Documents to download

In early 2020 the Government formally began work on what it described would be the largest review of the UK’s foreign, defence, security and development policy since the end of the Cold War. Much has changed since the last major review of the UK’s national security and defence strategy in 2015.

This paper sets out the context for the review and discusses when the review might be published. It looks back at the main conclusions of the 2015 review before examining a number of key developments since then which are expected to influence the outcome of the review. Links are provided to relevant House of Commons Library papers.

When will the review be published?

The timing of the publication of the review was thrown into doubt by the cancellation of the Comprehensive Spending Review (CSR). From the outset, the Government indicated the integrated review would be published alongside a CSR, expected in autumn 2020. In late October the Chancellor announced plans to hold a one-year, rather than multi-year, Spending Review on 25 November. This led the Government to “consider the implications for the completion of the review“.

On 19 November the Prime Minister gave a statement to the House announcing the review will conclude early next year (2021).

What is the integrated review?

In the 2019 Queen’s Speech the Government announced it will conduct an integrated security, defence and foreign policy review (herafter the integrated review or review) that will cover “all aspects of international policy from defence to diplomacy to development“. 

Prime Minister Boris Johnson has indicated it will be far broader than previous iterations. There has been at least one defence review in every decade since the 1950s, albeit at irregular intervals. David Cameron established the pattern of quinquennial reviews in 2010 to coincide with a five-year election cycle. The last major review was published as the National Security Strategy and Strategic Defence and Security Review (SDSR) in 2015.

What did the 2015 review say?

The SDSR set out the Government’s analysis of the national security context, presented a national security risk assessment and set out the UK’s national security objectives:

  1. Protect our people
  2. Project our global influence
  3. Promote our prosperity

It identified the main challenges expected to drive the UK security priorities for the decade out to 2025. These included the increasing threat posed by terrorism, extremism and instability; the resurgence of state-based threats; the impact of technologies and the erosion of the rules-based international order.

It then laid out the policies the UK will pursue to achieve these broad objectives and capabilities it will invest in. It also gave detailed plans for how the armed forces were to be structured and equipped for the next ten years.

Why does the integrated review matter?

The Government laid out its ambitions for the review in the Queen’s Speech of December 2019:

This will be the most radical reassessment of our place in the world since the end of the Cold War, covering all aspects of international policy from defence to diplomacy and development.

The Government’s plans for defence will inevitably attract a lot of attention. This is not suprising, given that the integrated review has evolved from a long history of defence reviews which have made significant changes to the armed forces. One unknown had been the impact of the one-year Spending Review. Lord Robertson, who shepherded the 1998 Strategic Defence Review, fears policy decisions will not be underpinned by the required funding. The Defence Secretary, Ben Wallace, has previously discussed the hazards of an underfunded review: “no SDSR that I can remember, going back to the early ’90s, has been properly funded to back up the ambitions”. However, on 19 November the Prime Minister gave a statement to the House in which he announced a increase in defence spending of £24.1bn over the next four years. 

A different world?

The context for this review is in some respects considerably different to 2015. The “special relationship” with the US has been challenged under President Trump. The UK has left the European Union and at the time of writing the future relationship has not been agreed. The impact of the Covid-19 pandemic on international relations and the UK’s finances is still to be fully understood.

In other respects, many of the themes mentioned in the 2015 and 2010 SDSRs remain relevant. The Government’s call for evidence consultation document identifies key trends and drivers of change:

  • a shift in the international order, marked by intensifying great power competition and a shift in the world’s economic centre of gravity towards Asia
  • the increasingly tangible effects of climate change
  • an increasingly complex global economic context

Further reading from the House of Commons Library

Documents to download

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