Written evidence submitted by Professor Michael Clarke (INR0018)


1.The COVID-19 crisis has affected the conduct of the Integrated Review in two obvious ways:

2.The aspirations of the review are that it should be an ‘integrated review of foreign policy, defence and development’ that will enhance the UK’s ability to be a ‘problem-solving and burden-sharing nation’.[1]  There are three aspects in the conduct of the review that are particularly relevant to these aspirations.


Having to take more time – probably deep into 2021 – to synthesise new and revised thinking from all departments with a direct bearing on the UK’s external relations could become a clear advantage in conducting a genuinely integrated review; albeit that the UK’s external relations will be under intense pressures in the severe economic recession that is now anticipated.



The Integrated Review of 2021 could benefit greatly by consulting UK allies directly in a highly structured and comparable exercise in allied liaison. It should take place at a meaningful political level, and nearer the beginnings of the process, to determine what allies anticipate the UK’s international role to be in the coming decade; what they would most welcome from the UK, or most fear; how the UK’s evolving strategic assumptions post-Brexit, map onto their own working assumptions, and so on. There are, of course, awkward questions about security and disclosure in conducting an international strategic consultation while the review’s national assumptions may still be fluid. But in the current volatile and dangerous international circumstances, a genuine exercise in UK/allied discussion of strategic expectations could be good in itself and demonstrate the UK’s commitment to making its ‘international by design’ stance a reality.    



But in January 2020 the Defence Secretary – the first time it has been said by a serving minister – took the view that, ‘The assumptions of 2010 that we were always going to be part of a US coalition is really just not where we are going to be.’[5] This was an honest recognition that so much in the UK’s traditional patterns of relationships had become unpredictable. Accepting that UK’s relations with different parts of the US policy establishment will need careful management in the coming decade, and that a traditional UK role as an ‘Atlantic bridge’ may anyway be obsolete, the Defence Secretary was surely right in hinting that the UK may have to relinquish the idea of such a natural ‘partnership hierarchy’ – from the US to NATO, to the EU, and outwards etc – and to pursue more disparate patterns of strategic partnerships, and be good at handling variable geometry arrangements. 


This is not to say that the approach to partnerships in the review should be haphazard. There are clearly core strategic relationships for the UK that should be nurtured by all means possible. But relations beyond that core should not be regarded as merely opportunistic or fortuitous; they could be strategized with the aim of creating more diplomatic weight around the UK as a ‘problem-solving and burden-sharing nation’ than implied through bilateral relations alone.[6] 


Just as significant, strategic partnerships should not only be seen in terms of inter-state relationships. The UK’s soft power assets are likely to be at least as important to its future as its formal foreign and security policy arrangements (see below). The Integrated Review would be well advised to give much more attention than previous reviews; firstly, to how government might further encourage British applied science and innovation within areas most in international demand, such as in medicine, AI, space research, environmental and developmental technologies; and secondly, in promoting private sector international partnerships in such areas, perhaps by underpinning international joint ventures, championing expertise networks, or even directly launching joint international private sector ventures. Similarly, the Integrated Review could seek to strategize ways in which the innovative and energetic UK private sector might contribute more expertise to international organisations.     


Priorities for UK Foreign Policy Strategy 

3.There are many useful discussions of the UK’s strategic, foreign policy priorities as it embarks on its Brexit future, many of which also acknowledge the increased importance of having UK strategy closely serve its economic needs during some difficult Brexit transition years.[7] The depth of the COVID-19 crisis, however – its public health effects, the global economic impact and the geopolitical consequences of them both – confronts UK foreign policy with a more urgent strategic challenge that the Integrated Review must be capable of addressing.

4.That challenge is to create a strategy that is intellectually robust enough, and sufficiently resourced, to cope with two trends created by the COVID-19 crisis that are re-setting the Brexit-Britain foreign policy agenda. Whatever the Integrated Review eventually says publicly, the internal process of the review must show policy-makers that UK foreign policy can cope with (or perhaps even exploit) these two trends.


