Is the world edging towards an ‘accidental’ nuclear war? | Inside Story

Is the world edging towards an ‘accidental’ nuclear war? | Inside Story

Britain’s national security adviser warns the West could accidentally stumble into a nuclear war with Russia or China.
Stephen Lovegrove says communication channels between the West and its rivals have collapsed.
Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, he says, is the clearest example of this breakdown.
He adds the conflict is just the beginning of a broader contest for a successor to the post-Cold War international order.
What’s needed to restore global security?

The threat of nuclear war is greater
than ever that’s the warning from
britain’s top security adviser he blames
the breakdown of communication between
the west russia and china so what’s
needed to restore global security this
is inside story
[Music]
[Music]
hello and welcome to the program i’m
imran khan the west could accidentally
stumble into a nuclear war with russia
or china that’s the warning from
britain’s national security adviser
stephen lovegrove who says communication
channels between the west and its rivals
have collapsed
russia’s invasion of ukraine he says is
the clearest example of this breakdown
diplomacy failed to prevent the war
moscow and keith haven’t held
face-to-face talks since march lovegrove
says the conflict is just the beginning
of a broader contest for a successor to
the post-cold war international order
he’s warning of new security risks as
countries develop more advanced weapons
and compete in both outer space and
cyberspace the solution better dialogue
between the west russia and china
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 both of us 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 and particularly with
china
here the uk strongly supports president
uh biden’s proposed talks as with china
as an important step
trust and transparency built through
dialogue should also mean that we can be
more active in calling out
non-compliance and misbehavior when we
see it
let’s bring in our guests in london as
sahil ashar a nuclear non-proliferation
and disarmament analyst in santander
spain baruch pottier ceo of the
consultancy rasmussen global and in
toulouse france alexander t top a
lecturer in modern european history at
queen’s university belfast a warm
welcome
to each of you i want to begin in london
with uh sahil shah
there is a very famous film dr
strangelove which is almost a parody but
also a warning um about the
about the way two countries can get into
an accidental nuclear war it was
designed as a parody but a lot of what
was in that film a lot of the central
tenet of foreign policy is that there
are back channels and those back
channels will always save us but now we
have stephen lovegrove national security
advisor to the uk saying those back
channels don’t exist is he right
well you know it’s no secret to you or
your audience imran that we’re in a
major russia west crisis and that
includes the ongoing conflict in ukraine
but it’s actually much wider than that
and i think we all have to ask ourselves
what kind of russia west crisis do we
want do we want a deep cold war or do we
want how it was during the latter parts
of that period where we actually
communicated with the adversary and we
worked together to try to muddle through
despite our differing world views at the
moment it is true the lack of dialogue
between the us and russia and nato and
russia is putting us in a very
precarious position because it’s not
just the back channel forms of
communication that are necessary we also
need very very resilient and smart
front-end channel communication so for
example between presidents biden and
putin
and if we are to stumble into some sort
of a nuclear conflict i’m currently not
confident for example that the hotline
that exists between washington and
moscow would be able to technically uh
stand up to the challenges that would
happen in a degraded environment in the
middle of a nuclear war for example so
stephen lovgrove’s comments at csis in
dc uh yesterday were very important and
it’s a very very important reminder that
we need to make sure that we have the
ability to communicate clearly and
smartly to the adversary because that’s
how we got out of the cold war and
that’s how we’ll also get out of this
current russia west crisis let me bring
in fabrice partier here fabrice isn’t
not just about russia china is also a
very big concern for not just stephen
lovegrove but communications with china
generally
but we’re in a position now where
perhaps we don’t need that kind of
communication that big red telephone
there’s drones the satellites nowadays
we’ve got different types of tech you
have monitoring uh going on you have
other channels
are those traditional methods of
thinking kind of outdated
not really but i think what is not uh up
to date is
the way we speak including about nuclear
deterrence so i think a slightly
disagree with the previous uh speaker
it’s not the the lack of dialogue
because actually it’s not for the lack
of having tried to engage especially
with vladimir putin i mean president
macron nato itself the u.s
administration have all tried to reach
out to the russian president it’s the
lack of interest on this side to
truthfully and meaningfully engaged with
the west and try to minimize the risks
of of conflict and incident and i think
fundamentally what we have to focus on
on our side is really what kind of
language we want to speak and on nuclear
for example the fact that vladimir putin
used
the nuclear agitated the nuclear flag
very early on in his war of aggression
against ukraine that didn’t really get a
response from the western nuclear powers
was actually a confirmation that the
west has lost a bit of the nuclear
deterrence grammar and we need first to
relearn the grammar before engaging in
meaningful dialogue
let me bring in alexander titov here he
makes fabrice makes a very interesting
point about learning grammar and and
