James Cleverly on the UK’s support for Ukraine and foreign policy ‘refresh’

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James Cleverly MP
Secretary of State for Foreign, Commonwealth, and Development Affairs


Frederick Kempe
President and CEO, Atlantic Council

FREDERICK KEMPE: Good morning. I’m Fred Kempe. I’m president and CEO of the Atlantic Council.

Thank you for joining us for this edition of Atlantic Council Front Page, our premier platform for global leaders. And greetings to those in the audience, members of a dozen embassies, international media, many members of the Atlantic Council board, and, of course, to our viewers around the world. Good morning from here, good afternoon and evening to wherever you are.

It’s my pleasure today to welcome you to Atlantic Council Front Page event with James Cleverly, the United Kingdom’s secretary of state for foreign, commonwealth, and development affairs—or, in layman’s terms, Britain’s foreign secretary. Foreign Secretary Cleverly, it’s wonderful to have you with us.

You were in Washington in January, but that seems a long time ago now, considering the speed of developments. Russia’s war in Ukraine continues. We await the Ukrainian spring offensive and whatever should follow as well from Russia. We saw evidence of Chinese-Russian common cause in the meeting of President Xi and President Putin in Moscow not so long ago. They toasted each other. They showcased their no-limits partnership. But also talked about how they intended to reshape the global order together and in their vein.

A number of European leaders have visited Beijing recently. And you, yourself, provided the view from London with your recent speech at Mansion House. Any of you who really want to understand the UK’s approach to global affairs, I think the Mansion House speech is absolutely brilliant and well worth looking at. On this side of the Atlantic, recent landmark speeches by US officials like Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen, National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan, have outlined the Biden administration’s approach to China, and then closer to home, Mr. Foreign Secretary, the UK and the EU seem to have turned a page with the Windsor Framework, which, as your prime minister put it, represents a decisive breakthrough between London and Brussels and you, of course, played a significant role there.

You also had the visit of President Biden to Northern Ireland to mark the twenty-fifth anniversary of the Good Friday Accords. Last, but certainly not least, we saw the coronation of King Charles over the weekend. Even at 5:00 a.m. on this side of the pond, millions of Americans got up in the morning to watch that spectacle. I think we consider them our royalty as well.

This is all since January. Your government in March released a refresh of the Integrated Review, Britain’s strategy document published first from 2021, which outlined a holistic vision for the UK’s strategy in the world. And to steal a phrase from the refresh, quote, “The transition into a multipolar, fragmented, and contested world has happened more quickly and definitively than anticipated.” That may score under the term British understatement.

So we’re here today to shed a light on all this. We have forty-five minutes with you and there’s a lot to get in, Mr. Foreign Secretary. Those who want to follow the discussion can use the hashtag #ACFrontPage on Twitter. Send your questions in there. For those here in the audience I’ll take questions from you later in the discussion.

So, Mr. Foreign Secretary, let me start with a question about the refreshed Integrated Review. You told—and that’s—because it’s a big broad context it allows you to set the stage—you told the House of Commons with the original review, quote, “Our overall analysis was right and our strategic ambition on track.”

What’s changed, and can you walk us through the priorities that you’ve set for the UK’s role in the world?

JAMES CLEVERLY: Well, look, Fred, thank you, and, ladies and gentlemen, thank you for joining me this morning or this lunchtime or this evening, for those who are watching at various other places around the world, and thank you for that reminder of how much has happened, and I think when it comes to the Integrated Review refresh the thing that has changed is more about pace rather than direction.

So the original Integrated Review, which I worked on as a more junior minister within the foreign office—Foreign Commonwealth and Development Office—set certain assumptions, certain reflections, certain observations, and we stand by those, one of which was that the geopolitical center of gravity was shifting eastwards and shifting southwards, that the areas in the world where huge economic growth and also influence were happening was in the Asia Pacific region.

Now, the UK itself is a, you know, little rock parked off the coast of Europe but we have always had or certainly over the last, you know, few centuries at least very much a global perspective and so we are not either alarmed by or shocked by that gentle shift of [the] geopolitical center of gravity but we do have to respond to it.

