UK foreign policy in a shifting world order Contents

Chapter 2: Disruption and change to the global balance of power

17.There have been dramatic shifts in the global balance of power since the end of the Cold War, many of which have accelerated in recent years. Some of these shifts may prove temporary, while others are part of a long-term trend towards “a more multipolar world.”19

18.Several witnesses suggested that the era of US dominance may be coming to an end. Xenia Wickett, Head of the US and the Americas Programme, Chatham House, said there was general acceptance in the foreign policy community in the United States of a “post-primacy world”.20 Dr Richard Haass, President, Council on Foreign Relations, said that the world needed to “retire” the term ‘superpower’ because “that degree of consolidated or concentrated power, that degree of primacy, is simply no longer available to the United States or anybody else.” It was not likely that superpower dominance would be re-established as “too much has changed structurally in the world”.21

The US

19.Examples of recent changes in US foreign policy include US withdrawal from the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (the Iran nuclear deal) and the Paris Agreement on climate change, US policy in the Middle East, the Administration’s approach to alliances and the Administration’s trade policy.

20.Witnesses considered whether President Trump’s foreign policy was a ‘blip’ or part of a long-term trend. Lord Hague told us he did “not see President Trump as a revolution in American foreign policy.” He said that in some areas President Trump had remained consistent with previous US policy—for example he had “been prepared to increase the American commitment in Afghanistan and to take military action in Syria”, which was contrary to rhetoric during the 2016 election campaign.22 Arun Pillai-Essex, Senior Political Risk Analyst, Verisk Maplecroft, said that on “key issues”, “the Administration’s tone and temperament” had changed but “the actions show behaviour that is more within conventional norms”.23 The Foreign Secretary did not think President Trump represented a new approach: he described current US foreign policy as “a return to a more muscular Republicanism of the sort we have seen in previous periods of American history, which is based on a desire to make sure that America’s strength in the world is maintained.”24

21.Lord Hague said that, “overall”, President Trump was “accelerating rather than inventing some of the changes in American foreign policy.”25 Lord Ricketts said “the changes in Washington … are not entirely a result of President Trump’s victory … the gradual disengagement of US foreign policy in Europe and its pivoting towards Asia was a President Obama initiative.”26

22.Other witnesses said there were some aspects of current US foreign policy that are particular to the current President. Ms Wickett said:

“America’s interests have not changed. Interests do not change, people change. So what we are going through right now with the current President is a manifestation principally of this President. We should be careful to separate out the implications of the individual from implications of the direction America is going in more broadly.”27

Emily Thornberry MP, Shadow Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs, likewise said “I do not think that the [UK’s] alliance with America is wobbly; I simply do not think that President Trump reflects the values of the majority of the American people … I do not think that America has fundamentally changed.”28

23.Dr Haass said President Trump was “the first President in the post-World War Two world who has fundamental issues or differences with the idea of the United States playing the leading or the foundational role in many areas of international relations, in supporting what is widely described as the liberal world order”. While the US had “pulled back from that role”, it had “not substituted something else for it.”29

24.During our visit to Washington, some officials told us that a chaotic approach to foreign policy was as much a choice as a consequence of ill-preparedness. Another senior official told us that the President had promised disruption, and that he was delivering.30 Ms Thornberry said the UK had “come to rely on the United States as being reliable, predictable and understandable. We now have a President whose very schtick is being unreliable”, which had “a profoundly destabilising effect”.31

25.Lord Ricketts said US foreign policy under President Trump had become more “transactional”, with a focus on bilateral relations over alliances.32 Dr Kori Schake, Deputy Director General, International Institute for Strategic Studies (IISS), noted two constraints on President Trump’s hostile approach to alliances: first, he had been “dragged kicking and screaming by his Cabinet to behave slightly better.” Second, he was “hemmed in by public attitudes”: the American public, on the whole, supported traditional US alliances.33 During our visit to Washington DC we were told by representatives of several different government departments, members of both parties in Congress and by a range of non-governmental figures that the US remained committed to these alliances.34 We discuss this in greater detail in Chapter 4.

26.The US Department of Defense’s National Defence Strategy, published in January 2018,35 articulated a shift in US national security policy to prioritise ‘great-power conflict’.36 Dr Schake said:

“A rising China and a declining Russia are both threats to [the US] in different ways and the Defense Department believes that our margin of military advantage, technologically and operationally, is being eroded because we have focused our effort on a different set of challenges.”37

Sir Peter Westmacott GCMG, former Ambassador to the United States, told us that while global terrorism—the previous focus of US national security policy—generated the most public attention, “the rise of major powers … is probably a bigger global security challenge”.38

27.Mr Pillai-Essex said that “when we look at the totality of the world and US foreign policy, the real energy is on trade and on linking it to national security … trade is the real, central agenda of this Administration.”39 For example, the US has imposed tariffs on products from a number of trading partners including China and the EU, citing national security concerns as justification. The US approach to the WTO is discussed in Chapter 4.

