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Review: The Mountbatten Lecture with Dr Karin Von Hippel

26 - 07 - 2021

Mountbatten Lecture with Dr Karin Von Hippel
Confronting International Security Challenges in Today’s Uncertain World
Pall Mall and Online, Wednesday 21 July, 6.30-8.00pm

The Chairman, Ben Cussons, opened the evening welcoming all in person at Pall Mall and those attending online for this hybrid event.
He introduced Dr Karin von Hippel, Director General of the Royal United Services Institute for Defence and Security Studies, who started her lecture by focusing on the global leadership role played by the US since the end of the Second World War. She then discussed how that had been diminished under ex-President Trump in many ways. She continued with the challenges President Biden faces at home and overseas and what can allies do together to overcome the challenges faced.

Karin moved on to international security, discussed how interconnected we are today, and about China as a geo-political rival. She focused on the ways that other countries typically aligned under US leadership, and the changes that transpired when Trump was President when, essentially, the US withdrew from its global leadership role. There was no attempt to build consensus with traditional allies, and Trump regularly broadcast that the US could do it alone. This clearly did not succeed in Trump’s attempts to force China to change a number of its practices.

She also touched on the lack of any real international coordination from the start of the pandemic, despite some ad hoc attempts (e.g., by Australia a year ago). This was just an example of how no other country or grouping of countries filled the leadership vacuum that had been created during the Trump Administration.
She discussed how President Biden is trying to rebuild relationships, but the threat of a return of Trump or a Trump-like character is still very real. Indeed, most Trump followers still believe the US election was rigged.

So, what does all this mean for UK? How can we confront all the challenges in a shifting security environment? Karin clarified that President Biden views the UK as a critical ally, which was made apparent at the recent G7 in Cornwall.

However, she is not sure of the roadmap on big issues and stressed that we need to work together to figure out how to work with China, manage cyber-attacks and climate change. This is a tough challenge as China can be a partner, a competitor and a rival all at the same time. She believes the binary nature of the good and the bad of the Cold War no longer exists. It is just not that simple to deal with complexities of today.

Her lecture went on to focus on the naming and shaming of China, but admitted it was not clear if this will work (so far it hasn’t). She discussed how governments were wrestling with challenges related to hybrid activity, e.g., how do you respond to a Chinese-government sponsored cyber-attack? With the Military or like with like?

In conclusion, she sees President Biden as a president with a deep understanding of foreign affairs, and long-standing relationships with many world leaders. He will try to rebuild relationships at the global level, but there will be many challenges.

The evening concluded with a question and answer session in the room and from online participants. One interesting question was who will be the winner between China and US? Karin said that this was difficult to answer and questioned if it would be technology or military and only time will tell who achieved supremacy.

The Club would like to thank all who attended in person and online. It was a joy to see members back at the Club for the relaunch of our live events.