The British Cabinet Office published its defence review "Global Britain in a Competitive Age: the Integrated Review of Security, Defence, Development and Foreign Policy" on 13 March 2021. The review, which outlines the UK's plans for the future of Foreign policy until 2030, envisions the country to shape the international order by strategic advantages in science and technology while also strengthening domestic and global resilience.
The document replaces previously separate reviews into foreign policy, defence, national security, and international development, such as the National Security Strategy (the latest one dating from 2010 with an update in 2012) and the Strategic Defence and Security Review (from 2015).
The integrated review analyses the security and international environment for the coming decade as one in which “the nature and distribution of global power are changing towards a more competitive and multipolar world.” The decade will be marked by geopolitical and -economical shifts, which will see the rise of multipolar world order; systemic competition both between states and non-state actors; rapid technological change, especially digitalisation; and transnational challenges “such as climate change, global health risks, illicit finance, serious and organised crime (SOC) and terrorism”; as well as the long-term effect of COVID-19.
The strategic framework, with which the UK wants to respond to these challenges consists of “sustaining strategic advantage through science and technology”, “Shaping the open international order”, “Strengthening security and defence at home and overseas” and “Building resilience at home and overseas.”
Science and Technology (S&T) are to be utilised to sustain a strategic advantage by “taking an active approach to building and sustaining a durable competitive edge in S&T”. This is to be achieved in a “whole-of-UK” effort which aims also at wider policy goals, such as net zero carbon emissions and economic growth. It is also meant to “cement the UK’s position as a responsible and democratic cyber power.”
The UK also hopes to be more active in shaping the international order. In this, it “remains deeply committed to multilateralism” seeking to work with the United Nations as well as other regional organisations. The main goal here is to “to support open societies and defend human rights, as a force for good in the world.” It also seeks to “shape an open, resilient global economy”, with “values-driven” trade to be put “at the heart of Global Britain”. The UK will also seek “to shape the international order as it develops in future frontiers” meaning space and cyberspace. To this end, a new Space Commands is to be established by Summer 2021 and commercial launch capabilities in the UK are to be developed.
The review points out that the main ally of the UK will remain the United States, but it also sees Europe and Australia, Canada and New Zealand as well as the Commonwealth as important partners. It does, however, takes a strong stance against Russia: “until relations with its government improve, we will actively deter and defend against the full spectrum of threats emanating from it.” Views on China are more mixed: On the one hand “both benefit from bilateral trade” while at the same time it “presents the biggest state-based threat to the UK’s economic security.”
The UK is to set out on “a more robust approach in response to the deteriorating global security environment, adapting to systemic competition and a wider range of state and non-state threats.” Both its collective security arrangements, as well as bolstering its own national defences are to work towards this goal. While upgrading its overseas bases and defence staffs, the UK also seeks a modernisation and even a slight expansion of its nuclear force. This will see both an increase of the nuclear weapon stockpile to “no more than 260 warheads”, a replacement of the Vanguard class ballistic missile submarine (SSBN) with the Dreadnought class and a replacement warhead, developed together with the US. The review points out that Britain, after an “Over £24bn increase in cash terms over four years” has made it “the largest European spender on defence in NATO and the second largest in the Alliance.” Despite this, the review emphasises that Britain is still committed to arms control and disarmament.
Besides these more traditional aspects of security policy, the review also discusses the British counterterrorism and anti-SOC strategies. Terrorism is to be combatted both inland and abroad, primarily through combating its roots. Of note is also the specific mention of Northern Ireland-related terrorism in this context. SOC is to be combatted in a similar way and both are to be enhanced by a strong border control mechanism.
Resilience is to be build up both at home and abroad. While unspecific on what exactly the resilience is to be directed against domestically, globally, the targets are clearly defined: climate change, biodiversity loss and threats related to health. The review emphasises its commitment to net zero emissions by 2050 and “will work to accelerate the transition to a zero-carbon global economy and protect and restore biodiversity.” In regard to health, a stated goal is to “to reform the WHO, applying the lessons of COVID-19.”