Defence and foreign policy review emphasises cutting-edge tech

Written by Jim Dunton and Richard Johnstone on 18 March 2021 in News
News

Adoption of emerging technology and creation of dedicated cyber force are among the initiatives trailed in the policy document 

Credit: Ben Stansall/PA Wire/PA Images

Prime minister Boris Johnson has published the long-awaited integrated review of security, defence, development and foreign policy that will shape the UK’s military and diplomatic course for the next decade.

The prime minister said investing in cutting-edge technology was a crucial component of the strategy. To which end, plans have been confirmed today for the creation of two new and high-tech cross-government hubs: a £9.3m “situation centre”, to be based in the Cabinet Office; and a Counter-Terrorism Operations Centre.

Downing Street said the White House-inspired situation centre, or SitCen for short,  would “build on the lessons of the Covid pandemic to improve our use of data to anticipate and respond to future crises”.

The Operations Centre, meanwhile, is aimed at improving the nation’s ability to thwart terrorism at the same time as dealing with the actions of “hostile states”. Johnson said the facility would bring together counter-terrorism police, intelligence agencies and the criminal justice system to coordinate the government’s expertise and resources in a “state-of-the-art facility” to improve response times to terrorist incidents.

The review was led by a cross-Whitehall team based in the Cabinet Office and a second team in Downing Street. It was launched in February last year and was originally due to report in the summer ahead of the Spending Review – plans which were significantly impacted by the coronavirus pandemic.


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Alongside the increased prominence of tech, the plan also signals a “tilt to the Indo-Pacific” in the UK’s outlook, according to the PM. But he also warned that the 100-page document was clear the UK could not rely solely on an “increasingly outdated international system” to protect its interests and that a new foreign policy of “increased international activism” was required.

Setting out the document, Johnson said he was “profoundly optimistic” about the UK’s place in the world and its ability to seize the opportunities ahead.

“The ingenuity of our citizens and the strength of our union will combine with our international partnerships, modernised armed forces and a new green agenda, enabling us to look forward with confidence as we shape the world of the future,” he said. “The review addresses the challenges and opportunities the UK faces in a more competitive world, where new powers are using all the tools at their disposal to redefine the international order and – in some cases – undermine the open and liberal international system that emerged in the wake of the Cold War.”

In November, chancellor Rishi Sunak’s Spending Review gave the Ministry of Defence a £24bn funding increase over the next four years, described by the ministry as the first outcome of the integrated review. Some of the funding – £16.5bn of which was new – was to bankroll the creation of a “National Cyber Force”. The prime minister said today that the force would be based in the north-west of England.

Johnson told MPs today that the Spending Review funding would allow for the “wholesale modernisation" of the nation's armed forces and for "taking forward the renewal of our nuclear deterrent”.

He added: “The new money will be focused on mastering the emerging technologies that are transforming warfare and reflecting the premium placed on speed and deployment and technical skill.”

It also revealed that the government’s new national security adviser Sir Steven Lovegrove is to review the UK’s “national security systems and processes to ensure that integrated review objectives and priority actions, as well as future policy decisions, are implemented swiftly and effectively, and to establish systems that better support the National Security Council”. Lovegrove will take up the post of NSA, moving from his current role as Ministry of Defence permanent secretary, at the end of this month.

The document also reveals that there will be further strategies, including on resilience, cyber and international development, published by government in the months ahead, with these plans influencing decisions in future spending reviews.

The government’s new national security adviser Sir Steven Lovegrove, meanwhile, is to review the UK’s “national security systems and processes to ensure that integrated review objectives and priority actions, as well as future policy decisions, are implemented swiftly and effectively, and to establish systems that better support the National Security Council”. Lovegrove will take up the post of NSA, moving from his current role as Ministry of Defence permanent secretary, at the end of this month.

The document also reveals that there will be further strategies, including on resilience, cyber and international development, published by government in the months ahead, with these plans influencing decisions in future spending reviews.

 

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