Written evidence submitted by Dr. Nick Kaderbhai, Postdoctoral Fellow; Dr. Wiliam D. James, Postdoctoral Fellow; Mr. Oliver Yule-Smith, Doctoral Fellow (Centre for Grand Strategy at King's College London) (IRR0037)



About the Authors: Dr. William James and Dr. Nick Kaderbhai are Postdoctoral Fellows at the Ax:son Johnson Institute for Statecraft and Diplomacy, based within the Centre for Grand Strategy at King’s College London. Oliver Yule-Smith is a Leverhulme Doctoral Fellow, also at the Centre for Grand Strategy. Their research specialises in British national strategy, statecraft, and the construction of international order.


The authors are members of the Centre for Grand Strategy at King's College London. Based in the War Studies Department, this academic centre seeks to bring a greater degree of historical and strategic expertise to statecraft, diplomacy and foreign policy. Through a series of research projects, external engagement activities, and a number of undergraduate and executive education teaching programmes, the Centre focuses on “knowledge transfer”: bringing top-class academic expertise to bear on the policy-making process and the public debate about foreign policy.




  1. This submission argues that while the overall intellectual architecture of the Integrated Review (IR) does not require change, some more exposition and shifts in emphasis could be considered, given the government’s desire to revisit the document. This is the case both a priori, and as a result of events since March 2021.
  2. A war in Europe, the withdrawal from Afghanistan, and the ongoing ramifications of Covid-19 and Brexit have ensured that the fragmentation of the post-Cold War ‘rules-based international order’ – as identified in the IR – has continued at pace. The IR has been an effective ‘handrail’ for the United Kingdom’s approach to international problems, both foreseen and unknown. The authors of this submission therefore suggest a way forward that aims to finesse – rather than overhaul the IR.
  3. There are three principal areas in which the government can hone the IR: in its engagement with minilateral and multilateral forums; greater conceptual clarity on certain key areas; and more attention to the practical processes of implementation. There are also a number of outstanding questions posed by the IR which have yet to receive clear treatment. These include the steps taken to capture the institutional knowledge after the review; and failure to align the IR with the Defence Command Paper.



What the Integrated Review gets right


  1. Russia remains an ‘acute threat’ to the UK. The stability of Europe is the keystone of the UK’s security, and the IR rightly identifies Russia as the foremost danger to the regional security order. Clear British commitments to Eastern Europe have been effective in deterring Russian political and military action against NATO’s eastern front, as well as its northern and southern flanks. Furthermore, through the supply of arms and training to Ukraine, the UK has played a pivotal role in degrading the conventional military capabilities of the Russian armed forces.
  2. China should continue to be seen as a ‘systemic competitor’, rather than a direct threat. The IR balanced China’s threat to democratic sovereignty and human rights with an acknowledgement that the UK will have to work with it on grave transnational challenges like climate change. Moreover, Chinese trade and investment remains an important aspect of the UK’s economy. This should not be understated at a time of great economic difficulty.
  3. At present, China has kept out of Russia’s war in Ukraine and has even signalled discomfort with Russian behaviour during the conflict. The UK should, however, continue to stand up for its commitment to Hong Kong, while calling out Chinese attempts to undermine democratic sovereignty globally. This must be twinned with greater scrutiny of Chinese influence on British politics and its economy, however. (The National Security Bill is a step in the right direction.) The IR sees China’s rise as inexorable, but the government should ensure that the opportunities and threats of the ebbs and flows of its rise are fully explored.
  4. The UK government should not bind its hands with a public statement of its China strategy. The UK should not declare China a ‘threat’ or tie itself into following American China policy. The UK must remain flexible. While an internal China strategy, subject to private Parliamentary scrutiny, might be useful, it is inadvisable to make a public declaration of China strategy. Such a statement would bind the government domestically, and unnecessarily draw Chinese ire (whatever shape it takes). British China policy should be aware of the broader ends to which it is working, while remaining adaptable, and maintaining the capacity to surprise a clear ‘systemic competitor’.
  5. The UK-US relationship will remain a key tenet of British external policy. The United States is a crucial ally on defence and security, notably through Five Eyes and NATO (N.B. the IR aligns very closely with NATO’s new Strategic Concept, released in June 2022). The US is also the UK’s single biggest trading partner, while sharing a common history and understanding of the international landscape. The IR was drafted under the spectre of the Trump administration, and yet the UK’s adjustment to the Biden administration was relatively smooth. Settling the disputes around the Northern Ireland Protocol would only continue this trend. The re-emergence of a Trump administration in 2024 is not beyond the realm of possibility, but the centrality of the UK-US relationship would endure in that eventuality. The depth of cooperation at the official level – across a range of departments and services – is such that the UK-US partnership can endure years of turbulence at the political level.
  6. The ‘tilt’ to the Indo-Pacific remains a sensible initiative in response to the shift in the geo-economic centre of gravity in international relations. In the wake of the recent intensification of the war in Ukraine, some commentators have called for the scrapping of the tilt. This would be unwise. The importance of the Indo-Pacific has not diminished as a result of Russia’s actions, nor should it be considered an ‘either/or’ policy area versus the Euro-Atlantic. The ‘tyranny of distance’ still matters in an increasingly connected world, and the UK – as a medium power with a finite resource base – will likely shift the emphasis it places on each region according to circumstances. Yet the extra-regional reactions to the war in Ukraine, the ongoing tensions over Taiwan, as well as the recent “no limits” partnership announced between Russia and China, demonstrate that neither region can be seen in isolation.
  7. The Indo-Pacific tilt is a modest investment, which has the potential to achieve disproportionate success in achieving the UK’s objectives. Abandoning it would not release significant resources for use in the European theatre. It would, however, undermine relationships in the Indo-Pacific and sow doubts about the UK’s reliability as a partner. At a time when an increasing number of EU member states are showing a greater interest in the Indo-Pacific, it would make little sense for the UK – a European country with global interests – to reverse course. Indeed, there is a strong case for enhanced European cooperation in the Indo-Pacific, notably between France and the UK.
  8. A fundamental update to the Integrated Review is unnecessary. The IR set out a vision, and offered an intellectual framework, for British external policy until 2030. The assumptions underpinning it included accurate assessments about the UK’s security environment, and the changing international order. It set out realistic objectives, while aligning the machinery of government and spending decisions to facilitate that vision. Recent events since the publishing of the IR, notably the Russian invasion of Ukraine, far from outdating its decisions, have vindicated them.
  9. Revisiting the IR so quickly after its release risks conflating the publication of such public documents with national (or grand) strategy. Strategy, grand or otherwise, is about making choices. It is most clearly visible in decisions (e.g., the prioritisation of certain threats or in departmental budgets). Such judgements are sometimes articulated in documents such as the IR, but not always. There is only so much that can be said in public, as the wording of these documents is closely monitored by domestic stakeholders, as well as the UK’s allies and adversaries. It is understandable, therefore, that these reviews are often an exercise in communication to audiences at home and abroad, rather than a thorough assessment of the UK’s national strategy, which would address the inherent trade-offs over interests, objectives, and resource allocation. To be clear, these documents are by no means irrelevant. Quinquennial reviews do serve as a handrail for guiding decision-makers through the fog of international politics. Moreover, they are a useful gauge of the government’s messaging. The point, however, is that they should not be read or valued as scripture. Thus, updating the IR so soon after its publication is a questionable use of the government’s time and resources.



