The following text is of a speech by Sir Mark Justin Lyall Grant GCMG, previously the United Kingdom’s National Security Adviser and Permanent Representative of the United Kingdom to the United Nations. It was given to us by Lady Olga Maitland, President of the Defence and Security Forum and was delivered to the DSF yesterday:
I saw my Dad at the weekend. He is 103. He still reads the paper every day and said ‘Mark, I am very worried about the state of the country and the state of the world’. I wanted to cheer him up, so I replied: ‘Dad, you were born in 1915, one year into the Great war – compared to that, surely 2019 does not look so bad!’ I am not sure that he was convinced.
With you this evening, I can be more honest. In many respects, the world is in a bad state. For a start, all the major threats to the UK identified in the 2015 National Security Strategy that I oversaw have become more acute in the intervening 4 years.
Take State based threats and instability. Russia has become more aggressive and nationalistic – and Putin sees his aim to ‘make Russia great again’ in purely zero-sum terms – that the only way to compensate for Russia’s relative decline is to weaken his neighbours and perceived enemies, whether that is NATO, EU or UK. In the absence of soft power and allies, Putin uses the hard power tools he knows best. Hence the destabilisation of Ukraine and Georgia, the almost-daily testing of NATO’s air and sea defences, the cyber attacks on Estonia and Denmark, the interference in Western elections and the targeting of individuals who fall foul of the Kremlin, such as Alexandr Litvinenko and Sergei Skripal.
There is also conflict and state instability in every region of the world from Venezuela in South America, Sudan, Somalia and Algeria in Africa, India/Pakistan in South Asia, North Korea in the Far East, not to mention all the conflicts in the Middle East – which Binyamin Netanyahu’s return as Israel’s PM is unlikely to dampen.
And, despite the defeat of ISIS on the battlefields of Syria and Iraq, the terrorism threat remains ever present – as last weekend’s horrendous attacks on Christians in Sri Lanka demonstrates. Who now doubts that Christianity, not Judaism or Islam, is the most persecuted religion worldwide. But there is an increasing threat from right wing extremism too, fuelled by Islamophobia – most recently the deadly attack on worshippers at 2 mosques in Christchurch, New Zealand. And Lyra Mckee’s killing in Londonderry is a reminder that there is still a residual threat from dissident republicans in Northern Ireland.
In one sense, the terrorist threat is not strategic – 10 times as many people have been killed by lawnmowers in America as by terrorists in the last 10 years, not to mention the 10s of thousands killed by other forms of gun crime. But terrorism has increased our sense of personal insecurity – not to mention significantly affected the way we travel – with the enhanced security measures at airports and other public buildings, restrictions on liquids, special treatment for laptops all resulting directly from past terrorist plots.
Terrorism is of course not a new threat, but Cyber certainly is. The internet did not exist 40 years ago – today every country, business and individual is dependent on it. That dependence has opened up huge opportunities for both hostile states and criminals to exploit. The scale is enormous: More than 200 billion emails sent every day, of which more than 1bn contain malware. Lloyds of London reported this year that the potential cost of a global cyber attack could be as high as 190bn dollars. Russia, China, North Korea and Iran have all aggressively used offensive cyber capabilities for everything from stealing money, secrets and intellectual property to damaging critical national infrastructure of another country, and sowing divisions through misinformation campaigns.
There are two interesting aspects that the terrorist and cyber threats have in common. The first is that, in both cases, offence is much easier and cheaper than defence, and this imbalance is likely to continue for the foreseeable future.
The second is that (partly for that reason) Governments alone cannot keep their citizens safe from either threat – even though that is often said to be the first duty of government. Yes, there is a lot they can do, with the right resources, law enforcement and intelligence assets.
But, take terrorism for instance. The harsh reality is that the simpler the attack and the fewer the number of attackers involved, the more difficult it is to prevent. If a terrorist takes a knife and attacks innocent bystanders in a public place; or hires a car and runs down pedestrians, there is little Governments can do to prevent that. But if there is a wider conspiracy, and terrorists talk or communicate with each other, the opportunities to detect and disrupt become much greater.