28.Dr Haass said greater protectionism in the US was a trend: “The consensus on free trade had started eroding before Donald Trump. Indeed, it was the only issue on which all three candidates, Donald Trump, Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders, agreed during the 2016 election. All three of them opposed the Trans-Pacific Partnership.”40 The Democrat legislators we met in Washington were more opposed to free trade than those of the Republican Party, although most legislators were concerned about the White House’s approach.41

29.Marc Grossman, Vice Chairman, Cohen Group, and former Under-Secretary of State for Political Affairs, told us that the effect of President Trump’s foreign policy on the world would depend to a considerable degree on whether his Presidency lasted for four or eight years.42 Other witnesses too thought it was difficult to predict the impact of the current Administration’s policies in the longer term without knowing whether President Trump would be re-elected, and what kind of Administration might come next.43

UK–US relations

30.The FCO told us that “our alliance with the United States remains our top priority and cornerstone of what we wish to achieve in the world.” It acknowledged, however, that in some areas of foreign policy the current US Administration “has set new directions … some of which differ from our own”.44

31.The Foreign Secretary said that while he “would not want to minimise [the] long list of differences between British and American policy as just the odd blip”, he also thought it was “important to say that the alliance between the United States and the United Kingdom is stronger than any individual Prime Minister or President”. He cited “a shared view of the world and a shared set of values that are rock solid” as the basis for a strong UK-US relationship.45

32.Sir Peter Westmacott said some of the emerging differences between the UK and US were “of genuine concern to the United Kingdom.”46 Lord Hague nonetheless thought that “the coming decades will accentuate our dependence on the United States even while major differences arise.”47

33.Many witnesses said the UK–US relationship could endure the current challenges. Sir Simon Fraser GCMG, former Permanent Under-Secretary of the FCO and Head of the Diplomatic Service, said it was important not to “exaggerate divergence”, because the UK–US relationship was “structurally very strong”: it comprised “a dense and complex set of relationships across many parts of policy, society and economic and individual life.”48 Sir Mark Lyall Grant likened the UK–US relationship to an “iceberg”, in that “the massive majority of what binds the United Kingdom and the United States goes on below that higher political level”; such relationships have not been severely damaged.49

34.Lord Ricketts identified “some fundamentals that do not change and have not changed with the arrival of President Trump”, namely “our strategic partnership with the US right across the defence area, including the very important area of nuclear, and the intelligence relationship”. He said these were “absolutely vital pillars of our national security”, which were not affected by the election of President Trump, “and it is very important that they should not be.”50

35.Every government official and politician we met in Washington expressed their commitment to the UK–US relationship, with many emphasising its value to the US. Several non-government figures told us that the UK had a role to play in reminding the US of the importance of the rules-based international order.51

36.Dr Haass thought that the UK–US relationship was not as strong as it once was. This was “in no small part because the UK is as distracted as it is … Brexit is taking a lot of the oxygen out of the room in British public and political debate.” He had concerns about the UK’s military capabilities and willingness to engage them. The UK’s 2013 decision not to take military action in Syria, according to Dr Haass, had raised questions about “Britain’s reliability and its consensus to play a large role”. He added that “a lot of history will play out in parts of the world, including Asia, where Britain has not been all that involved and does not have relevant capabilities.”52

37.The US Administration has taken a number of high-profile unilateral foreign policy decisions that are contrary to the interests of the United Kingdom. In particular, US withdrawal from the Paris Agreement on climate change, the Iran nuclear deal and the UN Human Rights Council, and the imposition of trade tariffs on its allies, undermine efforts to tackle pressing global challenges of critical importance to the UK. The Government’s response of maintaining its commitment to these agreements and institutions has been the right one.

38.Below the political level, our witnesses asserted, the UK and US are deeply entwined through defence and intelligence links, and connections between officials, which should withstand political decisions by the Administration. The Government should reach out to those parts of American society which share our views and values; and the Government should increase support for the Marshall Scholarship scheme.

39.However, the difficulty the UK and its allies have faced in trying to influence the US demonstrates the challenge of working with the Administration. How damaging this will be to what has hitherto been the UK’s most important international relationship will depend on whether the current approach is an enduring trend. Should President Trump win a second term, or a similar Administration succeed him, the damage to UK–US relations will be longer lasting; and the Government will need to place less reliance on reaching a common US/UK approach to the main issues of the day than has often been the case in the past.

40.Some of the foreign policy decisions of the US Administration do not stem solely from the election of President Trump—they represent a broader shift towards a more inward-looking US, which is less focused on the transatlantic alliance and multilateralism, and the sense of the US losing power to other sources. In its diplomatic relations with the Administration, the UK should distinguish between those aspects of current US foreign policy which are driven by the current President, and those which are part of longer-term trends of divergence from the UK.

41.The Government’s response to US foreign policy decisions needs now more than ever to be closely co-ordinated with like-minded countries throughout the world.


42.Lord Hague called President Xi Jinping’s October 2017 speech to the Chinese Communist Party’s National Congress53 “the most important political event … of recent years”. It was an entirely different speech … from anything delivered by a Chinese leader in modern times”. He said President Xi:

“declared that in two stages, to 2035 and then to 2050,54 China will take centre-stage in world affairs, with not only the economic muscle but the corresponding military and political prominence, with world-class military forces and a system of government, defined as socialism with Chinese characteristics, in a moderately prosperous country”.55

43.Professor Steve Tsang, Director, China Institute, School of Oriental and African Studies, told us that it had never been “a realistic prospect that, if and when China became rich and powerful, it would continue … keeping a low profile.” China wanted to “claim its place in the sun.” While China had been clearer in its desire to have a greater global role, “it has never been spelt out exactly what the rightful place for China would be” internationally.56

44.China’s history is central to understanding its world view. Carrie Gracie, broadcaster and former China Editor, BBC, articulated what she called China’s “victim psychology”, based on the belief that for “two centuries [the Chinese] were the victims of terrible humiliation at the hands of foreigners, beginning with the UK.”57 Professor Tsang said China’s imperial past, in which “peripheral countries of China were all paying homage to the imperial government in Beijing,” informed China’s desired contemporary relationship with its neighbours. This was causing concern in Asia.58

