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'RASH OR RATIONAL? NORTH KOREA AND THE THREAT IT POSES'

TRANSCRIPT OF JOHN HUMPHRYS INTERVIEW WITH JULIAN LEWIS MP, CHAIRMAN OF THE DEFENCE SELECT COMMITTEE

Today, BBC Radio 4 – 5 April 2018

JOHN HUMPHRYS: North Korea is not far from being able to launch an intercontinental ballistic missile that could reach the shores of these islands. That is what a report by the Defence Select Committee of the House of Commons will say today, and its Chairman is Julian Lewis. Good morning to you.

JULIAN LEWIS: Good morning, John.

JOHN HUMPHRYS: Why are you worried about North Korea?

JULIAN LEWIS: Well, it is all part of a rich tapestry of threats which it's the duty of our defence forces to consider. And, in fact, our report is fundamentally an optimistic one, because although it concludes that North Korea is not likely to denuclearise it also concludes that the leadership in North Korea, though ruthless, is rational, and as such it will be capable of being dissuaded from ever launching a nuclear weapon by the inevitable and devastating consequences that would follow.

JOHN HUMPHRYS: And anyway, that would be out of date ‚Äčone hopes your report would be out of date pretty soon because, once Mr Trump has sat down with the leader of North Korea, then everything might change, who knows?

JULIAN LEWIS: Do I detect a slight note of irony in your tone, John?

JOHN HUMPHRYS: Possibly, possibly.

JULIAN LEWIS: I thought I might. What we say is that we welcome the talks that are going to take place. It would be a wonderful thing if they were to lead to the denuclearisation of the entire Korean Peninsula; but we think that that is unlikely. The value of such talks would be, hopefully,  to defuse tensions at a lower level. But we are sceptical that having gone so far in its efforts to acquire a nuclear arsenal we are very sceptical indeed that North Korea would give it up now that it is on the verge of success. I should also say that, although we are pretty sure that if it doesn’t already have an intercontinental ballistic missile with a range to reach Britain, it will probably have one within the next six to 18 months. But we are not yet clear, because there has been no public demonstration, that they’ve managed to miniaturise their nuclear warheads and fit them integrate them into the missiles, let alone organise the delivery system that would be necessary. But, sooner or later, they probably will.

JOHN HUMPHRYS: But bearing all that in mind – if you have, and indeed we do have as a nation, of course, we have to prioritise threats against us – the potential threats come from Russia, come from Iran, come from China in different ways, and so on, how do you assess the greatest threat against us, or where, do you assess, it is coming from?

JULIAN LEWIS: The answer is: you are very foolish if you try to engage in these risk assessments, which successive governments almost always do. Look at the situation with Russia: that devastating decline in our relationship with Russia blew up literally almost overnight. And the same could happen if there were to be, for example, a North Korean attack either on the United States or on South Korea. That could happen completely out of the blue, and therefore it is quite right that we must consider all potential threats and have a flexible range of countermeasures available to meet such threats.

JOHN HUMPHRYS: Julian Lewis, thanks very much indeed.