Integrated Review 2021: Britain plots an open and resilient global order

Prime Minister Boris Johnson envisages UK becoming serious world player once more

PORTSMOUTH, ENGLAND - SEPTEMBER 26: In this handout image provided by the Ministry of Defence, Royal Navy Commander, Nathan Gray lands his F-35B onboard HMS Queen Elizabeth on September 26, 2018 in Portsmouth, England.  Two F-35B Lightning II fighter jets have successfully landed onboard HMS Queen Elizabeth for the first time, laying the foundations for the next 50 years of fixed wing aviation in support of the UKs Carrier Strike Capability.
Royal Navy Commander, Nathan Gray, 41, made history by being the first to land on, carefully manoeuvring his stealth jet onto the thermal coated deck. He was followed by Squadron Leader Andy Edgell, RAF, both of whom are test pilots, operating with the Integrated Test Force (ITF) based at Naval Air Station Patuxent River, Maryland.
Shortly afterwards, once a deck inspection has been conducted and the all-clear given, Cdr Gray became the first pilot to take off using the ships ski-ramp. (Photo by LPhot Kyle Heller/Ministry of Defence via Getty Images)

Almost every ally of the UK is mentioned by name in the government's Integrated Review, as well as its enemies and potential adversaries.

Then almost every asset is highlighted, from the BBC to money spent on tackling climate change to increasing its nuclear arsenal, with a view to their utility in extending the UK's reach and power.

What becomes clear over the 120 pages of Global Britain in a Competitive Age is that Prime Minister Boris Johnson has a vision of the UK becoming a serious world player once again.

“We will lead where we are best placed to do so,” the review said.

It certainly does not fail in its ambition to be the most important strategic review since the Cold War ended.

Britain is a medium power, yet Mr Johnson is fighting to take it to the top of that league.

With Brexit, Covid-19 and Donald Trump slipping into the rear-view mirror, Mr Johnson clearly feels liberated to set Britain a new course in the world.

Britain will not only be a resurgent military power ready to fight when required, it will also use its science, technology, diplomacy, intelligence and overseas aid to assert itself

The review said that a change in direction was necessary, as China and Russia's twisting regulations to own advantage led to uncertainty over the international rules-based system.

“A defence of the status quo is no longer sufficient for the decade ahead,” it said. “The Integrated Review therefore recognises the need for a sharper and more dynamic focus in order to … shape the international order of the future by working with others.”

Britain is looking to set the example for a world system that benefits all and where it can create “shared rules in frontiers such as cyber space and space”.

While the handling of the coronavirus crisis was dismal at first, one year on Britain's medical, research and scientific powerbase is seeing the country progress through the pandemic with great optimism.

By 2027, the UK intends to spend 2.4 per cent of its gross domestic product on research and development, with the government championing innovation.

The ambition “is to become the top destination for international talent” with professional opportunities to attract the “best scientists, researchers and innovators worldwide”.

Despite the governing Conservative Party being frequently angered by the corporation’s alleged left-wing bias, the BBC is trumpeted as the “most trusted broadcaster worldwide” reaching 468 million people a week in 42 languages.

Britain's cultural impact on the world is lauded. “One in eight music albums sold around the world is by a UK artist,” the report said.

“One quarter of global box office receipts are driven by UK-made films.”

Britain is a leading diplomatic network, the review said, with 281 posts in 178 countries, one of the largest funders of the World Health Organisation and biggest donors to the Covax world vaccination programme.

This is, the review said, one of the reasons why Britain is a “soft power superpower”, an assertion backed by the government’s decision to restore 0.7 per cent of GDP to the overseas aid budget.

In a throwback to Britain's days as a major trading power, the review backed an "open, resilient global economy, restoring trust in free and fair trade", while also remaining "deeply committed" to multilateralism.

Space is a frontier the review promises to explore in pursuit of Global Britain, with concerted military and civilian strategy. This will grow the commercial sector in a “congested and contested space domain” with a new space command created and the ability to launch satellites from Britain next year.

Climate change rides high on the agenda, with the UK committing £11.6bn ($16.1bn) to International Climate Finance over the next five years.

But alongside its soft power comes Britain's controversial announcement to increase its nuclear warhead stockpile by 40 per cent from 180 to 260.

Additionally, there is the very significant £24bn increase in defence funding, not for guns and bullets but for smart weaponry and fewer troops.

Defence will benefit with £6.6bn earmarked to develop an “enduring military edge” in space, in directed energy weapons and advanced high-speed missiles.

Britain will become an offensive cyber power with “responsible, targeted and proportionate” operations in contrast to “some of our adversaries”.

The armed forces will be prepared for warfighting and be “more persistently engaged worldwide”, equipped with “full-spectrum capabilities” from space to cyber and drones.

Integrated Review: UK frames Russia as greater threat than China

Russia is singled out as the main opponent. "Until relations with its government improve, we will actively deter and defend against the full spectrum of threats emanating from Russia."

Perhaps tempered by Mr Johnson being a self-declared Sinophile, the review adopted a less forceful tone towards China, simply referring to its “increasing international assertiveness” and a country with which Britain needs to trade.

However, it does emphasise the “Indo-Pacific” tilt by significantly re-engaging with India as a counterbalance to China and by signalling that Britain’s operational aircraft carrier will head to the South China Sea this year.

While the UK will remain the leading European ally in Nato, there is little comfort offered to the European Union as a whole, especially at a time when relations are at a low ebb over Brexit and Covid-19 vaccinations.

While the EU could become a global competitor, the review emphasises strong bilateral relations with Germany, France and Ireland.

Integrated Review: UK strongly aligned with Joe Biden's White House

Inevitably, the US remains "our most important bilateral relationship" in defence, intelligence, trade and investment. With the confusion of Mr Trump's tenure removed, there is a strong alignment with President Joe Biden's views.

Britain will work with the US and others in a renewed diplomatic effort to “prevent Iran from developing a nuclear weapon” and to “hold it to account for its destabilising activity in the region”.

President Joe Biden pauses to salute as he boards Air Force One at Andrews Air Force Base, Md., Tuesday, March 16, 2021, en route to Philadelphia International Airport in Philadelphia. (AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster)

By 2030, the review claims, Britain will be “deeply engaged in the Indo-Pacific as the European partner with the broadest, most integrated presence in support of mutually-beneficial trade, shared security and values”.

Britain’s allies are likely to welcome the review’s breadth and depth, as well as its unusual emphasis on co-operation alongside the UK’s promised active presence in the world.

While the Integrated Review sets out a clear-headed and robust vision for Britain’s new global role it is, ultimately, 120 pages of words.

Whether the document can be matched by reality will define Britain as a world power over the next decade. What is clear is that it is no longer a country in retreat.

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