In Conversation with Sir Mark Lyall Grant on Nuclear Arms, North Korea and Tech

Sir Mark Lyall Grant was UK’s National Security Advisor (2015–17) and Ambassador to the United Nations (2009–15). He qualified as a Barrister before joining the diplomatic service in 1980. Over the next 35 years, he served in Pakistan, France, South Africa and the US as well as holding numerous positions in the FCO and Cabinet Office in London. He was also High Commissioner to Pakistan (2003–06) and Political Director in the FCO (2007–09).

This interview was conducted following a talk Sir Mark gave at University of Warwick on 30 January 2018. The interview was originally produced for The Warwick Globalist, but was never published. The following is the first half of a two-part series.

Pak: Recently, the Huffington Post published a leak document, revealing the Trump Administration’s plans to loosen constraints on the use of nuclear weapons and develop a new low-yield nuclear warhead to expand US nuclear capabilities. These plans worry critics, and it is believed that this may elevate regional tensions in the Middle East, Korean Peninsula and with Russia. Nonetheless, there are some that argue that it is a necessary deterrence (to aggressive expansion of nuclear capabilities by certain actors within the international system). What are your views on this recent development, and where would you stand on this issue?

Sir Mark: United Kingdom took a decision a while ago to get rid of all short range nuclear weapons, technical weapons and rely purely only on a strategic deterrence. Other countries though, have a different approach. Given that both Russia and China have developed other forms of nuclear weapons, I am not surprised to hear that President Trump is considering that. I don’t myself think the United Kingdom would follow suit, but I don’t think we would criticise the United States for going that direction if they feel it necessary, provided that it is all part of a deterrence policy, not a use of nuclear weapons policy.

Pak: Pressing on the issue of nuclear weaponry, the UN nuclear ban treaty was signed a few months ago with over 50 signatories, but it was opposed by all five permanent security council members. To what extent do you think there is a shift in their position on the issue of nuclear disarmament?

Sir Mark: There is certainly no shift in the UK government’s position on nuclear disarmament. We reduced our nuclear arsenal down to the bare minimum for deterrence, and we have said that we are committed to a world without nuclear weapons, but it needs to be multilateral and agreed by UN member states. We will not unilaterally disarm. If you have nuclear weapons, our view is that you could be allowed to test them in certain circumstances, not least for the security and safety on those weapons and that’s why P5 is opposed to the nuclear weapons testing ban that the other countries have proposed. I think the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty has been successful. There have clearly been countries that have gone outside, you’ve got Israel, India, Pakistan; you’ve got countries that are trying like North Korea, but equally you have many countries that have renounced acquiring nuclear weapons, i.e. Ukraine, South Africa, Argentina, and many others in the past. I think it has served a very useful purpose, but it needs to be kept in a regular review. That’s why the Iran Nuclear Deal in particular is very important.

Pak: In regards to the North Korean Crisis. We see that as China is increasingly compliant and cooperative with the international community, relations between China and North Korea is weakening. As a result, we see Russia’s increased involvement and presence in the region; it’s increased support for North Korea. How does this alter the dynamics of the North Korean threat? Would you argue that it is more difficult to work with a Russian-backed North Korea as opposed to a Chinese-backed North Korea?

Sir Mark: I think we have a single interest with North Korea in that they don’t require a full nuclear weapon capability. Obviously, the regime is an abhorrent regime and what they do their people is disgusting, but our main concern is the nuclear weapons area. There are different ways of tackling that. It could be negotiated away or they could be forced to do it, action could be taken against them, but we do think that the solution lies with China. They have the biggest influence, they are the only friend, if indeed they are friends of North Korea. It is a good sign as you say that they are beginning to take a more active and responsible role in curbing North Korea. They could do that in a number of ways. They can lever them into giving up nuclear weapons, they could offer their own nuclear guarantee to North Korea. I don’t think that would be a problem for the West. The United States offers a nuclear guarantee to Germany for instance. China could do that for North Korea and therefore they wouldn’t need to have nuclear weapons themselves. I don’t think that would be unacceptable to the United States, but they do need to do something to ensure that North Korea does not acquire an independent means to attack United States and Western interest.

Pak: You talked about the importance of economics to defence and security during your talk. With various technological developments such as the emergence of cryptocurrencies, which remain under-regulated and decentralised around the world, what sort of security concerns could this lead to? Or is it something that should or is currently considered?

Sir Mark: I’m not an expert on cryptocurrencies, but I think the whole development of cyber artificial intelligence and cryptocurrency poses new potential vulnerabilities, of course massive potential advantages, but governments are going to have to get a grip of that. What we are finding in a very simple way on social media and the internet for instance is that relatively few largely American communication service providers like Facebook, Google and Amazon have platforms which are being abused by paedophiles, international criminals, extremist terrorists for their own purposes, and persuading them or forcing them if necessary to take responsibility for the content that’s being used on their platforms is a major challenge. Now once you get into sort of cryptocurrencies which no one, no one person or one country owns, it becomes even more difficult to track. But already we’re in a virtual world now where individual national governments are finding it difficult to control and that is a challenge if the nation state is going to survive as the main system of governments in the future.

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