In the Integrate—the original Integrated Review we said we would have to think carefully about our posture towards China as China desires to be more active, more influential, some would say, perhaps, more coercive on the world stage.

We highlighted the fact that Russia remained at that point a risk and we made the point that our Euro-Atlantic longstanding friends and partners would be just as important to the UK’s self-interest and national interest in the future as they have done in the past. And, obviously, the relationship between the UK and the US is famous. It’s strong. It’s close. That has been the case for well over a century and we recognize that in the original Integrated Review.

So fast forward a couple of years and we have seen a closer relationship between Beijing and Moscow. We have seen Vladimir Putin initiate an unprovoked and brutal invasion of Ukraine. We have seen energy supplies being weaponized across the—not just the European continent, but more widely. We’ve seen food supplies into developing countries consciously disrupted by Russia as a point of leverage. We have seen longstanding relationships, relationships that Vladimir Putin inherited from the old USSR at various places around the world, being utilized as points of leverage.

All these things we envisaged in the integrated review, but the pace—the pace is fast, and it’s accelerating, which has meant that we are—we’re conscious that we need to strengthen our preexisting relationships, like the one between the UK and the US, and make sure that they’re not just some romantic narrative but are really meaningful and mutually beneficial. It means that from the UK’s point of view, our longstanding relationships through the commonwealth, for example, with India, with Singapore, with Australia, with New Zealand, are, again, made into something really meaningful and really useful.

And finally, I would make the point that we need to recognize that all the areas of risk and all the areas of defense have to be worked on simultaneously. So traditional physical defense through NATO, for example, is something where we have a longstanding relationship with our transatlantic and European friends and partners. And we’ve been reminded of the importance of NATO in Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. In cyberspace, and strategic communications, in global messaging of our values and the things that matter to us, we recognize that we have to fight on that front as well to explain why democracy matters, to explain why freedom and choice are very, very important.

But finally, something which has really come into sharp focus, is the need to work closely in the economic sphere. We need to defend ourselves economically as well. And we don’t have the choice to pick one or other of those. We have to do them all. We have to do them now. And we have to do them in close cooperation. And isolationism in any of those fields would be counterproductive. And I’m very much here to make the case that, you know, we’ve—you know, militarily, in terms of projecting our values, in terms of protecting our economic base and the people that work in our economies, the UK and the US have always been very, very close partners. I want to make sure that on this trip and on future trips we reinforce those three areas, because I think that gives us both, and our friends and allies around the world, the best chance of weathering what are increasingly stormy times ahead.

FREDERICK KEMPE: So, Mr. Foreign Secretary, thank you for that opening. All areas have to be worked on simultaneously. The economic sphere, critical. You can’t just do one or the other. At the same time, resources aren’t unlimited. And so how will you measure the success of the integrated review a year from now, five years from now, number one? And then, number two, in the setting of priorities, what are the one, two, or three—particularly as we’re talking about the US-UK relationship?

JAMES CLEVERLY: Yeah, this is a brilliant question, and goes to the heart of what I think is a real quandary in terms of international relations. Because you’re saying what are kind of the one, two, three deliverables. And we live in democracies. And we are accountable to our people. I think that is one of our great strengths, one of the things that both our nations are very proud of. And it means that we need to demonstrate to voters what they’ve got from their government. And we have to be able to demonstrate things in those one, two, three cycles. And I think some of those questions are obvious.

We want to see, you know, gas prices and food prices come down. We want to see economic growth. We want to see peace in Ukraine. We want to be able to deliver a bit more stability to those hardworking people here in US, and in the UK, and more broadly. That’s the kind of thing we need to deliver in the short term. But we also need to recognize that some of the things we’re discussing in the integrated review are multidecade challenges. I talk about, you know, Russia’s influence operations in many parts of the world. Talk to African leaders, for example.

And many African leaders, many African countries, have had relationships with Russia that are many, many decades long. And I and Secretary of State Blinken and others talk to those leaders, saying: Look, you know, Russia has brutalized its neighbor. It’s breached the UN Charter. It is undermining the foundations of peace in the twentieth century, and you have to be critical—actively critical.