45.We heard of several reasons for China’s new confidence. Ms Gracie raised the importance of the collapse of the Soviet Union and of regimes during the Arab Spring to China’s political thought, and to the Communist Party’s approach to its survival.59 Professor Tsang suggested that the global financial crisis and subsequent political uncertainty in liberal democracies had emboldened China’s desire to pursue an alternative development model.60 Ms Gracie agreed: “I cannot stress enough how enormously the Chinese public mood has changed in relation to the approval rating for the idea of liberal democracy.”61 The West’s ‘challenges’ had “provided opportunities for China to present itself, both inside and abroad, as politics that works pragmatically”.62

46.Stephen King, Senior Economic Adviser, HSBC, demonstrated the scale of China’s economic growth. In 1980 China’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP) had been 2.7% of the world’s total, while the US accounted for 25.8% and the UK 5.4%. In 2017, China accounted for around 15%, the US 24.5% and the UK 3.2%. He said that, “As a rough rule of thumb, that suggests that China is delivering economically every 10 years what it took the US every 50 years to achieve.”63 Sir Martin Donnelly KCB CMG, former Permanent Secretary, Department for International Trade (DIT), told us that “China’s consumption patterns are becoming extremely important, not just in economic and business terms, and digitally, but in how trade lanes work and how naval power is used globally”.64

47.George Magnus, former Chief Economist, UBS, told us China’s geopolitical influence today is “unequivocally” a result of its economic success.65 Stefania Palma, Asia Editor, The Banker, agreed, citing Chinese land reclamation in the South China Sea and the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), Beijing’s strategy to invest “between $900 billion and $1 trillion” in infrastructure in Asia and around the world, which was “considered to be the biggest infrastructure initiative that a single country has ever undertaken.”66

48.China’s BRI, which is shown in Figure 1,67 was used by several witnesses as an example of China’s geopolitical ambitions. Professor Michael Clarke, Senior Associate Fellow, Royal United Services Institute (RUSI), called it “a geopolitical game-changer.”68 Professor Evans said it was driven by “both geostrategic and very strong economic imperatives”.69

49.Dr Monique Chu, Lecturer in Chinese Politics, University of Southampton, told us the two central motivations for the BRI are China’s “energy insecurity”—China’s desire to have “access to a sufficient and reliable supply of energy resources”—and a concern regarding “transportation security” stemming from the fact that the majority of China’s oil imports pass through the Malacca Strait, a strategic choke point that could be controlled by a power hostile to China at a time of war.

50.The exact scope of the BRI is not clear. Kathryn Rand, Assistant Director, Great Britain China Centre, told us “pretty much every country out there … has been told at some point that it is at the end of one of the many roads involved”.70 Some countries, according to Ms Palma, have “officially signed up to the belt and road and endorsed it publicly”, and others “have not officially signed up to it but … are already seeing projects that fit the B&R initiative.”71

Figure 1: The Belt and Road Initiative

Map show the routes of the Belt and Road Initiative

Source: Asia Times, ‘“Make Trade, Not War” is China’s daring plan in the Middle East’,: [accessed 4 December 2018]

51.Raffaello Pantucci, Director of International Security Studies, RUSI, referred to the BRI as an “overarching” or “umbrella” concept, which had “in a way … put a name to something that was already going on”, namely Chinese investment abroad. He cited several examples of initiatives that have been under way for decades now being considered a part of the BRI, including Chinese activity in Central Asia.72

52.Ms Palma told us “quite a few [BRI projects] are slowing down.” There were several causes of these delays, including “social upheaval in response to greater Chinese involvement”, problems with local bureaucracy and the absence of the necessary “soft infrastructure” in largely developing countries. Ms Palma also cited “the question of indebtedness” as a problem facing China’s BRI. She said “a lot of the countries that are hosting these infrastructure projects are … developing countries and have very high government debt to GDP ratios”. The “worst case” was Hambantota port in Sri Lanka, which China now owns, “partly because Sri Lanka was really struggling to pay back its debt to China”. This indebtedness “questions the sustainability of this kind of project if Chinese development banks are lending to countries that fundamentally cannot afford to service debt.”73

53.Several witnesses discussed Asian regional security in the context of China’s growing power. Dr Chu told us that since 2014 China has been trying to introduce a “21st century security concept”, the core of which argues “that Asians should manage their own security problems”, implicitly excluding the US. Although “Chinese policy makers are very aware that it would take the PLA74 a long time to catch up with its American counterpart” in terms of military capability, it was “hard to imagine that China will back down from its new assertiveness in its foreign policy”.75

54.Mr Pantucci said that “China is now a global power, but it has regional consequences … it is changing the balance of power in that place.” He gave the examples of central Asia, where “China is increasingly the more consequential actor”, and the China–Pakistan Economic Corridor, a series of investments valued at between $50 and $60 billion. This project “means that when Pakistan is thinking, ‘Who is our major ally at the moment? Who is the major power we have to deal with? Who is the one we can rely on?’, it is no longer necessarily the West, Washington or even the United Kingdom, which is incredibly important for a country like Pakistan.”76