On the other hand, however, it is also possible that;


A New Emphasis in Foreign Policy Implementation

5. In light of the analysis above, and particularly of the emerging elements noted here, an emphasis on the ability of the foreign policy establishment to implement policy deeply and efficiently will be more important in the volatile world of shifting political trends and global opinion. Too many past reviews have concentrated on creating policy coherence, often alongside explicit targets, without sufficient regard to the ability of existing governmental systems to implement them. This has been particularly true in the foreign policy aspects of previous strategic reviews.[28]

6. There is widespread agreement that the UK’s foreign policy establishment was seriously run down after 2010. Though there may have been ‘no strategic shrinkage’ in the breadth of FCO coverage there was a self-evident shrinkage in the depth of its foreign engagement and routine work.[29] Many analysts have pointed out the need to further re-organise and renew Whitehall structures after the hiatus caused by the Brexit negotiations, which left the administration of foreign policy in too many different hands – something the Integrated Review’s own terms of reference hint at in the notion that it should consider ‘necessary reforms’ to the ‘systems and structures’.[30] This thought has never been set out explicitly in advance in the terms of reference for any previous defence and security review.[31]  There will doubtless be many calls for more resources and structural reorganisation if the foreign policy core – the intellectual guts – of an overall external review is to do its job in providing drive and coherence to the UK’s external relationships for a new era.

7. An aspect of foreign policy implementation that is too easily taken for granted, however, and one which will probably loom ever larger in the international circumstances of the 2020s, is the promotion of the UK’s ‘soft power’ assets. As resources for the better implementation of foreign policy are considered, the relevance of the UK’s soft power in the coming era should be given greater prominence.

8. There is a good case for the Integrated Review to pay special attention to more precise ways of understanding ‘soft power’; of leveraging it more precisely where that is possible, and helping create the environment for its organic success where direct government involvement is not possible or desirable.  The British Council records the belief that ‘The UK is a “soft power superpower”’, and the country scores consistently high (within the top 5) on all independent rankings of soft power status.[32] The FCO designates a senior official as Head of its Soft Power and Strategic Engagement Department, whose responsibilities cover a very wide area that cross most other departmental portfolios. Nevertheless, the popular view of the government’s role in promoting and exploiting soft power tends to focus on the role of institutions such as the British Council, the BBC, the Royal Family or the Commonwealth.

9. The general understanding of soft power is not very precise. It is often assumed that ‘hard power’ describes military or some sort of physical pressure, and ‘soft power’ – a term coined around 20 years ago[33] – is therefore everything else. But the spectrum of hard and soft power does not lie between violence at one end and persuasion at the other. It is better understood as the distinction between a state applying its strength – whether military, economic or political – to achieve an outcome, as opposed to having a natural magnetism and attraction for other reasons, whether or not it applies it directly. So, economic or cultural powers (threatening to cancel cultural exchanges or boycotting Olympic Games, for instance) can be used in a ‘hard’ way if they are specifically applied to pressurise another actor, just as military prowess can be a soft power asset if it creates a political magnetism and a desire on the part of others to imitate it. Hard power is applied; soft power exists, and soft power is particularly effective when it stimulates that desire to imitate, elsewhere in the world. The key is to work across a spectrum that encompasses both what governments do, and what their whole societies represent - exercising political power ‘smartly’.[34]

10. In this respect, the Integrated Review should consider how governmental resources, interest and promotion can best be provided to a wide range of UK societal assets. Some assets, such as the Commonwealth or the British Council, operate intrinsically close to government. But many are far better operating entirely in their own space, without any obvious government connection. Government should nevertheless consider how it might influence the environment in which such assets operate and what other leverage it can derive from their success.

11. The Integrated Review should also consider a net assessment approach to these assets, since their prominence and success in the world was generally established during an era when the cultural dominance of western societies was taken for granted. That era is changing rapidly and international ‘soft power competition’ has become far more intense in the last two decades. If soft power assumes greater prominence as an arm of national policy in the future, then the UK has an important comparative advantage. But there is also a danger of complacency based on the easier soft power environment of the past. A far more proactive governmental approach might be required if that comparative advantage is not to be lost to competitors rapidly closing in on the leaders.

12. A forthcoming analytical study classifies the UK’s major soft power assets according to their most evident behavioural functions, as opposed to their organisational designations, at least for soft power perspectives.[35] In considering how government might better support these organisations, it could review its foreign policy implementation machinery in terms of its support to similar patterns of behaviour. Mapping that onto a net assessment would reveal strengths and weaknesses where evident gaps could be addressed more proactively. 

