In Conversation with UK Foreign Secretary James Cleverly
John J. Hamre: Well, good morning, everybody. Welcome to a beautiful London morning. It’s kind of rainy. And this, sir, just to make you feel comfortable. Foreign Minister, we just want to give you the best rain we possibly had. You know, make you feel part of the town. Welcome, everybody. We’re delighted to have you here. This is an important opportunity for us.
The Right Honorable James Cleverly is here to talk with our government. And he’s here to tell us how important Ukraine is. I know I’ve seen from some of the – some of the advanced press articles about that, but I’m sure we’ll have a larger conversation than that as well. He’s a distinguished public servant. He’s a politician and he’s a military man. And I think both of them should be honored in equal proportion.
He served in many different positions, of course now being the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs for Commonwealth and Development Affairs. But he previously was the minister for education in the U.K. and has served numerous very senior roles in political life in the Conservative Party. But I’d also like to highlight that he dedicated his life as well as a military officer. And he joined the Territorial Army as a young man, and he’s remained active. And that’s also important, because I think it brings a perspective that a lot of foreign ministers don’t have, and that’s the tangible reality on the ground. So, he speaks with an authority that will be very valuable for all of us today. So, I’m very grateful.
And Kylie, I am delighted to have you here. We’re going to make this, I think, a conversation this morning. And so, with your very enthusiastic applause, would you please welcome to the stage the right honorable James Cleverly, who is the secretary, and also Kylie Atwood. Please, join us here, and we’ll get this started. Thank you. (Applause.)
Kylie Atwood: All right. Well, everyone can hear me fine? Yeah? Great. What a pleasure. And to be one of your first stops. I know CSIS is delighted to have you, and I’m delighted to be here. So, I think, because we’re in Washington and people really like to dive right in, I think that’s exactly what we should do. Do you have anything you want to say before we kind of just start a dialogue here?
James Cleverly: Yeah. Well, just going to say a few words. Firstly, thank you. Thank you, as always, for welcoming me. It’s lovely being a Brit here in Washington. You always feel very much at home. And I’ve always been made to feel very, very welcome when I’ve visited the United States. Last year I made a conscious decision to break out of the narrow strips down the edges of the U.S. And I went to Missouri. And I went to Fulton, Missouri. Some of you may know that as the place where Winston Churchill made his famous Iron Curtain speech. And there’s a museum dedicated to him there. And I made a speech there, which didn’t get quite as much pickup as the – (laughs) – the speech that Winston Churchill made.
But I’m reminded of his advice to his Cabinet as he left office for the final time as prime minister, which was, you know, stay close to the Americans. And I’ve always believed that the world is a safer, healthier, more prosperous place when the U.K. and the U.S. work closely together. And I think we’re seeing that played out, sadly, now because of the situation in Ukraine. The United States of America is the largest financial and military donor to the Ukrainians. It is because of the work that the United States is doing supporting the Ukrainians that they’ve been able to defend themselves as fantastically as they have done against Russian aggression.
We’re very proud of the fact that the U.K. are the second-largest military donor. And we will continue working very, very closely with the U.S. in terms of training Ukrainian troops, making sure that they’ve got the modern equipment. We’ve just announced a whole load of main battle tanks and heavy artillery, hundreds of thousands of rounds of artillery, millions of rounds of small-arms ammunition. And we do that very, very closely coordinated with the United States of America and, of course, other allies around the world. And it’s a real reminder that when there is a threat to peace and stability and territorial integrity and the U.N. charter, that, unsurprisingly but very pleasingly, the U.K. and the U.S. pull closely together and protect the things that we both value.
So, I’m here to continue that coordination with the U.S. government. I’ll be meeting my opposite number, Tony Blinken, later on today, and some other people in the administration, and to continue to make sure that our close working relationship is as close as ever, is a – is as effective as ever. And I’m very happy to be here to be grilled by you. (Laughter.)
Ms. Atwood: Great.