55.Dr Chu said China’s increasing assertiveness in the South China Sea, which has seen it press expansive territorial claims, including through building infrastructure on man-made islands, could result in an escalation of tensions in the short term. The US was “equally assertive in trying to hedge against the Chinese claims” through Freedom of Navigation Operations in which US air and naval forces demonstrate internationally recognised maritime rights by passing through claimed territory.77

56.Professor Katherine Morton, Professor of Chinese International Relations, University of Sheffield, said that while the US regarded itself “as a stabilising force in the region”, China identified its “primary threat” as US and Taiwanese activity in the Taiwan Strait and “defending the maritime periphery”. She said a question remained over “the extent to which [the US and China] will be able to arrive at some kind of accommodation and more equitable strategic relationship”. She was concerned that “at the moment there seems to be no new policy agenda able to offset those rising tensions between Xi Jinping and President Trump”.78

57.Professor Rosemary Foot, Emeritus Fellow, St Antony’s College, University of Oxford, said the US–China relationship was “the key relationship … not only because they are both nuclear weapon states but because we are talking about the first and second largest economies in the world. So if this goes wrong it goes wrong for all of us”.79

58.Mike Pence, Vice-President of the US, said in a speech on 4 October 2018 that China had “been moving further away” from the vision of “a constructive [US–China] relationship.”80 Professor Foot did not wish to overstate the danger, however. The ‘Thucydides trap’—the theory that “when you have a dissatisfied rising power challenging the hegemonic status quo power, conflict arises”—had “been promoted very strongly in our media” in relation to the US–China relationship, but she was “not of that view, because I think there are actions that governments can take to ameliorate those kinds of conditions.”81

59.Sir Ciarán Devane, Chief Executive, the British Council, said China was also investing heavily in soft power, including through cultural institutes and scholarships.82 Professor Tsang said China was “very keen on projecting Chinese soft power. The word ‘project’ is used deliberately, because they do not wait for soft power to emanate or emerge; they try to project it”. He said that China’s “network of Confucius Institutes” was “superintended by the propaganda department of the Communist Party”.83

60.Several witnesses discussed the challenges China will face in continuing to grow economically and in geopolitical power. It faces demographic challenges as a result of a rapidly ageing population.84 Its debt is more than 250% of GDP.85 Mr Magnus told us that a lot of China’s growth figures were “unreal”, as they do not account for bad debts and investments. He said that had China accurately accounted for these then “growth would probably have been, in my estimation, about a third or more than a third lower”.86

UK–China relations

61.The FCO said the UK had “a strong economic and global partnership” with China. It aimed to “encourage and support China’s greater cooperation in helping resolve global challenges.” The UK was “robust in defending our position on areas of difference, including on issues of human rights and values, on the South China Sea, and on the importance of Hong Kong’s high degree of autonomy and freedoms.”87

62.Lord Hague said the UK’s approach to China should be to “find the right areas of partnership and as many areas of partnership as possible, including the development of other countries and climate change and many areas of economic and trade policy.”88 Mr Hannigan and Sir Mark Lyall Grant said there had been differences within the Government between those who emphasised the economic value of closer relations with China, and those who prioritised security concerns:89 the UK had “veered between threat and opportunity over the past 10 years on China”.90 Ms Rand said the UK “seems to be driven by a responsiveness to China’s rise as opposed to a sense of where the UK sees itself in the future and what our global leadership is.”91

63.Lord Hague said the US–China relationship had implications for the UK’s engagement with China. Growing tensions raised “important strategic questions, because at some stage, probably in the next decade, a President of the United States will have to decide whether to accommodate the rise of China or confront it, as a succession of island chains in the Asia-Pacific become untenable for the United States Navy to pretend it can operate in freely or ever protect.”92

64.The Foreign Secretary said “we cannot stop the rise of China, nor should we seek to.” He noted, however, the risks associated with a having “an existing power and a rising power” in the US and China respectively. He said that to avoid the ‘Thucydides trap’, it was necessary to “[maximise] understanding on all sides of each other’s objectives.”93

65.Dr Chu thought that while “China is viewed by Britain as a golden opportunity in a post-Brexit world”, the UK should be “serious about its embrace of its ideals and norms, such as human rights, respect for international law and the rules of law”. She said “diplomats and officials here should think carefully about the different facets of China today. China is not just a business opportunity. It is still an authoritarian state with a vast array of values and norms that are probably very different from ours.”94 Ms Gracie thought the Government was “engaging with China in a clear-eyed way”, but it was “very important to speak up for one’s values, assert where one’s red lines are and be firm about adhering to them, because one’s Chinese counterpart expects that.”95

66.The Foreign Secretary said it was “also important for the Chinese to understand that, provided they do not threaten our values, we will be their best friend and will welcome their development and growth.” On the approach the UK should take to raise concerns with China on human rights abuses, he said it was important to recognise that “you have to raise these issues differently with different countries … if we raise these issues in public [with the Chinese government], the truth is that the dialogue would stop.”96

67.China’s growing economic and political power gives it global influence, and it has become increasingly regionally assertive. We welcome the Government’s now long-standing openness to China: it is not in the UK’s interest to treat China systematically as an adversary. But the Government must ensure that this relationship does not damage the UK’s relations with the US or Japan nor efforts to forge a stronger relationship with countries like India.

68.While there are continuing concerns including China’s human rights record and its behaviour in cyberspace, the Government should aim to work closely with China in finding responses to the main international challenges we face, such as climate change and freer and fairer world trade. But it should do so in a manner which is consistent with the rules-based international order, in particular international humanitarian law.

