As a result, the eye-catching novelties which were played up in the political marketing of the Review have been cast aside. But much of value remains, and now needs to be adapted to the new circumstances.
Some of the threat analysis in the early part of the Review has been shown to be spot on, in particular the statement that: ‘The precondition for global Britain is the safety of our citizens at home and the security of the Euro-Atlantic area’; and the judgement that ‘Russia remains the most acute threat to our security’. The problem was that these important judgements did not drive the main conclusions of the Review. The whole thrust of the document, and especially the presentation of it by Ministers, was that leaving the EU was an opportunity to move on from traditional ties and seek fresh opportunities and new partnerships beyond Europe. The section headed ‘Prime Minister’s Vision’ set the objective that ‘by 2030, we will be deeply engaged in the Indo-Pacific as the European partner with the broadest, most integrated presence in support of mutually – beneficial trade, shared security and values’. The same paragraph emphasised that Britain would be active in Africa, the Middle East and the Gulf. Almost nothing was said about future relations with the EU.
There was also a strand of thought in the Review that Britain’s new global role meant taking a different view of the international order: “The Integrated Review also signals a change of approach. Over the last decade, UK policy has been focused on preserving the post-Cold War ‘rules-based international system’…today however the international order is more fragmented… A defence of the status quo is no longer sufficient for the decade ahead.” The clear implication was that the post-war system was increasingly outmoded, and that in future Britain would take a more dynamic approach, building what the Review called a “network of like-minded countries and flexible groupings.”
The implications of the Ukraine conflict
Putin’s war put this Global Britain rhetoric into a very different perspective. The crisis has shown that Britain’s vital national interests are not engaged in the Indo-Pacific region to the extent they are by events on the European continent. It has demonstrated that defending the post-war rules-based order as laid down in the UN Charter is vital if the world is not to fall back into the sort of barbaric wars which disfigured the twentieth century. And it has been a sharp reminder that strengthening the NATO alliance is far more central to Britain’s security than creating flexible new groupings.
In practice, the UK’s military response to the crisis has been sure-footed. British governments have developed a close military training relationship with Ukraine since 2015, and built on that to take a leading role in the supply of anti-tank and anti-aircraft weapons as soon as the Russian invasion began. British forces were among the first in NATO to reinforce the Baltic States and Poland. But however the war ends, the European security landscape has undergone a major strategic shift.