Sec. Cleverly: That last bit is not true. (Laughter.) No, I am. I’m very grateful.
Ms. Atwood: Wonderful.
So, you mentioned the tanks, and big news over the weekend with the U.K. government saying that you guys are moving ahead to provide these tanks to Ukraine. I wonder if you can take us inside that decision making a little bit.
What was the tipping point? Because the Ukrainians have, obviously, been asking for these tanks for a long time. So why now and when are they going to get there and what impact do you see them having on the battlefield?
Sec. Cleverly: Well, we have always worked very, very closely with the Ukrainians and, of course, our NATO allies and the U.S. in terms of assessing what the Ukrainians need at various stages of this conflict.
Quite famously in the early days of the conflicts when Kyiv and other cities were being attacked by Russian tanks, they needed anti-tank missile systems – you know, Javelins, NLAWs – and they were game changers.
As the conflict evolved, as the air threat increased, air defense missile systems, both ground-to-air and air-to-air, became the thing they needed the most and then, of course, financial support and the equipment to repair their energy infrastructure.
And now what we recognize they need is the ability to push back hard in the east and the south, and the reason that we’ve decided to intensify our support, including those, you know, very, very modern NATO standard bits of heavy equipment – tanks, heavy artillery, other armored vehicles, you know, the U.S. providing Bradleys and, you know, NATO allies will be making decisions about what other equipment that they will be supplying and using to support the Ukrainians – is because we need to send a really clear message, and the message we’re sending to Putin and, frankly, anyone else that cares to be watching is that we made a commitment to support the Ukrainians until they were victorious.
This is what they need to get the job done, this is what we’re going to supply, and we’re going to supply modern heavy military equipment and the ammunition to allow them to defend themselves properly.
And what Putin should understand is we are going to have the strategic endurance to stick with them until the job is done and the best thing that he can do to preserve the lives of his own troops is to recognize that we’re going to stick with the Ukrainians until they are victorious and bring this war to a conclusion and get around the negotiating table in good faith and not the – you know, not these kind of performative things that he’s been doing up until now because that will save lives and, frankly, it will save money. And so, we want to make sure Ukraine is victorious and want to make sure that they are successful sooner rather than later.
Ms. Atwood: One thing that you wrote over the weekend in an op-ed was that the Russian army is on the defensive. You talked about the bad morale within the army, their, you know, low stocks when it comes to precision munitions and, you know, weaponry, and you said that now is the time to seize the moment, essentially, saying, the U.K., the U.S., and Western allies shouldn’t hold back.
How long do you guys have to seize that moment before a potential Russian offensive in the spring?
Sec. Cleverly: Well, if you listen to what Putin says, and sometimes we’re not as good at listening as we, perhaps, should be, but, you know, he keeps making reference to Russia’s military history, to the kind of poetic narrative of Russia’s military past, and he talks about the stoicism of the Russians.
He talks about their ability to endure privations for longer – they can endure hardship for longer. He’s clearly making the case that he wants to drag this conflict out. He wants to make it a slow attritional conflict. He wants to keep feeding young men and women into the meat grinder. His lack of respect for human life is shocking.
But he’s told us that’s what he wants to do, and if that’s what he wants to do we should want to do the opposite. We should want to ensure that – you know, we can see from the actions that he’s taking.
So, until recently, his attacks on civilian infrastructure have been done with cruise missiles. He’s now using ballistic missiles to do the same thing. Much, much, much more expensive and he’s doing it, clearly, because he’s running low on stocks of other munitions.
So, this is the time. If we want to bring this to a successful conclusion and, of course, we should and we do, we should look to bring it to a conclusion quickly. The conclusion has to be a Ukrainian victory and that dictates, therefore, that we need to intensify our support at this point in time whilst Russia has been on the back foot to give the Ukrainians the tools they need to get the job done. And that’s been the driving force behind our thinking, and that’s the conversation that we’ll be having to coordinate our actions with our friends and allies, both here in North America and across the rest of the NATO alliance.