69.In the longer term, the Government will need to weigh up the strategic challenge posed by China’s approach to its international role, and its impact on the rules-based international order, against China’s growing economic significance.


70.Dr Andrew Foxall, Director, Russia and Eurasia Studies Centre, the Henry Jackson Society, said that “Russia’s behaviour over the past 20 years or so” had “obstructed our foreign policy objectives.” Russian foreign policy was “aggressive … it: invades, and annexes territory from, its neighbours; supports separatist movements and militias in de facto and unrecognised states; foments the spread of terrorism; and, engages in repeated acts of military sabre-rattling and economic coercion.”97 Paul Maidment, Director of Analysis and Managing Editor, Oxford Analytica, said it was “a tradition of Russian foreign policy just to disrupt and disconcert generally”.98 Dr Neville Bolt, Director, King’s Centre for Strategic Communications, described “a kind of industrialised, systematic approach to destabilising, unsettling and making life uncomfortable, particularly for eastern European states”99

71.In our recent reports The UK and the Future of the Western Balkans and The Middle East: Time for New Realism, we reflected on Russia’s role in both regions. In the Western Balkans we concluded that Russian influence was “of particular concern” as it had “[slowed] progress towards good governance and the region emerging as fully democratic.” In the Middle East we concluded that Russia had “been able to both foment and to exploit the turbulence of the Middle East to gain considerable authority and leverage, which it is likely to wish to trade off in the global arena.”100

72.Sir Andrew Wood, former Ambassador to Russia, said “we should be particularly cautious about drawing parallels between our experience of the Cold War and the experience we have now.”101 Sir Tony Brenton, former Ambassador to Russia, said that while using the term ‘Cold War’ in the current context was often unhelpful, we were now “in a slightly more dangerous situation because Russia vis-à-vis the West … does not have the conventional capacity to protect itself as it feels it needs to, and so the threshold of moving to nuclear weapons is lower.”102

73.The motivations for Russian foreign policy were discussed by several witnesses. Some said that President Vladimir Putin’s international assertiveness is popular with his domestic audience. Sir Tony Brenton said this stemmed from “the feeling [in Russia] that it had been systematically humiliated and neglected by the West, particularly the United States; and the determination that that would not happen to it again.”103 Sir Andrew Wood disputed that Russia had been intentionally humiliated; rather, “They were humiliated by their collapse, which is something different.”104

74.Dr Oksana Antonenko, Visiting Senior Fellow, Institute of Global Affairs, London School of Economics and Political Science, said “the humiliation” Russia experienced in the 1990s was “unprecedented among our generation.” She noted that the simultaneous Western engagement with the Yeltsin government in support of “what at that time was called the transition of Russia to democracy” had resulted in the “deeply rooted” perception amongst Russians that the West supported and encouraged Russian corruption and economic collapse. She said that in the early years of President Putin, Russia had supported Western efforts, such as the invasion of Afghanistan, and did not strongly object to NATO expansion. In return Russia felt it had been marginalised because the West believed it was too weak to be considered.105

75.A further reason for Russia’s behaviour was its status as a ‘declining power’.106 Sir Mark Lyall Grant described Russia’s behaviour as being:

“a fundamental trend of a declining power that has very strong hard power but virtually no allies around the world and no soft power. That is why we are seeing the destabilisation of Russia’s neighbours, the cyber-attacks,107 the misinformation campaigns and the assassination of people who disagree with the Kremlin overseas.”108

Dr Schake told us “Russia is not our peer. That is the essential thing to understand about why Russia is trying to destabilise civil society and politics in the United States … Russia is trying to recreate a sense of its own grandeur; it has chosen to do that by being a threat to us in the West.”109 Dr Lucas Kello, Director, Centre for Technology and Global Affairs, University of Oxford, explained Russia’s “prioritisation of information warfare” as being rooted in its “understanding of its relative conventional weakness.”110

76.Professor Alister Miskimmon, Head, School of History, Anthropology, Philosophy and Politics, Queen’s University Belfast, and Professor Ben O’Loughlin, Professor of International Relations, Royal Holloway, University of London, highlighted the contradictions in Russia’s position. It:

“aspires to a great power status and indeed sits on the United Nations Security Council P5 yet lacks the economic dynamism and stability expected of a great power; and it simultaneously projects an aspiration to act as a good citizen contributing to the solution of collective problems (Syria, ISIS), while it also acts as a norm disruptor by occupying the territory of other nation-states and interfering illegally in other nation-states’ democratic election processes.”111

77.Turning to Russia’s relationship with China, Dr Natasha Kuhrt, Lecturer, Department of War Studies, Kings College London, said “we should not overestimate” a Russian “pivot to the Asia-Pacific”. Russia, she said, “still needs Europe.” Dr Kuhrt acknowledged increased Chinese investment in Russia but noted that it still remained relatively low. Overall, Chinese support “has been extremely helpful to Russia in the difficult period after 2014.”112

78.Sir Andrew Wood said that the prospect of “getting rid of Putin is a very unreal one.”113 Sir Tony Brenton said it was important to understand the level of support there was in Russia for his foreign policy. Even if President Putin left in 2024, “we need to resign ourselves to a sort of Putin clone replacing him … [and] to assume that the Russia we have is the Russia we will have for some time to come.”114

UK–Russia relations

79.The FCO said it was “severely concerned by the evolving spectrum of threats emanating from Russia. We are resolved to meet these challenges while remaining open to appropriate dialogue; we want to reduce risk, talk about our differences, and make clear that interference with sovereign states is not acceptable.”115 The FCO’s written evidence came before the chemical weapons attack in Salisbury and the subsequent increase in diplomatic tensions with Russia.