Individual vigilance is therefore increasingly important – from the simple ‘see it, say it, sorted’ on the underground to tip offs of suspicious behaviour, families/friends – or doctors/teachers through the PREVENT programme reporting on individuals at risk of radicalisation. Governments are also relying on the big American tech companies to prevent their platforms being used by terrorists to communicate, or to spread extremism (as the terrorist in Christchurch was clearly trying to do by live-streaming his attack). You won’t be surprised to hear that some of the tech companies are rather more willing to cooperate with Government agencies than others.
The same limitation in the Government’s ability to protect applies to the cyber threat. Government systems are of course targeted by hostile states – when I was Ambassador to the UN, all 15 members of the Security Council had their communications networks attacked – but (wikileaks not withstanding) Government systems are relatively well defended. Companies and individuals are much more vulnerable. Technology and data are so business critical these days that companies have to spend hundreds of millions on their own cyber security. And it is up to individuals to look after their own passwords and avoid being taken in by scam emails. Governments cannot do that for them.
And this sense of greater personal insecurity will only increase the more that we rely on technology in our daily lives – the 4th industrial revolution that Sir Christopher referred to. Smart devices in our homes, commercial use of drones in our skies and driverless cars on our roads will all make us more vulnerable to cyber attack in the future.
Threat to RBIO
In my view, however, the biggest strategic security risk we face today is not the threat from military conflict, terrorism or cyber attack – it is the erosion of the international rules-based order that was built up after WW2.
It is worth recalling that, when the victors of WW2 set up new organisations and norms in the 1940s/1950s such as the UN, NATO, IMF/World Bank, WTO, the universal declaration of human rights, they did so – we did so – in our own image. It was therefore a liberal vision based on values of open trade, the rule of law and human rights. It is hard to overestimate the benefit that the UK – as a medium sized, democratic, open trading nation – gets from that rules based order. It is the sea in which we swim and we have invested more heavily than most in it.
But that order is now under severe threat. After a short 25 year ‘golden period’ from the end of the cold war, we have seen a systematic push back against this liberal international order. Why is that? A number of reasons, but I would highlight 3 in particular:
With the military interventions in Iraq and Libya, some nations felt that the West exploited new concepts such as humanitarian intervention and R2P to encroach on sovereignty and even to promote regime change;
The Financial crisis in 2008 undermined faith in the elite’s ability to manage global capitalism;
More fundamentally, geopolitical shifts have been significant, especially the rise of China.
Now, in addition to blatant violations of the international order, such as Russian annexation of Crimea and China’s militarisation of disputed islands in the South China Sea, we are seeing a rise in populism and authoritarian governance in every region of the world from Argentina and Tanzania to Turkey and the Philippines – indeed Freedom House reports that 2018 was the 13th year in a row where democratic norms have been going backwards – and it is worth recalling that, at a time when India, the world’s largest democracy, goes to the polls, only 39% of the world’s population lives in a democracy. So far from the end of history, as Francis Fukuyama put it 30 years ago, we are entering a period of great uncertainty. Indeed, I would argue that, for the first time since the end of WW2, the ultimate triumph of democracy and economic liberalism cannot be taken for granted.
At this critical time, it is therefore very unfortunate that the traditional champion of the liberal international order (POTUS) does not himself believe in it. When he spoke at the UN in September last year, President Trump attacked what he called the ‘ideology of globalisation’. He has pulled America out of the Trans Pacific Partnership, the Paris agreement on Climate Change, the INF treaty and the Iran nuclear deal; he has blocked the appointment of judges to the World Trade Organisation and now recognised Israel’s illegal occupation of the Golan heights – not to mention pull out of various UN bodies.
At a strategic level, Trump has made clear that he plans to challenge China on the military, economic and technological fronts – the last is important because China has set itself the aim of becoming the dominant player in emerging technologies, such as Artificial intelligence, robotics, genetic engineering, and other bio technologies; not to mention space exploration. Technology is therefore likely to be a key battleground of the future. But a trade war (or at least a trade skirmish) has already started, and some US generals predict a hot war within 15 years. If there were such a conflict, it would certainly push all the other threats I have mentioned into the background.