Ms. Atwood: Yeah. But seizing this moment right now, it is a unique moment in this war. Can you talk a little bit about what the U.K. expects in terms of, you know, a potential additional Russian mobilization of forces or offensives that could start in the spring? What are you guys anticipating, you know, the next few months to really look like here?
Sec. Cleverly: I mean, I’m going to have to beg your forgiveness, because I’m not going to go too much into detail about our assessment of Russia’s military thinking. But there are certain things that we know have to happen if Ukraine is going to be successful. And as I say, that is very much the end point that we have defined: Ukrainian success in this endeavor.
In order for that to happen, we know that Vladimir Putin and the Russian military will need to be on the back foot. We know that will inevitably mean that they’ll start using much more escalatory rhetoric. We know that means that they will talk about further mobilizations. We know that means they will talk about perhaps trying to expand the scope of the conflict. We know that these are things that they will inevitably do as they feel under increased military pressure, and indeed diplomatic pressure on the world stage. We know these things are going to be the case.
We should get ready for when those things happen. We shouldn’t be – we shouldn’t allow ourselves to be put off or distracted or demoralized, because what we are doing – the importance of what we’re doing transcends Ukraine in itself. We’re defending the U.N. charter. We’re defending the rule of law. We’re defending territorial integrity. We are defending the concept that the powerful cannot just do what they like on the world stage without consequences. This is what’s at stake. And those are things that are absolutely essential for us, both – well, us all to defend.
Ms. Atwood: And I think one thing that we’ve watched play out over the course of what’s been almost a year now is the ramping up of military support that the U.S. and the U.K. and NATO allies have provided. Obviously, you know, the tanks weren’t something that the U.K. was considering providing during March of last year.
So, can you shine some light onto conversations that you’re going to have with U.S. officials this week about what more you can provide, even beyond the major announcement this weekend? You know, will you guys discuss cluster munitions, fighter jets, long-range missiles? Are those even part of the discussion as a possibility to provide to Ukraine?
Sec. Cleverly: Well, I’m not going to speculate as to what the nature of future military support would be. As I say, our support has evolved as the battle has evolved and as the requirements of the Ukrainians have evolved.
Look, it’s important to make the point that the United States of America is and has been, pretty much throughout this conflict, the single largest supporter and donor to Ukraine’s self-defense. And I think, you know, you should be very proud of your own country for doing that. We’re very proud to regard you as close friends and allies.
And, of course, the conversations that we have – you know, we have very, very close coordination at the – you know, at the State Department to, you know, Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office level between myself and Secretary Blinken, between our Ministry of Defence and your own Department of Defense.
Obviously, famously, our intelligence services work very, very closely together. They share intelligence information. It is one of the most integrated partnerships on the world stage. You know, and that has made a positive difference. And it keeps us safe and really, really key for American citizens, who will, of course, be looking with interest at the commitments that the government is making.
This is about keeping them safe. This is not just about Ukraine defending itself. This is about defending the principles that have maintained a significant degree of peace and stability since the end of the Second World War. And that benefits us in the U.K. It benefits people in Europe. But it also benefits people here in the United States of America, because if that framework falls apart, the world becomes a much more dangerous, chaotic, and expensive place. And so, it’s in all our interests, including people, you know, in Fulton, Missouri, to make sure that we bring this to a speedy and successful conclusion by supporting the Ukrainians.
Ms. Atwood: Yeah. And I mean, I understand that you don’t want to talk about specific additional weaponry that could be provided. But could you say that it’s in the realm of the possibility that weaponry and military support to Ukraine, that hasn’t been provided yet, could be provided down the line?
Sec. Cleverly: Well, look, I – I mean, you’re pretty good. You’re – you know, you’ve pushed me slightly out of my comfort zone, which is exactly what you’re here to do. And look, as you say, this time last year, or after the initial Russian aggression into Ukraine last year, we weren’t talking about tanks, and we weren’t talking about heavy artillery –
Ms. Atwood: Exactly my point.
