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The Future of UK Foreign Policy

October 2010

Upon assuming power in May, the United Kingdom’s historic coalition government set in motion three exercises that together aimed to reshape British foreign policy. Taken together, the new National Security Strategy (NSS), the Strategic Defence and Security Review (SDSR) and the Comprehensive Spending Review (CSR), seek to lay down the bounds of Britain’s future role in the world, to articulate Britain’s national interests, establish the goals of policy and set the means by which to achieve them. Timed to coincide with the government’s announcement of what should amount to a grand strategy for the United Kingdom, the cross-party Parliamentary committee for Public Administration released a report that stated that ‘the Government in Whitehall has lost the art of making national strategy in relation to defence and security’. Bernard Jenkin, the Conservative chairman, was not alone in his concern that an inability to ‘think strategically’ was fundamentally undermining the process of reviewing the UK’s national strategy.

 

This report is conceived as an attempt to address this perceived failing. The contributors here – all with long and distinguished careers in British foreign policy – were asked to consider Britain’s role in the world in the broadest sense, to identify our core interests and the most appropriate capacities to secure them, and to do so in recognition of the reality of the resource constraints that are coming to define this period in British political history. Doing so in light of the government’s proposals serves to shine a light on whether the result of this review process represents a coherent and appropriate refocusing of British strategy that reflects the world as it is, and is realistic about the United Kingdom’s place in it.

 

Foreword - Professor Michael Cox, Co-Director of LSE IDEAS

IDEAS was formed at the LSE to encourage a critical, but engaged, dialogue between academics and policy-makers. It was not so much a case of ‘truth talking to power’ (an odd formulation if ever there was one) but rather of trying to overcome that great British divide, and, in our own small way, help bring academics and policy-makers together in a forum where, to be frank, such forums had rarely, if ever, existed before. We have not yet moved mountains. To be sure. But two years on it would not be too immodest to suggest that we have fulfilled at least part of our original ambition of creating a space for genuine debate. With a great deal of support from the School itself – and in particular from its Director, Sir Howard Davies – IDEAS, we feel, has by now established itself as an important part of the School’s intellectual landscape. More »|

Executive Summary - Dr Nicholas Kitchen, LSE IDEAS Editor

Upon assuming power in May, the United Kingdom’s historic coalition government set in motion three exercises that collectively aimed to reshape British foreign policy. Taken together, the new National Security Strategy (NSS), the Strategic Defence and Security Review (SDSR) and the Comprehensive Spending Review (CSR), seek to lay down the bounds of Britain’s future role in the world, articulate Britain’s national interests, establish the goals of policy and set the means by which to achieve them. More »|

The World We Face, and the World We Would Create - Mr Robert Cooper

Those who have dreamed of a perpetual peace have always been woken from their deep sleep by the roar of bombs. The natural condition of mankind is conflict and the natural condition of the state is war. There are enough examples: Afghanistan, the Congo, Sudan over many years, not so long ago the Balkans. And risks are all around: in the Middle East, in South Asia, in the frozen conflicts in Europe, in the unpredictable activities of North Korea. More »|

Sir Mark Allen

Entropy, though a term from the world of physics, seems an endemic feature of human affairs as well. To resist the inclination to disorder and degeneration, we feel the urge, from time to time, to put a new pulse of energy through our organisations and systems. Renewal, reform and realignment are the common slogans. Cynics often identify the campaign against entropy with the egotisms of new leading personalities who want to put their mark on organisations and, indeed, on history. And the cynics are often quite right. But it may also be that the newcomers are just sensitive to the entropy problem, even though they misjudge the language they use in addressing it. More »|

Sir Rodric Braithwaite

The new Coalition government came to power to find that their predecessors had bequeathed them a national defence strategy that was intellectually void; a military procurement policy paid for on the Micawber principle - that something would surely turn up, but measured in billions rather than sixpences; a bunch of generals on the verge of revolt; an unwinnable war in Afghanistan; a vision of Britain’s place and influence in the world based largely on wishful thinking; and a horrendous financial crisis. Given all that, their new National Security Strategy is not a bad piece of work. Of course the Strategic Defence and Security Review, the practical measures by which they propose to implement the strategy, is full of flaws and absurdities. Of course the Coalition, or at least its Tory component, is still gripped by illusion and by nostalgia for a vanished past when Britain could punch above its weight. But the government had to start somewhere, and they have at least taken a significant step towards devising a national defence posture suited to the twenty first century. More »|

Sir Jeremy Greenstock

The world has changed, but how? Those who sat at the top table of the previous era are finding it hardest to readjust to the new geopolitical environment, because they have the most to lose and they are psychologically resistant to adaptation. It is especially difficult for those countries whose power and influence, stemming from the technological and organisational advantages of the West in the 19th and 20th centuries, was disproportionate to their population size. The world of the new millennium is returning to a more natural order of population size and resource availability, because economic opportunity is more evenly distributed by globalised communications, trade and the spread of freedom. It is economic capability that has become the primary criterion of global weight nowadays. More »|

Sir Richard Mottram

October saw the unveiling over three days of the British Government’s review of national security. First a strategy document, then more detail on means, then resource provision as part of the wider Comprehensive Spending Review. This elaborate choreography was presumably designed to show that decisions on security and defence in particular were not simply resource determined, though the critics were unconvinced and others like me wondered what strategy meant without resource constraint. The results and the associated documentation illuminate the challenges in addressing Britain’s future international role. More »|

Lord Charles Powell of Bayswater

The Coalition Government has been engaged in two separate exercises which affect the future of our defence and diplomacy. At least they should have been separate. The first was the comprehensive spending review to deal with the deficit amassed by the previous government, requiring severe cuts in public spending over the next few years. The second exercise was the Strategic Defence and Security Review (SDSR), whose task was to evaluate the role in the world which Britain should play in the future and well beyond the horizon of the spending review. More »|

Sir Malcolm Rifkind

Any debate about British foreign policy must begin by recognising that the UK's role in international affairs differs from that of most other countries in the world. For generations, Britain has maintained a global foreign policy. It has considered its national interests to extend well beyond its own shores, and viewed events overseas as ones that have a direct impact at home. This understanding has been reflected in the UK's approach to the world. The Foreign and Commonwealth Office maintains a wide network of embassies in all of the world's continents. Likewise, the Ministry of Defence retains the military capacity to deploy forces to any part of the globe in support of UN, NATO, or British interests. More »|

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