So, if we want to preserve the RBIO, then those who believe in it will need to champion it – that means in the short term pushing back against the most egregious violations of the international order, while mitigating the current US administration’s disruptive approach; and in the longer term finding a way to adapt the international governance structures in a way that accommodates China and other geopolitical shifts, without undermining the core UN and Bretton Woods institutions. To my mind, this means not compromising on the key values that underpin our own democratic traditions, whilst recognising the fact that there are limits on our ability to impose those values on others. We have to win the struggle by positive example, not by force.
The UK needs to play its part in this vital endeavour. Brexit (whenever it happens) should not prevent us from doing so. Many commentators have argued that the UK will be a diminished force in the world after Brexit. Unfortunately, that is indeed the case during the tortuous process of Brexit (one reason why a lengthy extension is undesirable) but I see no reason why it should be the case thereafter.
Britain’s international standing in the world does not depend on our membership of the EU. It is a factor of our economic weight, history, democracy, culture, English language, the excellence of our institutions, including armed forces and universities, the royal family and other aspects of our position – confirmed once again in the latest Softpower30 index – as the number 1 soft power nation in the world. Recent polling undertaken by the British Council of young people around the world confirms that those outside Europe do not see EU membership as being a key part of the UK’s identity. Even after Brexit, the UK will be a member of more international organisations than any other country.
Indeed, it was clear to me as Ambassador to the UN that Scottish Independence would have been much more damaging to our international status than leaving the EU. Quite apart from reducing our economic and political weight, that would have required changing the name of the country and called into question our permanent seat on the UN security council.
But that influence and standing cannot be taken for granted. It needs to be nurtured now more than ever. The slogan of ‘global Britain’ needs to be backed up with resource and action. Some positive decisions have been taken since the 2016 referendum: to extend our nuclear deterrence into the next generation, maintain the 2% commitment on defence and 0.7% commitment on overseas aid, double the number of British UN peacekeeping troops, deploy forces to Eastern Europe to help deter the Russian threat, increase the number of training troops in Iraq and Afghanistan and extend our diplomatic network.
But a lot more will be required to strengthen our international links. We should make more use of other key international groupings such as the Quad, NATO, the G7 and the 5 eyes community; we need a major effort to reinvigorate the Commonwealth.
But we must also establish the closest possible links to key European partners after Brexit. No amount of global blue-sea linkages can substitute for that. On the security side, despite all the media froth, I am confident that agreement will be reached – even in the event of a no-deal scenario – which will ensure that neither UK nor European security is endangered by Brexit, including by negotiating UK access and input to practical enablers and key information data bases owned by the EU, such as EUROPOL, the European Arrest warrant and Schengen information system.
That is because our EU partners have at least as great an interest as us in continuing to benefit from UK defence and security cooperation. Our intelligence services are recognised as the best in Europe, we have the largest defence budget, our military engagement is highly prized and we arrest and send back to their own countries 8 times as many EU nationals under the EAW as we get back from the continent. In that sense, we are in credit on national security – which is not the case for many other areas of the Brexit negotiations. I know from my own time as NSA that this reality is fully recognised by key European leaders.
I hope, however, that, in addition to agreement on maintaining these current close links, the Government will look to develop new joint projects with our closest European allies, France and Germany. There is already a productive Lancaster House Treaty with France, which covers defence cooperation on nuclear issues, joint project work on air to air missiles and a future unmanned fighter aircraft. But something more iconic on the scale of Concorde, the channel tunnel or the Eurofighter would send a signal of our intention to remain joined to the European continent long into the future. We need to use the latest 6-month Brexit extension to come up with some concrete ideas to put to our European partners.
So whatever we think of the wisdom of leaving the European Union – I personally think it a strategic mistake for economic reasons – we should be confident that, with the right ambition and leadership, neither our security nor our influence in the world need be adversely affected.