In 2019, the Government of the United Kingdom announced its intention to carry out an integrated review of security, defence and foreign policy that will cover all aspects of international policy from defence to diplomacy to development. There has been a review of defence policy once a decade since the 1950s, with this review stated to be “the most radical reassessment of our place in the world since the end of the Cold War”. The Integrated Review has been published today, 16th March 2021.
The European Leadership Network (ELN) has collected responses and reflections from some of its network members and policy experts. For any media enquiries or to be put in touch with our members, please email [email protected]:
Sir Adam Thomson, Director of the ELN and former diplomat who served as Permanent Representative to NATO between 2014 and 2016:
A major question is whether Global Britain is going to have merely a defensive, reactive posture to a worsening international context or whether it is going to work to change that context. Simply reacting to great power competition has a way of reinforcing it.
A major question is whether Global Britain is going to have merely a defensive, reactive posture to a worsening international context or whether it is going to work to change that context Sir Adam Thomson
It is important but relatively easy to toughen the deterrence. It is harder to describe a way out.
It is welcome that more language than in previous reviews is given to nuclear arms control, disarmament, non-proliferation and the UK being the champion of strategic risk reduction. But what’s the meat? Fresh ideas? Big ideas?
At the NPT Review Conference this August, HMG will have to explain its reversal on nuclear warhead numbers not just to Russia or China but to a sceptical international community. How will it describe its roadmap to the world without nuclear weapons, to which it is committed?
Rt. Hon. Sir Malcolm Rifkind, ELN Senior Network Member and Former British Foreign and Defence Secretary:
The section of the Report on Nuclear Weapons is important. The Government states that our nuclear weapon stockpile will be increased from not more than 225 to not more than 260 warheads. The only explanation given is “the evolving security environment including the developing range of technological and doctrinal threats”.
While this is non-specific, it is likely that it refers both to recent Russian rhetoric that implies that nuclear weapons could be available for warfighting not just as a deterrent; and the signs that China is making significant increases to its nuclear arsenal.
Increasing the number of warheads without increasing the number of delivery vehicles is unlikely to make a significant difference to the UK’s nuclear weapons capability. It may be that the UK may be considering changing its targeting planning and policy now that there is a potential nuclear weapons threat not just from Russia alone.
While these anxieties are understandable, the proposed increase in warheads is disturbing. It will weaken the effectiveness of the Non-Proliferation Treaty and invite severe criticism from many non-nuclear states.
Given that this is the first increase in UK nuclear weapons warheads since the end of the Cold War, it would be sensible for the Government to provide more information as to its rationale for this proposed change. It could do that without revealing any sensitive information or changing its policy of deliberate ambiguity which is very sensible.
While these anxieties are understandable the proposed increase in warheads is disturbing. It will weaken the effectiveness of the Non-Proliferation Treaty and invite severe criticism from many non-nuclear states. Rt. Hon. Sir Malcolm Rifkind
Heather Williams, ELN Senior Associate Fellow:
There’s no avoiding that this will complicate the NPT Review Conference later this year. The UK will need to clarify how it plans to contribute to and lead on nuclear disarmament amidst these changes in the stockpile number.
The Integrated Review suggests that the security environment has drastically changed since the last Review, particularly in Europe. I’m watching to see how other European actors, including NATO, respond to this announcement and if it unites or divides the alliance.
One of the most striking elements is the emphasis on the UK’s contribution to NATO. Clearly it sees a strong nuclear alliance as the best response to the changing strategic environment.
The UK has finally caught up with Russia and the US in recognizing that “strategic stability” is becoming more complicated, particularly due to threats from emerging technologies. While the UK understandably wants more flexibility in this new strategic environment, that has to be balanced with nuclear risk reduction. Multilateral initiatives, such as the P5 process and CEND can hopefully contribute to these efforts.
Jane Kinnimont, Director of Impact at the ELN:
The report flags an ambitious agenda to reshape multilateralism, conceived as a shift from “defending the rules-based international order” to a more proactive effort to shape future rules beyond an “outdated” international system, especially when it comes to democracy and openness in the digital and cyber realms.
The centrality of climate change and protecting biodiversity – the “top international priority” – is another marked shift. It follows the lead of Germany, Sweden, and most recently the US under the Biden administration in bringing the climate agenda squarely into the international security policy discussion.
As the review is rolled out into detailed strategies, it would be good to see a more in-depth focus on what the UK can do to prevent and resolve international conflicts, an area where it has a great deal of capacity and knowledge and a track record of multilateral work, but which is given limited airtime in the report.
It would be good to see a more in-depth focus on what the UK can do to prevent and resolve international conflicts, an area where it has a great deal of capacity and knowledge and a track record of multilateral work, but which is given limited airtime in the report Jane Kinnimont
Sebastian Brixey-Williams, Member of the ELN’s Younger Generation Leaders Network (YGLN), and Co-Director of BASIC:
The Johnson Government has set a decisive course away from the United Kingdom’s three decade-long trend of successive nuclear reductions and increasing transparency.
There is also more positive language on the importance the UK places on trust, mutual security, dialogue, risk reduction, and responsibility. It is only through the practice of these principles that we will improve the security context for the next Review Sebastian Brixey-Williams
One suspects that the decision to increase the warhead cap to 260 and revoke access to operational stockpile, deployed warhead, and deployed missile numbers will not have been taken lightly by HMG.
The Government which will be well aware of the intense negative domestic and international publicity this change will bring, and the moral high ground that they will lose as they attempt to convince states like Russia, China and North Korea to reduce their own numbers further.
The timing is particularly unfortunate: announcing increased warhead numbers just before the Tenth Non-Proliferation Treaty Review Conference feels regrettably like the tone-deaf plan to build a new Cumbrian coal mine in the run up to COP26.
But there is also more positive language on the importance the UK places on trust, mutual security, dialogue, risk reduction, and responsibility. It is only through the practice of these principles that we will improve the security context for the next Review.