Cyber attack agreements needed to avoid mutually assured destruction, Blair says

Russia
Russia - (Copyright PA Archive)
22:30pm, Thu 23 Jul 2020
CBAD8A00-D2B9-4E0E-ADDF-D0366C357A34 Created with sketchtool. E9A4AA46-7DC3-48B8-9CE2-D75274FB8967 Created with sketchtool. 65CCAE04-4748-4D0F-8696-A91D8EB3E7DC Created with sketchtool.

Countries around the world need to form cyber attack agreements to avoid going down a path to “mutually assured destruction”, Tony Blair has said.

In the wake of the report into Russian interference in British democratic processes, the former prime minister called for states to “push for some common form of standards”.

Without such a framework, he warned, countries would be carrying out cyber attacks the “entire time to each other”, putting global security at risk.

In an interview with the PA news agency, Mr Blair, who was a leading Remain voice in the 2016 referendum, said he was “not one of those people who thinks the Brexit result came about as a result of Russian interference”.

But he said: “If they are interfering, and they will want to interfere, because obviously it is the policy of the Russian government to have a weaker West, and so you can see why they might want certain results to happen in politics.

“If they are trying to do it, then you need to take countermeasures.”

Former prime minister Tony Blair (Aaron Chown/PA) - (Copyright PA Archive)

Prime Minister Boris Johnson has claimed critics of the Government’s response were disgruntled Remainers “who have seized on this report to try to give the impression that Russian interference was somehow responsible for Brexit”.

Mr Blair said that the “heightened ability to use cyber in destructive way” meant that at some point “the world is going to have to come to a set of agreements and protocols on this because otherwise you are going to be down a path of mutually assured destruction”.

“These capabilities are only going to grow, they are going to become more and more sophisticated, and governments are going to use them.

“But to be clear, that capacity has got to be developed in order to defend yourself as a country and then you’ve got to know how to both thwart interference and cyber attacks.

“And in the end you are going to have to push for some common form of standards here, otherwise countries are going to be doing it the entire time to each other and then the security of the world gets put at risk.”

Earlier this week, the Intelligence and Security Committee (ISC) accused the Government of being slow to recognise the potential threat posed by Russia to British democratic processes and of not properly considering whether Moscow could interfere in the Brexit referendum until after the event.

Mr Blair said: “I don’t know that people turned a blind eye deliberately – but the fact is that if a foreign government is essentially engaged in trying to disrupt our democratic process, whether they are successful in it or not, of course you’ve got to act.

“The most important thing is that we establish the capability which we should be able to reasonably easily – we’ve still got one of the best security services in the world, so that we know what is happening.

“If you know what is happening and expose it, you, by and large, are probably able to stop it.”

The report’s publication was delayed by Mr Johnson’s decision to call a general election and then the slow process of establishing a new ISC in the current Parliament.

Mr Blair said the Government should have published the report sooner, but added: “They’ve got the opportunity now to put this on a proper footing and they should do it.”

On China, Mr Blair said the UK needed to keep “strong cultural links and ties with Chinese people” – but backed the UK Government’s action on Huawei and Hong Kong.

“My view is that analogies of a cold war with China are deeply misplaced.

“But at the same time, of course whether on Hong Kong or Huawei or any other issue, where there are challenges or policies of the Chinese government with which we profoundly disagree, we’ve got to have the ability and capacity to speak up and to act.”

Sign up to our newsletter