But I also recognize that we are having those conversations against the backdrop of multi-decade-long relationships between those countries and Russia, and you can’t magic those relationships away overnight.

In my Mansion House speech, I made the point that China is a country which can credibly trace its history back at least a couple of thousand years, and its language a couple of thousand years longer than that. Chinese written characters existed before the pyramids. And if we’re thinking one-, two-, three-year cycles in our interaction with countries that are thinking at least in decades, often in centuries, and sometimes in millennia, then there is a—there is a real differential of pace.

So we have to have deliverables for our people in the here and now because that’s what democracy demands—and rightly so—but we also need to think long term, and we need to think what’s going to happen in ten, twenty, thirty, fifty years’ time whilst also dealing with the here and now. And again, we can’t choose to do one or the other; we have to do both. And that longer term activity is sometimes a lot harder to justify, a lot harder to explain because often it’s like water on stone; you can’t see the individual change in the short term, you have to look at the big arc. And that’s why I think referring to the long historic arc of our bilateral relationship matters because, if I’m justifying why the US should spend time talking to the UK and why I’m spending time talking to the US, it has to be set against that backdrop of a multi-decade relationship which has been mutually beneficial pretty much the whole time.

FREDERICK KEMPE: Thank you, Mr. Foreign Secretary. So let me focus on the here and now, which you referred to, and the here and now is Ukraine.


FREDERICK KEMPE: And the UK has been—to the UK’s credit—way out in front on this, right from the beginning and before the actual invasion. What’s at stake? What strategic objectives does the British government have that inform your decision-making toward Ukraine so forcefully?

JAMES CLEVERLY: Well, I think that Ukraine is emblematic of some really big issues. Ukraine is about more than Ukraine. It is about defending the UN Charter. And we should remind ourselves what happened—something unique in human history—at the end of the Second World Ward. Throughout most of human history, the rules have been really simple. If you are smaller and weaker, you are preyed upon by the bigger and more powerful, and that has basically been the arc of human history, so it was a massive incentive to be big, and to be powerful, and to be aggressive, and that led to cycles of conflict where the powerful preyed on the less powerful.

At the end of the Second World War, something genuinely unique happened. The winners—the winners—decided to break that cycle. So the winners from the Second World War, who were the most powerful, decided to put institutions in place that prevented that aggressive cycle. It’s why we signed up to the UN Charter. That’s why we said, you can’t just invade your neighbor with impunity, no matter how big and powerful you are. And in relative terms, compared with the long arc of human history, that has been really successful.

That compact was breached in February of last year with that Russian invasion—

FREDERICK KEMPE: Two thousand twenty-two.

JAMES CLEVERLY:—2022, yeah. One of the initial signatories attacked its neighbor, and if we don’t defend the principles, then we revert back to the status quo ante where the big and powerful prey on the weak, and that is in no one’s interest. It makes the world a more dangerous, a more expensive place. So we’d better spend the time and money defending those institutions and those principles now or the costs, both in terms of financial costs and human costs, will be much, much, much higher in the future.

So that’s what’s at stake. That’s why the UK and—I think admirably so also—the US, I think, take this issue so seriously because how we respond to Russia’s attempted full-scale invasion of Ukraine will be viewed, and it will be viewed by observers all over the world, both state and non-state actors. And they will check to see how it resolved. They will want to see whether the US, and the UK, and the other members of the United Nations supporting Ukraine have got the staying power, whether we’ve got the grit, whether we’ve got the determination, or whether we’re going to lose interest or lose stamina kind of eighteen, twenty-four months into this endeavor.

And my argument is that if we signal to the world that we have only got about eighteen months’ worth of staying power, then we create a more dangerous environment for the future. That’s why this is so very important.

So, there’s a strong, pragmatic argument, as well as the obvious moral argument. We have, throughout our nations’ histories, respective histories, we have stood shoulder to shoulder with the people defending the things that we believe in. And no country is perfect, and no country ever will be. But, actually, the Ukrainians have been admirable in the defense not just of themselves, but of the principles that have kept the world relatively safe over the last seventy years. And they deserve our—they deserve our support.

