In February of this year, the Prime Minister announced an integrated review of security, defence, development and foreign policy. It would be the largest review of these areas since the end of the Cold War.
At JPIT we welcomed such a wide-ranging brief. The opportunities offered by an integrated review go beyond a narrow, militaristic view of international relations which place military spending at the centre of policy. In integrating the Government’s response to international relations, we hope that priorities can be shifted towards addressing climate change, strengthening international institutions and ultimately working towards a fairer and more peaceful world.
The COVID-19 pandemic has made it abundantly clear that we can’t rely on traditional defence policy to keep us safe. The far-reaching nature of the review is definitely warranted given the global challenges we face.
It is disappointing therefore that the government released the consultation over the August holiday period, with little publicity and with insufficient time for many people to prepare responses.
In spite of this constraint, we responded to the call for evidence with a paper informed by the long history of engagement of our four partners on issues of defence and security policy. In particular, our submission focussed on a few areas where there is room to think in this integrated way about making the world a safer place. Our submission of evidence will be published by the Government itself on the conclusion of the review in the coming months.
Addressing the Climate Crisis
There are so many areas where it’s essential that the UK Government are seriously thinking about safeguarding our world and our future, but addressing the climate crisis stands out most starkly. There’s a well-documented link between climate and conflict, both with a shifting climate acting as a contributing factor in conflicts such as those in Syria, Yemen, and South Sudan, and armed conflict itself causing enormous emissions.
COP26 in November 2021 is a huge opportunity for the UK government. The UK has committed to net-zero emissions by 2050, and preparing for the Glasgow summit well in advance is going to be a key aspect of making an impact at the conference. Safeguarding our climate is vital to safeguarding international peace. From a foreign policy point of view, preparations for COP26 must be a high priority for UK diplomatic missions if we are to succeed in moving other governments to net-zero commitments at the conference. As the co-host of COP26, what priority has the Cabinet Office afforded this in its international engagement over the course of the next year?
Alliances and ‘soft power’
‘Soft power’ is the term used in the integrated review to refer to non-militaristic defence and international relations policy.
As Churches with networks of international partners, one of our roles in communities and in the world is to broker peace. So we appreciate that these ‘soft power’ elements of the UK’s approach to foreign policy can be really effective ways of shoring up worldwide security. The UK has a history of highly skilled diplomatic mission, and JPIT’s report highlighted a couple of areas where this can be a vital player in the UK’s role in international relations.
One of these is in safeguarding freedom of religion or belief, important in combatting the utilisation of religion in order to exacerbate conflict. We welcome continued support for safeguarding freedoms of religion or belief as a vital way to wage peace throughout the world.
International Development: merging the departments
In June of this year, Simeon Mitchell wrote a blog for JPIT explaining why the merging of the Department for International Development and the Foreign and Commonwealth Office was a cause for serious concern. You can read that blog here.
The integrated review is an opportunity to express these concerns again. The work of DIFD in the past has been a vital instrument of soft power in building multilateral relationships. We fear that the merger is an excuse to redirect UK Aid towards a narrowly-defined idea of ‘national interests.’ Defending the international aid budget is one way to safeguard the UK’s commitment to conflict avoidance and resolution and ensuring that the budget is rigorously focused on alleviating poverty and helping to rebuild lives destroyed by conflict.
Nuclear Non-Proliferation and Disarmament
At the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty Review conference in 2010, the UK government committed to diminishing the role and significance of nuclear weapons in international security. Yet, despite this and other commitments, the UK government retain a first-use policy. The UK states that it would, in unspecified circumstances, use its nuclear weapons pre-emptively rather than in retaliation. This is a terrible threat which goes against the whole principle of deterrence as well as being steeped in Cold War thinking. It has no place in a world striving for reduced tensions. Nuclear weapons states have failed to take reasonable steps to disarm, undermining treaties and commitments to disarmament. These weapons are disproportionately expensive and they do not contribute to the UK’s national security in any tangible way.
In 2015, UK faith groups came together to reiterate our opposition to nuclear weapons declaring that “Any use of nuclear weapons would have devastating humanitarian consequences…and violate the principle of dignity for every human being that is common to each of our faith traditions”.
As Christians, we’re encouraged to be peace-makers. Our response to the Integrated Review was informed by a long-established Christian tradition, by those in churches who strive for peace, and our hope for a world which actively works for peace. Peace-making really does sit squarely in the middle of Christian vocation. Rather than placing emphasis on the traditional idea of what ‘defence’ might look like in this country, it’s important that – like this review – we can widen our way of thinking about keeping ourselves and others safe. The Christian response to defence and security is one which places Isaiah’s vision of a world in which we ‘beat our swords into ploughshares’ at the heart of how we interact with others.
 Chatham House COP26 Diplomatic Briefing Series: Climate Change and National Security. March 2020.