language and history the 62 cuban
missile crisis everybody knows that the
the russians put missiles into cuba
which freaked out america because it was
90 miles away from the u.s mainland what
everybody forgets is actually the only
reason those missiles were in cuba is
because the americans put missiles in
turkey which was in russia’s backyard
effectively
there’s always been a disconnect between
when it comes to the language and the
framing of all of this when it comes to
russia when it comes to china that
they’re always the bad guys has that
been unhelpful
well uh i think if we move beyond uh
good or bad guys that’s not um you know
relevant anymore of course russia is bad
of course china is bad so far as the
west is concerned you know there’s
nothing to discuss at the moment uh so
far you know those
are concerned uh if you just go back to
the uh the initial uh uh 1962 uh cuban
missile crisis you know that’s when the
red lines were put
sorry when the um the direct phone line
was put between
washington and moscow to prevent
anything like this happening again uh
and
that’s uh really what created the
uh kind of
cold war security architecture in terms
of mutual deterrence and so forth was
this very uh dangerous crisis which
later led to agreements in the early 70s
about uh limitations on arms and so
forth so i’m afraid what we’re having
now uh is uh this another crisis uh very
similar to that that one where
the red lines are blurred there’s uh
there is some communications behind the
lines the russian um military is
speaking to there are open lines with
american military and so forth uh but at
the same time the red lines are very
blurred we’re having a very gradual
buildup of uh military systems to
ukraine the range of missiles and so
forth uh which uh in previously even
four months three months ago that would
be unthinkable so uh and russians
haven’t really really responded to this
so we are kind of pushing towards this
line where uh we don’t know when the
russians were actually uh say that
enough is enough and they might kind of
escalate it further on their own side so
that’s that’s what what is dangerous at
the moment is not so much lack of
communications but this blurred lines
which are very reminiscent reminiscent
of the 1962 uh when the last big nuclear
crisis happened so i think i agree with
the um with the first speaker that you
know there are actually very very
dangerous times of living in
okay so that’s russia that’s china
that’s uh you know and that’s the us and
that’s the west and there is a big red
telephone and we just need to probably
use it a bit more uh than we are using
it but there isn’t a big red telephone
to north korea to pakistan to india to
israel uh and those guys have nuclear
weapons and neither of them have signed
the non-proliferation treaty sahil you
know what
what is the what is the danger of those
states those smaller states with nuclear
weapons
sure let me make two quick points just
to respond to my fellow panelists the
first is um i totally agree with fabrice
i think the main comment that i was
trying to make is that we need resilient
crisis communication channels so that if
this conflict in ukraine spirals into a
wider for example nato-russia conflict
that we have the ability for our leaders
whether on the nuclear brink or already
passed the nuclear brink to avert
complete calamity and my second point is
that a part of deterrence is of course
being able to communicate effectively to
your adversary and if you don’t have any
communication channels open and you’re
simply relying on rhetorical posturing
in public and in the media that’s a
really dangerous place to be in because
it offers very little private off-ramps
to be able to de-escalate the situation
and when it comes to your comment just
now about there already being a red
telephone and uh but we don’t have them
with the other states this is why i’m
nervous it’s because that bilateral
channel between washington and moscow
there isn’t one between washington and
beijing at the leader level in the same
that’s created in the same way and there
also are very limited military to
military channels between these three
great powers moreover there’s no way for
any of the leaders of any of these
countries um these three countries and
also the wider nine countries in the
world with nuclear weapons to be able to
communicate multilaterally so there’s no
way right now for say presidents biden
president putin president xi to get all
on the phone at once especially in a
degraded environment in the middle of
say a nuclear conflict and we need
something like that in terms of the
smaller nuclear powers or rising
emerging nuclear powers of course it’s
very dangerous and they all affect the
international security environment in
different ways right now north korea is
expanding its nuclear arsenal iran is
becoming closer and closer to a
threshold state because the lack of
agreement between the us and iran on
restoring the 2015 nuclear deal these
are all very worrying developments and
in addition to the ongoing war in
ukraine they’re going to factor in very
heavily um over the course of the next
month as the international community
convenes in new york to discuss that 52
year old nuclear non-proliferation
treaty the npt which is really that
cornerstone international treaty that
governs the world in terms of setting
the standards and also creating the
pathways to global disarmament and
keeping a cap on proliferation at the
same time
but fabrice the npt the nuclear
non-proliferation treaty um
has failed in many ways because india
has nuclear weapons pakistan has them
israel has them north korea has them
but there’s no real communication
between india and pakistan right now and
that is probably the closest flash point
uh that we have for do you think there
needs to be a stronger
npt uh or at least or does it need to be
more uh
better policed rather and those
countries need to sign up we need to
pressure them to sign up
frankly i think the success of the npt
