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A shifting world order necessitates change in UK foreign policy

18 December 2018

Major shifts in the world order have widespread implications for the UK's security, prosperity and global influence, says Lords report published today.


Following a year-long inquiry the House of  Lords International Relations Committee today publishes a report on new conditions now fundamentally changing international relations, and their implications for UK foreign policy.

Chairman's comments

Commenting on the report, the Chairman of the Committee, Lord Howell of Guildford said:

"International affairs are in a state of upheaval and the re-shaping and conduct of British foreign policy must respond. After a year of taking evidence from our expert witnesses we conclude that, while welcoming existing efforts to adapt, a new strategic approach and vision are both needed, led from the centre of government.

"The most powerful common influence, fuelling much of this worldwide change, is the ongoing revolution in communications technology, connecting and empowering peoples, interest, causes and groups on a scale never before known.

"To address this new world, and enhance the UK'S influence, a more agile, active and flexible approach to foreign policy must now be developed. We hope that the Government listend to our concerns and that this report forms part of a constructive debate about which new paths the UK should take."

Conclusions and recommendations 

Major shifts in the global order to which British foreign policy and diplomacy must now respond to include:

  • Alterations in the UK'S 'bedrock' relationship with the US–The US Administration has taken a number of decisions on high-profile foreign policy issues, such as the Iran nuclear deal and trade policy, which undermine the UK's interests. The UK has struggled to influence the US, and will need to place less reliance on reaching a common US/UK approach to major foreign policy challenges. 
  • The expansion of China's power and influence across the world. Relationships with China–The UK should work closely with China to address global challenges, while ensuring this is consistent with international humanitarian law.
  • The need to defend and repair the rules-based international order–The UK should be a vocal champion of key institutions particularly the UN, the WTO and NATO, in the face of challenges from countries including Russia and the US. Maintaining the rules-based international order should be a central theme of UK foreign policy, as well as engaging closely with newly established networks and institutions, particularly those set up by China.
  • New policies and initiatives to handle cyber security, cyber warfare and new types of aggression. New technologies mean that significant harm can be done to a nation without the use of traditional weaponry. Cyber warfare is an increasingly significant global challenge, and one in which the UK can be a strong player. The Committee recommends the designation of a Minister with responsibility for cyber issues across Whitehall. 
  • A revised policy to meet Russia's constant provocations, but also maintain dialogue and cooperation on certain fronts. In the face of provocations, the UK must remain open to dialogue while and seeking to counter and deter its hostile activities.
  • Strengthen and deploy more effectively Britain's considerable soft power assets, woven together with a high efficiency hard power capability.
  • Expand new 'deep and special' links with a fast-changing and challenged European neighbourhood.
  • Stronger engagement with networks in Asia, Africa and Latin America, and in particular with the modern and evolving Commonwealth network. 
  • Invest more in Britain's diplomatic capacities by re-balancing current resource patterns and ensuring much close coordination between the internationally focussed departments.
  • Develop and communicate a strong narrative on foreign policy and on national purpose and direction. The Government should engage with the public on the demands and parameters of UK foreign policy. The National Security Council should add to its tasks the co-ordination of the Government on this domestic narrative.

Further information

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