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The Strategist Six: Karin von Hippel

Posted By on March 4, 2019 @ 12:30

Welcome to The Strategist Six, a feature that provides a glimpse into the thinking of prominent academics, government officials, military officers, reporters and interesting individuals from around the world.

1. As an American and German in London, what surprised you the most about Brexit?

Well, I was surprised that Brexit happened in the first place! But I was also surprised by the election of Donald Trump—I think many of us who follow these events missed, or at least underestimated, the populist movements. We’re now trying to interpret them and understand where things might go, but I’m not sure the received wisdom about populism is correct. Unfortunately, we’re still going in the wrong direction in terms of resolving the enormous divisions in societies; people aren’t talking to each other.

2. How healthy is the special relationship between the US and the UK today?

There are different layers of the US–UK relationship: there’s the relationship between President Trump and Prime Minister Theresa May, which is not great. At the working level, though, there are strong, committed relationships, whether it’s in intelligence sharing or between parliamentarians and congressional members or between officials in the Foreign Office or the State Department. Those relationships are very strong, but the senior level is fraying and fragmented. It’s worrying.

Trump isn’t treating traditional US partners such as the UK well, in the same way that he also isn’t supporting NATO appropriately in his public pronouncements. I recently attended the Munich Security Conference, where a number of NATO countries were concerned about rumours that the US was going to put unhelpful pressure on them to reach their 2% commitments. That can only serve the interests of Russia, and won’t help to preserve and strengthen NATO. But the other thing that was interesting about Munich was that over 60 congressional members were there to emphasise bipartisan support for the Atlantic alliance and the European Union, while Vice President Mike Pence and Trump were sending very different messages. This was the largest US congressional delegation in the 55-year history of the Munich Security Conference

3. In light of the Shamima Begum case [1], what should the UK do about Britons who now seek to return home after fighting for or supporting ISIL?

There are laws governing what the country needs to do and the ways it should manage these cases. For dual nationals the government can—in exceptional circumstances—revoke their British passport, though at the same time, they can’t be left stateless. If they return on their own accord, the government will have to figure out whether it prosecutes or whether to enlist them in one of the programs to try to deradicalise them. But they’re not going to go out of their way to facilitate their return—as we’ve heard from senior government officials, they are not going to put lives at risk by sending anyone to Syria to collect people like Shamima Begum. However, once ISIL is defeated in that last remaining enclave in Syria, you will have hundreds of family members or ISIL fighters who are going to try to return to the UK or want to return to Europe, so it’s an emerging challenge and it could be a significant challenge for law enforcement here and in other countries.

4. Looking around the globe at various hot spots, pressure points and leadership styles, what is most concerning to you?

I don’t think today’s challenges are that different in scope and scale from past challenges, but it’s a far more dangerous world because the US is not providing the leadership it used to provide. You see some world leaders talking publicly about not relying on America anymore, and asserting they will do more on their own—Angela Merkel has probably been the most vocal, but the Canadians have also made similar comments. You’re seeing this fragmentation because the US is no longer the global standard-bearer of the rules-based international order. There are a number of challenges, whether it’s Russian interference in US and European elections, the attempted murder of Sergei Skripal, Chinese hacking, the catastrophic Syrian civil war or the conflict in Yemen. All need committed leadership, and the US is not leading in the way that it has traditionally done. So, it’s now about what like-minded countries or multilaterals like the UN or the EU can do to provide that leadership.

5. What are the major challenges or opportunities facing think tanks like RUSI [the Royal United Services Institute] today?

With all of the security challenges we’re facing right now I think it’s important to have fresh ideas and to convene smart, creative people—those with very different perspectives, from the public sector, private sector and scholarly worlds—to consider a range of practical responses. Sometimes we host such meetings privately and other times we do them as public events. It’s important to provide evidence-based research and practical suggestions for dealing with today’s challenges, and then disseminate the ideas through the variety of means that are available, be it via social media or in newspapers or on our website. But I think it’s incumbent upon all of us to provide workable, practical ideas, not pie-in-the-sky proposals.

6. In RUSI’s In Context podcast [2], you conclude by asking your guests what they would say to young people who aspire to work in international affairs. What advice would you give?

People tend to have two different approaches to their career. Some know from day one what they want to be when they grow up and they chart their path very carefully. Most of the rest of us don’t really have that kind of foresight or we don’t necessarily know what we want to do. Careers are changing so much now that it’s potentially smarter to not have such a clear idea because maybe that career might not exist by the time you get to the right age.

My advice is that you should find good mentors and work for those you really respect and think you can learn from. It’s also about trying to figure out what you’re good at and getting better at things you’re not good at. But I believe in playing to your strengths, as ideally the teams you work in have a mixture of people with different strengths, all bringing something unique to the table.



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URLs in this post:

[1] Shamima Begum case: https://www.theguardian.com/uk-news/2019/feb/20/shamima-begum-a-bit-shocked-that-uk-has-revoked-citizenship

[2] RUSI’s In Context podcast: https://rusi.org/incontext

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