The government’s recent Integrated Review of Security, Defence, Development and Foreign Policy projects and promotes a post-Brexit ‘Global Britain’ that is on the offensive, ‘projecting force’ globally. Indeed it can be summarised as an ‘attack’ document. It makes much of Britain being western Europe’s most heavily armed nation, of its leadership role in NATO, and its deploying of forces worldwide. Britain is ready to deter – and defeat if necessary. Its determination to defend democracy against systemic competition, shaping a new open international order, is a leaf out of the Trumpian book, and there is much that is reminiscent of the strategies and postures of the Trump administration. Situating Britain firmly as the US’s junior partner is a clear message throughout.
The Review comes against the backdrop of last autumn’s major ‘defence’ spending increase – £24 billion on top of the existing budget over the next four years. It also includes a drop in the international aid budget to 0.5% with the claim that this will be restored to 0.7% when finances allow.
The key strategic shift lies in the focus on the Indo-Pacific region – described as a ‘tilt’; this includes the Indian Ocean and its two key powers, India and Australia, along with the UK and Japan and others, as a network of regional allies against China – mirroring the US ‘Quad’ approach. This makes a break with the UK’s 2015 Strategic Defence and Security Review (SDSR) which promoted closer relationships across the Asia-Pacific, including both China and India. While Russia is described as the ‘most acute threat’, China is clearly the main strategic focus.
The Review includes a major announcement on nuclear weapons, increasing the UK’s nuclear weapons stockpile from the current approx 195 to 260. This reverses the 2010 SDSR announcement to reduce the stockpile to 180. This process which has been ongoing since 2010 will now be reversed, ending three decades of gradual reductions in the UK’s nuclear arsenal. It is at odds with the renewal of the New START Treaty by Presidents Biden and Putin earlier this year which continues bilateral nuclear weapons reductions between the two countries. It has led to observations that the UK is starting a new nuclear arms race.
The Review also includes a change in nuclear use posture – now reserving the right to use nuclear weapons not only against nuclear threats but against supposedly comparable threats, such as chemical and biological weapons or ‘emerging technologies’. An additional change is an end to the UK’s much-vaunted transparency on nuclear weapons – an extension of the policy of deliberate ambiguity and an end to giving public figures for the ‘operational stockpile, deployed warhead or deployed missile numbers.’
The Teutates agreement with France, cooperating on nuclear weapons testing simulations will continue, and the renewal of the US/UK Mutual Defence Agreement – the world’s most extensive nuclear sharing agreement – is announced for 2024.
The previous announcement of the deployment this year of a ‘British and allied’ Carrier Strike Group heading to the South China Sea, via the Mediterranean and Middle East was reinforced; featuring the Queen Elizabeth aircraft carrier it is described as ‘the UK’s most ambitious global deployment for two decades’.
The Review includes the announcement of new combat planes, predator drones and the expansion of military activities, giving more detail on the announcements trailed in the autumn – notably the National Cyber Force, with attack capability; the Artificial Intelligence Centre, including military R and D; and the RAF Space Command, with the first rocket launch due in 2022. There is a strong emphasis on the UK being a Science and Tech superpower but the main focus is on military applications with opportunities for ‘dual use’.
Other areas in the Review include Britain’s super soft-power as well as health and climate resilience but these seem subordinate to the major military-oriented thrust of the document.
The military aspects were fleshed out in more detail in two further documents published subsequently:
The Defence Command Paper focusing on the armed forces, emphasises modernisation, being more assertive, and a greater ‘forward deployed presence around the world’. It states that future battlefields will be less defined by the physical environment and more by the technological advances of adversaries.
The paper announces an enormous amount of new military hardware – including aircraft, outlining plans for a future Combat Air system, destroyers, and a new ‘Multi-Role Ocean Surveillance capability’ – as well as retiring old hardware, including some tanks.
Forces personnel will be reduced by almost 10,000 to 72,500 by 2025.
The Defence and Security Industrial Strategy reads like an advertisement for the arms trade. It outlines the reviewing of equipment and the spending of £85 billion on equipment and support over four years. Most of this money is already announced and accounted for but some is new.
There is a strong emphasis on greater onshore production, a sustainable base for the sector – really referring to security of supply chains – and the development of the defence and security industry for export. R and D, and increased jobs in the sector is much stressed, making it sound as though the vision of post-Brexit global Britain is of an economy based on weapons production and sales.
There is some reference to nuclear warheads, stating that the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) prevents Britain from buying nuclear warheads from the US, so we make our own – obviously closely modelled on US warheads so they fit the missiles that we do buy from the US.
It also states that the MoD will review its requirements to spend on this as it moves to develop the new warheads. That sounds like additional spending on nuclear weapons coming down the path.
Taken together, these documents constitute nuclear rearmament, dangerous military expansionism across a vast range of platforms and sectors, and a ramping up of aggressive UK posturing that can only contribute to global instability.
We have our work cut out to oppose these developments. If you haven’t already done so, please write to the Prime Minister to object, using our online lobby tool.