U.K. Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson Delivers Speech at Chatham House London Conference 2017 (Excerpts)

October 23, 2017

Weapon Program: 

  • Nuclear
  • Missile

Related Country: 

  • North Korea

Good morning everybody, it is fantastic to be here in this wonderful hotel, that I think that I opened or reopened. I opened many hotels across London in my time as Mayor and I definitely reopened this hotel at one stage and this is after all an example of the kind of infrastructure that you were just talking about Robin. It is an inspirational structure that was created many, many decades ago, over a hundred years ago, and it has been beautifully upgraded and it has stood the test of time and that is what I want to talk about this morning.

All you young, thrusting Chatham House types look far too dynamic to remember the early 1980s or indeed the late 1970s. Do you? I certainly do.

I remember being chilled to the marrow not just by the newspaper graphics, the hundreds of nuclear missiles trained on this country by the Warsaw Pact.


For decades now that threat has seemed to vanish. It went with the end of the Cold War.

We don’t want it back.

That is why people are now watching with such interest – and the first stirrings of apprehension – the events in the Korean Peninsula.

Kim Jong Un has tested 19 missiles so far this year, and has conducted 4 of the 6 nuclear tests ever carried out by that country.

It is now widely accepted that Kim is coming closer to being able to launch a nuclear-armed ICBM at the continental United States.

I should stress that this has not only prompted outrage in America, but it is a prospect that has been unanimously condemned by Russia, by China, by the EU, to say nothing of the dismay of those quintessentially peaceable countries – Japan and South Korea.

It is this increased tempo of nuclear testing, coupled with florid outbursts of verbal belligerence, that have reawakened – even in this country – those forgotten fears.

The public can be forgiven for genuinely starting to wonder whether the nuclear sword of Damocles is once again held over the head of a trembling human race.


I should observe that some European countries found themselves under a rival umbrella provided by the Soviet Union, though at that stage they had no choice in the matter.

And it was that American offer – that guarantee – that made possible the global consensus embodied by the 1970 Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty.

By this treaty 191 countries came together to recognise the special role of the 5 existing nuclear powers, and also to insist that there should be no further dispersal of such weapons.

Nuclear technology would be made available to other countries, provided it was used exclusively for civilian purposes.

That was a great diplomatic achievement.

It was an effort in which the UK – as one of the leading upholders of the post-war rules based international order – played a crucial role.

That diplomacy has helped to make the world safer, more secure, more confident and therefore more prosperous.

It has helped avoid what might otherwise have been a Gadarene Rush to destruction, in which the world was turned into a great arena of Mexican stand-offs, a nuclear version of the final scene of Reservoir Dogs.

That far-sightedness is now needed more than ever, not only to keep the NPT, but also one of its most valuable complementary accords, the nuclear deal with Iran.

To grasp the importance of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, we should remember that just before it was signed in 2015, Iran had enough centrifuges and low-enriched uranium to be only months away from producing the essential material for at least one nuclear weapon.

Let us remember what the consequences would have been – for Iran and the world – if Tehran had gone down that road.

Never mind the response of Israel, or indeed the United States to the fact of nuclear weapons in the grip of the Iranians, a regime that has been capable of blood-curdling rhetoric about the mere existence of the ‘Zionist entity’.

A nuclear-armed Iran would have placed irresistible pressure on neighbouring countries to up the ante, and to trigger an arms race in what is already one of the most volatile regions of the world.

Imagine all those mutually contaminating sectarian, dynastic and internecine conflicts of the Middle East today. Then turn the dial, and add a nuclear arms race.

Think of the nightmare that deal has avoided.

It is a nightmare we can continue to avoid if we are sensible, if we show the same generosity and wisdom as the negotiators of the NPT.

And first and most important it is vital to understand that President Trump has not withdrawn from the JCPOA. He has not junked it.

He has continued to waive nuclear-related sanctions against Iran, and having spoken to some of the most influential figures on Capitol Hill – none of them fans of the Iranian regime – I have absolutely no doubt that with determination and courage the JCPOA can be preserved.

This is not just because the essential deal is in the interests of Western security – though it is – but because it is profoundly in the interests of the Iranian people.

This is a great nation, of 80 million people – 2 thirds of whom are under the age of 30.

They are highly educated, both men and women.

They watch Youtube; they dance to music videos, even if it is in the privacy of their own home.

They use and understand technology and they are bursting with a capitalist and entrepreneurial spirit.

If we can show them that they are welcome in the great global market-place of ideas and innovation then, in time, a very different relationship is possible with the modern heirs, of what is after all, one of the greatest of all ancient civilisations.

That is the possibility the JCPOA holds open – not just averting a perilous and debilitating arms race, but ending the long and largely self-imposed exclusion of Iran from the global mainstream that so many millions of Iranians yearn to join.

Of course, we in the UK, we share with our American friends and with many of our allies – in Europe and across the Middle East – their legitimate concern over the disruptive behaviour of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard in countries hundreds of miles from their borders.

It is simply provocative and dangerous that Iran has supplied tens of thousands of rockets and missiles to Hizbollah in Lebanon – weapons that are even now pointing at Israel – but whose use would bring the most destructive retaliation not upon Iran – the responsible party – but upon the people of Lebanon.

It is no conceivable benefit to the tormented people of Yemen that Iran should be supplying missiles that Houthi rebels use routinely to strike targets in Saudi Arabia; behaviour which alas can only strengthen the convictions of those in the region who believe they have no choice but to respond to Iran’s actions.

And frankly it’s astonishing that the Iranians – who rightly complain that the world looked the other way when they suffered so tragically from the chemical weapons deployed by Saddam Hussein in the 1980s – should even now be abetting and concealing the crimes of Bashar al-Asad who has used the same methods against his own people.

So I think it’s right that we should join with our American friends and allies to counter this kind of behaviour wherever possible.

But that does not mean for one minute that we should write Iran off, or that we should refuse to engage with Iran or that we should show disrespect to its people.

On the contrary, we should continue to work to demonstrate to that population in Iran that they will be better off under this deal and the path of re-engagement that it prescribes.

And that is the model – of toughness but engagement, each reinforcing the other – that we should have at the front of our mind as we try to resolve the tensions in the Korean Peninsula.