Sec. Cleverly: – and as I say, so, our support has evolved. And it is inevitable that it will continue to evolve.
Now, there may well be some very informed, you know, speculation or debate about what the next stage of our support may be. I’m not going to amplify that speculation. But the point is that we do need to ensure that we support the Ukrainians, that we have that strategic endurance, that we demonstrate to Putin that we are willing to stick with it, that we’ve got that grit, that we’ve got that determination.
Because if we don’t, the message that we’re sending to the – to the world, and to every potential aggressor around the world, is that, you know, if you’re willing to stick with it for, you know, a little bit longer than us, you will ultimately be victorious. And that would make the world a far more dangerous place.
And that’s why, from the U.K. 's point of view – and I know this is echoed in capital cities across our friends and allies – that we need to send the wider message, that when we say something, we mean it, and we stick with it.
Ms. Atwood: Yeah, and you – I mean, I do think we have seen Putin dig in, and it’s very clear that, as you say, you know, he’s not – there’s no signal that he’s backing down here. I was – I was looking, and trying to figure out, historically, how long a conflict like this might last. And CSIS actually did a study right after the war broke out last year, and it found that when interstate wars last longer than a year, they extend over a decade, on average, and then they resolve in sporadic clashes.
So, we’re hitting that year mark right now.
Sec. Cleverly: Yes and no.
Ms. Atwood: Are you worried about it extending over a decade? Is the U.K. committed to providing support to a war that could last for over a decade?
Sec. Cleverly: So, we’ve got to remember that the stuff we’re seeing now is an escalation of a conflict that has actually been happening for many, many years already.
Ms. Atwood: Crimea.
Sec. Cleverly: The annexation of the Crimea, I mean, this was 2014. So, this has – this has been happening for a long while already, and we’d better make sure that this is the final phase.
And look, there are voices to say, look, we’ve spent a lot of money, we’re donating a lot of military equipment, there’s a lot of stuff domestically that I want my government to be thinking about. You know, we hear that in the U.K.; I’m sure that there are voices here in the – in fact, I know there are voices in the U.S. that are saying the same thing.
The point I would make is that we all want to bring this to a conclusion. We want to bring this to a successful conclusion, peaceful conclusion. But if you don’t do it properly, it ain’t finished, and it will come back at us. And we – and it will cost more lives. And it will cost more money. And it will drag on. And that is in no one’s interest.
So, you know, we made a commitment to the Ukrainians. We’ve got to make good on that commitment, not just for their benefit, because there is a big chunk of self-interest in that, keeping the world, you know, peaceful, calm, predictable, and stable. But this war’s been dragging on for a long time already, and now is the time to bring it to a conclusion.
Ms. Atwood: Realistically, when do you think it could be brought to a conclusion?
Sec. Cleverly: Look, that’s very difficult for any of us to say. You know, we are – we are –
Ms. Atwood: Possibly by the end of this year, or is that probably not in the cards?
Sec. Cleverly: Well, I mean, I think it was – I can’t remember which book it was, Hemingway’s famous quote, you know – two characters in a Hemingway book, I can’t remember which characters or which book, so probably a bit of a bad anecdote.
Ms. Atwood: (Laughs.)
Sec. Cleverly: But that famous line, how did you go bankrupt? You know, slowly at first, then quickly.
Ms. Atwood: Right.
Sec. Cleverly: And the point is that it’s very, very difficult to speculate or guess, you know, the next phases of this – of this conflict. But it’s in no one’s interest for this to be a long, drawn out, attritional war. I mean, we’re seeing terrible images of civilian infrastructure, residential buildings being hit by missiles. Women, children being killed. Bodies being taken out of collapsed buildings. We cannot – we cannot allow that to go on any longer than is absolutely necessary. And, as I say, it will cost so much more in human lives and so much more in money if we allow this to be a long, drawn-out, attritional war. And it will cost a lot of Russian soldiers as well. I mean, there are body bags going back from the front to Russia as well as Ukrainians. So, the moral imperative is to bring this to a conclusion.
