems in their arsenal.”
Sir Stephen stated that tackling the threat posed to the proliferation of new weapons was a daunting prospect and that while new international agreements were a long-term goal, “there is no immediate prospect of that happening.”
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He stated that the goal should be to reduce the likelihood of an escalation.
This could include establishing rules of conduct and working together to find common ground between all the parties who use these weapons.
The UK, USA and other Western allies should engage with as many countries as possible.
It is important to keep lines of communication open with adversaries.
Sir Stephen, citing a Winston Churchill quote, said that “We want ‘jawsjaw not war’.”
He spoke ahead of the review of a United Nations treaty that aims to curb nuclear weapon proliferation.