• The report concluded that cooperation with China will be vital in tackling various transnational challenges, in particular climate change and biodiversity loss
• It report identifies the Indo-Pacific – including major Asian powers such as India, Japan and South Korea, as well as Indonesia and Vietnam – as ‘critical’ to UK economy
Britain on Tuesday unveiled plans to pivot its strategic focus towards Asia, counter Russia and controversially bolster its nuclear stockpile, in one of the biggest overhauls of security, defence and foreign policy since the Cold War era. The conclusions of the government’s so-called Integrated Review, crafted over the past year as London recalibrates its post-Brexit foreign policy, include labelling China a “systemic competitor” that also requires engagement. The 120-page document – entitled “Global Britain in a Competitive Age” – identifies Russia as the “most acute direct threat to the UK” which poses “the full spectrum” of dangers. It also notably announces an increase to Britain’s nuclear arsenal, reversing a previous commitment to reduce the stockpile to 180 warheads by pledging to increase it to 260 by the end of the decade, “in recognition of the evolving security environment”
“History has shown that democratic societies are the strongest supporters of an open and resilient international order,” Prime Minister Boris Johnson wrote in a foreword to the review. “To be open, we must also be secure. Protecting our people, our homeland and our democracy is the first duty of any government.”
Johnson said that boosting Britain’s nuclear deterrent, which is maintained via four nuclear-armed submarines, was part of the UK’s biggest programme of investment in defence since the end of the Cold War.
“This will demonstrate to our allies, in Europe and beyond, that they can always count on the UK when it really matters,” he said.
The Integrated Review comes as Britain’s relations with both Moscow and Beijing have become increasingly strained, on issues ranging from espionage and cyberattacks to human rights. The report identifies the Indo-Pacific region – including major Asian powers such as India, Japan and South Korea, as well as emerging economies like Indonesia and Vietnam – as “critical” to Britain’s economy, security and “global ambition to support open societies”.
The UK has already applied for partner status at the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean), while Johnson is due to make his first post-EU visit to India in April. Despite describing Beijing as a “systemic competitor”, the integrated review noted its growing power and international assertiveness were likely to be the most significant geopolitical factor of the decade. The report concluded that cooperation with China would be vital in tackling various transnational challenges, in particular climate change and biodiversity loss.
“Open, trading economies like the UK will need to engage with China and remain open to Chinese trade and investment,” it said, while flagging the need to protect against “practices that have an adverse effect on prosperity and security”.
Other key areas addressed by the review include plans for the military to adopt cutting-edge technologies such as drones and artificial intelligence. There will also be a new focus on space and cyber, as well as a revamp of Britain’s ability to respond to security threats with the creation of a White House-style situation room. A new counterterrorism Operations Centre is also proposed.
The review is said to be a response to a changing world in which Britain “cannot rely solely on an increasingly outdated international system”. It stresses the continuing importance of alliances, including with Nato, but set out a new foreign policy of “increased international activism… to shape a more open international order in which democracies flourish”.
Immediate attention will likely be on nuclear weapons, given repeated calls for Britain’s Trident programme to be scrapped given global moves towards disarmament after the Cold War.
The Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament (CND) and the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons (ICAN) both condemned the move. ICAN executive director Beatrice Fihn accused Britain of “pushing for a dangerous new nuclear arms race”. She said it was “irresponsible, dangerous and violates international law”, adding: “This is toxic masculinity on display.”