As you know, you’ve hinted at in a number of your questions, you know, Vladimir Putin has been driven by an ambition completely out of kilter with the reality of the situation on the ground. We’ve put intelligence in the public domain prior to the conflict that he had hoped to sweep through Ukraine, install a puppet leader in Kyiv, and have this whole country under his proxy command within a matter of weeks. And yet, what we see is a year later the Ukrainians have not only defended themselves, but they’ve been pushing the Russian forces back. And Putin should realize that his ambitions will not be realized. We will not let him realize his ambitions. And this is why – and I keep repeating this – it’s the best moral thing to do, to bring this to a conclusion.
Ms. Atwood: Quick question before I want to move to NATO and its role in all of this. But do you – do you expect that upon reflection there – you might say that as you guys were releasing all that intelligence about what Russia was planning, it would have been better to also simultaneously provide weaponry to Ukraine at that time?
Sec. Cleverly: Well, got to remember that we’ve been – you know, we were supplying both equipment and training prior to the –
Ms. Atwood: Of course.
Sec. Cleverly: – to the land invasion. We had hoped to deter that invasion through publicizing the plans ahead of time. And that was quite a gutsy move to release intelligence into the public domain. But we wanted to send a message to the world that we – and, indeed, the message to Vladimir Putin – that we knew what he was planning. That we were not going to allow him to get away with it. That was very much the message that we were – that we were broadcasting. As I say, you know, his ambition meant that he went ahead anyway. He was unsuccessful in his objectives. He’s been pushed back on a number of – in a number of areas.
And his best chance – (background noise) – oh, that was me – his best chance of being successful evaporated spring of last year. So, from here on in, the outcome – I mean, my contention is the outcome is inevitable, which is going to be a Ukrainian success. So, the only question he has in his mind is how many lives is he going to waste pursuing what is an unachievable goal for him now.
Ms. Atwood: Yeah. I think so many people would look at the Ukraine war and say that it has rejuvenated NATO. It has given NATO a new sense of necessity and purpose. How would you reflect upon that?
Sec. Cleverly: Well, funny enough, I was at – I was at the NATO-Russia summit the early part of last year, before the invasion had started. Senior Russian military representatives were – sat around the table. And obviously there was a lot of talk and speculation about the Russian military buildup, the chances of a Russian military attack. And when representative after representative, including you guys and us, you know, we’re the two largest contributor nations to NATO, but also some of the newest and economically and militarily smallest NATO allies, all spoke with one voice in the condemnation of the military buildup, and making it absolutely clear that we would stand firm against this kind of aggression. You could see the shock on the faces of the Russian military.
It was quite clear that Vladimir Putin thought that putting pressure on NATO would fragment NATO – that there would be arguments; that the North American allies – yourselves and Canada – would be split off from the European allies; that, you know, Southern or Western Europe would have a very different appetite to the Eastern European allies. And, yet, what we saw was a real unanimity of voice. NATO really, really pulled together, and I know, because you can see on the faces of the people in the room, that was not what they were expecting. And NATO has proven itself to be a really important alliance, which is why we’re seeing Sweden and Finland now change decades of political posture and apply to join NATO because NATO has shown itself to be relevant.
Ms. Atwood: Because NATO has shown itself to be relevant, do you think that now would be a good time to entertain ideas and conversations about increasing spending among those who are members of NATO above that 2 percent?
Sec. Cleverly: Well, one of the things we’ve seen is that, you know, a number of countries have unilaterally decided to significantly increase their defense spending. I mean, Germany, for example, just the beginning of the year I had a bilateral meeting with my – with Annalena Baerbock, my German opposite number, and last year Germany made a really big decision to very significantly increase its defense spending, changing decades of defense and foreign policy as a direct result of Russia’s attempted invasion of Ukraine, and we see in other NATO allies an increased commitment on defense spending.
And, actually, you know, NATO has been talking about how it makes itself relevant for the 21st century. Obviously, it was borne out of the conflict of the mid-20th century, but it needs and wants to be relevant to all the contemporary and future threats.
