The Minister of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs for the United Kingdom took time between global affairs and foreign ambassador meetings to speak to a crowd of roughly 100 students in an event hosted by Ohio State’s chapter of the Alexander Hamilton society on Tuesday.
A far cry from the crowds he is accustomed to speaking in front of in British Parliament or at his public event in Chicago the day before, Alan Duncan was at ease taking questions from eager students in a Q&A session.
Duncan gave the audience all the major, and at times, controversial speaking points in his opening introduction, letting the crowd pick and choose what they wanted him to cover for the next hour.
Topics ranged from Brexit to the threat of a nuclear attack by North Korea, which Duncan called the “most serious and irresponsible threat to world peace than ever before.”
“There is a lot of diplomacy behind it,” he said. “Working with China and thinking, ‘How do we handle [Kim Jung-Un]?’ There are no easy answers. It is a very difficult set of circumstances.”
Duncan thought it was important to visit states not normally on a foreign official’s itinerary, making stops in Indiana and Ohio along with his official duties, which typically take him to Chicago and Washington, D.C.
He said his relationship with Ohio Gov. John Kasich, whom he called “a good friend,” was his initial reason for coming to Ohio.
Moderator of the event Peter Mansoor, a professor in the department of history, expressed his excitement in having a foreign minister visit a “flyover country,” which Ohio and other Midwest states are sometimes called.
For Duncan, the event was an opportunity to draw parallels between domestic terrorism in his home country of Britain — especially the March attack in Westminster — to that which occurred here at Ohio State.
“The lone wolf attack is the difficult one,” he said in reference to the Nov. 28 attack on campus last year, and the several attacks Britain has seen — most notably one near parliament — where radicalized individuals operated independently and used their cars as weapons.
“If they are just doing psychological copycat stuff, then you don’t have a track record or any affiliation with an organization,” Duncan said.
With terrorism becoming an increasingly prominent threat throughout the world, Duncan said, “We have to balance our security and liberty in a very careful way.”
“For instance, we passed a law about interception. And some people on one end of the political spectrum said they don’t like this law on interception because it’s mass surveillance,” Duncan said.
The recent “interception law,” the Investigatory Powers Act, was passed in November 2016 and gave British authorities the ability to access records of citizens’ web browsing activities, to legally bug computers and phones and to acquire bulk collections of communication data. Critics of the law cried foul at the expansion of governmental power and the privacy concerns they said the law raised.
But Duncan compared surveillance to a needle in a haystack. In order to find the needle, you must first get access to the haystack, he said.
“You’re not following every bit of straw all the time, everyday of the week,” Duncan said. “So this is not mass surveillance.”
He added that defense against cyberattacks is becoming more important, both with defending against terrorism and with the increasing threat that is Russia.
“Cyber must be embedded in comprehensive defense policy of any country and comprehensive operation policy,” Duncan said. “Cyber is like the new frontier. It can be extremely challenging, or it can also be highly useful.”
Brian Kurukulasuriya, a fourth-year in political science, said he was very excited to meet the minister at Ohio State.
“I grow up in a small midwest town in Missouri,” Kurukulasuriya said. “One thing I love about Ohio State is getting to experience and see big players within the foreign policy field and interacting with them face to face.”
Kurukulasuriya said Duncan’s set of characteristics left a great impression on him.
“He is so unique in the conservative party, given that he is very liberal for conservatives,” Kurukulasuriya said. “He was advocating to remain in the European Union but now he has to represent government and represent the policies.”
He also said the close alliance between the U.S and U.K. made seeing Duncan more important, something Duncan mentioned in his speech.
“It’s one of the things that endures seamlessly regardless of who is in power on either side,” Duncan said in his closing, adding that he wasn’t at Ohio State to pick political sides. “There is a natural understanding that we trust each other.”