National Security Strategy - Foreign Secretary interview

This speech was published under the 2010 to 2015 Conservative and Liberal Democrat coalition government

Foreign Secretary William Hague explained the National Security Strategy on Channel 4 News.

Jon Snow: Well, the Foreign Secretary William Hague joins us now live from Westminster. Foreign Secretary is there a bit of good news buried in here? Is there a sense that since the last strategic review the military threat against Britain has actually reduced?

William Hague: Well we say in this review that at the moment there is no existential threat to the United Kingdom and clearly we put a long way down the, the tiered list of threats, the threat of an actual military attack by another state on the United Kingdom. That’s right down in tier three, not because it wouldn’t be serious, but because its likelihood is, is so small at the moment.

So I suppose you can say that is a bit of good news for, for people who like me who grew up in the Cold War. We were always worried that that would turn in to a real war, a war between states. But instead we’re facing these new threats which are also very serious, threats that you’ve be, been describing very well in your programme and we now have to equip ourselves to fight those.

JS: Yeah, the, the, the difficulty with, with some of the new threats, particularly cyber warfare which anybody has to take seriously given what happened between Russia and Estonia and may have happened against Iran, they are, it, it said a warfare we can’t see, and we can probably not even know what kind of defences we’re going to build against them.

At the same time it’s jolly convenient ahead of a period when you’re just about to slash the conventional Armed Forces to pieces.

WH: Well, well first of all we’re not slashing the conventional forces to pieces. That would be something of a gross exaggeration, but it, and nor is it convenient because of course this is a very difficult time for public spending. For us to decide that we need to spend five hundred million pounds extra on something when we’re having to cut back on so many other things means that we really believe we must regard it very seriously indeed.

Now this, this country is already well placed in this regard because of the work of GCHQ for example, but we think we will need to do even more in order to keep our Armed Forces able to operate, in order to make businesses secure, national infrastructure secure. We are going to have to equip ourselves all the more in cyber security and I think countries that don’t do that in the next few years will regret doing so.

JS: Well one of the best forms of defence is attack and nowhere in this document does it talk about cyber attack. Are we capable in fact of taking the cyber war to anybody else?

WH: Well cyber security does mean having a good idea, knowing what is going on in other countries. But this is predominantly about our own security. We are not planning a, to launch cyber attacks en masse on another country, but clearly when you have a capability in this area this, this is a sort of area where offensive capability and defensive capability are quite similar things.

JS: Lurking at the bottom of page five, two massive aircraft carriers on order, but unable to operate with the aircraft of our closest allies. Who got us in to this mess?

WH: Well that is squarely on the last Government who …

JS: Well, well you can say that, but the last Government like your Government is advised by Ministry of Defence, Civil Servants, experts and the rest of it. Somebody somewhere thought this was a terrific idea. Who?

WH: Well I, I think if, if you ask the official, we have believe you me, we have asked the officials in the Ministry of Defence how on earth did we get in to this situation of a defence budget so over committed and with so many incoherent decisions. And they will say, I suppose you, you might say they would say this, but they say that is what the political leaders in the last Government told us to do. And so they did commission aircraft carriers without knowing where the money was going to come from to pay for them and then slowed down the building of them so that they cost even more and even when they are built the aircraft of our closest allies, United States and France, would not on current design be able to land on them. Now …

JS: But, but this veers on almost the criminal. I mean we are always told that it’s very difficult for one Government to bind its successor Government on an expenditure of this sort of a scale that can’t be unpicked. This has been so cleverly sewn up that you can not unpick it without spending more than they would cost to deliver.

WH: Correct.

JS: Are you going to have an inquiry in to this?

WH: Well it’s, first of all we’ve got to do is make the right decision, to make the best of it, to make the right decisions about it with the defence of the security, the defence of the nation in mind and the Prime Minister …

JS: No, but this is worthy of a public inquiry isn’t it?

WH: Well maybe we will want to go in to it, but really what we, what we’ve concentrated on in our first five months in Government is let’s sort this out, let’s unscramble the mess. And the Prime Minister will announce tomorrow when he gives the details of the Strategic Defence and Security Review what we will be doing about the aircraft carriers, how we will try to improve that rather shocking situation which you are absolutely right to highlight over the aircraft carriers. We haven’t discussed whether we look back in to those decisions, and remember a Government does not have access to the actual papers of their predecessors, but we can see that it was an, an extraordinary series of decisions. This is not the only example …

JS: Right.

WH: … if you look at the Strategic Tanker Aircraft …

JS: Sure.

WH: … decisions you come up with the same sorry, not the same but a similar sorry story of incompetent decision making.

JS: William Hague thank you very much indeed for joining us.

WH: Thank you.