13. The most effective patterns of soft power behaviour might be classified as:

14. In respect to the UK’s soft power assets – an element clearly implied by the Integrated Review’s terms of reference and mentioned in the Prime Minister’s statement about it; ‘the totality of global opportunities and challenges the UK faces’[36] – the task of reviewing them in a meaningful way is quite extensive. The enforced pause in the review process should be used by Whitehall to think very carefully about ‘soft’ and ‘smart’ power if it is to be facilitated, or actively mobilised, to the UK’s best advantage in the difficult years to come.



Professor Michael Clarke was Director General of the Royal United Services Institute from 2017-2015 and is now a Distinguished Fellow at RUSI. Prior to that he was Professor of Defence Studies at King’s College London, and Deputy Vice Principal for Research Development. He remains a Fellow of King’s College London and a Visiting Professor at the University of Exeter, where he is Associate Director of its Strategy and Security Institute.

He was a Specialist Advisor to the House of Commons Defence Committee from 1997 to 2019 and has also served as an advisor to the Foreign Affairs Committee, the Joint Committee on Bribery and the Joint Committee on the National Security Strategy. He has served on the Prime Minister’s Security Forum and the Chief of Defence Staff’s Strategic Advisory Panel. In 2014-15 he chaired the Independent Surveillance Review on Behalf of the Deputy Prime Minister.

He currently sits on the boards or advisory panels of the Global Security Forum, Tellus Matrix and the FAROS organisation.



May 2020






[1] 10 Downing Street, ‘Prime Minister outlines new review to define Britain’s place in the world’, Press Release, 26 February 2020.

[2] See, Edward Arnold, The Integrated Review 2020: Achieving Integration, D Group Special Report, April 2020.

[3] UK’s International Defence Engagement Strategy, Ministry of Defence /Foreign and Commonwealth Office 2017, p. 1, at: https://assets.publishing.service.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/596968/06032017_Def_Engag_Strat_2017DaSCREEN.pdf

[4] The National Security Strategy and the Strategic Defence and Security Review: A Secure and Prosperous United Kingdom, cm 9161, November 2015, pp. 50-60.

[5] ‘Ben Wallace: UK “must be prepared to fight wars without US”’, BBC News 12 January 2020.

[6] There has long been great potential value, for instance, in the UK playing a more proactive role in promoting common ‘North Atlantic interests’ between Canada, Iceland, the UK and the Scandinavian countries, in ways complementary to US interests; similarly in harmonising more proactively the strategic and economic interests of Japan, Australia, Vietnam and the UK; or in security and economic development domains among the anglophone countries of West Africa, to mention only three possibilities.  

[7] See for example, Malcolm Chalmers, Taking Control: Rediscovering the Centrality of National interest in UK Foreign and Security Policy, RUSI Whitehall Report 1-20, February 2020.

[8] Colum Lynch and Robbie Gramer, ‘US and China turn coronavirus into a geopolitical football’, Foreign Policy, 11 march 2020. See also, Cliff Venzon, ‘New South China Sea tensions rattle Manila and Hanoi amid pandemic’, Nikkei Asian Review, 27 April 2020; Jeff Stein et.al., ‘US officials crafting retaliatory actions against China over coronavirus as President Trump fumes’, Washington Post 30 April 2020; ‘Coronavirus: Trump says China wants him to lose election’, BBC News, 30 April 2020.

Even before the end of January, this was looking likely. See, Eustance Huang, ‘How China’s new virus could disrupt the phase one trade deal with the US’, CNBC, 29 January 2020.

[9] Ben Winck, ‘IMF says “great lockdown” global recession will be worst economic meltdown since Great Depression’, MSN: Business Insider, 14 April 2020; World Bank Report, Commodity Markets Outlook: Implications of COVID-19 for Commodities, April 2020, pp. 7-9.

[10] Robin Emmott, ‘Russia deploys coronavirus disinformation to sow panic in West, EU document says’, Reuters, 18 March 2020; ‘RAF chief condemns Russia after two “cold war” bombers intercepted near Scotland’, Daily Telegraph, 30 April 2020.