FREDERICK KEMPE: So, thank you for that powerful context. There is so much more at stake in Ukraine than Ukraine, and you outlined that brilliantly.

With that as context, is our response thus far commensurate? When you visited Washington in January, the UK pledged to supply Ukraine with main battle tanks. The conversation now has turned to the provision of jets. The Economist and others have endorsed the provision of F-16s, longer-range missiles to hit the targets they are being shot from.

Where does the British government stand on the provision of jets and long-range missiles? But beyond that, is what we’re doing sufficient for the stakes?

JAMES CLEVERLY: Well, one of the—so, one of the strong arguments is that Ukraine, and Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, is not the only challenge we face, and that is absolutely true. The world has never been particularly predictable. I think it’s less predictable now than it has been for a long time. And there is a strong argument that we shouldn’t leave our respective military cupboards bare.

My answer is that, you know, if we’re saving stuff up for a rainy day, this is the rainy day. And when a permanent member of the UN Security Council invades its neighbor, that is an issue so fundamental to our international security architecture that we need to respond, and we need to respond robustly.

I’m going to steal a quote from a good friend of mine, another British minister, Tom Tugendhat, who was the chair of our foreign affairs select committee. And he said that, you know, the worst fight is a fair fight, is an even fight, because it drags on and there’s, you know, increased amount of damage, increased amounts of death. And what we need to do is we need to bring this conflict to a conclusion, and we need to bring it to a conclusion quickly.

That’s why the UK decided at the beginning of this year to significantly increase our response, and we have said we will constantly keep under review what Ukraine needs to be successful in its self-defense. And that means that we will—you know, we will look at how they defend themselves, how they push back against the aggression, how they retake land.

And we need to help them to win quickly because they have to win, otherwise all the things that I discussed are at stake [or] have a big question mark over them. So our view is that Ukraine has to be successful, has to be victorious. And the most humane way of doing that is for them to be victorious quickly, and the best way of doing that is to give them the tools that they need to get the job done, and give them those tools in the here and now. That’s why the UK has been very, very vocal in—or, sorry, very active in our support, and very vocal in saying that that support needs to come from allies as quickly as possible. Because as I say, we want this to end, we want this to end soon, and we want this to end with Russia withdrawing its troops, and Ukraine getting its country back.

FREDERICK KEMPE: So, if one agreed with absolutely every word you just said, have we provided enough for that outcome? What does a successful counter-offensive look like? And have we provided enough—again, to the F-16s and long-range fires—to—the things that the Ukrainians are still asking for?

JAMES CLEVERLY: Well, look, we can’t possibly know until we kind of look back at events afterwards. So, you know, I want to put on record the admiration that I hold for the US in terms of the scale of the support that it’s given to Ukraine. You were very kind to say the UK has been very active, and we have. But of course, in absolute terms, the UK—sorry, the US has been the most generous supporter, and by—you know, by extension, therefore, one of the most influential defenders of the principles that are at stake. And I thank you for doing that.

We have to keep—we have to keep looking at opportunities to enhance and speed up the support we give to Ukraine. I’m not going to speculate about exactly what that nature would be, particularly ahead of what is likely to be a counteroffensive this spring. The one thing I would say, of course, is that, you know, this isn’t a film. You know, in films, it’s really, really easy. You know, you’ve got three acts. You’ve got, you know, the initial invasion, and the plucky defense of Kyiv by the Ukrainians. You then have the second act where the international community kind of rallies ’round and supports the Ukrainians. And then in the third act, there’s a counteroffensive and everything is easy, and the credits roll, and it’s a lovely ending.

Of course, the real world doesn’t work like that. The Ukrainians have outperformed [expectations] throughout this conflict. And they have been preparing themselves, they have been training their troops, they have been learning through this conflict. And they have demonstrated themselves to be very, very effective defenders of their country. But we need to recognize that there might not be a simple, quick, decisive breakthrough. And the point that we’ve made in the UK is that we have to—we have to stick with them.

