And former UK National Security Adviser Lord Peter Ricketts has said it is essential NATO works to prevent war starting by accident – by improving military to military communication between the two sides. Meanwhile Lord Ricketts, co-author of a new Policy Institute report published today entitled The Future Strategic Direction of NATO, further suggested NATO needed to factor in threats from Asia where previously it had focused primarily on Europe and North America.
You need ways of de-escalating if something is developing from an accident or some unplanned event
Lord Ricketts, who served as National Security Adviser from 2010 to 2012, as well as Ambassador to France from 2012 to 2016, said the danger of accidental war was an ever-present.
He told Express.co.uk: “It’s mainly a risk in places like the South China Sea, and it is mostly the Americans which are the Western country which is most active there.
“So yes, that’s a risk and that is why you need ways of de-escalating if something is developing from an accident or some unplanned event.
US President Donald Trump and Chinese counterpart Xi Jinping
USS Nimitz, pictured in 2013, has been deployed to the South China Sea
“NATO in terms of its military side is limited to the area of its member states so it would not have a military role if there was conflict around Taiwan, for example.
“What we are suggesting in this paper is that NATO ought to be a place where the allies talk about China.”
Lord Ricketts explained: “Obviously traditionally NATO has focused on Russia or the Soviet Union in its back yard.
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Lord Peter Ricketts is the former UK National Security Adviser
“But now with all these security concerns in Asia, we are proposing for the first time NATO focuses on China, has a policy on China, and can be used as a place where we can at least talk to the Americans and compare notes about, for example, something around Taiwan or the South China Sea.”
With respect to the South China Sea, the subject of angry rhetoric from both Washington and Beijing this week, Lord Ricketts said: “We have to tread carefully and it is not NATO’s business to go around being a military presence there.
“That’s really up to the Americans bilaterally.
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Xi Jinping is a more “nationalist” leader, said Lord Ricketts
The region is the source of considerable tension between the two superpowers
“But, because it is such an important issue for the Americans, and us, it needs to be something that NATO discusses and has a collective view.
“NATO has never really been used to compare notes on threats in Asia – it’s basically been confined to the North Atlantic region.
“We are suggesting it should be a place where America and America’s allies can talk about China.”
Specifically, NATO needed to consider how best to communicate with China on a military to military basis to reduce the risk of misunderstandings.
China is fortified numerous uninhabited islands in the South China Sea
Lord Ricketts said: “There is a suggestion in our paper that suggests NATO should develop conflict-avoidance and de-escalation.
“We are suggesting NATO needs a way of having military to military talks to avoid incidents escalating into a full conflict.
“If Chinese ships and NATO ships come into some sort of stand-off, NATO ships have the right to defend themselves but we are talking about a contact mechanism, a hotline or whatever, some sort of way for NATO countries to talk to China in that way.”
Lord Ricketts also acknowledged China’s increasingly expansionist foreign policy, coinciding with the rise of President Xi Jinping, had to some extent, caught the West by surprise.
China and US military strength compared
He said: “His policy has been much more muscular.
“I think he has come in as a more nationalist leader with a determination to really push China’s interests in a more aggressive way than his predecessors.
“It also comes on the back of China’s economy getting bigger and bigger and China beginning to throw its weight around more.
“After a long period where China was quite low profile internationally, Xi Jinping has got a much more assertive way with him, and it goes with his determination to impose the one-party system in China and crackdown on dissent and so on.”