A brave new Britain? The future of the UK’s international policy Contents

2The UK’s response

14.In this Chapter we recommend policy priorities for the Government to consider in response to global developments, to the past deficiencies in the UK’s international policy, and to the key capabilities that the UK possesses on the world stage. Framing those priorities are five strategic narratives through which the UK can make a global contribution while serving the security, prosperity, and happiness of the British people. This is in response to the announcement by the Government that it wants to see the UK play the role of a ‘problem-solving and burden sharing nation’.50

i)The UK, like all countries, has limits to its resources and reach. Those pressures will be even greater during the challenging economic circumstances created by Covid-19. To avoid overstretch, and remain credible, its international policy must be based on limited and adequately resourced priorities.

ii)Given the challenges that that the world will face, we agree with the Government that the UK has a contribution to make as a ‘problem-solving and burden-sharing nation.’

iii)The UK should also be an inclusive nation that opens opportunities for others. The Government should use the UK’s convening power, its thought leadership, and its legal drafting skills, to establish a baseline for cooperation and exchange between nations and individuals that helps realise the benefits from technological innovation and global interconnection.

iv)The UK should be a resilient state which recognises the changing nature of the threats we face at home and abroad and is able to match and counter them through the efforts of governmental and non-governmental actors. This will involve a co-ordinated, cross-Government approach with expanded investment in offensive and defensive capabilities, based on our national security assessment.

v)The Government must do more to align the full spectrum of the UK’s instruments for influence. A hybrid approach by the UK will achieve greater impact for serving the British people, countering our adversaries, and contributing to the world. Just as ambassadors lead in coordinating the UK’s activity abroad, so should the FCDO lead in coordinating the UK’s international policy within Whitehall.

Regional prioritisation

15.We heard in particular how the Indo-Pacific region is gaining greater global gravity.51 The Government has announced a ‘tilt to the Indo-Pacific’ in the UK’s international policy but is yet to provide details.52 Some of our contributors worried that a growing focus on the Indo-Pacific might draw attention and resources away from the UK’s engagement with Europe.53

i)We recommend that the Government publishes clear priorities and resources for the ‘tilt to the Indo-Pacific’, explaining what additional resources will be committed to the region, what regions or budgets they will be drawn from, and for what specific gain.

ii)The UK cannot ‘tilt’ to the Indo-Pacific without a strong base in Europe: both are important to UK prosperity and security and reinforce each other. In particular, considering the clout that several European nations exercise in many international bodies, including the UN, the UK will need to find new ways of maintaining its strong ties with European capitals. We recommend that both Europe and the Indo-Pacific be priorities for the UK’s international policy.

Trade and the influence of the UK

16.We heard how important independent trade policy could become as an instrument of the UK’s international influence.54 Trade promotion is a declared priority of the UK Government.55 But our contributors noted that this could carry implications for the UK’s values (especially those of human rights)56 and the UK’s security (including in strategic sectors such as cutting-edge technologies),57 risking incoherence or even contradiction. The Government announced on 16 June 2020 that the UK’s Trade Commissioners would be brought under the control of its Heads of Mission abroad. But Alexander Downer (a former Australian Foreign Minister)58 and Claus Grube (a former Danish Ambassador to the UK)59 advised that the UK Government should go further, and spoke from their experience in their countries about the success of a merged Department combining trade promotion with diplomatic functions. The UK intends to prioritise its promotion of trade, and trade policy has the capacity to become a significant aspect of the UK’s international influence. But, if it is not coordinated with other UK priorities abroad, then the elevation of trade risks introducing further incoherence into the UK’s international policy. We recommend that the Government delivers even deeper strategic coordination between the Department for International Trade (DIT) and the FCDO to ensure greater policy coherence and impact.