Those conversations happened prior to Russia’s attempted invasion of Ukraine and those conversations will continue. So, NATO is modernizing. Member states are increasing their expenditure.
We, of course, are looking at what lessons we can collectively learn from Russia’s attack onto Ukraine and Ukraine’s defense against it, and, of course, there is this – now, this, you know, two new member states who are going through the process of joining NATO as we speak.
So, this, of course, has been a tipping point for NATO. Putin has tested the alliance and I’m very, very pleased and proud to say the alliance has actually come out stronger.
Ms. Atwood: So, it sounds like you don’t think right now is the moment to try and pressure those who aren’t meeting the 2 percent to go even beyond that?
Sec. Cleverly: Well, look, we are two countries who have, you know, consistently committed to above that 2 percent. The 2 percent is the NATO spending target and, of course, we have and we will encourage NATO member states to match that commitment.
There is a very real, tangible example of why that is so very, very important, and as I say, you know, I’d rather, you know, congratulate and encourage rather than cajole or criticize. But we want to lead by example. I know the U.S. very much does that. The U.K. does that as well. We want to demonstrate why it is in our own self-interest to match those spending commitments, and we will continue to have those conversations across the alliance, yeah.
Ms. Atwood: And just because you mentioned Germany, I think people are watching with bated breath to see what Germany does on its decision over tanks. Your counterpart, Defense Secretary Ben Wallace, was pretty clear in his remarks yesterday saying that he encourages Germany to go ahead and green light these tanks or at least allowing other countries to send German tanks – like Poland – into Ukraine.
Where do you think that stands? Do you think we should be expecting some positive movement from that and from Germany anytime soon?
Sec. Cleverly: Well, the conversations I had with the German foreign minister certainly give me the impression that, you know, Germany is thinking very, very seriously about how it can increase its commitment. It has been giving armored vehicles of various types, particularly defense armored vehicles.
We got to recognize how big a step change this is in German foreign policy – in German defense policy. You know, because of their history they have, I think, quite understandably been cautious about their defense posture in Europe, and this is something that I’ve discussed with Annalena in the past. But they recognize that something quite fundamental has changed. And they are going through their Zeitenwende, an epoch-defining change, is of real significance.
And, you know, we regard the commitment that we’ve made to Ukraine in terms of providing main battle tanks as being significant. I spoke to my Ukrainian opposite number, Dmytro Kuleba, yesterday. And he thanked me for those donations. And we recognize, or we believe, that the provision of NATO-standard main battle tanks will be decisive in this. So, we encourage – we encourage others to do so. And I think that reflects the point that Ben Wallace made in his comments, because for all the reasons I’ve already discussed, the right – the right thing to do is to give the Ukrainians what they need to bring this to a successful conclusion sooner rather than later, particularly as, I mean, you’ve seen the images overnight of those attacks on civilian infrastructure. We need this to end. And we need this to end with Ukraine being successful, being victorious.
Ms. Atwood: One thing that struck me in recent days was the Ukrainian, I think it was the defense minister, said that Ukraine is a de facto member of NATO now. Is that a fair assessment?
Sec. Cleverly: Well, I’m going to be a little bit careful. I mean, fundamentally NATO is a defensive organization. It has never expanded by force or by coercion. Countries choose to join NATO because they believe it’s in their interest to do so. And as a defensive alliance, of course, we have a particular responsibility for our members. But the simple truth is that much of NATO’s – you know, much of NATO’s structure, much of NATO’s thinking was in response to the threat of aggression originally from the Warsaw Pact. And, of course, that has evolved over time.
And what we’re seeing is the conflict that we all had hoped to be able to deter being played out in Ukraine. Now, ultimately, NATO has been successful in ensuring that that conflict doesn’t happen within the boundaries of the NATO member states. Well, in that regard, NATO has ultimately been successful as a defensive alliance for its own members. But it was in response to threats of aggression emanating from Moscow, really, that NATO came into creation in the first place. And sadly, we see that aggression from Moscow being played out, you know, in the – in the fields and, sadly, in the towns and cities of Ukraine.
