On the 16th of March, the UK released its long-awaited Integrated Review of Security, Defence, Development and Foreign Policy. Billed as the biggest review of UK foreign and security policy since the Cold War, the Integrated Review sets out the government’s vision for the UK’s role in the world over the next decade and the action it will take to 2025.
But how does the Integrated Review measure up on peace and security? We scored the Review on key indicators for peace.
Released at a time of growing global insecurity, the aftermath of the COVID-19 pandemic, increasing conflict and famine, the climate crisis and Brexit, the Integrated Review aims to re-establish the UK’s place in the world as a global leader and a ‘force for good’. So, it was with some hope but also trepidation that peacebuilding, development and humanitarian organisations awaited its release.
The road to the Integrated Review has not been an easy one. Its release was delayed several times and it has eventually now come on the back of devastating aid cuts by the UK government. Specifically aid cuts to countries such as Yemen, Syria and South Sudan; countries ravaged by war and conflict and experiencing some of the worst humanitarian disasters of our time.
It can be argued that this set the tone of the Integrated Review. While many of the UK’s priorities for the next ten years are welcome and well received, it often falls short on real action and commitments, particularly when it comes to peacebuilding and conflict prevention.
For example, it emphasises the need to address the root causes of conflict, something that here in International Alert we know, from working in countries ranging from Nigeria to Ukraine, will result in a much more durable and measurable peace impact, but it does not outline how the UK will do this. There is a commitment to establishing a Conflict Centre within the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office and this may provide opportunities to make addressing the drivers of conflict a more prominent priority for the UK government in implementation. But there is little in the Review to suggest this is a central priority for the government, especially given the focus on militarised approaches, notably in relation to addressing violent extremism and terrorism. The fact that the government slashed the Official Development Assistance (ODA) budget, the pool of resources which it uses to tackle the root causes of conflict, raises further questions.
Climate change and biodiversity loss is touted as the UK’s ‘number one international priority’, but the Review fails to clearly articulate its relationship to security, casting climate conflict as something of the future rather than a present and growing challenge the UK needs to respond to. If the UK can no longer ‘afford’ Syria, it would do well to remember the drought that set the scene for the uprising some ten years ago.
Furthermore, and especially disappointing, despite years of the UK being a leader in gender equality, the Integrated Review makes only one reference to gender equality in the 111-page document and there is little mention of the Women Peace and Security agenda and how the UK will move this critical agenda forward. Even though the evidence is clear, that gender-equal participation contributes to longer and lasting peace. The Integrated Review also speaks with principle of its commitment to girls’ education in the Global South. Privately however, it discusses halving its aid to Nigeria at a time when its schools have been rocked by a resurgence in kidnappings.
The Integrated Review also speaks of the need for open societies but makes no reference to increasingly closed civil society space, an issue that has worsened since the onset of the pandemic, both in the UK and globally.
While there is room for hope that the implementation of the Integrated Review can still be influenced and have positive results for the most vulnerable people in the world, especially those living in fragile and conflict affected contexts, there is still much to be done to move the Integrated Review’s rhetoric to reality. The UK government needs to:
- move beyond concepts by developing a cross-government strategy on root causes of conflict;
- clearly articulate the role that addressing the root causes of conflict plays in tackling violent extremism, climate conflict and pandemics;
- develop a clear resourcing plan that articulates how remaining ODA resources will be marshalled to tackle instability and violent conflict; and
- clearly establish what the UK will do to reinforce its commitment to the Women, Peace and Security agenda.
Without these actions it will be far harder to sustain the notion of the UK being a ‘force for good’ amongst anyone other than domestic audiences and close allies, when it comes to the scourge of violent conflict.