80.The Foreign Secretary said that “Russia is one of the great powers of the world and that it is entitled to the respect that comes with that”. However, its current behaviour was “not a way to gain respect”. Russia had to understand that

“if it continues on this path, countries with different values will react in concert from a position of strength. That is what we have been doing. You could argue that it has taken us too long to realise that that is what needs to happen, but we are doing that.”116

81.Lord Ricketts told us the UK had “important commercial interests in Russia, not least BP, which seem to continue and should continue, but ever since the poisoning of Mr Litvinenko in the streets of London117 I think we have been clear that we are up against a Russia that does not play by the rules that we have accepted and is taking a much more aggressive approach to relations with western Europe.”118

82.Sir Tony Brenton said the UK needed to talk to Russia:

“Like it or not, they are a major player in the world … we are not going to deal effectively with Islamic extremism, for example, without the Russians helping. We are not going to solve the current chaos in cyberspace … without the Russians being involved. We need to get into dialogue with them on those subjects. We in the UK are right at the back among major Western countries in looking for those sorts of dialogues.”119

83.Dr Antonenko called Western sanctions against Russia “a substitute for policy.” She said “policy-makers felt that something had to be done” following Russia’s annexation of Crimea in 2014, but “there was no other option on table.” Dr Antonenko said in the context of the Russian economy returning to growth that sanctions “are having no visible impact in Russia to the extent that could compel it to change its policies in Ukraine or indeed elsewhere”.120 Dr Kuhrt described Western sanctions against Russia as “an imperfect tool”, however they “retain an importance in sending a message” and are important in the “conferral of pariah status” which “can have a significant effect”.121

84.Russia is a declining power that is increasingly willing and able to use both traditional and new capabilities—such as cyber capabilities—to act as a disrupter in international relations. It is no longer a role model for idealist focus as it was during the Soviet era. We commend the Government for successfully co-ordinating a strong international response to the chemical weapons attack in Salisbury. The UK should continue to work closely with its allies to counter Russian disinformation campaigns and deter its hybrid warfare tactics.

85.The UK must also, nonetheless, remain open to dialogue with Russia on issues of common concern, such as counter-terrorism and nuclear non-proliferation. And it should not allow the inevitable increase in tension following the Salisbury attack to prevent a better understanding of developments in a country which remains important for our foreign policy.

Regional powers

86.Witnesses noted a number of other countries that may become more influential at either a regional or global level in future. Professor Clarke listed Iran,122 Turkey, Brazil, Saudi Arabia, Japan and Australia as being either “emergent” or already “regionally important powers.” Nigeria, South Africa, Indonesia and Mexico might also become more influential.123

87.Professor Evans said there was “a whole army of countries out there in Asia, Latin America and Africa that by definition are not big or powerful enough to change the dial themselves on anything but which, working through co-operative strategies, have sufficient capability—diplomatic and otherwise—credibility and creativity in the way they go about the business of international affairs to make a difference.” He cited Australia, Canada, the Scandinavian countries, South Korea, Vietnam, Indonesia, Mexico, Brazil, Argentina, Chile, South Africa, Nigeria and Egypt as examples.124 Given its size, status as a nuclear power and its historic relationship with the United Kingdom, its role as the largest member of the Commonwealth, and the significant Indian diaspora in the UK, we considered India, which the FCO described as “an economic powerhouse, with a growing role in Asian and international geopolitics”.125 The Foreign Secretary noted that the economies of India and China together “will exceed the GDPs of the entire G7 put together” by 2050.126

88.Professor Evans said that India had “punched below its weight for a long time.”127 Rahul Roy-Chaudhury, Senior Fellow for South Asia, International IISS, told us that under the premiership of Narendra Modi, India was now espousing a more proactive and pragmatic foreign policy. It was seeking to be a “leading power”, for example through moving away from the policy of ‘non-alignment.’ Prime Minister Modi was more outward looking in his approach, seeking to build stronger relations with a host of countries.128 Professor Kate Sullivan de Estrada, Associate Professor in the International Relations of South Asia, University of Oxford, said this approach meant “there may be a lack of clarity on India’s fundamental commitments geopolitically”, but suggested this could be an intentional “balancing act” of “multi-alignment”.129

89.Professor Sullivan de Estrada said India’s foreign policy ambitions were “both global and regional.” There were three lenses through which to view Indian foreign policy goals. Through the “economic lens”, India was seeking global market access for its goods and services, labour mobility and the physical connectivity to ensure resource security. In the “security lens”, India’s ambitions were “primarily regional”, but global in the context of being a nuclear state. In the “social lens of status”, India was seeking “a role of consequence in world politics”.130

90.Mr Roy-Chaudhury said Prime Minister Modi had “a ‘neighbourhood first’ policy”. Economic development was “the key aspect” of his agenda; it was “essential that there is a stable region” to deliver this. The first aspect of this was its relationship with China because “it is India’s greatest strategic challenge.”131 Professor Sullivan de Estrada said that while India did not disagree in principle with China’s infrastructure investment strategy, it was concerned about the lack of consultation between Beijing and its neighbours.132 Ms Palma told us “India has definitely not publicly accepted the belt and road, on the basis of sovereignty infringement” concerning China’s investment in the contested Kashmir region.133