So, of course, NATO is committed to supporting Ukraine. But our primary – our primary – not our, NATO’s primary goal is, of course, to defend NATO member states. And that is a significant important difference between what’s going on there.
Ms. Atwood: But in some ways, Ukraine is being treated like a NATO member state, even though there aren’t boots on the ground. Surely the NATO alliance is providing them with, you know, an incredible amount of support, without which they would have failed in this war by now. So, it does seem like he has a point in saying that, you know, they’re being treated as such.
Sec. Cleverly: Well, look, Ukraine – you know, Ukraine are friends. We have made the commitment to support them. It is very clear that – I mean, this is a – this is a conflict between Ukraine and Russia. It was perpetrated by Russia, being fought out in Ukraine. But this is a – you know, this is – although it has, as I say, global implications and the significance are currently being felt worldwide – I mean, there are many, many poor countries in the global south who are struggling to feed themselves because of destruction of grain exports as a direct result of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. So, it has a global impact. But it is ultimately a bilateral conflict.
I think Putin would like nothing more than to imply that this is somehow, you know, a test of strength between Russia and NATO. But ultimately, this is – this is Putin’s aggression against Ukraine. And Ukraine are deserving of our support because they are the injured party here. They are the country that sees its borders violated, sees its cities attacked, sees its, you know, sons and daughters being killed on the battlefield and, indeed, being killed thousands of miles from the line of contact. So, they are deserving of our support. But it is a fundamentally different relationship to the relationship that we have with a NATO member state.
Ms. Atwood: I’m looking at the clock here. We don’t have very long. I want to ask you one more question on Ukraine, and then try and get in a quick question on China and Northern Ireland. I think I would be remiss not to ask about a diplomatic solution here because you are the Foreign Secretary. Um – is there one in the offing right now? And do you think that Ukraine is doing enough, beyond putting out, you know, its ten-point peace plan, to really push for a diplomatic solution here?
Sec. Cleverly: Well, look, I mean, I refer back to the comments I made earlier. If this isn’t resolved properly and fully, it’s not resolved at all. And, you know, a diplomatic solution – I mean, ultimately all conflicts –
Ms. Atwood: And properly and fully means a decisive –
Sec. Cleverly: Well –
Ms. Atwood: – victory on the battlefield first?
Sec. Cleverly: Well, so properly and fully means that we don’t end up with a kind of protracted, stale conflict that then at some point in the future kind of, you know, heats up again and turns into another kinetic battle like we’re seeing at the moment. We all have an incentive for this to come to a conclusion, for peace to be reestablished, and for that peace to be enduring.
What we have seen, what we saw with the annexation of Crimea, is that Putin didn’t stop. And we had hoped, and I think collectively the world had hoped, that through negotiation that he would see the inappropriateness of his action and would go no further. Well, that didn’t happen. He did go further, and he attacked other parts of Ukraine. And we need to recognize that, and we need to make sure that when this bout of conflict, when this current battle, when this current war stops, that it’s because it has stopped properly. Otherwise, as I say, at some point in the future, we’re just going to be having this conversation all over again.
All conflicts ultimately end around a negotiating table. You could argue, therefore, that with the diplomatic element, a significant diplomatic element, but ultimately it needs to be done against a backdrop of a meaningful engagement. So, when the Russians come to the negotiating table, it’s got to be in good faith. It’s got to be meaningful. It can’t just be as a fig leaf to reequip, re-arm, recruit, or train. It has got to be because of a genuine desire to have a resolution.
At the moment, I’m certainly not doing any of the indicators that Russia’s actions are in good faith. And so, they need to be pushed until they are in good faith. And that’s why the military – that’s why the military element at the moment has got to be the precursor to the diplomatic element. But as I say, ultimately, we want this to stop. We want this to stop. But if it’s going to stop, and if that conclusion is going to be sustainable, it has to be done properly. And that means not rushing at a superficial or an artificial end to this conflict.
