Home POLITICS “We should be honest, strategic stability is at risk,” says UK national security adviser Sir Stephen Lovegrove​

“We should be honest, strategic stability is at risk,” says UK national security adviser Sir Stephen Lovegrove​

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The West risks entering a nuclear war because it is not talking enough to Russia and China, UK national security adviser Sir Stephen Lovegrove said during a virtual event hosted by the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington DC

Sir Stephen said rival powers understood each other better during the Cold War, and that a lack of dialogue today made miscalculations more likely. “In the obligatory Churchill quotation, we want jaw-jaw, not war-war,” he said, adding that we were in a “new age of proliferation” in which dangerous weapons were more widely available.

It comes ahead of a phone call between US President Joe Biden and Chinese President Xi Jinping, the first call between the two leaders since March.

They are expected to discuss ongoing tensions over Taiwan and Trump-era tariffs on Chinese imports.

Sir Stephen was delivering a speech at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington DC, focusing on the implications of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and what he called a “much broader contest unfolding over the successor to the post-Cold War international order”.

We recently passed the grim milestone of 150 days since Putin launched this unprovoked, illegal war, bringing untold suffering to the innocent people of Ukraine. I’m afraid the conflict fits a pattern of Russia acting deliberately and recklessly to undermine the global security architecture. That’s a pattern that includes the illegal annexation of Crimea, the use of chemical and radiological weapons on UK soil, and the repeated violations that caused the collapse of the INF Treaty. And we will continue to hold Russia to account for its destabilising actions as an international community.

Sir Stephen Lovegrove.

He said that, throughout the decades of the Cold War, the Western powers benefitted from negotiations 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,” he said.

“Today, we do not have the same foundations with others who may threaten us in the future – particularly China.

“Trust and transparency built through dialogue should also mean that we can be more active in calling out non-compliance and misbehaviours where we see them.”

In the 1950s and 60s, policy makers faced similarly uncertain terrain.

The advent of nuclear weapons had created a tension between ‘strength’ and ‘stability’.

‘Strength ’– having the speed, initiative, and surprise to ensure security – and ‘stability’ – there being nothing for either side to gain from striking first.

Out of this period, academics and policy makers developed the concept of strategic stability, building on the work of Thomas Schelling, Herman Kahn and Samuel Huntington.

In simple terms, strategic stability meant establishing a balance that minimised the risk of nuclear conflict. It recognised that an atmosphere of ‘competitive armament’ generated the need for continuous dialogue.

It was delivered through two core components – deterrence and arms control.

In Madrid last month, NATO reaffirmed strategic stability as essential to our collective security.

But we should be honest – strategic stability is at risk.”

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