PM sets out 10-year foreign-policy vision for ‘increased international activism’

Integrated review of security and defence eyes “tilt to the Indo-Pacific” and new tech hubs
Boris Johnson set out the integrated review today. Photo: Ian Davidson/Alamy Stock Photo

By Jim Dunton

16 Mar 2021

Boris Johnson has published the long-awaited integrated review of security, defence, development and foreign policy that will shape the UK’s military and diplomatic course for the next decade.

The prime minister said investing in cutting-edge technology was a crucial component of the strategy and signalled a “tilt to the Indo-Pacific” in the outlook. But he also warned that the 100-page document was clear the UK could not rely solely on an “increasingly outdated international system” to protect its interests and that a new foreign policy of “increased international activism” was required.

Domestically, the review has prompted plans confirmed today by Johnson for the creation two new cross-government hubs: a £9.3m “situation centre”, to be based in the Cabinet Office, and a Counter-Terrorism Operations Centre.

Downing Street said the White House-inspired situation centre, or SitCen for short,  would “build on the lessons of the Covid pandemic to improve our use of data to anticipate and respond to future crises”.

The Operations Centre, meanwhile, is aimed at improving the nation’s ability to thwart terrorism at the same time as dealing with the actions of “hostile states”. Johnson said the facility would bring together counter-terrorism police, intelligence agencies and the criminal justice system to coordinate the government’s expertise and resources in a “state-of-the-art facility” to improve response times to terrorist incidents.

The review was led by a cross-Whitehall team based in the Cabinet Office and a second team in Downing Street. It was launched in February last year and was originally due to report in the summer ahead of the Spending Review – plans which were significantly impacted by the coronavirus pandemic.

Setting out the document, Johnson said he was “profoundly optimistic” about the UK’s place in the world and its ability to seize the opportunities ahead.

“The ingenuity of our citizens and the strength of our union will combine with our international partnerships, modernised armed forces and a new green agenda, enabling us to look forward with confidence as we shape the world of the future,” he said.

“The review addresses the challenges and opportunities the UK faces in a more competitive world, where new powers are using all the tools at their disposal to redefine the international order and – in some cases – undermine the open and liberal international system that emerged in the wake of the Cold War.”

Johnson said the UK was “uniquely international” in its outlook and interests but cautioned that the nation could not allow the past to shape its vision of the future.

“The integrated review will make it clear that the UK cannot rely solely on an increasingly outdated international system to protect our interests and promote our values,” he said.

“Instead, it will establish a new government foreign policy of increased international activism and a UK that works, alongside our allies and using all the tools at our disposal, to shape a more open international order in which democracies flourish.”

In November, chancellor Rishi Sunak’s Spending Review gave the Ministry of Defence a £24bn funding increase over the next four years, described by the ministry as the first outcome of the integrated review. Some of the funding –  £16.5bn of which was new – was to bankroll the creation of a “National Cyber Force”. The prime minister said today that the force would be based in the north-west of England.

Johnson told MPs today that the Spending Review funding would allow for the “wholesale modernisation" of the nation's armed forces and for "taking forward the renewal of our nuclear deterrent”.

He added: “The new money will be focused on mastering the emerging technologies that are transforming warfare and reflecting the premium placed on speed and deployment and technical skill.”

Defence secretary Ben Wallace is due to set out precise details of how the Spending Review uplift granted to the MoD will be spent next week, with reductions in armed-forces headcount expected to be part of the plans

Separately, members of parliament’s Public Accounts Committee warned today that new cash allocated to the MoD was at risk because of a funding “black hole” in the department’s 10-year equipment plan that was "potentially as big as £17.4bn".

Committee chair Meg Hillier said it was clear to PAC members that the MoD’s Spending Review uplift was “not being added to a balanced budget” and that outgoing perm sec Sir Stephen Lovegrove had stated that the additional funds were “not all going to go on new and revolutionary kit”.

Hillier said it was crucial that new funding committed by the government was “not just eaten up” by time and budget overruns that had been “eroding our national defence and security for years”.

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