Ms. Atwood: So, quickly, on China –
Sec. Cleverly: Sure.
Ms. Atwood: – a major topic of discussion and speculation, and I’m sure intelligence gathering, has been on what lessons China is taking from this conflict. Do you have any updated assessment on that? Do you think there are specific lessons that they have learned, you know, now that we’re almost a year into the conflict, that are perhaps different than what they thought at the outset?
Sec. Cleverly: Well, look, it’s – I’m going to zoom out a bit, because, as I said, you know, a lot of people, a lot of countries, will be looking at how this plays out. They will be looking at, you know, when we make commitments, do we stick to those commitments? Do we have that strategic endurance? Do we have that resilience? Do we have that grit? Or are we going to be easily distracted?
And so, we need to think carefully about what messages we’re sending all over the world – to allies, to opponents, to potential – you know, to potential partners – because, you know, everybody’s watching this. And so, we do need to be thoughtful about the messages that we send.
And I think it’s in our interest, in terms of the interest of global peace and security and prosperity, that the message we send out is that we do stick by our commitments, and we are in it for the long term. And when we make a promise, you know, we deliver on that promise and that we are not easily distracted or easily swayed. And I’m sure China will be looking at that. As I say, so will plenty of other countries around the world. So, we just need to be thoughtful about the message that we’re sending.
Ms. Atwood: So, no new assessment that –
Sec. Cleverly: Well, you’ll excuse me. My focus at the moment is on the – is on the kinetic, brutal, painful conflict that’s playing out in Ukraine.
Ms. Atwood: Got it. OK.
Sec. Cleverly: I think ensuring that Ukrainians are successful in that has got to be the – at the forefront of all our – of all our minds because, of course, as I say, that is the – I mean, that is the place in the world now where kind of a level of aggression and violence and brutality on a scale that we are not used to seeing this century is being played out. We’ve got to focus on that. We’ve got to address that.
Ms. Atwood: We have a hard out in about 30 seconds –
Sec. Cleverly: Oh, OK. Ah.
Ms. Atwood: – so I’m going to ask you one yes-or-no question, which I know are –
Sec. Cleverly: In which case the answer is yes and/or no. (Laughter.)
Ms. Atwood: – the least favorite for diplomats. But I just want to ask you one question on Northern Ireland.
Sec. Cleverly: (Laughs.)
Ms. Atwood: Are you confident that there will be an agreement between the EU and the U.K. on Northern Ireland before the 25th anniversary of the Good Friday Agreement in April?
Sec. Cleverly: So, to give you a yes and/or no answer, we want to get this resolved. This is – this is about – this is about making sure that a part of my country is able to be a meaningful part of my country.
Northern Ireland is part of the United Kingdom. It says so on the front of the tin. It’s the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland. I was over there recently talking to a business that can’t buy products from the U.K. mainland – can’t buy products from Great Britain – and that’s causing a real problem.
We recognize that there are concerns that the EU have about their own internal single market, and they recognize that the U.K. has concerns that we want to address about the internal market and the integrity of our own country. The conversation’s happening in good faith, very discreetly. And that discretion, I think, has helped us make real improvements. And it’s because of that discretion that I am going to – I am going to bite my tongue and not give you the yes/no answer that you desire. But we want to get this resolved as soon as – as soon as possible, get the institutions of the Good Friday Agreement back up and running, and trade internally within the U.K., and with our near neighbors in the European Union as well.
Ms. Atwood: Well, you’ve clearly put a lot of work into it. And I think people are watching that closely, particularly President Biden, who has a personal vested interest in that.
So, thank you so much. Thanks, everyone, for joining us. I hope it was a useful discussion. And welcome to Washington, Foreign Secretary.
Sec. Cleverly: Thank you. Thank you very much. Yeah, thank you very much.
Ms. Atwood: Thanks. (Applause.)