Now, I hope and expect they’ll do very, very well, because whenever I’ve seen the Ukrainians, as I say, they’ve outperformed expectations. But, you know, we have to be realistic. This is the real world. This is not a Hollywood movie. Things are complicated. Things are messy. Things are difficult. Things will get scary. We will expect to hear escalatory words coming out of Vladimir Putin’s lips. We need to be ready for that. We need to have the resolve to continue to do the right thing, notwithstanding those comments because, as I say, if we don’t what’s at stake is of immeasurable importance, and will prove, as I say, to be so much more expensive both in terms of lives and in terms of money if we don’t reestablish the importance of those principles in the here and now.

FREDERICK KEMPE: Thank you, Mr. Foreign Secretary.

So let’s spin forward to July and the Vilnius summit, the NATO summit. And then that will be followed next year in Washington, the seventy-fifth anniversary of NATO here. Some would argue that it was the perspective of NATO membership for Ukraine that was provocative. I think those members of NATO that neighbor Ukraine, the Baltics, et cetera, would say, you know, look at us. We’re safe. We’re secure. Ukraine is not. Maybe NATO—Ukraine and NATO would have been a better solution earlier. We’re not there.

But decisions need to be made in NATO, in Vilnius. What are the UK and NATO allies thinking about regarding guarantees of Ukrainian sovereignty and territory? Is there a path you could envision in Vilnius? And will NATO membership for Ukraine be discussed there and go beyond what was decided in 2008 in Bucharest?

JAMES CLEVERLY: Well, I think it’s really, really important that we remind the world of our Bucharest commitments. It strikes me that there are a number of things which will be important over the coming years. Ultimately, we want to see Ukraine’s territorial integrity restored and its sovereignty restored. And of course, we want to see that country rebuilt. And there will be a degree of public money that is involved in the rebuilding of Ukraine. But ultimately, I think the heavy lifting financially should be done by the private sector. And there will be opportunities for that. Of course, you know, Russia will need to play its part in paying for the damage that it has caused.

But ultimately, if we are going to make the case that Ukraine is worth investing in in the future, we also need to make the case that that investment will be safe and secure. Now, some of that will be through insurance instruments, for example, but some of it will be about making the case that Ukraine is not going to be subjected to another invasion. The exact mechanism for doing so, I think, certainly is open to discussion. There has been a commitment to Ukraine’s NATO membership and NATO’s open-door policy. The actual timing of that I know will be up for debate and discussion. But ultimately, we need Ukraine and potential investors in the rest of the world to understand that we value Ukraine’s safety and territorial integrity very, very highly.

But I wouldn’t be fixated on exactly which mechanism is best to do that. As I say, definitely not closing the door to NATO membership. That will be completely wrong and that’s not where the UK is at all and definitely looking at how we ensure that once Ukraine has got its country back that it’s never subjected to this brutality again. And that’s not just in the interest of Ukraine. That’s in the interests of all of us.

FREDERICK KEMPE: Thank you for that.

China—I won’t ask you to repeat the Mansion House speech, which was really deep and really thoughtful on all things China. I think it’s more the question of whether you see a risk of disunity on China policy.

Two things, really. You saw the comments of President Macron when he left China. It’s clear that there are differences within Europe. It’s clear there’s some differences across the Atlantic. Even here in the United States, we have an argument that maybe because China is so important we shouldn’t be doing so much regarding Ukraine. Where do you stand on that in general? And then, also, how do we manage the real danger of disunity going forward on China?

JAMES CLEVERLY: So I think we should recognize that if there ever was the idea of kind of over there and over here those days are long gone and the traditional Euro-Atlantic security architecture and the Pacific security architecture or the focus you can’t disentangle those. They are completely interwoven.

And so I—there is, I know, talk here and in the UK and other parts of the world that somehow, you know, Ukraine is a distraction and our main focus should be on China and what China’s aspirations are and what China’s activities are, and the point I was making in the Mansion House speech, the point we’re making in the Integrated Review refresh, is that, of course, we are right to focus on what China aspires to do, what China is currently doing, its actions, whether it be through Belt and Road, whether it be through its military buildup, whether it be how it looks across the Taiwan Strait, and we are absolutely right to focus on those.

