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  • Writer's pictureJessica Toale

The Integrated Review Explained

by Jessica Toale

The government’s long awaited Integrated Review was billed as ‘the most radical reassessment of our place in the world since the end of the Cold War.’ It aimed to cover all areas of international policy from defence and diplomacy to development and respond to the emerging threats and opportunities the UK faces on a global stage.

But would it chart a brave new path and put some meat on the bones of a post-Brexit Global Britain or would it simply act to justify decisions already made?

After multiple delays, we now have the Integrated Review and a clearer idea of the government’s vision for Britain. Let's take a look at what was in it, what was missing and how Labour responded.

What was in it?

The Integrated Review is a 100-page document that sets out the Prime Minister’s Vision for 2030 elaborated through a Strategic Framework with four objectives. Sovereignty makes its first appearance as a top UK interest alongside security and prosperity and a definition of what Global Britain based on openness, robust security and deterrence, the UK as a force for good and collaboration emerges. Security, trade, science and technology, action on climate change and health risks are areas identified as both risks in the changing geopolitical context but also areas where the UK has or can build upon strategic advantages.

Some things in particular to note:

  • Measured tone and realistic ambition – Many commentators appear to have been surprised by the tone, which was less hubristic than expected. Britain is described as a “problem solving and burden-sharing” country and “collaborative”. There is a lot of emphasis on cooperation, co-creation and leading where the UK is best placed to support others. Perhaps this is tacit recognition of the UK’s status as a middle power? It notes that the geopolitical power of middle powers will continue to grow, particularly when acting together.

  • Science and technology – Rapid technological change is identified as one of the contextual shifts informing the reform. Sustaining the UK’s science and technology capabilities permeates the report and forms one of its strategic objectives. It is recognised as one of Britain’s greatest strengths, a foundation for our security and prosperity and a key element of the government’s Levelling Up ambition. The government outlines an ambition to become a magnet for international innovation, a democratic cyber power, an open digital economy and a meaningful actor in space. There is also ambition for a significant shift to ‘digital’ defence.

  • Shaping the rules-based order and being a force for good– The review sets out a clear ambition to shift from defending the rule-based order to actively seeking to influence and shape it in the face of growing authoritarianism. It also identifies the areas where UK is strong enough to lead: support for open societies, democratic values, transparent governance, rule of law and human rights, including freedom of speech, freedom of religion, and gender equality.

  • China and the Indo-Pacific tilt– China’s growing power represents one of the geopolitical and geoeconomics shifts that provides the context to the review. China is described as a ‘systemic challenge.’ The review seeks to toe the line between the two camps in the Tory party promising increased trade with China and a diplomatic framework for challenging on human rights, which keeps pathways open for cooperation on global challenges. China's dominance has also prompted the Indo-Pacific tilt. The government describes this ambition as to become the “broadest and most integrated presence of any European nations in Indo-Pacific” utilising its historic connections with India. This ambition had less focus on the defence and security elements than was expected and more emphasis on economic engagement in regional trade, climate change action and promoting British values.

  • The Euro-Atlantic – The bulk of the UK’s security focus appears to remain focused on the Euro-Atlantic. The UK intends to cooperate bilaterally with allies in Europe and remain a leader in NATO. Unsurprisingly the review is cautious towards EU as an institution. The US remains the UK’s more important bilateral relationship, Europe is viewed through lens of NATO. Russia is seen as a strategic rival and hostile state.

  • Nuclear deterrent – There is much content on modernising the UK's military defence capacity and working with allies. But perhaps a surprise announcement is that of a commitment to increasing Britain’s nuclear arsenal, and even more so because there were so few specific commitments in the review. At the same time nuclear proliferation and terrorism as identified as continuing threats and an areas for multilateral cooperation.

  • Conceptual shift on conflict – The review sets out a commitment to more integrated approach to conflict and a more nuanced understanding of drivers of conflict. This comes with a commitment to greater integration across Whitehall, including the establishment of a new Conflict Centre in FCDO.

  • Linking the domestic and the international – The review contains numerous references to streamlining domestic and international policy, including ensuring efforts to tackle declining freedoms starts at home. There’s a strong thread of taking a whole of society approach to resilience which deals with security, climate and health pandemics.

What’s Missing?

  • The Strategy – A number of commentators have criticised the review as being an attempt to rationalise decisions that have already been made rather than providing a forward looking strategy. There is very little that is new. It also doesn’t make any tough choices about what we will have to do less of and equivocates on difficult issues like Iran, as Fred Carver points out.

  • Development – This is a review of defence, security, development and diplomacy, yet development barely gets a mention. The intention getting back to 0.7 is qualified by ‘when the fiscal situation allows’ and there are casual mentions of the SDGs, girls education and global health, but no mention of universal health care, responsibility to protect or the UN Arms Treaty. The nuclear announcement runs in direct conflict with Non-Proliferation commitments. See LCID’s thread for more.

  • Atrocity Prevention Strategy – Despite improved analysis of drivers on conflict, the review is weak on concrete measures to prevent future atrocities. This may be something, however, that is taken up by the new Conflict Centre. References to ensuring British companies are not implicated in human rights abuses or atrocities are welcome but insufficient in place of a true cross-government approach to preventing atrocities. See Kate Ferguson for more on this.

  • What will happen to DIT? – While trade and competing economically on the global stage is clearly an important part of the government’s conception of Global Britain, trade itself was not included in the title of the review. Does this set the stage for folding DIT into the FCDO?

Labour’s Response

The Integrated review is riddled with inconsistencies and contradictions. As Lisa Nandy put it: There is a yawning gap between the government’s words and its actions.

The government explains that Global Britain is better expressed through actions rather than words, yet it is on the action that it falls down. The government wants to uphold a rules-based system but repeatedly breaks international law itself. It claims to want to strengthen the international humanitarian system and promote peace, yet it cuts aid to Yemen and sells arms to Saudi Arabia. It wants to promote human rights, but cosies up to regimes with appalling track records. It claims to want to build alliances but antagonises our allies in Europe. It wants to lead on climate change, yet has no plan to meet our own targets. The recent Police Bill is just one of many ways the gulf between what we do at home is at odds with the values we seek to promote abroad.

As we head towards the G7 and COP26 later in the year, it is more important than ever that the UK is able to walk the walk on its fine ambitions to lead by example.

Labour now has an opportunity with its own international policy review led by Wayne David MP, to learn from the strengths and weaknesses of the Government’s approach to articulate its own vision for a Britain in the world based on and upholding Labour values.


LFPG Integrated Review Event - Tuesday 23rd March, 5pm

If you'd like to learn more or contribute to the debate about what Labour should do in response to the Integrated Review, join us for an event with Labour Friends of the Forces and Labour Campaign for International Development. Speakers include Lord Robertson, former Secretary General of NATO, former Labour Foreign Minister Jack Straw, and International Development Committee Chair Sarah Champion MP. Register here.


Jessica is co-Chair of Labour Foreign Policy Group and a political and international development policy specialist. Follow her on Twitter @JessicaToale


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