Blog Post: Four Tory Takeaways – IR Review

In all fairness to the Government, the Integrated Review was never going to be a small feat. So, naturally the paper was never going to be the ‘silver bullet’ some, arguably unrealistic, people wildly hoped for; charged by a cartridge full of exploding solutions from a pistol pointed in a direction everybody is aligned to. It attracted its critics. Yet, the murmurings of the old guard stuck in their Cold War ways has been drowned out by the applause and excited whisperings of the many more endorsements from its supporters. Indeed, even a well-known and respected academic I am friends with who has made their career pulling apart policies and disguising it as ‘critical analyses’ even commented they were “impressed”. I almost fell out of my outdated armchair.

I too am impressed by the Integrated Review, but not impressed because I’m a Tory and I quite like the current Cabinet, particularly Raab, Wallace and Patel; I’m impressed at the level of complexity in the process needed to deliver such a major assessment and conclusion for how defence, security and foreign policy interrelate. To further develop an idea of what ‘good’ looks like and even going so far as to identifying qualitative objectives to assess ourselves against is even more impressive. As a practitioner in strategy, I know this couldn’t have been an easy thing to do, so “bravo” to the Government and team involved for achieving what they did.

However, since its release; I’ve had several phone calls asking a myriad of questions ranging from the seemingly ambiguous: “what does ‘x’ sentence mean?” to the more direct “what are your thoughts on nuclear proliferation?”, and I do promise to have tried to answer them all as honestly and openly as possible. But nonetheless, from my many back forth readings of the Integrated Review, here are ‘Four Tory Takeaways’ I think we should all have in the back of our minds when contemplating or liaising about it:

  1. Fusion confusion. The global power-shift is well-underway with China and India being the emerging superpowers. What this arguably means is that the Western Cold War model of establishing dominance through creating political, military and technology superiority with an ensuing, and fairly secure, economy to fuel and sustain it has been reversed. China and India are rapidly achieving dominance via economic superiority with ensuing political, military and technology security as a result. So whilst such emerging global players were taking an approach we in the West didn’t naturally recognise; our inwardly focused politics and rise in nationalism since 2015 left the field wide open for others to plough, sow and grow as they please. One comfort to offer, is that the days of empires are long gone, and the days of pacts, frameworks and agreements remain upon us – so don’t fret too much, as I highly doubt we will be out in the cold for too long, if at all. But there is work to do, and the Integrated Review identifies the need to adapt our outlook and attitudes accordingly.
  2. Forces, four courses. When the defence funding settlement was announced last year; there was rapturous applause – you could almost hear the chants of “Rule Britainnia!” from the crowds outside Downing Street in a similar manner to when Maggie arrived back there having confirmed the Union Flag was flying over Port Stanley in ‘82. Except this time, the victory wasn’t won over an opponent sovereign State – it was won (or, rather ‘one’) over the Treasury. But don’t be fooled by Rishi’s friendly smile, schoolboy looks and amazing hair; he’s a sharp man and was clearly funding for change with the defence settlement being the supercharge needed to get us from where we are to where we need to be in 2030, as per the Integrated Reviews Vision. Spending on new solutions by tying technology together to create enhanced operational capabilities which surpass allies and opponents is a sure-fire way to achieve global influence and sustain political credibility – because nobody wants to ‘mess’ with you, and everybody wants to ‘play’ with you – it’s the ‘big stick’ held firmly and professionally by our Armed Forces. However, unless you missed quite a glaringly obvious strategic priority, you would have noted with interest the domain of Space now being the ‘new frontier’; adding to the three conventional physical domains of land, sea and air. Britain is indeed in need to play catch-up if we want to achieve sovereignty in Space, so establishing a Space Command and investment in R&D to cultivate technical solutions are most welcome measures indeed.
  3. Globalisation sensation. In order to effectively, and sustainably, deliver against the Integrated Review; a key challenge for Government is dealing with some of the impacts globalisation has had on democracy. More data created and the widening of its availability, easier connectivity with each other and the continual rapid emergence of new technology have all resulted in huge achievements and leaps in humankinds endeavours to make the world around us adjust to our comforts and needs – and society has overwhelmingly enjoyed the waves of change. However, with these waves have come sharks looking to feast on democracy with the ease of access to peoples personal data including likes, dislikes, routines and behaviours and when combined with the ability to manipulate peoples thinking and ideals; it has enabled the many critics of democracy to actively create societal rifts by turning people against one another, fuelling discontent against our system and bringing into question our ways of life. If the Cold War proved anything, it was that you can be in conflict without being in a trench, and you can become victorious when your opponents credibility is weakened. The reality of the situation for the last few years was that players were at war with us whilst we hadn’t been at war with them, and our frameworks, pacts and existing way of life didn’t recognise it and made it more difficult to adapt our doctrines, policies and practices quickly enough to stop it from happening. Now, with change being the new norm, the Integrated Review is a golden opportunity to take leaps in cyber and other non-kinetic warfare measures to protect the new structures of democracy the Integrated Review has identified. But preservation and balance is key, because we want more advancement, but we need to be prepared for and aware for the sharks swimming underneath the tides of change.
  4. Brilliance through resilience. In times of uncertainty we all need a reliable structure around us and the nation is no exception to the rule. Reliability provides firm foundations to build upon; this is where the theme of resilience, peppered throughout the Integrated Review comes strong. Our critical national infrastructure, i.e. any systems or infrastructure which daily life depends, needs to be sustainable against attack and be reliable to ensure we can endure the changes to come. Yet, on the other hand, our CNI needs to remain flexible to continually build from in order to take the science & technology mentioned throughout the Integrated Review and ‘bolted’ onto the existing systems. Digitisation makes it easier to assure our CNI infrastructure – so digitising to enhance resilience is treated very much like a political risk-mitigation measure for the country, where new designs and novel solutions for how systems can be combined will be in high demand. The tech industry are probably drooling with excitement, and who can blame them?

To summarise, the Integrated Review makes it perfectly clear that change is indeed upon us and has been for some time. The way the Government not only openly, but also outwardly acknowledges this in a pragmatic manner is commendable. They have done a very good job at taking three complex matters, namely: defence, security and foreign policy, contrasting and comparing their large amount of variables and identified a Vision, with objectives. The Integrated Review successfully paves a way ahead for Britain, in the post-Brexit and post-COVID world we find ourselves in, towards adapting to a new role on the worlds stage. A role of influence built upon knowledge, credibility and respect. Almost, as if, we were to be viewed as a “Grandmother of the West”. Sharp, witty, not easily fooled; but highly observant, experienced and caring.

by Shane Mason, former Royal Navy rating and Defence Industry Executive