Has Britain been put on the right track with the integrated review?
This week Boris Johnson declared that the world needs a ‘Global Britain’. The Foreign Secretary, Dominic Raab, echoed these sentiments in his speech yesterday warning that ‘democracy is in retreat’ and that Britain should be a ‘force for good in the world’. The Foreign policy focus has changed to the Indo-Pacific region allying themselves closer with countries such as Japan and India to help contain the rise of China. Whilst preserving many of its values on the world stage such as collective security and tackling climate change, the emphasis is particularly on the promotion of Democracy globally. It has also been decided that Britain will lift its cap on nuclear warheads to 260. These are just three points amongst many that have come out of the review. Is this the right path for a post Brexit, post-pandemic Britain?
The foreign policy shift towards the Indo-Pacific region was an inevitable change. Former Conservative politician, Rory Stewart, suggested that this was not a productive move and should have been left to America whilst Britain worked in Africa and the Middle East. Stewart has great pedigree in the field of international relations, however, I do disagree with him on this point. Post-Brexit, Britain needs to find some like-minded allies and unfortunately, it is hard to see where they appear in those regions he mentioned. Countries such as Japan and India are much more in line with Britain when it comes to their value structures. Something that will be picked up again later on.
The real importance of this region comes in the form of China. I am not sure that Britain can leave the issue of this swiftly rising nation to the U.S. and still maintain a reputation of strength on the world stage. As I mentioned in my article on Hong Kong, Britain should be commended for helping its citizens gain safety via the British national overseas passports. But, as the historian Peter Frankopan put it on the same Newsnight discussion Rory Stewart appeared on too, comments like Dominic Raab’s about not needing to worry about the human rights record of countries we trade with are unhelpful. It continues to cement this governments reputation globally as one that says one thing and does another. It will be hard for this government to stand up to China if they become heavily relied upon for trade purposes. Events in Hong Kong and Xinjiang show the need for countries to pressure China.
Yesterday in his speech also the Foreign Secretary declared that ‘Democracy was in retreat’ this is certainly correct and something we should be worried about. As China continues to assert itself as a cultural leader in the Indo-Pacific region and around the world, countries may begin to look to them as an example of how a country should be run. This would have a grave impact on many of the worlds citizens freedom, rights and safety. China certainly poses the biggest threat to democratic hegemony in the world. But, countries such as Russia, Turkey, Brazil and Hungary should not be discounted either.
Many pessimistic westerners may think it is about time the liberal democratic dream died. The election of Trump and the choice of the UK to leave the European Union has questioned many’s belief in the ideals of democracy. However, this is the price we pay for peace, freedom, liberty and prosperity. All these things, relatively speaking are a result of democracy. Britain should continue to promote these ideas with great enthusiasm and allying themselves with countries such as Japan and India will only serve to help this cause.
The final point to draw out is the choice the government have made to potentially increase its nuclear arsenal. This is the type of action that was very commonplace during the Cold War, throughout the second half of the twentieth century. It does, therefore, seem a bit out of place in 2021. Most scholars agree that nuclear disarmament will only be achieved through multilateral efforts. This is why when Corbyn’s labour said they were going to scrap trident, most people reacted with a ‘so what?’. James Cleverly, a foreign minister in this government, did say Britain was still committed to Nuclear disarmament even in the face of this move. This is the same James Cleverly who decided to go into politics because of Nelson Mandela and subsequently joined the conservative party. A party that described him and his party as terrorists. He is quite fond of an oxymoron.
The choice to increase the nuclear arsenal, should not worry people in a sense. It is unlikely that any British leader would realistically deploy such weapons. The question does have to be asked though, were there not better more productive things the money could have been spent on? The UK is increasing its nuclear arsenal as it reduces aid to countries such as Yemen who are in a complete crisis currently.
The shift towards the Indo-Pacific is a welcome one. China poses a great threat and the region holds some strong allies for Britain to latch onto as they move away from the European Union. The choice to increase the nuclear arsenal seems an odd choice and it will be interesting to see at what cost this choice has come at. The key thing to look at moving forward is whether this government keeps their word on these choices, not something that we should be very optimistic over.