April 23, 2021

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5 ways forward for Global Britain

4 min read
David Lidington analyzes the UK's review of foreign policy.

David Lidington is chair of RUSI, a defense and security think tank, and former Cabinet office minister and chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster.

LONDON — There’s been plenty of skepticism both here in the U.K. and capitals around the world about whether “Global Britain” can be more than a campaign slogan. The government’s long-awaited Integrated Review should go a very long way to put those concerns to rest.

The review, published Tuesday, provides a sharp, compelling analysis of the changing nature of the threats facing the U.K. and defines a security strategy for the next decade and beyond.

Five themes in particular stand out: a focus on technology and innovation; a strategic rather than a tactical response to China; a commitment to internationalism; a reset of relationships with Europe and a recognition that the whole of government shares responsibility for national security.

Among these, the centrality of scientific and technological innovation for our security is particularly important. In part, this is about refocusing the U.K.’s defense capabilities more on AI, robotics, drones and cyber. That’s what others, including our adversaries, are now doing. You only have to look at the cyberattacks on the Baltic States in recent years or the advantage that deploying drones gave Azerbaijan during its war with Armenia this winter to see that we have to embrace this shift in priorities.

But the emphasis on technology goes much deeper than new kit for the forces. The government understands that unless we are able to re-galvanize our capacity for innovation, other powers will achieve dominance in key technologies and supply chains, severely inhibiting our ability to influence or challenge them and weakening our own defenses.

This insight is key to how we manage the second theme: our relationship with China. Sanctions against Huawei or TikTok are beside the point. China’s leaders aren’t bothered about the success or failure of individual companies. Their objective, set out for anyone to read in their paper “Made in China 2025,” is to establish a leading position for China in all the key 21st-century technologies, from new generation telecoms to synthetic biology and quantum computing.

The challenge for the democratic world is to make sure that we don’t end up in the position where we have no choice but to rely on Chinese suppliers. This means that domestic policies on competitiveness, investment, innovation and skills must be treated as key elements of our national security strategy.

On China, the prime minister has got the balance right: standing up for our values and our interests and working more energetically with allies like Japan and India, but also cooperating with Beijing where we can, for example on climate change and biodiversity, and maintaining a clear-eyed, business-like relationship on trade and investment.

When it comes to the third theme, internationalism, while the review has plenty of Johnsonian optimism about Britain’s ability to play an influential global role, it’s also strong on the importance of working with partners and reinvigorating “international institutions, laws and norms that enable open societies and economies to flourish.” It is explicit in saying that the U.K. will not be able to do everything alone and that “collective action and co-creation with our allies and partners will be vitally important.”

Welcome, too, is the recognition that the U.K.’s soft-power represents an enormous asset. It’s good to see the government hailing the BBC as the most trusted broadcaster in the world and saluting the worldwide cultural influence that the U.K. is able to exercise through the arts, sciences and creative industries.

On the fourth theme, while the review does herald a tilt to the Indo-Pacific, it also states clearly that the Euro-Atlantic region remains the U.K.’s prime security focus. The description of the U.K. as “a European country with global interests” is one that both Leavers and Remainers should endorse.

I hope I’m right, too, in spotting a few other olive branches for the EU and its members (and for that matter to the pro-European half of the U.K. population): continued commitment to European security; refreshed bilateral relationships with France, Germany, Ireland and others; acknowledgement of EU’s role in promoting peace and prosperity in Europe and a promise to “find new ways of working with it on shared challenges”; and firm support for the independence of Ukraine.

Over the last few months, we’ve been living through the inevitable aftershocks that followed the seismic experience of Brexit. It would be in the interest of both sides for London, Brussels and the EU27 to think and work strategically to build a new, long-term relationship that bolsters our shared interest in strengthening a democratic, pluralist model of society that is now under increasing pressure.

Finally, the review is clear that every part of government should share responsibility for national security. It doubles down on the Theresa May government’s fusion doctrine: “Adversaries and competitors are already acting in a more integrated way — fusing military and civilian technology and increasingly blurring the boundaries between war and peace, prosperity and security, trade and development, and domestic and foreign policy.” The U.K. needs to get smarter in its response.

Turning these ambitions into effective actions will be a huge challenge requiring difficult choices, unflagging energy and relentless determination. But the direction set by the Integrated Review is certainly a good start.

Source: POLITICO https://www.politico.eu/article/5-ways-forward-for-global-britain/?utm_source=RSS_Feed&utm_medium=RSS&utm_campaign=RSS_Syndication

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