Interview with Philip Hammond, Former British Foreign Secretary

PLAY: Interview with Philip Hammond

Talking Foreign Affairs founder Adil Cader interviewed Lord Philip Hammond, Britain’s former Chancellor of the Exchequer, during the 2022 Manama Dialogue. The Manama Dialogue is the premier security summit of the Middle East and was held in the Kingdom of Bahrain. The interview was recorded on November 19th 2022.

Lord Hammond has also previously served as the British Foreign Secretary and Defence Secretary. In the interview, he speaks about the AUKUS deal and its strategic relevance for Australia and the Indo-Pacific. He further reflects on Iran, the Gulf region and draws from some significant diplomatic negotiations.   



Adil Cader: This interview is part of a special segment brought to you live from Manama, the capital of the Kingdom of Bahrain, where we are covering 2022 Manama dialogue, the Premier Security Summit of the Middle East. In today’s interview, we are joined by Lord Philip Hammond, the former foreign secretary and defence secretary of the United Kingdom. Lord Hammond, thank you so much for joining us.

Philip Hammond: Pleasure.

Adil Cader: So, Lord Hammond, just explain to us, what you’re doing at this conference and how you’ve found it so far, and some of your main takeaways.

Philip Hammond: Well, when I was defence secretary and then Foreign Secretary for the UK, I used to come here on a regular basis. And in fact, even afterwards when I was chancellor of the Exchequer, Manama was one of the fixed points in the annual calendar, and it’s a great opportunity to hear the latest thinking, both from foreign policy experts and from military people about some of the strategic challenges and how we’re dealing with them.

Last three years, we haven’t enjoyed this event in the same way because of Covid, and it’s great to be back here and see it in full swing again. It’s just an opportunity to get together with an awful lot of people and hear an awful lot of wisdom.

 Adil Cader: So, you mentioned a lot how over the last three years, it’s been difficult because of Covid, but there’s also been a lot of change in British foreign policy, namely being Brexit. How do you see the new role of Britain in the world post Brexit and Britain’s role in the Gulf?

Philip Hammond: Well, I think you’ve got to divide this into two parts. The UK in my view, still hasn’t effectively explained what its economic role in the world will be post Brexit. And I think that’s an urgent task for the new government to explain how the UK is gonna earn its living. How we are going to remain the fifth or sixth largest economy in the world. Now, we no longer have the same kind of access to our closest markets, but the UK as a strategic partner, the UK as a military power will not change in its posture or its approach. Of course we remain a resolute and integral part of the NATO alliance, and we have alliances with Australia, for example, and many other countries around the world.

I cannot ignore the fact that in the end, military presence and military capability depends upon economic success. And therefore, I think even looking at this strictly from a foreign policy and strategic point of view, getting our act together in terms of our future economic strategy is critically important because we need that to underpin our ability to meet the very ambitious defence spending targets that have been set out, which the current government has endorsed- 3% of GDP by the end of the decade. But you need a strong economy to do that.

Adil Cader: So, you speak about defence spending and getting your act together. This was raised in the foreign secretary’s speech about how post Brexit, there’s a new focus on the Indo-Pacific, but also continued focus on Britain in the Gulf. How do you see balancing these priorities with the Indo-Pacific focus, but still having enough energy to pay attention to the Gulf?

Philip Hammond: Well, the UK has always been involved in the Indo-Pacific and has to be involved in the Indo-Pacific cuz we have clear interests there. We’re a maritime nation. We’re a trading nation. Keeping our seas open is vitally important to us and frankly, one of the areas where we see freedom of navigation potentially being challenged is in the Indo-Pacific at the moment.

But the Gulf has also been traditionally a very, very important area for the United Kingdom. And it’s an area where the tensions are deep rooted. They’re not going to disappear anytime soon. It’s also a very important area from the point of view of supply of energy. Hydrocarbons are not going to go away overnight. However committed we are to the decarbonization agenda, it will be many years before we stop needing supplies of hydrocarbons. And the crisis in Europe this winter is demonstrating that very, very clearly. And my personal view is that gas at least will remain part of the energy equation for the medium term.

Albeit ideally with mitigations from carbon capture and storage, but it’s going to be part of the energy equation, and this region is going to be strategically important for many, many years to come. And the UK together with the US and others, need to continue to play a role here.

Adil Cader: Speaking on the Indo-Pacific and Australia, there’s been a lot of changes in the relationship. Looking at the AUKUS agreement more on the military side, what future do you see that role playing and the submarine deal with Australia?

Philip Hammond: Well, you know, I first got engaged with Australia’s plan to replace the Collins class submarines back in 2012, I think it was. And I actually made a visit and went on board some of the old submarines. Because of Australia’s size and its strategic location, it is essential that Australia has a long-range submarine capability and frankly, diesel powered submarines that have used up half their range just getting from one side of the Australian coast to the other are not adequate for the task in hand. And I think Australia’s commitment to being able to project naval power in the region is an incredible reinforcer of the Western Alliance and a very important signal of Western intent to defend freedom of navigation. Let’s be clear what we’re talking about here. We need good relationships with China. China’s a very important economic power. It’s going to be a very important strategic power, but we need those relationships to respect the established norms. And freedom of navigation is a very important established norm. We have to be prepared to defend it. 

Adil Cader: Talking about another security threat more in this part of the region, the Gulf. You were the foreign secretary representing the UK when the JCPOA was finalized in Vienna. Now, we know that took a long time to come to an agreement. There were different stakeholders to balance. How did you go- and this is more for young leaders looking at diplomacy- how did you go about managing those conflicting demands and coming to an agreement in 10 situations?

Philip Hammond: Looking back, it was an incredible achievement. I mean, that the agreement has been criticized and is heavily criticized in this part of the world and in Israel at the time for its lack of breadth, that it was very narrowly focused on preventing Iran from developing a nuclear weapon. It didn’t succeed in or even attempt to prevent Iran’s other behaviours that we disapprove of. Its interference and meddling in the region, promotion of terrorism, illegal testing of ballistic missiles and so on. But it did stop Iran from getting a nuclear weapon, which it was incredibly close to doing back in early 2015.

So, in my judgement, it was a success in its own terms. I think defining the objectives narrowly was crucial to being able to move forward. If we’d gone into those talks with the aspiration to solve all of the problems that we had with Iran, we would’ve got nowhere. But by keeping it narrow, we were able to keep the Iranians engaged in debate. And it has to be said because it may not be fashionable these days that actually we got where we got because the Russians and the Chinese actually played a pretty constructive role in those negotiations. I’m not sure it would be the same if we did it today, but that was my experience in 2015.

Adil Cader: Lord Hammond, thank you so much for your time.

Philip Hammond: Thank you.