This week, the UK government launched the “Integrated Review of foreign policy, defence, security and international development”. This review will set the tone for Britain’s role in the world for years to come, so it’s important that it genuinely looks to the future.
However, the sad truth is that these reviews often simply end up preparing us for the last war or crisis. At best they might make us slightly better prepared for the next crisis — but they rarely, if ever, ask the truly important question of how to avoid crises in the first place.
To avoid making this mistake, it’s vital that the review starts by asking the right questions. You only have to look to the start of this year to get a sense of the challenges we can expect over the next decade. The Australian bushfires, global security threats, flooding around Britain, and the Coronavirus outbreak all offer a taste of what’s to come.
Here are the questions this review needs to pose
1. How can the UK be an effective catalyst for the next wave of economic growth?
The past 20 years has seen spiralling inequality. This is as bad for Britain as it is for the world. We need to help foster a new era of broad-based growth that creates new markets and partners around the world. This is plain economic common sense, but if we don’t do this the risks are also plain to see. People will not be content to stay in homes where they don’t feel safe, and can’t find work or feed their families. The past decade has seen mass movement of people on an unprecedented scale — we must help stimulate a new wave of global economic growth if we are to avoid the human ice caps melting.
2. As global health threats are becoming increasingly complex, what steps are needed to keep us safe at home while also boosting health systems globally?
In an increasingly interdependent world, the condition of those in far away countries is not as distant a concern as it once was. When there is an outbreak somewhere, everywhere is at risk.Global health threats require joint action.
3. How do we help fragile countries become more robust and resilient and avoid collapsing and becoming threats to global security?
Our collective security is only as strong as the weakest link. Too often over the past two decades, the world has failed to support fragile states before it is too late. The humanitarian toll in countries such as Somalia and Yemen is a tragedy felt around the world and the cost of the insecurity failed states create far exceeds the investment required to support fragile countries. We must constantly remind ourselves that prevention is almost always preferable to intervention.
4. How can the UK’s foreign policy help us to play a leading role tackling climate change?
Not only ensuring we take the right steps ourselves, but also that we have a positive influence around the world so that other countries – especially developing countries – are able to prosper without following the same carbon-intensive route the West took.
5. How are we going to seize the opportunities presented by new and evolving technologies?
We must also consider how to make the most of emerging technologies, not only for our benefit, but for the global commons. The challenges we face over the next decade will all precipitate new and unexpected ways of solving problems, from using technology and connectivity, to new innovation in medicine and climate.
The UK must lead
At its best, the UK has been a country that has led from the front, helping to drive economic prosperity, championing the spread of rights and freedoms, and working with partners to tackle the biggest global threats and challenges.
Indeed, the UK is hosting three major summits this year to address exactly these kinds of challenges, and must take advantage of this opportunity. The reality is that we can never ignore these issues. The choice is how we address them.
We look forward to seeing how the review answers these questions, and maybe offering a few answers of our own.