Mediation, conflict resolution, and atrocity prevention

17.We heard broad calls for the UK to seek to prevent or resolve crises (in addition to being prepared to respond to them) by prioritising mediation, conflict resolution, and atrocity prevention.60 The Foreign Secretary, the Rt Hon Dominic Raab MP, has said that this is being considered.61 The UK, as a convening power, can have a powerful role in countering abuses and atrocities, even when the world’s most powerful states are the culprits. But, again, many of our contributors worried about policy incoherence. They called in particular for better coordination between the Ministry of Defence and the FCDO.62 We recommend that, as part of its problem-solving and burden sharing role, the FCDO prioritises mediation, conflict resolution, and atrocity prevention. And we recommend that the Government equips the FCDO with an enhanced and institutionalised capability to coordinate with the Ministry of Defence in this space, to maximise the coherence and impact of the UK’s contribution.

The ‘soft power’ of the UK

18.We heard that soft power is an important part of the UK’s global influence,63 but that it requires a concerted strategy and suitable investment from the Government. The UK’s comparative advantage here is at risk of being eroded by rival powers,64 and by the financial threat from Covid-19. Institutions including the BBC World Service and British Council need consistent support from the Government while protecting their independence. Cultural assets such as the UK’s educational institutions, and the commercial capabilities of UK industry and innovation, are also key components of the UK’s power to attract. The UK’s markets and financial infrastructure are soft power tools that have rarely been deployed. Hard-assets have soft-power potential, including port calls or humanitarian relief by the UK military. Soft power is key to the UK’s international influence. It is about much more than culture: the way it is used by some nations suggests it is the entire capability of the state short of war, for others it is the power of attraction. The Government must not become complacent about the UK’s advantages in this space, and the risk of their erosion. It should respond to the desire abroad for the UK to lead, and set a positive example, in new and innovative ways. We recommend that the Government publishes a coherent and credibly resourced soft power strategy. Given the range of contributors to UK soft power and the numbers of HMG Departments involved, we recommend that the Government gives an enhanced coordinating role to FCDO so that this strategy can be implemented in a cohesive and impactful way.

Defending and reforming the rules-based international system

19.Voices from around the world called on the UK to defend the rules-based international system and its multinational organisations.65 But there was also a broad view that many such organisations risked becoming outdated, discredited, irrelevant, or subverted solely to serve the agendas of individual nations.66 We recommend that the UK convene and catalyse negotiations to reform multinational organisations: seeking to maintain their relevance and their benefit for all rather than a few. Our Committee will examine this subject, and make more detailed recommendations, through its inquiry into ‘The UK’s role in strengthening multilateral organisations’. Recognising that nation states are the point of popular accountability, and that they devolve power to other organisations, must be at the heart of reforming the international system.

Nimble networks of like-minded nations

20.Senior diplomats and leaders from around the world emphasised to us the importance of like-minded nations working together, within and beyond multinational organisations, to address challenges and create opportunities for exchange, and the unique capability that the UK has to bring such coalitions together.67 The UK should use its convening power and thought leadership to bring together nimble networks of like-minded nations by agreeing a baseline for cooperation between them. These coalitions would be open, issue-based, fleet-footed, overlapping, and even temporary: a ‘vari-lateral’ system. Samantha Power, when explaining this idea, used the example of the international coalition to coordinate the response to the 2014 outbreak of Ebola in West Africa.68 Such networks could be based on democratic values and could act as a counterweight to authoritarian states. They could be based on commercial values and open to all who agree to trade on agreed terms. They could be based on security, and open to all who face the same threats. Or, in the current climate, based on the need to cooperate on vaccine research and with consequent agreements to share the results and distribution. Whatever the issue, those who agree to the baseline should be welcomed into the relevant group.

Existential threats: climate change and global health security

21.The Prime Minister has declared the efforts to address global health security and climate change to be priorities for UK international policy, including through its hosting of the COP26 conference and its presidency of the G7 in 2021.69 Our contributors emphasised that these are existential challenges where the UK can contribute to the global good by offering its thought leadership and convening power in response.70 We welcome the Government’s commitment to make global health security and working to counter climate change priorities within the UK’s international policy. Our Committee will examine these subject areas through its inquiries into ‘Environmental diplomacy’ and ‘Global health security’.