Where the IR could be finessed: Partnerships


  1. A need to re-establish the UK’s relations with the European Union and bilaterally with European partners. War in Eastern Europe has proved a force majeure that has helped to reset the UK’s relations with its European partners in the wake of the 2016 referendum. The European Union (EU) is a key trade and investment partner, and its existence has served as a unifying instrument against Russian attempts to divide Europe. Similarly, the EU remains the most effective means of addressing intra-European efforts to undermine democratic sovereignty, such as from Hungary. Indeed, it was a positive sign that the UK recently attended a pan-European security summit in Prague. While the British have traditionally been wary of French overtures for a potential European Security Council, the government should reconsider this reluctance to join such a body, and instead work to shape it. This is not an unreasonable expectation, given the UK’s standing in Eastern Europe as a result of its decisive actions in response to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
  2. As part of this recalibration with Europe, the UK should encourage the EU to update its Strategic Compass, which while released in 2022, was based on formulations conceived towards the end of 2020. This will not occur in the short-term, as the EU continues to implement action points which will likely be fine-tuned to take current realities into account. The EU has, however, offered a 2023 work programme that seeks to update and expand elements of the Compass, particularly in the space and maritime domains, which may offer a window of opportunity for the UK to influence European thinking.
  3. With regard to bilateral relationships, France has historically been a close defence, security, and trade partner, and will continue to be so. The mood music between Paris and London seems to have improved since Rishi Sunak entered Number 10. Both sides should take advantage of this moment and explore opportunities at the UK-France Summit in early 2023 to coordinate their efforts – which are necessarily limited by distance and mass – in the Indo-Pacific. Meanwhile, enhanced cooperation with Germany on security and defence issues will likely depend on whether it follows through on its proposed expansion and modernisation of its defence capabilities. Germany’s position on China likely precludes greater military cooperation in the Indo-Pacific. That said, the E-3 format between the UK, France, and Germany could be employed to greater effect in the diplomatic realm. This should not, however, come at the expense of the UK’s bilateral relationships in central and eastern Europe, notably with Poland. 
  4. Consideration should be given to how AUKUS fits within the IR. The authors of the submission welcome the AUKUS agreement. It is a specific minilateral technology agreement aimed at balancing the projection of power by competitors in the Indo-Pacific. The agreement has a clear function and serves a wider strategic purpose.
  5. Attention should be paid, however, to how this agreement could have been better announced. France and other important European partners felt this to be an exclusionary agreement in a domain in which they felt they had a stake and a convergence of opinion. It was particularly unfortunate that the AUKUS agreement was unveiled at the same time as the EU’s Strategy for Cooperation in the Indo-Pacific. Furthermore, the subsequent void of detail on AUKUS created a vacuum which has been filled by misinformation (and disinformation in some cases), notably in relation to nuclear proliferation. The reality is that this agreement will help to strengthen regional stability and deterrence, but the botched communications job has put the UK, the US, and Australia on the back foot thus far.
  6. AUKUS is a model for further minilateral partnerships and effective use for the UK’s convening power. AUKUS shows how the UK can instrumentalise very specific and limited agreements to significantly further strategic ends. Alliances will remain a modus operandi of the UK’s engagement with international affairs, but this should be supplemented with smaller, potentially more limited agreements with other countries. These need not necessarily be confined to more traditional foreign policy partners. These agreements would draw on UK’s convening power to further specific interests. For example, the UK could seek a cooperative minilateral with significant countries involved in the struggle against illicit finance. This could also serve to put more energy into bilateral relationships in South America and Africa.



