16th March, 2021

The Integrated Review: UK’s big-ticket view of the world

On Tuesday 16 March the government published the long awaited and much anticipated Integrated Review, Global Britain in a Competitive Age. The year-long review of security, defence, development and foreign policy was led by No10 foreign policy adviser John Bew with support from officials across Whitehall. At its core, it provides a synthesised view of the UK’s national security posture and foreign policy for the next decade and beyond.

The review sets out fundamental pillars of sovereignty, security and prosperity. Much has changed since the last Strategic Defence and Security Review in 2015, particularly from a geostrategic perspective. Importantly, this latest review seeks not only to respond to this change and account for it but, crucially, also to shape the landscape that will follow.

In his statement to the Commons, the prime minister said the UK would need to ‘relearn the art’ of competing against countries with opposing values. The ambition is clearly to position the UK as a big state actor committed to global issues. The role of technology in underpinning this ambition will be crucial. The prime minister rightly committed to incorporating it ‘as an integral element of national security and international policy’ and to firmly establish the UK as a global leader in science and technology and as a ‘responsible cyber power’.

The review outlines how the UK’s reach should be global, with particular focus on the Indo-Pacific region as a bulwark to an increasingly aggressive China. It also stresses the importance of deepening our relationships with allies and partners around the world, a recommitment to NATO and others, as well as moving more swiftly and with greater agility.

Many of the headline findings of the review have been well trailed in the media over recent days, including a refurbished COBRA complex and increasing the stockpile of nuclear warheads. What is increasingly clear is the extent to which the UK views both Russia and China as big state threats. The review describes Russia as an ‘active threat’ and China as a ‘system challenge’, although the UK still hopes to deepen its trade and investment relationship with the latter.

It is interesting to note that the UK assessment is closely aligned to that of the US, which recently published its own interim look at national security. Much like the UK review, the US interim review had a heavy focus on great power competition with nation-states and a slight shift away from counterterror initiatives. The similar approach being pursued by both the UK and the US should provide confidence to those who have been concerned at the vacuum created across the traditional diplomatic and defence alliances and institutions over recent years.

The team of advisers and officials who have produced this review have set a clear direction of travel for government. They have identified the critical need to tackle big state issues, while opening trade and investing in cyber and technology. However, with department’s still experiencing shortfalls in budgets, decisions in the forthcoming Spending Review will demonstrate the government’s seriousness to put this plan into action.

Contact Scott Dodsworth, Director, for more information and how to engage with government across defence, trade and international relations. Email