UK’s National Security Adviser Sir Stephen Lovegrove has warned the world is entering a “dangerous new age of proliferation” with threats from genetic weapons, lasers and nuclear warheads.
In a speech to the Centre for Strategic and International Studies in Washington, Sir Stephen claimed only finding a balance can avoid “uncontrolled conflict”.
Methods must be devised to impose controls over the spread of increasingly deadly weapons that have become increasingly easy to acquire.
Sir Stephen’s widely reported views surprised many observers for its candour.
In the Cold War of the 1950s and 60s, policy makers faced similarly uncertain terrain.
He told his audience: “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.
“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.”
He said that “we are entering a dangerous new age of proliferation” in which technological change is increasing the damage potential of widely available weapons.
This new age includes cyber weapons, drones and chemical and biological threats, he said.
READ SIR STEPHEN’S SPEECH IN FULL – Sir Stephen Lovegrove speech at CSIS, Washington DC – GOV.UK (www.gov.uk)
Sir Stephen added: “We need to start thinking about the new security order.
“Both elements that have guaranteed strategic stability in the past – effective deterrence in all of its forms, combined with a renewal of a functional arms control framework – need urgent attention.
“Policy makers have been urged recently to learn to navigate the absence of order. That is in part good advice. But it is important to build some handrails to guide our thinking as we prepare to negotiate the complex landscape ahead.”
“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 are more widely available,” the top British security official said.
“We need to start thinking about the new security order.”
Two elements have been key is maintaining peace since the last World War – deterrence and international agreements.
The second was a network of international agreements to control the spread of weapons, including nuclear, biological and chemical arms.
He said: “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.
“The circle can only be squared if we renew both deterrence and arms control, taking a more expansive and integrated approach to both.”
Sir Stephen said there is an array of emerging technologies only developed by the most powerful states, which could “upset the strategic balance”.
The National Security Adviser added cyber is in this category as well alongside “space-based systems, ‘genetic weapons’, nuclear-powered cruise missiles, directed energy weapons and hypersonic glide vehicles”.
It has been reported a member of the US Congress claimed during a security forum in Aspen, Colorado, recently that bio-weapons are being developed that use a target’s DNA to single out that person.
The British national security adviser singld out China’s “novel nuclear technologies”.
He added: “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.”
Sir Stephen spoke ahead of a review next month of a United Nations treaty aimed at curbing the proliferation of nuclear weapons.
He concluded: “Let me be clear: arms control frameworks, open to abuse and violation as they always have been, are only one side of the coin. Effective deterrence mechanisms and capabilities, tailored to the current and developmental threats are indispensable.
“So let us not neglect either side of the coin – deterrence or arms control – and start on the foundations from which we can build a strategic stability in these perilous times.”