[11] See, European Commission’s Spring Forecast, reported in ‘Brussels warns coronavirus crisis threatens eurozone’s stability’, Financial Times, 6 May 2020. Also, Ian Bond, ‘The COVID-19 Pandemic: the EU Must Think and Act Globally’, CER Insight, 27 March 2020; Samuel Volkin, ‘COVID-19 and a Splintered European Union, Johns Hopkins University, Hub, 10 April 2020.

[12] See also, Tsvetana Paraskova, ‘Russia sees oil and gas income fall by almost $40 billion’, OilPrice.Com, 18 March 2020.

[13] See also, Beatrice Heuser and Rebecca Harding, COVID-19: Policy Options: May 2020-end 2021, School of Social and Political Sciences, University of Glasgow, April 2020, pp. 10-12.

[14] UNHCR Daily Updated Figures at https://www.unhcr.org/figures-at-a-glance.html.

[15] Gregory Daco of Oxford Economics, quoted in, ‘Is a covid-19 global recession now inevitable?’ The Week, 30 April 2020.

[16] Nick Bryant, Coronavirus – what the crisis reveals about US – and its president’, BBC News 24 March 2020.

[17] Ibid.; see also, V.H. Murthy and A.T. Chen, ‘The coronavirus could cause a social recession’, The Atlantic, 22 March 2020.

[18] Ruchir Sharma, ‘The Comeback Nation’, Foreign Affairs, 99(3), May/June 2020, pp. 77-81.

[19]How emerging markets are transforming world trade, Martin Currie Corporate, 27 February 2018.

[20] Marcus Ashworth, ‘Emerging markets are peering over the precipice’, Bloomberg News, 7 April 2020; Yen Nee Lee, ‘Emerging markets may get “left behind” in the coronavirus, says Eurasia Group’, CNBC, 21 April 2020.

[21]Stephen King, After the Pandemic, HSBC Global Research 23 April 2020.


[22] See, Francis Z. Brown, et. al., ‘How will the coronavirus reshape democracy and governance globally?’ Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, 6 April 2020.

[23] Editorial Board, ‘The virus lays bare the frailty of the social contract’, Financial Times, 3 April 2020.

[24] Stephen King, After the Pandemic, HSBC Global Research 23 April 2020

[25] ‘The unexpected consequences of covid-19’, Bloomberg News, 3 March 2020.

[26] ‘How the coronavirus is (and is not) affecting the environment’, NASA Earth Observatory, 5 March 2020.

[27] See, for example, Rebecca Henderson, ‘The unlikely environmentalists: how the private sector can combat climate change’, Foreign Affairs, 99(3), 2020; or Ed Conway, ‘Post-oil world offers us a greener future’, The Times, 1 May 2020.

[28] See the quoted commentaries in the very useful publication by Claire Mills, et.al, A Brief Guide to Previous British Defence Reviews, House of Commons Library, Briefing Paper 07313, 26 February 2020.

[29] See, Michael Clarke and Helen Ramscar, Tipping Point: Britain, Brexit and Security in the 2020s, London, I.B.Tauris /Bloomsbury, 2019, pp. 195-9.

[30] 10 Downing Street, ‘Prime Minister outlines new review to define Britain’s place in the world’, Press Release, 26 February 2020.

[31] In the 2010 exercise a parallel process was announced that Sir Peter Levene would conduct a ‘full organisational review’ of the MoD alone. It was not intrinsically part of the broader scope of the SDSR.

[32] British Council, Sources of Soft Power: How Perceptions Determine the Success of Nations, British Council, 2019, p. 3; Brand Finance, Global Soft Power Index 2020, November 2019, pp. 4-5; Jonathan McClory, The Soft Power 30: A Global Ranking of Soft Power 2017, California, Portland, 2017.

[33] See, Joseph Nye, Soft Power: the means to success in world politics, New York, Public Affairs, 2005; Joseph Nye, The Powers to Lead, Oxford, Oxford University Press, 2008.

[34] House of Lords, Persuasion and Power in the Modern World, Select Committee on Soft Power and the UK’s Influence, HL 150, 28 March 2014, pp. 49-51.

[35] Michael Clarke and Helen Ramscar, Britain’s Persuaders: Soft Power in a Hard World, London, I.B. Tauris/Bloomsbury, 2021.

[36] www.Parliament.UK, ‘Integrated Review of Security, Defence, Development and Foreign Policy: Written Statement – HCWS126, 26 February 2020.