Where the IR could be finessed: Process


  1. There were noticeable gaps between the IR and the Defence Command Paper (DCP). Organising and writing an integrated strategy document like the IR should bring government departments, which often have competing interests, to a common understanding of the government’s direction. Subsequent departmental strategies should therefore align with the IR’s themes and language. Unfortunately, it seems that the DCP departs from the IR in several ways. Take, for example, the defence component of the Indo-Pacific tilt. Only one of the nine action points in the IR’s Indo-Pacific framework pertained to hard power deployments, yet the DCP strives for an active UK role in the region. It assigns the small military force (two offshore patrol vessels and a Littoral Response Group) the daunting task of “pre-empt[ing] and deter[ing] sub-threshold activity, and counter[ing] state threats”. This aligns with the language in the recent Integrated Operating Concept for the armed forces but goes much further than the IR’s framework for the Indo-Pacific. This inconsistency in the UK government’s messaging is troubling. The authors suggest that a fundamental rewriting of the DCP is more pressing than any changes to the IR.
  2. The IR should offer a commitment to retain the UK’s national security apparatus as is, to prudently reform it where absolutely necessary, but to avoid wholesale changes. The authors noted with alarm the temporary restructuring of the National Security Council and its committees during the short-lived Truss premiership. The fact that the prime minister was able to reorder the governance of national security decision-making with little consultation is concerning, given the length of time and thought that went into its design. These changes were designed in part to formalise the process and prevent the prime minister from side-stepping dissenting voices – as happened in the run-up to the Iraq war in 2001-03. The ease with which the Truss government reorganised the existing framework – without any justification – suggests that many of the issues identified in the Iraq Inquiry remain.
  3. The IR should better articulate and formalise the role of outside expertise. The IR recognised that faster progress was needed in providing ‘professionalisation, training and skills’ for those delivering on its objectives. It committed to reviewing the case for a new College for National Security, which was then officially launched in February 2022. There are best-practice models of academic integration in government, such as the Ministry of Defence’s Secretary of State’s Office for Net Assessment and Challenge, but wider utilisation of external expertise remains uneven. Programmes aimed at embedding academic expertise within particular departmental teams is insufficiently attentive to the demands of academia and other external employment sectors. Moreover, current vetting procedures remains a significant barrier to the rapid and effective deployment of external expertise.
  4. There is a need for a Minister for Strategic Stability in the Cabinet Office. The key challenge for the government is maintaining policy positions across multiple departments (both internally and externally-facing) that retain coherence vis-à-vis the intellectual architecture, findings, and recommendations of the IR. Too easily have the animating impulses behind the implementation of previous reviews been lost over time. With that in mind, the authors recommend the creation of a Minister for Strategic Stability, to sit within the Cabinet Office’s National Security Secretariat. The Minister’s role would be to offer oversight and feedback to policymaking teams to ensure that new ideas and prescriptions that emerge speak to the IR. This would not only help to maintain coherence across departments and improve policy, but would offer a yardstick to measure the IR’s assumptions in a more consistent way.
  5. The IR raises significant ideas and concepts - it is hoped that these remain subject to detailed development. Once again, this would not serve to innately alter the IR, but to further refine aspects already contained within the review’s strategic framework. In some cases, there might be a value in outlining them publicly, either as a white paper or in a ministerial speech. Concepts like ‘shaping the open order of the future’ raise further questions, such as: What aspects of order would the UK accept and reject? Moreover, the IR mentions threats to ‘strategic stability’, but what are the precise building blocks of this stability?
  6. At the core of terms like ‘stability’ and ‘resilience’ is an understanding of the fundamental dynamic between domestic and international order. The authors would therefore recommend that the IR propose the beginnings of a mechanism that would better allow its priorities and objectives to better ‘speak’ to domestic and internal policies. The IR goes some way to answering these questions, but the government should be strongly encouraged to develop its thinking on these concepts, and potentially adapting them in light of global events.







28 November 2022