Opening opportunities in frontier spaces: cyberspace and outer space

22.Our contributors emphasised how the advance of technology would give ‘frontier’ spaces a capacity to benefit humanity but also, if left unregulated, to worsen challenges and become arenas for conflict.71 We heard, for example, about the dangers posed by increasingly sophisticated cyber-attacks, disinformation and misinformation, and the malicious use of advances in Artificial Intelligence or machine learning technologies. Contributors called for universal regulations to be agreed to address the ‘lawlessness’ around the use of such technologies. The Foreign Secretary suggested to us in March 2020 that such a priority was under consideration by the Government.72 In light of these developments, and the growing influence of technology companies within our economies, governance, and lives, we recommend that:

i)The UK use its convening power and thought leadership to seek agreement for regulations relating to frontier sectors such as emerging technologies, the cyber and space domains: mitigating threats by agreeing standards and allowing states instead to access opportunities for exchange, innovation, and mutual benefit.

ii)The Government should establish diplomatic missions to the leading technology companies: achieving their cooperation in setting the rules and standards for the development of new technology and outer space, and using the UK’s values as well as its reputation for fair regulation to enhance international cooperation within these frontier spaces.

50 See, for example, the launch by the Government of the ‘Integrated Review’ in ‘PM outlines new review to define Britain’s place in the world’, Gov.uk, 26 February 2020; and Foreign, Commonwealth & Development Office (FCDO) (INR0082) para 2

51 The influence of the Indo-Pacific region was noted by, among others, Koji Tsuruoka and Ambassador-at-Large Professor Chan Heng Chee in oral evidence taken on 22 September 2020, HC 380 (2019–21); Alexander Downer, Asoke Mukerji, and Marietje Schaake in oral evidence taken on 9 June 2020, HC 380 (2019–21); Alexander Downer in (INR0061); the Asia Foundation (INR0084); Dr Michito Tsuruoka (INR0091); Dr Yuichi Hosoya (INR0093); and Dr Tim Summers (INR0068)

52 On 2 September 2020, responding to an Urgent Question about the creation of the FCDO, the Foreign, Commonwealth & Development Secretary the Rt Hon Dominic Raab MP said that “our vision for a truly Global Britain will tilt, if you like, to the Indo-Pacific region” HC Deb, 2 September 2020, col 201 [Commons Chamber]. Mr Raab also referred to a ‘tilt to the Indo-Pacific’ during oral evidence taken on 6 October 2020, HC 253 (2019–20).

53 See, for example, Dr William James (INR0065) and Marietje Schaake (Q44). Other contributors who described the importance of Europe for the UK’s foreign policy included Bobby McDonagh (INR0005); Claus Grube (INR0062); Anthony Salamone (INR0066) para 3; Matthew Bevington (UK in a Changing Europe) (INR0069); and Nick Witney (European Council on Foreign Relations) (INR0031).

54 See, for example, Alexander Downer (Q46) ; Marietje Schaake (Q44); Juan Manuel Santos (Q99); Chan Heng Chee (Qq127 and 143); Néstor Osorio Londoño (INR0060) para 12; and Salam for Democracy and Human Rights (INR0073) para 23

55 See, for example, the Prime Minister (the Rt Hon Boris Johnson MP) in oral evidence to the Liaison Committee on 16 September 2020, HC 744 (2019–21), Q152

56 The relationship between trade and human rights was discussed, among others, by Dr Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein (Q75); Alexander Downer (Q38); Marietje Schaake (Q44); Paul Docherty and Kate Jones (INR0045) para 37; Professor Robert McCorquodale (INR0003) para 20; and BOND (INR0036) para 14

57 The relationship between trade and security was discussed, among others, by Alexander Downer (Q56); Koji Tsuruoka (Q126); and Lord Hague of Richmond (Qq17 and 19)