91.A second aspect is maritime security concerns. Mr Roy-Chaudhury said that “the Government believe that the Indian Ocean is important to India’s security, which is why they have looked at supporting the interests of the smaller island states and developing policies in tandem with other countries using the Indian Ocean, which would also mean involving China at some point.”134

92.A third issue is India’s relationship with Pakistan. Mr Roy-Chaudhury said that, despite efforts by the Indian Prime Minister in the early days of his premiership, there had been no progress with the peace process at the official level since 2013. The nuclear aspect of the India–Pakistan relationship was a particular concern.135 Professor Sullivan de Estrada said there were not many confidence-building measures in place between India and Pakistan, but there was an understanding on both sides that it would be in no-one’s interest in south Asia for a nuclear exchange to take place.136

UK relations with India and other regional powers

93.The FCO said the UK’s relationship with India was “central to our aspirations.”137 Professor Sullivan de Estrada, however, said that the UK had been “somewhat consigned to the back burner in India’s foreign policy ambitions”.138 Mr Roy-Chaudhury said “What has changed … is that other countries are assiduously seeking to engage with India and they appear to offer more than the UK either has or is able to commit to.”139 There was “potent competition from the exporting states of Japan, France and Germany”.140 Mr Roy-Chaudhury noted Russia’s enduring importance to India due to its supply of 60 to 70% of India’s defence equipment.141

94.Professor Sullivan de Estrada told us that while the UK often thought about the views of Washington, Berlin or Paris, it needed to be better at asking “What will New Delhi think?”142

95.Mr Roy-Chaudhury said the relationship “from the UK side focuses primarily on trade and economic issues”. These were “good things”, but to elevate the relationship, the UK needed to focus on “the strategic content … security relationships, cybersecurity and military exercises”. The Indian government’s “mindset” was that “the UK is in second place and that it is interested only in trade issues that are beneficial to the UK”. To begin, the UK “could say that the strategic relationship with India is of primary importance—a strategic relationship that includes the Indo-Pacific.”143 Mr Roy-Chaudhury told us that France had succeeded in strengthening its relationship with India in part because it had included “the nuclear dimension, the arms dimension and the space dimension.” Mr Roy-Chaudhury identified one area of strength: the UK “is the favoured cybersecurity international partner for India.”144

96.The UK has prioritised economic and trade links with India, but the potential security relationship has been under-developed. The Government should seek to reset and elevate its relationship with India by focussing on strategic priorities such as cybersecurity and maritime issues in the Indo-Pacific.

97.The Government must recognise the negative impact of the restrictive UK regime for visas and migration on the UK-India relationship and soft power links between the two countries; and in the forthcoming White Paper and legislation on the UK’s post-Brexit immigration policy should reshape policy with the objective of addressing India’s concerns.

98.The Government should recognise the increasing regional influence of middle ranking emerging powers in Africa, Asia and Latin America and should work more closely with them in addressing problems and disputes arising in their regions. We welcome the Foreign Secretary’s commitment to this objective in his evidence to us.

Europe and other likeminded partners

99.Many witnesses said that close ties with Europe, and the European Union, remain “paramount” to the UK.145 Dr Niblett said “Britain’s first circle of interest and influence, even outside the EU, will be via Europe … continental Europe [is] our first line of defence and interest.”146

100.Sir Simon Fraser told us that “although we are leaving the EU, our policy naturally aligns with that of other European countries … Europe remains very important in the group of partners based on our geographical and values interests.”147 He went on to say “the core relationships this country is going to rely on will be with those that share our values and are our closest economic and security partners. They are in Europe, in North America and in other English-speaking countries … It would be very unwise for us to downgrade those relations in pursuit of new relations.”148 Ms Thornberry said the UK needed to work with “friends”, and they were “people who share our values. A lot of them are in Europe, Canada, Australia and … in Japan too.”149

101.The FCO told us that “many of our closest and most like-minded partners are members of the European Union, and our national interests will align in many areas with the interests of our European friends.”150 Deborah Bronnert, Director-General, Economic and Global Issues, FCO, highlighted the close UK co-operation with France and Germany following the chemical weapons attack in Salisbury and recent foreign and trade policy decisions taken by the US government.151

102.The Foreign Secretary said the UK had “huge values in common with our friends in Europe. We find that we are thinking along similar lines on many global issues. I do not want the diplomatic alliance we have with EU countries to change as a result of Brexit.” He said “It really would be a big step backwards if, in the context of wanting to have that strong partnership in global affairs, friendly countries started erecting huge trade barriers between each other.”152

103.In the context of a strained transatlantic relationship, an increasingly assertive China, a disruptive Russia and broad shifts to the global balance of power, it remains firmly in the UK’s national interest to maintain the strongest possible partnership on foreign and security policy with its likeminded European partners, both bilaterally and at an EU level, after Brexit.

104.The Government should place a renewed emphasis on building alliances across the world and engaging with networks of likeminded partners.

19 Q 33 (Jake Stratton)

20 Q 24 The concept of ‘post-primacy’ was discussed by the US Army War College in its publication ‘At Our Own Peril: DoD Risk Assessment in a Post-Primacy World’. Strategic Studies Institute of the US Army War College, At Our Own Peril: DoD Risk Assessment in a Post-Primacy World (June 2017): [accessed 4 December 2018]

21 Q 53 (Dr Richard Haass)

30 International Relations Committee, Note from Committee visit to Washington D.C 11–15 June 2018 (1 October 2018):

34 International Relations Committee, Note from Committee visit to Washington D.C 11–15 June 2018 (1 October 2018):

35 United States Department of Defense, Summary of the 2018 National Defense Strategy of the United States of America: [accessed 4 December 2018]

36 Q 15 (Lord Ricketts)

40 Q 50. The Trans-Pacific Partnership has since been replaced by the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership (CPTPP), a prospective 11 member trade agreement (that does not include the US), which is yet to enter into force.

