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The main strategic issues facing the next prime minister

Elements of the Integrated Review’s assessment of the global security environment have proved resilient since its publication in March 2021. 

The document posited that state-actors, primarily in the ‘grey zone’, rather than non-state actors, would pose the primary threat to British and international security in the decade ahead. This threat was seen to be emanating primarily from Russia – an ‘acute and direct threat’ – as well as the People’s Republic of China (PRC) – a ‘systematic competitor’.

The United Kingdom’s (UK) approach to the Indo-Pacific was given more emphasis through a proposed ‘tilt’, which would see British diplomatic, military and economic engagement with the region intensify. Enhancing its focus on the Indo-Pacific, it was posited, would further cement Britain in the region’s security and economic architecture, allowing for the deepening and development of new partnerships and the better defence of British domestic and international interests against hostile actors.

The Integrated Review also acknowledged how the UK needed to work in tandem with close allies and partners to achieve certain international objectives. Existing partnerships needed to be deepened and expanded, and new ones formed.

It is clear that the vision set out in the Integrated Review has come to underpin British foreign policy. But the international order remains under intense pressure.

The Council on Geostrategy plans to issue a special series through Britain’s World over the next three weeks to identify what strategic issues which will confront the next prime minister and foreign secretary.

After all, the speed at which geopolitical competition has intensified has brought with it a particularly grievous development: the return of state based conflict through a war of conquest spearheaded by Russia. Consequently, Britain has needed to strengthen elements of its Euro-Atlantic defence and security posture, particularly in relation to the Black Sea region

A re-evaluation is also needed into how Britain engages and competes with the PRC as a result of its rising assertiveness and increased action taken to re-mould the international system to be more conducive to Chinese interests. The PRC is undoubtedly a ‘systemic competitor’, yet a distinctively British approach that is executed in tandem with allies and partners is required to deal with this generational challenge.

Irrespective of war in the Black Sea region, the Indo-Pacific has become the centre of increased geostrategic competition between the leading powers – the United States (US), the PRC, Japan, and others – and deeper British engagement has manifested. The UK’s allies and partners have become more important and engaged, and new partnerships have already been formed, such as AUKUS. Indeed, Britain is likely to continue its efforts to deepen its relations with allies and partners and maintain its engagement in the Indo-Pacific. New partnerships with states, which do or do not share British values, will continue to be encouraged and sought after.

Domestic aspects of Britain’s national security will also need attention. Europe’s energy consumption and supply have been put under immense pressure to divert from the Russian market since 24th February 2022 and, despite being less-reliant on Russia, the UK has not escaped the fallout and will need to re-address its own energy policy.

Equally, the UK will also need to double down on its goal of becoming a ‘science and technology’ superpower and capitalise on the industries and capabilities that make it a world-leader in this respect. Consequently, Britain’s national infrastructure will require resources to help grow the economy in the years ahead.

These issues will confront the next prime minister and relevant secretaries of state. Understanding the extent of the challenges faced by Global Britain in an age of violent, competitive struggle is of vital importance in advancing British national interests.

James Rogers is Co-founder and Director of Research at the Council on Geostrategy. Patrick Triglavcanin is a Research Assistant at the Council on Geostrategy.

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