In Conversation with Sir Mark Lyall Grant on Careers in Foreign Affairs
This is an unpublished interview with Sir Mark Lyall Grant, UK’s former National Security Advisor and Ambassador to the United Nations. The interview was conducted following a talk he gave at University of Warwick on 30 January 2018, and was originally produced for The Warwick Globalist. This is the second half of a two part series. If you would like to access the first half of the interview, click here.
Pak: What is, the most memorable or proudest moment in your career so far?
Sir Mark: Well there are many episodes that I’m very proud of, some that I’m less proud of. One that I got particular satisfaction from, was rescuing a British National from a death sentence, Tahir Hussein, when I was ambassador of Pakistan. He’d been on death row for 18 year, managed to get his execution stayed and then eventually secured his release. I was very proud of that. It was a lot of hard diplomacy, but that was successful and obviously, he was very grateful. But he should never have been on death row in the first place. That was a successful bit of diplomacy, the sort that I didn’t do in everyday consular work. When you do it, helping individual people is very valuable.
Pak: Given your extensive experiences in foreign affairs, what advice would you offer to university students who aspire to a career at the Foreign office or in international affairs more generally?
Sir Mark: Generally, I would encourage them to consider it very seriously. You know, I was a qualified barrister, I then switched to the Diplomatic service. Although that meant that I earned less money than I would have done, I’ve never regretted that decision because you do have the opportunity to learn foreign languages, to live in foreign countries, understand foreign cultures, meeting incredible people. I’ve had the chance to meet saints like President Mandela and Ang San Suu Kyi, but I’ve also met sinners like Robert Mugabe, President Obiang in Equatorial New Guinea and Zia-ul Haq in Pakistan. You meet both the good and the bad, and it’s fascinating to have the opportunity to do that. So I would certainly encourage young people who have an interest in international affairs, who feel committed to Globalism to think about it. We need good people as diplomats in all countries in the world, because otherwise there is a risk of a drift-conflict. You know when we are in the Security Council, I was president in the Security Council in 2014 August, which was the hundredth anniversary of the start of the first world war. I took the Security Council on a trip to Belgium and the International Court of Justice Hague, and one of the things we looked at is if the Security Council had existed in 1914, would it have prevented the first world war. Everyone agrees that it was a preventable war unlike the second world war, which maybe it couldn’t have been so. The conclusion that we reached was it probably wouldn’t have done and that is an indictment of the system if we could prevent a war that no one really wanted. That should be the ambition and you need good diplomats to be able to prevent a slide into global conflict, and of course to tackle climate change, manage migration and all the other sort of global issues that are out there.
Pak: Thank you very much for your time.
Hope you enjoyed reading this two part series!