In the 2019 General Election the ruling Conservative Party’s manifesto promised Britain would spend at least two percent of GDP on defence and 0.7 percent on international development. Britain has also pledged to spend billions of pounds to maintain an independent nuclear deterrent.
British Prime Minister Boris Johnson is unveiling plans to radically overhaul UK foreign and defence policy to recognise the realities of Brexit. The UK’s new foreign policy stems from a preconception that a return to Cold War-style superpowers is unlikely to happen, while “middle powers” are likely to grow in their influence.
Presenting his foreign policy review to the British parliament, Johnson asserted that London’s primary approach will be “diplomacy first”. He also noted that the new policy means the UK will have to “re-learn the art of competing” against countries with values different from those preached by London.
UK to Counter ‘Threats’ From China, Russia
The head of the British government announced that London is planning to continue defending the “integrity of [the] nation” in the face of state threats, pointing at China and Russia as a potential source of challenges in this field.
The foreign policy review namely said that Beijing’s increasing power and assertiveness are likely to become the main “geopolitical factor” of the current decade. The document stressed that the UK will have to make more efforts to adapt to China’s growing impact on the world. Prime Minister Johnson namely suggested that Beijing should be brought into the fold of the strategic nuclear arms reduction initiatives, despite China previously dismissing such proposals.
At the same time, London is not planning on cutting ties to Beijing for good. Instead, the UK plans on developing a positive trade and investment relationship with China. While presenting the policy, Johnson elaborated that London will cooperate with Beijing, where its values are consistent with those of the UK.
Speaking about Russia, the review labelled the country the “most acute threat” to the UK’s security in the Euro-Atlantic region. The foreign policy paper vowed that the UK will actively defend against the “full spectrum of threats” presumably emanating from Russia, as well as take steps to deter Moscow.
“Through NATO, we will ensure a united Western response, combining our military, diplomatic, and intelligence assets in support of collective security. We will uphold international rules and norms and hold Russia to account for breaches of these, working with our international partners”, the review read.
UK to Build New Joint Counter-Terrorism Centre
State actors, however, are not the only source of threats that Johnson’s foreign policy review aims to deal with. Under the new guidelines, London will establish a Counter Terrorism Centre (CTOC) that will include security and intelligence agencies, government departments, as well as certain parts of the judicial system in an attempt to get an upper hand in dealing with the evolving threat of terrorism, according to the review.
“This integrated approach will: improve the speed of response, with multi-agency teams established dynamically to tackle incidents as they unfold; strengthen end-to-end management of terrorist offenders; and foster innovation”, the document says.
London Plans to Boost Its Nuclear Stockpiles
The review outlined a significant change to the country’s nuclear forces, citing the necessity for changes dictated by the “evolving security environment”.
Under its new foreign policy, London will scrap previous plans to limit the number of nuclear warheads to 180 by the middle of the 2020s. Instead, the UK will ramp up the limit all the way to 260 warheads, with Johnson claiming the reduction was “no longer possible” due to a “developing range of technological and doctrinal threats”.
UK to Cooperate With Israel, Saudi Arabia on Security, as US Remains Key Partner
NATO will not be the only entity that London will rely on in maintaining the country’s security, according to the UK’s foreign policy review. The United States will remain the most important ally of the UK, the document noted. In addition to Washington, London announced that it will rely on close security partnerships with Israel and Saudi Arabia.
The Integrated Review of Security, Defence, Development, and Foreign Policy will also involve a tilt towards India and the Pacific.
Biden’s first summit and the first leaders’ meeting of the Quad (US, Aus, India, Japan). Relevant to the idea of an Indo-Pacific tilt as a centrepiece of the UK’s strategy. The Quad is driving Asian security issues. UK will only ever be a secondary player. https://t.co/B9UlxG8NKv
— Peter Ricketts (@LordRickettsP) March 13, 2021
Mr Johnson will travel to Delhi next month to meet Prime Minister Narendra Modi, an indication that Britain is taking sides with India in its growing power struggle with China.
Britain will also apply for partner status in the Association of South East Asian Nations (ASEAN), another step designed to boost trade and political links with countries like Vietnam, Thailand, Malaysia, and Indonesia.
Nuclear insanity https://t.co/DeNVait5x2 The UK plan to build new nuclear warheads proves we’re in the lower echelons of world power now. It’s time for a change of foreign policy.
— Richard Murphy (@RichardJMurphy) March 16, 2021
The aircraft carrier HMS Queen Elizabeth, which has been plagued with technical problems since it launched in 2014, will be sent to the Indian Ocean and possibly the South China Sea later this year for its first operational deployment.
In a statement on the government’s website Mr Johnson said: “(We have) set in train the biggest review of our foreign, defence, security, and development policy since the end of the Cold War. We need to grasp the opportunities of the next decade and deliver upon the government’s priorities”.
He went on to say: “This is a defining moment in how the UK relates to the rest of the world and we want to take this unique opportunity to reassess our priorities and our approach to delivering them”.
The Prime Minister will publish the integrated review of our defence and foreign policy later today. @DominicRaab sets out how it will make the UK more secure, more prosperous, and an even stronger force for good in the world.pic.twitter.com/C0PNO4u762
— James Cleverly (@JamesCleverly) March 16, 2021
The review promises that Britain “will be a problem-solving and burden-sharing nation”, although it is extremely vague about what that will mean in terms of policy.
There is no mention of an ethical foreign policy – as first set out by Robin Cook in 1997 – and no sign that Britain will burn its bridges with Saudi Arabia or other countries with questionable human rights records.
Dominic Raab confirming he’s expanding the UK nuclear arsenal then declaring he must stop Iran developing nuclear weapons is an explosive contradiction from a Foreign Secretary with an imperial mentality
— Kevin Maguire (@Kevin_Maguire) March 16, 2021
Boris Johnson’s government says it will also make addressing climate change and preserving biodiversity its top priority and on Tuesday, 16 March, Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab said Britain would work with China on issues such as climate change.
The opposition Labour Party said there was a “yawning chasm” between the government’s words and its actions and shadow foreign secretary Lisa Nandy said Boris Johnson had “left our defences down in our own backyard”.