But we can’t just pretend Ukraine isn’t happening and we do need to do both. And as I say, the world is watching and Beijing is watching. They will—you know, Beijing will make—the leadership in Beijing, the leadership of the Chinese Communist Party, will make decisions based on what they observe us doing, how much resolve we have, how much commitment we have, how good we are when we make promises, how good we are at delivering on the promises that we made, and, of course, that will influence their thinking and we need to make sure we think about the message we’re sending there.

In terms of—

FREDERICK KEMPE: That’s the message of Ukraine is crucial in our relations with China?

JAMES CLEVERLY: Absolutely. These are not different files. Everything is connected. Everything is being observed.

When it comes to the Mansion House speech the point that I was making is, you know, China is big. It’s influential. It is powerful. It was the largest economy in the world for twenty of the last twenty-two centuries and China aspires once again to being a dominant global power.

So we can’t pretend that is not the case. We do absolutely have to engage with China. We also need to be realistic that China does many things with—that we fundamentally disagree on: its activities in Xinjiang against the Uighur Muslim minority, its failure to uphold the commitments it made to us with regard to Hong Kong, its increasing assertiveness in the South China Sea, its—the tone it’s taking across the Taiwan Strait.

There are many things where we are uncomfortable and we raise these issues directly as I did very recently when I had a meeting with senior Chinese government officials and we will continue to do.

We need to make sure that we protect ourselves, our intellectual property, our key infrastructure just as the US is seeking to do and we also need to make sure we are strengthening our long-term friendships and alliances in the region and those are the three pillars that I outlined in the Mansion House speech and, again, you need to do all these things.

You need to engage robustly, you need to defend at home, and you need to build alliances overseas and that will be the long-term posture from the UK’s point of view. And as I said at the beginning of this, as with all these things, they are so much more effective if we do them in close coordination and cooperation with our longstanding friends in the world.

FREDERICK KEMPE: Thank you for that.

So let me ask one more question on something you raised in the beginning, which is the economic sphere, and then I’d like to take one or two questions or whatever we can get to from the audience.


FREDERICK KEMPE: So we at the Atlantic Council talk a lot about the non-kinetic competition and, particularly in our era of global competition, are we doing enough as a group in the economic sphere? I think the answer is no. But then the harder question is: What do you do about it?

With your prime minister coming here, I know you’ve spoken a lot about that. You know, Chancellor Jeremy Hunt rejected the idea of going toe-to-toe with the US, I think that’s playing partly off the Inflation Reduction Act. What’s the UK’s strategy in the economic sphere, tying together with everything else that you’ve said?

JAMES CLEVERLY: Well, look, the UK’s foreign policy has always been defined by our geography. We’re an island nation. We’re a relatively small island nation. We’ve been technological innovators from the, you know, Stephenson’s Rocket—from the steam engine to the—Tim Berners-Lee and the World Wide Web. We very much pride ourselves [on] being big enough to be a significant global player, but small enough to be agile and innovative. But we’ve always had a global network, now through not just the Commonwealth but many of our—many of our friends internationally, and that’s always going to be an important part of what we do.

So we think globally. We always have done. We always will do. And we recognize that partnering with countries that have similar values, similar aspirations, similar expectations, wherever they are in the world, matters to us. And the point that we would make is that the US—you know, you mentioned the Inflation Reduction Act. So completely understand in [an] increasingly unpredictable and competitive world why the United States would want to make sure that it protects its people—rightly so. Absolutely the case. All I would say is make sure you do that in, you know, cooperation, collaboration, and concert with your like-minded friends around the world, whether it be the Europeans, the UK, the Japanese, South Koreans, and many others.

We need to make sure that we are thinking longer term and we’re thinking about the economic relationships that we want, not just this year and next year but in the next decade and the next couple of decades; and that we are stronger together just as—just as, you know, that proved to be the case in decades gone past where the conflict was kinetic, where the security was about physical security. I think the future challenges are more likely to be in the digital sphere—cyber—and in the economic sphere. So we need to make sure—and the US needs to make sure—that its self-defense in the cyber and economic realms is as networked and internationally-coordinated as it has historically been in the realm of physical defense.

FREDERICK KEMPE: And this will be a growing area of emphasis for you, common cause in these areas?

