As had been promised by the now Prime Minster Liz Truss during the Tory Party leadership campaign, the Government has this morning confirmed that an update review of current UK defence, security, development and foreign policy, led by the governments special advisor for foreign affairs and defence, Professor John Bew, will now take place. This will in effect be an update of the Integrated Review and Defence Command Paper published in March 2021 (Global Britain in a Competitive Age) as opposed to being an all-encompassing review of defence, security and foreign policy that supersedes it.
External comment suggest that report recommendations to be made by Professor Bew are to be expected by the end of the year. Rather than being a MOD led review process with oversight from the Treasury, the Bew review will, we are told, be a Downing Street led process.
The formal announcement of the defence and foreign policy update review will be made within a speech that Prime Minister Liz Truss is due to make tomorrow at the United Nations in New York.
In the aftermath of Ukraine and in the realisation that the UK is short of defence capacity, that a review of the Integrated Review (IR) is required is, in my view, without doubt. But, given that it had taken the best part of three years to put the IR process together I am somewhat surprised that, if external reports are correct, Professor Bew has only been given what is essentially little more than three months to complete his review. Thus, we should perhaps not expect too much and I suspect that decisions related to the Bew update will require time for the Government to digest.
While it is true that in the wake of Russia’s illegal invasion of Ukraine and the announcement from Moscow this morning that 300,000 reservists will now be called up and that will clearly being seen by Ukraine as an escalation by Russia that cannot be ignored by western governments, confirmation by the Truss led government of an IR review is very welcome but will it go far enough, will there be a realisation that while it is important to plan and build for tomorrows wars in relation to technology capability requirements we must also ensure that we have sufficient manpower and equipment capability to fight today’s wars?
For all that, Liz Truss is being as good as her word in announcing an update review of IR and for that she deserves praise. She is also to be praised for being the first Tory Party leader in a generation that appears to ‘get’ the vital importance of having strong defence and security.
But when it comes to our believing that defence spending will get the boost that it so justifiably deserves, the jury remains out. It is all very well suggesting that spending on defence will increase to 3% of GDP by 2030 when we don’t yet know what GDP will be by then and whether what we might need will be affordable.
In the meantime, Professor Bew (see short profile at the end of this commentary) will have a huge amount of additional expertise to call on. The Chief of the Defence Staff and who is the professional head of UK armed forces, the Royal United Services Institute, from Kings College and Imperial together with other senior academics, military advisors and specialists to call on – all being required to proffer what they regard as being well considered advice. From a military perspective any updated review of defence must take in requirements of all three primary military service elements and importantly, unlike previous defence and security review processes, must this time take full views from those within the UK defence industry.
The IR review process update must also in my view take full account not only of what we in the UK need to do to make the vital aspects of defence and security fit for purpose, but it must somehow advise on a process that motivates all those within the military. Equipment capability and enhancing technical expertise in digital based defence and security needs may be an essential requirement but people are what makes it happen. I hope that, as it has been so often in the past, the needs of military personnel are not ignored.
In respect of foreign policy objectives realism should be the order of the day
FYI, I have copied the press release issued by the PM’s Office in Downing Street this morning in relation to the speech that the prime minister will give to the United Nations in New York tomorrow below in italics:
“Prime Minister Liz Truss will use a speech in New York today (Wednesday) to warn fellow democratic leaders against any complacency when it comes to defending our values and preserving a world order that rewards freedom.
At the first ever session of the UN General Assembly held in the shadow of a large-scale war of aggression in Europe, the Prime Minister will highlight the threat from authoritarian states working to undermine security and stability around the world.
She will outline her vision for this new, more competitive era, which will require likeminded democracies to fight to defend our ideals. This fight begins with ensuring the UK and its partners have the strong economic foundations they need to constrain authoritarianism.
The Prime Minister will outline her plans to build a British economy which attracts growth by rewarding innovation, championing investment and enterprise, and welcoming the best talent around the world.
She will also set out the steps the Government is taking to ensure the British economy is free from malign interference. This includes increasing our energy independence and safeguarding the security of our supply chains.
