Earlier this week the UK released the ‘Integrated Review Refresh 2023: Responding to a more contested and volatile world’, a strategic update to the 2021 Integrated Review, commissioned in light of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and growing international instability. The commitment in the Refresh to increase defence spending by £5 billion, and the subsequent announcement in the Spring budget of plans to increase defence spending by £11 billion over the next five years, have dominated conversations about the Refresh and we will be following this closely at the D Group.
In the meantime, there are a number of wider reflections to be made about the Refresh and how it aligns with some of the conversations we’ve been having with members over the past few months.
1. The breadth of challenges facing the UK will require a joined up response
According to the Refresh, ‘the core emphasis of IR2021 was on integration’, bringing together the full suite of the UK’s domestic and international levers to protect and promote the UK’s position in the world. This is a vision that lives on in the Refresh, a document which strives to ‘pave the way to greater integration across government’ to protect the UK’s national security.
While a primarily defensive document, and despite being half the length of the 2021 Review, the Refresh therefore still manages to cover a broad array of themes and issues facing the UK. In doing so, it recognises the interlinked nature of many of these challenges and the need for coordinated solutions both between government departments and between government and the private and third sector. Climate change, for example, is recognised not just as an issue in and of itself but also for the implications it has for migration, humanitarian aid and national security.
In turn, the solutions identified promote collaboration within government and collective responsibility for enacting the Refresh. This includes greater integration of the Refresh into the Government Planning and Performance Framework, ongoing monitoring and evaluation of delivery progress and more frequent opportunities to consider cross-cutting issues such as strategic advantage in the round.
This ‘joined up’ approach will also include the creation of a new National Protective Security Authority which will be situated in MI5 and will engage with business and institutions to provide expert intelligence-led advice on sensitive sectors of the economy. This will focus on addressing vulnerabilities within our critical national infrastructure, particularly gaps in our cyber security to ensure the UK plugs any blind spots. The new Economic Security Private-Public Sector Forum will also complement the NPSA to develop joint strategies with business to ensure that our private sector remains well-informed, agile and resilient to the changing security landscape.
2. There is an upweighted focus on resilience in light of current geopolitical challenges
The impetus for this focus on developing a joined up approach is very clearly driven by the current geopolitical turbulence and the need to focus on strengthening the UK’s resilience. At the heart of this is a commitment to a new operating model for national security - ‘security through resilience’. Driven by the new NSC sub-committee on resilience, the model is designed to ensure operational activity can focus on long-term, system-level interventions by prioritising protective and preparatory action.
This focus on resilience is multifaceted and includes everything from supply chains to climate to finance, and recognises the importance of domestic resilience in achieving these objectives. Key commitments include a refresh of the Critical Minerals Strategy, a new strategy on supply chains and a new Semiconductor strategy, all designed to improve the UK’s resilience, particularly to the challenges posed by China. The government has also doubled funding for a China Capabilities Programme which strives to facilitate better understanding of, and more constructive and secure engagement with, China.
3. A renewed focus on sanctions will necessitate a sharp focus on supply chains
The Refresh commits to spending £50 million over the next two years funding the creation of a new Economic Deterrence Initiative designed to strengthen the diplomatic and economic tools available to the UK to respond to, and deter, hostile acts. The initiative is specifically designed to maximise the impact of trade, transport and financial sanctions and will also be supported by efforts to build the UK’s sanctions expertise, including how to maximise the effectiveness of sanctions and develop autonomous sanctions regimes.
The renewed focus on sanctions has been driven in large part by the success and challenges of implementing sanctions against Russia for its invasion of Ukraine, and as the nature of warfare continues to evolve, sanctions will be an increasingly important part of the UK’s foreign policy arsenal.
Inevitably, and rightly, this will have a significant impact on supply chains, a topic we have spoken about extensively with members about in recent months. With enhanced cooperation on supply chain resilience also a key priority for the UK at the G7, the resilience of supply chains will be an increasingly important consideration for businesses moving forwards. This will include both improving transparency and oversight of supply chains and finding alternative suppliers to actors who may be banned under a stricter sanctions regime and we will continue to support members in this. In the meantime, our sister organisation the British Foreign Policy Group released a new report on supply chain resilience in rare earth materials which may be of interest to members.
4.Science, technology and innovation are seen as integral to the UK’s national security and prosperity
Recognising the value in the UK’s science and technology capabilities, generating strategic advantage through science and technology remains a key priority in the Refresh. The newly formed Department for Science, Innovation and Technology will take the lead on the new science and technology framework and enacting the ten cross-cutting system interventions highlighted in the framework is seen as a priority for both driving future economic growth and shoring up national security.
The UK’s strengths in this arena are also seen as a key priority in our bilateral and international partnerships, and shaping the development and use internationally of the five priority technologies identified in the 2021 Review (AI, semiconductors, quantum technologies, future telecommunications and engineering biology) is seen as essential to managing supply chain risks and maintaining UK advantage. This is also the area in which the Refresh appears most committed to integration, committing to ‘further integration of domestic and international policy, and deepening collaboration with industry, allies and partners’ within the science and technology sphere’.
This recognition of the ongoing and growing importance of science and technology for the UK’s future security and prosperity is welcome and is a valuable opportunity for members to play a leading role in securing the UK’s future.
While there is clear alignment and synchronicity between the Refresh and many of the discussions we have been having at the D Group, there are inevitably areas that will require further exploration – areas we will continue to explore with our members and stakeholders.
Firstly, while the joined-up nature of the strategy is welcome, implementation of the strategy will require equally joined-up execution. One of the biggest challenges that government continues to face is how to ensure consistency and collaboration between government departments, and while the Refresh begins to flesh out accountability mechanisms, the practical execution of this integration will require further thinking. The same goes for considerations of how the UK will cooperate with partners both domestically and internationally, the details of which are not fully developed in the Review.
These challenges are amplified in relation to supply chain resilience where it is clear that closer alignment and cooperation is also needed between government and commerce to deliver the resilience that the Refresh rightly recognises is needed. The Ukraine crisis visibly illustrated the challenges of this - while Government may have been aware of the downstream implications of the Ukraine crisis, many businesses were left in vulnerable situations and the ability to adjust supply chains was found wanting, evidenced not least by the ensuing energy crisis. The renewed focus on supply chains and resilience is therefore welcome but further thought will be needed on how to successfully bring commerce into the conversation too.
Finally, whilst the focus on Science, Technology and Innovation is welcome and critical for our security and prosperity, there remains three burning issues that must continue to be examined:
- How do we create a systematic process of identifying and nurturing innovative solutions and organisations, and how do we fund their early stage initiatives successfully?
- How do we protect and nurture the outstanding capabilities that exist in the UK – rather than seeing it acquired by global companies once it has reached a critical mass?
- How do we create an effective pipeline of skills and talent to support our ambition across this entire domain?
The Refresh provides a broad context, and we look forward to engaging with key stakeholders to translate the ‘what’ into the ‘how’.