41 International Relations Committee, Note from Committee visit to Washington D.C 11–15 June 2018 (1 October 2018):

42 Ibid.

43 Q 35 (Henry Wilkinson) and Q 188 (Sir Simon Fraser)

44 Written evidence from the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FPW0027)

50 Q 18. Mr Hannigan made a similar point 205.

51 International Relations Committee, Note from Committee visit to Washington D.C 11–15 June 2018 (1 October 2018):

53 Xinhua, ‘Full text of Xi Jinping’s report at 19th CPC National Congress’ (18 October 2017):–11/03/c_136725942.htm [accessed 2 November 2018]

54 Before 2035 and 2050, there are two other important dates in China’s transition. First, in 2021 the Chinese Communist Party will celebrate its centenary and hold its 20th Party Congress, and China’s ambition is to be a ‘moderately well-off society’. Another target for China, as set out in the ‘Made in China 2025’ policy, is to increase China’s domestic output of core components and materials for high-tech goods, thus reducing its reliance on imports. Philippe Le Corre, ‘China: Xi Jinping’s 2021 Countdown’, Institut Montaigne (18 December 2017): [accessed 29 November 2018], and James McBride, ‘Is Made in China 2025’ a Threat to Global Trade?’, Council on Foreign Relations (2 August 2018), [accessed 29 November 2018]

57 Ibid.

58 Ibid.

59 Ibid.

60 Ibid.

61 Ibid.

62 Q 78 (Carrie Gracie)

65 Q 85. Lord Ricketts also made this point. Q 15.

66 Q 85.The Japanese Partnership for Quality Infrastructure has been described as its version of the BRI. In 2018, it was supported by government-backed agencies such as the Japan Bank of International Cooperation ($2.2 billion) and the Japan International Cooperation Agency ($69 million), with additional funds from the private sector. Trissia Wijaya and Yuma Osaki, ‘Japan Doesn’t Need to Compete With China’s Belt and Road’, The Diplomat (7 September 2018): [accessed 15 November 2018]

67 As well as China’s investment through the Belt and Road Initiative, which largely focuses on Eurasia, Beijing has been increasing its investments around the world, including in Latin America. David Dollar, ‘China’s investment in Latin America’, Brookings: [accessed 29 November 2018]

74 The Chinese People’s Liberation Army.

75 Q 91 (Dr Monique Chu)

79 Ibid.

80 White House, ‘Remarks by Vice President Pence on the Administration’s Policy Toward China’ (4 October 2018): [accessed 4 December 2018]

84 Q 85 (George Magnus)

85 Q 85 (Stefania Palma)

87 Written evidence from the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FPW0027)

90 Q 206 (Robert Hannigan)

91 Q 94

97 Written evidence from Dr Andrew Foxall, the Henry Jackson Society (FWP0005)

99 Ibid.

100 International Relations Committee, The UK and the Future of the Western Balkans (1st Report, Session 2017–19, HL Paper 159) and International Relations Committee, The Middle East: Time for New Realism (2nd Report, Session 2016–17, HL Paper 53)

102 Ibid.

103 Ibid.

104 Ibid.

105 Q 106 (Dr Oksana Antonenko)

106 Q 23 (Dr Schake), International Relations Committee, Record of roundtable discussion with early-career experts 27 June 2018 (1 October 2018): and Q 206 (Sir Mark Lyall Grant)

107 A cyber-attack is a malicious attempt “to damage, disrupt or gain unauthorised access to computer systems, networks or devices, via cyber means”. This can include sabotaging an organisation’s computer systems, disrupt services or infrastructure related to the system, accessing information on the system, or disabling the system completely. National Cyber Security Centre, ‘NCSC glossary: cyber attack’, 5 January 2018: [accessed 2 November 2018]

108 Q 206 (Sir Mark Lyall Grant)

111 Written evidence from Professor Alister Miskimmon, Queen’s University Belfast, and Professor Ben O’Loughlin, Royal Holloway, University of London (FPW0015)

115 Written evidence from the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FPW0027)

117 Alexander Litvinenko was a former officer of the Russian Federal Security Service, who was killed in November 2006. The investigation into his murder concluded that former Russian agent Andrey Lugovoy was responsible for his poisoning with radioactive polonium-210.

121 Ibid.

122 We considered the significance of Iran and Saudi Arabia as regional powers in our report The Middle East: Time for New Realism. Since its publication in 2017, we note that regional tensions have increased significantly, and the war in Yemen has escalated. International Relations Committee, The Middle East: Time for New Realism (2nd Report, Session 2016–17, HL Paper 53)

123 Q 7. He considered India already to be one of the four global powers.

125 Written evidence from the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FPW0027)

135 Ibid.

136 Ibid.

137 Written evidence from the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FPW0027)

139 Ibid.

140 Q 116 (Professor Kate Sullivan de Estrada)

143 Ibid.

145 Written evidence from Dr Kristan Stoddart (FPW0017). Also see Dr Niblett 199 and Sir Simon Fraser Q 188.

150 Written evidence from the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FPW0027)

151 Q 150

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