58 Alexander Downer (Q56)

59 Claus Grube (INR0062) paras C7 and C8

60 See, for example, a readout from a meeting with His Majesty King Abdullah II of Jordan, discussing the UK’s mediating role, in (INR0078) paras 3 and 7; Juan Manuel Santos (Qq106 and 107); Alexander Downer (INR0061) para 18; Peace Direct (INR0011) paras 10 and 15iv; Bath’s New Vision group (INR00012) para b5; Save the Children (INR0014) para 2.3; Ben Willis (INR0020) para 66 and 67; Mercy Corps (INR0037); Oxfam (INR0052) para 56; Saferworld (INR0053) paras 15 and 18; International Alert (INR0059) paras 3, 8 and 14; Veterans for Peace (INR0067) para 14 [repeating the Movement for the Abolition of War (INR0010)]; the UN Association (UK) (INR0086) Para 22; and Protection Approaches (with the United Nations Association, UK) in INR0087

61 Mr Raab has said that “in the context of the Integrated Review, one of the powerful themes is the United Kingdom’s role in the world being joined up, which is why we have brought DFID and the Foreign Office together, in solving disputes, managing conflict and holding the worst perpetrators of human rights abuses to account”. HC Deb, 8 September 2020, col 491 [Commons Chamber]

62 See, for example, Peace Direct (INR0011) para 10; Save the Children (INR0014) para 6.3; Ben Willis (INR0020) para 66; the HALO Trust (INR0041) paras 6.1 and 7.4; Saferworld (INR0053) para 14; International Alert (INR0059) para 37; The Coalition for Genocide Response (INR0064); Christian Blind Mission (INR0076) para 10

63 See, for example, Alexander Downer (Q40); Professor Michael Clarke (INR0018) Sections 7 and 8; Nick Witney (European Council on Foreign Relations) (INR0031); APPG on Drones (INR0054) para 3.3; and Dr Tim Summers (INR0068)

64 See, for example, Emma Sky (INR0044); Professor Michael Clarke (INR0018) Section 11; British Council (INR0040); and BBC World Service (INR0092)

65 See, for example, Samantha Power (Q2); Koji Tsuruoka (Q119); Dr Nicholas Wright (INR0033) paras 1–4; ICRC (INR0063) para 11; Anthony Salamone (INR0066) para 7

66 Contributors who described the need to reform multilateral organisations included Asoke Mukerji (Qq46 and 53); Ellen Johnson Sirleaf (Qq58 and 67); Juan Manuel Santos (Q98); the Foreign Policy Centre (INR0019); the ONE Campaign (INR0026); Emma Sky (INR0044) para 34; Paul Docherty and Kate Jones (on behalf of the Oxford University Diplomatic Studies Programme’s 2019–20 intake) INR0045 para 32; Oxfam (INR0052) para 19 and 20; Claus Grube (INR0062) para A5; ICRC (INR0063) para 1; UN Association (UK) (INR0086) para 26

67 See, for example, Samantha Power (Qq1 and 6); Lord Hague of Richmond (Qq22 and 28); Alexander Downer (Q40); Ellen Johnson Sirleaf (Q58); and Koji Tsuruoka (Q119)

68 Samantha Power (Q6)

69 Oral evidence to the Liaison Committee on 16 September 2020, HC 744 (2019–21), Q152

70 See, for example, emphasis on the need for a response to climate change by Juan Manuel Santos (Q98); Campaign Against Arms Trade (INR0015) paras 9 and 14; Mercy Corps (INR0037); Oxfam (INR0052) paras 11, 31, and 35; International Alert (INR0059) para 11; ICRC (INR0063) para 29; Dr Tim Summers (INR0068) ‘Foreign policy strategy’; and British Foreign Policy Group (INR0071) para 14b; and descriptions of a role for the UK in global health security by Samantha Power (Q9); Ellen Johnson Sirleaf (Q58); and Juan Manuel Santos (Q105)

71 See, for example, discussions of technology’s role by Lord Hague of Richmond (Q29); Marietje Schaake (Qq34 and Q45); Asoke Mukerji (Qq41 and 46); and Chan Heng Chee (Q137). Samantha Power described “the wild, wild west of these new […] wide-open, free-space technological platforms with no umpire and no referee” (Qq2 and 3)

72 Oral evidence on 19 March 2020, HC 253 (2019–21) Q59

Published: 22 October 2020