The UK’s strategic reset gets…reset
The Ukraine war has triggered a major review of British foreign policy but, yet again, the opposition parties are shut out until it’s over. Which is a pity because, as the record shows, the Labour Party party got it right first time.
The Intergrated Review published in March 2021 (IR21) was hailed as a “strategic reset” of British foreign policy. But when Liz Truss came to power, 18 months later, the threats had escalated so badly (and unexpectedly) that she ordered an urgent update: the reset needed a reset. For good measure she pledged to hike defence spending to 3% of GDP by 2030.
Under Rishi Sunak, the update — known in Whitehall as the “Refresh” — continues. But Truss’ 3% spending committment is now gone. So, too, is the windy language of the Johnson era, which had promised Britain would become a “science superpower”. We will stand up to our competitors, says Sunak, “not with grand rhetoric but with robust pragmatism”.
What’s at issue now is: where to focus Britain’s defence, intelligence, aid and diplomatic clout in an environment where money is short, the threats are intensifying and the need for state-led technological innovation acute?
And much more urgently than in 2021: what’s the endgame? What kind of international order should the West expect to rescue, as the very concepts of international law and universal human rights are challenged by Russia and China. And with which allies?
Labour, as in 2021, remains an unwilling bystander to the IR Refresh. Even before the original was published, Shadow Defence Secretary John Healey warned:
The most important thing the Government can do in the Integrated Review is to refocus our defence efforts on where the threats are, not where the business opportunities might be. Labour in government would give the highest priority to Europe, the North Atlantic and the high North — our NATO area — where Russia’s growing arsenal of longer-range missiles, together with modernised land and sea forces and intensified greyzone activity, pose the greatest threats to our vital national interests.