John Gittings: submission to the UK Integrated Review of Security, Defence, Development and Foreign Policy.

Posted: 31st August 2020

The key trends affecting UK international policy and national security up to 2030 have assumed a qualitatively new character, due in part but by no means wholly to the current pandemic. This is acknowledged in the Call for Evidence of the Integrated Review.

On the one hand, the pandemic underlines the need for effective international cooperation, multilaterally and through international organisations. This is a matter of self-interest as well as principle: for example, countries with less developed health services will become virus seed-beds unless helped; provision of any vaccine should be made as widely as possible for the same reason. 

The need for effective international cooperation was already manifest because of the climate crisis. This has now almost (perhaps already) reached a tipping point which can only be averted, or its effects reduced, by concerted action.

The dangers presented by nuclear weapons, whether by accidental use, escalation of conflict, or proliferation, have also increased, as dramatised by the Doomsday Clock and conveyed in numerous warnings from respected international leaders.

B  On the other hand, effective international cooperation on critical issues is being sharply reduced by nation-state hostilities, and by the withdrawal from key agreements, or their undermining, by major powers.  This is sufficiently obvious not to require spelling out in detail.

C  In view of the above, the UK needs to fundamentally re-assess its traditional priorities in foreign policy and defence. This should be done on the basis that the UK’s national survival depends upon restoring and strengthening international cooperation in order to tackle the various threats that have come together in a “perfect storm”.

The new priorities should therefore be to

  actively seek common ground wherever possible with international actors even when we disagree profoundly on certain issues (while we should continue to express such disagreement), and visibly work to reduce tensions between those actors who are mutually hostile.

ii     go beyond routine statements of support for the United Nations and its organisations to visibly work towards strengthening its authority. A bold initiative here on Security Council reform would be material.

iii    Similarly, go beyond routine commitment to eventual nuclear disarmament, and take decisive steps, eg in the area of “no-first-use”,  indicating that the UK will play a leading role in pushing this vital issue forward.

iv    In pursuing the above goals, to seek support for one or more of them from other nations including those who may not be our traditional “allies”.  If the UK sets out a bold initiative for global cooperation, it will be well positioned to invite support from other international actors in the wider world community.

Re-ordering UK priorities along these global lines will admittedly challenge many long-held assumptions about the priority of  “national interests” as traditionally defined.  However at this critical moment in global history, a determined soft-power initiative that strikes a new path will redound to the credit of the UK in a world depressed by multiple crises and bewildered as to how to address them.

28 August 2020

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