is that the failure has been contained
to a handful of countries
and and i think this is the key here to
this discussion today is a lot of
non-nuclear countries are watching the
the war in ukraine
and to see how and whether the west will
be sufficiently supported in ukraine to
the extent where the ukrainians can
prevail somehow in the battlefield and
in the negotiations
and if we were to fail to do so i think
a lot of countries who currently are not
nuclear weapon countries will consider
what is considered the ultimate
guarantee which is nuclear weapons so i
think what we do here in ukraine in uh
fundamentally what is a
conventional conflict could have some
very important repercussions about about
how the npt is holding or not so that’s
my answer to kind of connect the npt
to the geopolitical reality of today
uh in toulouse alexander titov would you
agree with that
well i think um
the
uh the point about that i think
everybody knows that the ultimate
guarantee is nuclear weapons uh i mean
if you look at libya what happened to
gaddafi when he kind of agreed to give
up his weapons and then you know ten
years later uh you know
uh he ended up in addition so forth you
know south korea so north korea
knows it very well
and
russia is also is so bold in ukraine
because it knows that
nato certainly united states are not
prepared to risk a nuclear war over
ukraine uh so uh we are living in the
age when nuclear weapons are essentially
the ultimate guarantee which uh gives
you uh
superpower status and uh the question of
how to prevent it from spreading further
uh is is is is an important one but uh
you know on the trajectory that you know
big states such as india pakistan uh
israel and possibly soon to be iran as
well
if they can they will acquire it because
that’s basically is how the world works
unfortunately these days and um
nuclear weapons as we see in ukraine
gives you an extreme extreme advantage
in terms of
putting pressure on this of course the
the key point about the regional powers
if we go back with early to earlier
point is that they um nuclear weapons
are largely a kind of regional uh
threat whereas a russian threat is a
global threat uh they are
the handful of the
five five nuclear power established
nuclear powers i actually have to do
just to strike anywhere else in the
world uh which not necessarily the case
with the others but uh of course they’re
working on that but yeah that’s uh the
ultimate uh we’re already living in a
world where ultimate guarantee of
security is nuclear weapons and there’s
no
uh turning back i’m afraid the ultimate
guarantee of uh security then is nuclear
weapons we all seem to be agreed on that
it seems to be a doctrine uh certainly
uh you mentioned iran there i want to
talk about iran
iran has got very close
to being a threshold state as has been
described it hasn’t said it has a
nuclear weapons program has admitted to
having a nuclear programme
uh the jcpoa uh the iran nuclear deal
effectively uh froze all those tensions
and brought iran back into the world but
then that treaty was ripped up uh by
president donald trump and the u.s is
finding it incredibly difficult to
renegotiate that treaty sahil um
this is a failure again of the west of
america because certainly
no one trusts that america will stick to
its deal that’s the iranian way of
thinking right now why should we trust
the us if they’re just going to rip up
a deal so why not get nuclear weapons
well there’s a growing course of voices
in tehran that feel that the only way
for them to have the right leverage to
be able to negotiate a sustained deal
that they can trust with washington and
with other world powers is to increase
their status from having a very uh you
know rich uh nuclear program to one of
that of a nuclear threshold state or
perhaps even getting a nuclear weapon
unfortunately that would be extremely
risky for the entire global security
architecture because it would probably
incite some sort of a military conflict
in the region particularly with israel
so we really do need to get washington
and tehran to agree to the roadmap that
was already largely decided in march of
this year but that both sides are
dragging their feet on
washington has to make up for the fact
that it was indeed the u.s abrogation of
the deal under president trump that
caused this trust deficit in the first
place iran continued to comply with the
deal for an entire year before gradually
reducing its implementation of course we
also now had president biden come into
office and drag his feet for a number of
months and then now as we’re getting
closer and closer to the u.s midterm
elections it seems that there isn’t the
political willpower in the white house
to get the jcpoa’s restoration over the
finish line and i really call on
president biden who in october before he
came into the white house wrote a very
compelling cnn op-ed that said there’s a
smarter way to be tough on iran which
really made a clear argument for why
it’s so important to get the jcpoa back
in place so that we are in a position to
be able to think smart about the other
issues that we have within iran with
iran for example it’s expanding
ballistic missiles
we are running out of time and i want to
bring in our other guests as well uh
fabrice you’ve heard what sahel has been
talking about there we do need to bring
iran back to the negotiating table
america does seem to be dragging its
feet um but what is the incentive for
the west to try and force the americans
back to the negotiating table is there
any is there any pressure anybody can
put on them
well i i think the incentive is also
upon the americans to avoid as the
previous speaker said regional conflict
and and possibly original stroke nuclear
conflict and and you have to read the
the recent u.s israel joint declaration
which is
actually very clearly uh where the u.s
is giving to the state of israel
clear guarantees that it will not allow
a nuclear iran
for happening
and i think that’s i think the clear
