The Johnson Government announced plans in the 2019 Queen’s Speech to conduct an ‘Integrated Security, Defence and Foreign Policy Review’ that will cover “all aspects of international policy from defence to diplomacy and development.”

About defence reviews

A defence review enables a government to present a forward-looking assessment of Britain’s strategic interests and requisite military requirements. It examines the defence and security landscape, identifies current and emerging threats and then decides how best to organise and equip the Armed Forces.

Evolution of British defence reviews

The current practice of undertaking a strategic defence and security review every five years dates back to 2010.

The first major, wholesale strategic defence review post World War Two is widely considered to be the Sandys Review in 1957. There has been at least one defence review in every decade since then at irregular intervals. This paper briefly discusses each of these.

The 2010 Government committed to holding an SDSR every five years, arguing “one clear lesson since the last Strategic Defence Review in 1998 is the need more frequently to reassess capabilities against a changing strategic environment.

The new Conservative Government duly held a fresh NSS/SDSR in 2015.

The early election in 2017, combined with concerns about the changing security environment, prompted calls for a fresh SDSR. Instead, the Government opted for a National Security Capabilities Review and a Modernising Defence Programme.

Recent reiterations have broadened beyond purely defence considerations. The 2010 SDR was published alongside a National Security Review (NSS). By 2015 they were interwoven in one document. Catarina Thomson and David Blagden explain how they interact:

While the NSS assesses leves of security risk to the United Kingdom and appropriate strategic responses, the SDSR seeks to procure and assign forces/capabilities to address such risks. The SDSR process is thus intended to conduct comprehensive, corss-departmental analysis of national security/defence needs, in line with the NSS, before setting/allocating resources via capability choices. 

The Johnson Government review

The Johnson Government laid out its intention to conduct a fresh defence review in the December 2019 Queen’s Speech. The Government subsequently set out the parameters in a written statement on 26 February 2020. The Integrated Security, Defence, Development and Foreign Policy Review will:

i) Define the Government’s ambition for the UK’s role in the world and the long-term strategic aims for our national security and foreign policy.

ii) Set out the way in which the UK will be a problem-solving and burden-sharing nation, examining how we work more effectively with our allies.

iii) Determine the capabilities we need for the next decade and beyond to pursue our objectives and address the risks and threats we face.

iv) Identify the necessary reforms to Government systems and structures to achieve these goals.

v) Outline a clear approach to implementation over the next decade and set out how we will evaluate delivery of our aims.

The Government said the review will be closely aligned with this year’s Comprehensive Spending Review.

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