The Government’s Integrated Review of security, defence, development, and foreign policy, which was published last week, is unequivocal on Russia. Russia, the review states, is currently ‘the most acute threat’ to the United Kingdom’s (UK) security. The review is clear that the threat is not short term, explaining that ‘Russia will remain the most acute direct threat to the UK’ and the broader Euro-Atlantic area through to the end of this decade.
The extent to which Russia is considered a threat is evident in the number of times it is mentioned in the Integrated Review. It appears 14 times; the second-highest (behind China) of countries that the review considers to be the UK’s competitors. More than this, the ‘Salisbury incident’ (as Russia’s use of a nerve agent – a weapon of mass destruction – in 2018 is euphemistically known in Westminster) is itself mentioned four times; only one fewer than either Iran or North Korea are referred to.
Using such a metric to illustrate the extent to which the Review deals with Russia is crude, however, because it does not reflect the extent to which the Review can, by and large, be read as a response to Russia’s behaviour since at least 2014. The Integrated Review’s overview, for example, describes how, compared to the last decade, ‘the international order is more fragmented, characterised by intensifying competition between states over interests, norms and value.’ It is impossible to read this sentence without relating it to Russia.
Russia permeates the Integrated Review’s analysis of the ‘growing contest between states and groups of states to shape the international environment’. This contest, the review argues, will be manifest in the efforts of authoritarian states ‘to export their domestic models, undermine open societies and economies, and shape global governance in line with their values’; to blur ‘the line between peace and war, as malign actors use a wider range of tools…to achieve their objectives without open confrontation or conflict’; and to ‘seek strategic advantage through exploiting and undermining democratic systems and open economies.’
Each of these statements reads like an analysis of Russia’s intentions. Recognising the gravity of the situation, the Integrated Review acknowledges that the UK needs to ‘actively deter and defend against the full spectrum of threats emanating from Russia’ and, to do this, sets out a ‘full spectrum’ of activities.
The Integrated Review emphasises that it is Russia’s behaviour that drives a number of British activities, including its ‘unequivocal’ commitment to European security, not least with regards to the positioning of British ‘tripwire’ forces in Estonia and Poland; its recognition of ‘the value of a collective response to aggression’, as exemplified by the Salisbury incident; and its support for the building of societal resilience in the countries of Eastern Europe, or ‘Russia’s near abroad’ as the review refers to the region using the Kremlin’s own imperial language.
Again, while Russia is only specifically mentioned in relation to a small number of these activities, it is difficult to read the analysis without identifying a Russian dimension to most of them.
The UK’s nuclear deterrent is a case in point. The Integrated Review justifies an increase in the nuclear stockpile to no more than 260 warheads as ‘recognition of the evolving security environment, including the developing range of technological and doctrinal threats’. No country is mentioned, but Russia is likely to have featured in discussions.
In 2020, Russia published its nuclear doctrine for the first time, which articulated the circumstances under which Moscow might use nuclear weapons. In 2019, meanwhile, NATO determined that Russia was in violation of the Intermediate-range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty, citing Russia’s development in the mid-2000s of the 9M279 missile (or the SSC-8, as NATO refers to it) and its subsequent deployment in Europe.
It is also nigh impossible to read about the centrality attached to the Magnitsky Sanctions Act as part of the UK’s efforts to defend human rights globally and not link this to Russia.
Overall, the Integrated Review presents Russia as a major contributor to many of the changes to the international system which – together with the UK’s leaving of the European Union (EU) – is one of the driving forces behind the review itself. It also presents Russia as the reason for a number of significant changes in the UK’s defence, development, foreign, and security policy announced in the Integrated Review.
Dr Andrew Foxall is Senior Research Fellow in Russian Strategy at the Changing Character of War Centre at the University of Oxford.
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