Sergei Lavrov cautions on nuclear threat while M15 chief calls for dialogue in return to nuclear deterrence
The British spy chief has warned of Chinese influence in the UK and the rest of the world, including infiltrating political parties.
The former Conservative foreign secretary Lord Baker also said no country was exempt from the threat of a nuclear attack and argued that dialogue with Russia to restore the international order and avoid conflict was the only way to do it.
Speaking in London on Friday, Sir Alex Younger, head of the Royal United Services Institute, the UK’s defence thinktank, said there were “clear dangers of a malaise about our international order”.
The Kremlin has denied interfering in elections in the US and the UK, and while Younger did not comment directly on allegations made by US intelligence agencies that Russia tried to sway elections in other European countries, he did say Chinese influence was growing.
“I am not for a moment lessening my concern about the scale of any Chinese actions,” he said. “It is growing. It is growing at a particularly rapid rate in some countries.”
The Chinese organisation was dubbed “silk road soldiers” because of its focus on infiltrating domestic political institutions and exposing weaknesses in them, he said. “This is, from a counter-narcotics point of view, a very potent form of influence operations.”
China is intent on expanding its presence across western Europe, linking up with leftwing parties that share its view on issues such as globalisation, the economy and China’s role in Africa. The premier, Li Keqiang, has said Chinese foreign investment and migration were not threats to Europe’s future.
Sir Alex Younger: ‘There are clear dangers of a malaise about our international order.’ Photograph: Rt Hon Lord Alan Borrow/MAO
“They’re often described as soft power – Chinese state power, that sort of thing – it’s a different thing to think it’s specifically about Chinese state-led investments,” Younger said. “They might not even have a government department or official per se. They don’t even try to set up specific projects. It is about propaganda, it is about equipping people for politics, and it is about undermining the political forces that oppose it, in particular the nationalist, sometimes, and in particular the democratic, not always, parts of our political systems.”
He added: “There’s a clear danger in the process that it goes beyond the state and I think that is very much a real possibility in the UK. There is always the question of how you identify where that particular value is creeping in, just as there is in any other major economy.”
Analysis by Iain Macwhirter for the University of Durham has shown that UK parties are dominated by academics and doctors, while in the US a quarter of the membership of the Democratic party is under the age of 40.
Meanwhile Russia has applied its strategic nuclear policy, including the policy of nuclear parity, to China, Younger said.
“And not for want of wanting to have any other conversation about dialogue. We would like to do things more to the mutual advantage of all concerned, particularly in the international order in which we operate. There are various alternatives available.”
Baker said: “It is always easy to say what can be done if you have a nuclear capability. But, there is nothing that could be done to stop it if you just want to go around butchering people.
“With the benefit of hindsight, I think it is generally true that the general arrangement should have been in place from the 1960s to the 1970s, which was the idea of safeguarding the existing international arrangements … a world in which we were on equal footing in order to avoid, as long as possible, the temptation to resort to war.
“It is not so much an instance of ‘we didn’t know what was going on but we should have known’ but simply a world in which we could have put in place sanctions against rogue states, a world in which the weapons had to be controlled and not proliferated, and a world in which the spread of nuclear capabilities would be less likely.
“It is a bad world, I’m afraid, without the idea of being able to get the answer in the way I’ve just described and that’s because the idea of nuclear deterrence does not have an impact at the moment on people’s weapons.
“I think that, in order to avoid war, to be able to prevent the spread of weapons and to prevent the weapons from getting into the hands of people who would not hesitate to