JAMES CLEVERLY: Yeah, absolutely. You know, the world is a very, very deeply integrated place. It is—if it were ever possible to defend yourself physically—and the UK has had to do that, and our status as an island has helped. You know, we haven’t had a successful physical invasion since 1066, when, of course, the coronation that we—you know, the roots of that coronation were William the Conqueror cementing his authority as the new monarch of then-England, you know, nearly a thousand years ago—sorry, over—yeah, nearly a thousand years ago. And so, you know, that golden thread historically in the UK, and we’ve been able to defend ourselves physically because we are an island nation.

But the simple fact is that, you know, island status or even a large landmass like the US does not protect you in cyberspace. You need friends and you need partners, and you need to be close to them. It does not protect you when it comes to critical mineral supply chains. You need friends, you need partners, and you need to stay close to them as well. So physically, digitally, economically making sure that we put our arms around each other. I’m a rugby player. That’s like American football, but better. And—

FREDERICK KEMPE: Without the pads.

JAMES CLEVERLY: Yeah. And just—I’ve ruined the transatlantic relationship now. And I played in the scrum. And you’ve got to interlock. You put your arms around each other. You bind in tight. That is how you confront the challenges of the future. And I say, it needs to be in all three of these spheres because, as we’re seeing, the proof point is Ukraine. That conflict is being waged physically, digitally, and economically. And you either protect yourself with partners in all three of those areas, or you’re going to be exposed—even a country undoubtably as big, and powerful, and influential as the United States.

FREDERICK KEMPE: So, speaking of the scrum, we’re going to turn to questions. And out of respect for our allies across the pond, I’d like to turn to Alistair Dawber from The Times. Are you here? And this is not The New York Times. This is the Times of London. And then we’ll turn to The Financial Times after this.

Q: Thank you.

The issue of fighter jets came up, for Ukraine. And obviously President Zelensky’s been very clear he wants them. He thinks they’ll make a difference. He wants them immediately. Poland has also said it’s necessary. Is the British position that at the moment fighter jets are not necessary for the war in Ukraine—for Ukraine’s war effort?

JAMES CLEVERLY: So we do recognize that air defense and the ability for the Ukrainians to interdict and defend themselves from air attack is important. We don’t have F-16th in our fleet. That is not an equipment type that we can donate. We were able to donate tanks beginning of the year. We donated armored vehicles, very significant amounts of ammunition. What we’ve also been doing is training the next generation of fighter pilots, the next generation of amphibious warfare troops, as well as working very closely with our international partners, the Ukrainian Army.

So we know that we need to keep evolving our support. Those NLAW missile systems, Javelins and NLAWs that were so instrumental in the defense of Kyiv, that was absolutely the right thing at that point. Air defense missile systems became increasingly important over time, and the next stage we’ll see another evolution of the support. We provide that support in close cooperation and coordination with our international allies, and we will constantly keep it under review. And I know that’s such a politicians answer, but the bottom line is we have got to evolve and adapt our support just as the Ukrainians evolve and adapt their tactics to defend themselves against Russia’s invasion.

FREDERICK KEMPE: Thank you for that question. Felicia Schwartz. Please, of Financial Times.

Q: Thanks so much.

Secretary Blinken last week signaled he was more open for the Chinese to play a role in the diplomatic process. What is your view? And do you think that China could eventually bring Russia to the table? And then, secondly, you just warned about the perils of signaling that the West is not in this for the long haul, but do you think the US can sustain its current support with the election coming up next year?

JAMES CLEVERLY: So I would welcome the intervention that brought this war to a just and sustainable conclusion, from wherever it came. And I don’t think we should dog in the manger about this. We know that Xi enjoys a significant degree of influence with Vladimir Putin. If he can use that influence to deliver on what he has publicly stated he feels strongly about, which is sovereignty, territorial integrity, the nonuse of nuclear weapons, the nonthreat use of nuclear weapons, then why would we be critical of that intervention? If it is meaningful and if he actually delivers upon it—two big “ifs.” But if, through his intervention, he can help restore the sovereignty of Ukraine and get Russian troops out of that country, then I’m not going to be critical of that. But it needs to be more than just headline-grabbing stuff. It needs to be genuine intervention.