In her speech, the Prime Minister is expected to say:
The commitment to hope and progress must begin at home – in the lives of every citizen that we serve…
…We want people to keep more of the money they earn, because we believe that freedom trumps instruction…
…We are reforming our economy to get Britain moving forward once again. The free world needs this economic strength and resilience to push back against authoritarian aggression and win this new era of strategic competition…
…We will no longer be strategically dependent on those who seek to weaponise the global economy.
As the UK boosts the dynamism and resilience of our own economy, the Prime Minister will also make the case for democracies working together to protect one another’s economic security.
The strength of democratic economies, rooted as they are in the aspirations of their people, is a clear counterpoint to autocratic states, which sow the seeds of their own demise by stifling aspiration and creativity.
The Prime Minister will make the case for harnessing that strength and denying authoritarian states the opportunity to manipulate the global economy.
She will tell the UN General Assembly that the G7 and other likeminded partners must act as an economic NATO, collectively defending our prosperity and coming to the aid of any partner targeted by an aggressive regime.
This economic security goes hand in hand with physical security. The Prime Minister will therefore reiterate her commitment to protecting the UK and our allies, including by increasing defence spending to 3% of UK GDP on defence by 2030.
The Prime Minister is expected to say:
Just as we are building a plan for growth at home, we are also developing a new blueprint for our engagement with the world.
We will build resilience and collective security – because they are vital for freedom and democracy. We will be a reliable, trustworthy and dynamic partner.
To ensure the UK’s diplomatic, military and security architecture is keeping pace with evolving threat posed by hostile nations, the Prime Minister has commissioned an update to the Integrated Review.
The UK’s Integrated Review of security, defence, development and foreign policy was published in March 2021 – before Putin’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine created the greatest security challenge ever experienced by NATO.
Professor John Bew, the Prime Minister’s special adviser for foreign affairs and defence, will lead a Downing Street process to update the review.
The refreshed strategy will ensure we are investing in the strategic capabilities and alliances we need to stand firm against coercion from authoritarian powers like Russia and China. The update is expected to be published by the end of this year.
By properly investing in defence, the Prime Minister will ensure that the UK maintains our position as the leading security actor in Europe, so that we are ready to stand up for peace, prosperity and freedom across the world – just as we have done in Ukraine.
The Prime Minister will highlight these efforts in her speech. She will pay tribute to the bravery and determination of the Ukrainian people, and commit to continue standing up for human rights and democracy around the world.
The Prime Minister is expected to say:
This is a decisive moment in British history, in the history of this organisation, and in the history of freedom.
The story of 2022 could have been that of an authoritarian state rolling its tanks over the border of a peaceful neighbour and subjugating its people.
Instead, it is the story of freedom fighting back… But this must not be a one off….
…Britain’s commitment to this is total.
Together with our friends and allies around the world, we will continue to champion freedom, sovereign and democracy.
And we will define this new era as one of hope and progress.
Professor John Bew
Prior to his appointment as special advisor to the Government on Foreign Affairs and Defence, Professor John Bew headed the Policy Exchange’s Britain in the World Project, launched by the Secretary of State for Defence in March 2016, and coordinates its work on foreign policy.
He is Professor of History and Foreign Policy in the War Studies department at King’s College London, where he leads the Grand Strategy Programme. He was the youngest-ever holder of the Henry A. Kissinger Chair in Foreign Policy at the John W. Kluge Center, US Library of Congress, and in 2015 won the Philip Leverhulme Prize for Politics and International Relations.
Other previous positions included Co-Director of the International Centre for the Study of Radicalisation and Political Violence; and Lecturer in Modern British History, Harris Fellow, and Director of Studies at Peterhouse, Cambridge University. He is the author of numerous academic articles, and five books on history and contemporary statecraft, including Realpolitik: A History (2016), and Citizen Clem: A Life of Atlee (2016). He is a contributing writer at the New Statesman, covers the release of state papers for the Irish Times, and writes regularly for many other publications in the UK and United States.
CHW (London – 21st September 2022)
Howard Wheeldon FRAeS
Wheeldon Strategic Advisory Ltd,
M: +44 7710 779785