signal today that the us is committed
not to have a nuclear weapon
state in the region apart from obviously
israel but this is not mentioned in the
joint declaration so i think there’s
clarity here uh whether the
administration has been dragging its
feet that that will not comment but i
think clearly it has its interest in
finding a diplomatic solution and i
think the eu is also uh trying to do so
uh uh alexander sorry uh in toulouse
the eu uh these traditional negotiating
bodies nato example these things these
institutions were formulated post-cold
war to try and freeze the tensions to
some extent they have worked but we’re
looking at different landscape now where
there isn’t actually a cold war anymore
are we
moving towards the cold war again do you
think
well i think you know you can’t step in
the same river twice so whatever we’re
moving towards would be something very
different and of course cold war was uh
two defining features there were only
two superpowers
and uh there was also very intense
ideological
um uh standoff between them you know
capitalism against communism and so
forth so i think that’s unlikely to be
repeated first of all there will be much
more
um centers of powers in the world so
china russia um uh europe under american
protection uh possibly india iran of
course uh and other others uh so it’s
not gonna be a cold war in a sense
there’ll be just two blocks there’ll be
more more dispersed power structures in
in the world um politics uh
ideologically again you know there’s
something different in terms of uh you
know great power nationalism and uh or
uh
broadly great power rivalry i would say
kind of it’s going back to um pre first
world war you know scenario when you
have several great powers kind of trying
to um battle each other but uh but yeah
nuclear weapons of course is the uh is
the key and i would say that you know if
the americans can’t do iran now when
they really desperate need more oil on
the market and iran is the only kind of
obvious place where all that extra oil
will come when the russian oil is banned
if they can’t do it now i don’t see how
when they’re going to do it ever again
and you know iranians will eventually
lose patience with it and um the
consequences would be very very grave uh
both in conflict with israel but also
saudi arabia and so forth it’s uh it’s
all very very dangerous stuff uh and uh
it’s all very well to make a declaration
with israel that they were not allowed
but how they’re not gonna allow they’re
gonna go to war with israel with iran
uh
stop it uh is that really plausible in
terms of um american spy experience in
iraq and so forth
iran is much smaller sorry sorry
alexander
we are running out we are running out of
time and i do want to come to everybody
else
there is another way of dealing with
this uh and the americans have actually
done this to great effect in pakistan
by supporting pakistan by giving it
money by supporting its military it’s
created a whole bunch of other problems
in pakistan but it’s kept the nuclear
weapons in their silos uh in spain
fabrice do you think that’s a
a good strategy
i’m not sure given pakistan strike
recording in proliferation of some
nuclear technology to other countries
including north korea so i i think
pakistan was more a policy of fair
complete where the u.s had no other
choice but just to to basically embrace
uh pakistan nuclear status and try to
contain
the issue and and make sure that the
right protocols were in place to avoid a
miscalculation and and regional conflict
again uh visiting india so i i don’t
think there is there’s a clear model
here to follow i think we have to to to
to think it uh in itself but but i do
think that iran has as much interest as
the west to to find a diplomatic
solution and like the british speaker
said there is also obviously an energy
or supply dimension to it and and but
the midterms are obviously not going to
help with the republicans
fiercely against whatever the uh obama
biden administration is trying to do on
the diplomatic front on iran
uh just very quickly sahel in uh london
we’re stumbling in the dark uh fabry
says that actually we need a new
strategy but we don’t know what that
strategy is is there anything that you
think
leads us out of this darkness is there a
new strategy
absolutely dialogue on risk reduction
and making sure that we deal with the
fact that we have nuclear weapons if you
want to have nuclear weapons or you have
them you have to live with the
responsibility and the consequences of
them and explain to others how you will
deal with the related challenges right
so it’s extremely important that all of
the leaders of these key countries um
come together and are able to make sure
that the correct scaffolding is in place
so that we mitigate crises and that we
mitigate conflict and war so i think
that the most important thing to do is
to really have a deep reflection on how
deterrence and arms control not only
have always complemented one another but
that they always have had to complement
one another to get us through really
difficult periods like the cold war we
don’t want to get into another deep cold
war with russia we want to try to
mitigate the risks and learn from the
past mistakes that we’ve made so that we
can ensure the safety and survivability
of the entire world and you know that’s
what is at stake is really global peace
and security because nuclear weapons
have the ability to annihilate the
entire existence of this planet
i want to thank all our guests sahil
ashar fabrice partier and alexander
titov and i want to thank you as well
for watching you can see the program
again anytime by visiting our website
aljazeera.com and for further discussion
go to our facebook page that’s
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story and you can also join the
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inside story from me imran khan and the
whole team here bye for now

 

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