Secure in the knowledge: learning from a defence expert

An international expert gave boys fascinating insights into the worlds of security, foreign policy and defence in the latest talk in QE’s lecture programme.


In his wide-ranging address to Senior School assembly, Shashank Joshi, who works for a leading security thinktank, looked at topics including the scope of security, the importance of research and the psychological impact of a country acquiring nuclear weapons.


A Senior Research Fellow at the Royal United Services Institute, Mr Joshi focuses primarily on international security in South Asia and the Middle East, with a particular interest in Indian foreign and defence policy. He holds a starred first in Politics and Economics from Cambridge and a Master’s degree from Harvard, where he has also taught, and in 2007–2008 he was a Kennedy Scholar in the US. He has given evidence to the House of Commons’ Foreign Affairs and Defence committees several times. His most recent book, Indian Power Projection: Arms, Influence and Ambition, published last year, was praised by the Financial Times as “admirably lucid”.


""After being introduced by Nikhil Shah, of Year 12, Mr Joshi told the boys that security covers a broad range of issues and regions. It concerns not just weapons, but is about everything from climate change (insofar as it affects security) to investigating how a large bet against the value of Borussia Dortmund’s shares helped the authorities track the perpetrator of the recent attack on the football team’s bus.


In its work, the institute seeks to be policy-relevant, not just for the UK, but also for other countries and for organisations such as NATO, the EU and the UN. “The aim is to influence policy in some way.”< /p>

“Communication is absolutely key to what we do,” he said – he and his colleagues need to be able to get politicians and other decision-makers to understand the institute’s work and see its relevance.


""Research is also important, and it was essential to gather views from diverse perspectives: “You can’t do this from your desk; you have to travel and speak to people,” he said, although he conceded that ‘open source’ research could also be valuable. “A lot of what we do is about making educated guesses… having gathered information from a range of perspectives.”


He looked at the case of North Korea and its ‘nuclear weapons’, explaining to the boys about the deep analysis of photographs, which involves carefully examining images to uncover clues about the North Koreans’ programme. For example, the size of a bomb in a photo with the North Korean Supreme Leader Kim Jong-un would be carefully studied to determine what it means in terms of how the weapon could be launched and the scale of damage it could cause. Examination of signs in the background of images helped to work out where photographs had been taken, while researchers were also on the look-out for subtle signals that could be revealing: in one photo taken by satellite over North Korea’s nuclear-testing facility, workers could be seen playing volleyball – possibly saying: ‘We are not currently preparing a launch, so don’t attack us’.


""Mr Joshi then posed some questions around the psychological impact of countries having nuclear weapons, and inter-continental ballistic missiles, in particular. The acquisition of such weapons is considered a ‘game-changer’: it changes thinking in the US and UK, for example, if suddenly we think we can be hit. But, he asked, would we act to protect a third-party nation if we could be hit in retribution?


Mr Joshi also answered several questions from the boys in a Q&A session following his talk:


Q. What happens if you get it wrong?


A. There are significant consequences if signals are misread and incorrect interpretations given to governments, Mr Joshi said. He used Iraq as an example, where there was an assumption that the Iraqis were simply continuing to hide their nuclear programme before the invasion in 2003. The consequences of that action are still being felt today in the region and in our foreign affairs.


""Q. Are we at risk of another global conflict?


A. It was difficult to say, according to Mr Joshi. Some are drawing parallels to the period before World War I, but there is a different context. There is uncertainty: “Things in global politics are very fluid right now… things are up in the air.” He gave one example: will the USA under Trump take on China, or strike an agreement with it?


Q. What about India?


A. India has big decisions to make in its approach to China, particularly in the context of the USA, said Mr Joshi .


School Librarian Ciara Murray, who co-ordinates the lecture programme, said: “Mr Joshi was an engaging speaker who put across the complexities of security and international relations issues in a way that was easy to follow and understand. There would have been many more questions if there had been more time!”