And the second part, just to say, you know, we live in democracies. It’s our greatest strength. And we have democratic cycles. And the great thing about democracies is it forces a discipline on national leaders. We have to explain and justify why we take the actions that we do. We cannot spend—we cannot just spend money as if it’s our own. We recognize that that money comes from the people that vote for us and put us in place. And we have to be able to justify why that expenditure matters, why it’s in their interest, particularly at times when gas prices are going up, particularly at times when food prices are going up, particularly at times when food prices are going up, particularly at times when people are worried about their personal financial circumstances.

And we need to make the case. You know, we can’t be lazy, and we can’t be complacent. And I know that the UK administration is none of those things. I also know the US administration is none of those things. But we’ve got to make the case. And we’ve got to make the case robustly. And we’ve got to explain why it’s in the interest of those middle-class Americans who are worried about their tax bills, who are worried about their food bills; that spending money on this thing now will mean that we don’t have to spend more money on the next thing coming along and it is in their interest that we do these things.

It’s not just about the Ukrainians. It is about the Ukrainians, of course it is. But it is—you know, when I went to, you know, Jefferson City, or I went to the Midwest, you know, it matters to those people there. And we need to make that case. And it’s not going to be easy, but that’s our job and I think we should rise to it.

FREDERICK KEMPE: So we have to close, but I’d be remiss not to ask a question about the king.


FREDERICK KEMPE: So Britain, the Commonwealth, have a new king. Does the monarch still play a role in Britain in the world? And if so, what is it?

JAMES CLEVERLY: So, short answer, yes. And like so many things in British society, you know, if you started with a blank sheet of paper, this is probably not necessarily the [structure] that you would create. But nevertheless, somehow strangely it manages to work. Of course, His Majesty King Charles III is the king of the United Kingdom. He’s also the king of fourteen other countries around the world. He is the head of the Commonwealth [with] member states of the Commonwealth in all time zones around the globe.

He is passionate about protecting the natural environment, has been for many, many decades, long before it was the cool thing to talk about. He is passionate about the diversity, not just in the UK but around the globe, and protecting that diversity. He is passionate about making sure the international system benefits not just the rich, and the wealthy, and the powerful, but the poorest and the most underprivileged around the world.

So even if—even if we didn’t have this amazing—I had the privilege of being in Westminster Abbey during the coronation. It was deeply, deeply moving. With all the pomp and circumstances, it was ultimately a really deeply moving thing. I found myself, you know, on the verge of tears on a number of occasions. And there was a camera pointed right at me, I didn’t think blubbing was a particularly good look. But all those things that he has advocated for and will continue to be passionate about, they really matter.

And so, yes, it was in a one-thousand-year-old church. And, yes, the ceremony dates back to the time of William the Conqueror. And, yes, it was dripping with gems and ermine. But also, it was remarkably relevant to the modern world in a way that I didn’t expect or predict. And I think that’s why the monarchy is still relevant. And I think that was proven by the fact that so many senior people, including the—including the first lady—came to join us, at what was ultimately a kind of—I suppose, at one level, an intimate family affair. But by the same token, was an event of global significance.

And the fact it can be both simultaneously, the fact that so many people from around the world came to join us in our moment of celebration, the fact that at the heart of what the king is passionate about are so many issues which will define the modern era and the future. All these things make him very, very relevant. And it was a privilege to be there, and privilege to welcome so many of our friends from around the world.

FREDERICK KEMPE: Thank you for that. It was a gorgeous moment. And many of us watching on our televisions also got a little bit wet-eyed. A former head of state, head of government in the United States told me—I shouldn’t mention the name—that this person was envious, because it’s so hard wearing both hats, head of state and head of government. And so I think this is one of the reasons why we watch the UK, and watch these, and almost feel vicarious emotion about it.

Mr. Foreign Secretary, this just was a terrific conversation. Come back often. We’d love to hear more and more from you. And welcome to the United States on this trip. Thank you.

JAMES CLEVERLY: Thank you very much.

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Image: UK Foreign Secretary James Cleverly speaks with Atlantic Council President and CEO Frederick Kempe on May 9, 2023.