The Integrated Review of Security, Defence, Development and Foreign Policy (the Integrated Review) portrays Global Britain as a ‘force for good’: through its broad network of alliances and its considerable influence through soft power; in its status as a founding member of COVAX and NATO; its practical leadership in tackling climate change; all the way through to the influence it wields via the creative arts.
It sets out a clear ‘One HMG’ (Her Majesty’s Government) ambition to use soft power more effectively alongside more traditional hard power resources. Funding has been defined to support this approach through the BBC, the arts, and significant investment into science and technology initiatives. Similarly, there is a clear emphasis on the imperative of reinforcing our existing alliances and developing new partnerships for contemporary challenges, such as using ‘regulatory diplomacy’ to shape the UK’s international presence and influence.
This is an integrated review, which raises difficult questions around implementing an integrated response for soft power objectives that are considerable in their breadth, encompassing education, culture, sport, technology, as well as diplomacy and trade. It’s trickier still when you add in the distributed responsibilities across HMG departments and an absence of a centrally coordinated ministerial oversight. A further complication comes with the formidably broad scope of global influence. The review identifies potential alliances for focus and development that cover a huge range of topics, from the WHO to solidifying the Union (the United Kingdom).
The development of a robust strategic capability to manage our soft power and the strategy at the heart of government is key to enabling the complex coordination required for this to be effective.
Soft power calls for firm commitment and action
The Foreign, Commonwealth & Development Office (FCDO) identified the need for a cross-government soft power strategy two years ago. This focus is now more important than ever. It should prioritise the delivery of this strategy as a key component of its foreign policy toolkit, with leadership by a Minister accountable to Parliament for its delivery.
Being active in such a competitive world, across such a broad range of operations, will increase the need, both in volume and speed of decision-making, to manage the inevitable trade-offs: boosting Chinese investment in the UK while protesting Human Rights abuses and ensuring maritime security in the South China Sea; and making the UK a centre for Foreign Direct Investment while tackling economic crime.
HMG will need to focus to deliver effective decision-making with measurable outcomes, but it can be achieved: the UK has co-operated with China on countering child exploitation through the WePROTECT Global Alliance, while the UK sanctions regime can balance London’s role as a finance hub against the need to influence foreign individuals with assets.
To support the implementation of the Integrated Review’s recommendations, the UK Government is creating a new Performance and Planning Framework and Evaluation Taskforce. This framework will need to take the management of soft power and global alliances as seriously as ‘hard power’ objectives, including military deployments in the theme of Integrated Operating Concept 2025.
It’s essential that soft power retains senior-level focus over a sustained period, as one of the most flexible and cost effective tools that the UK can use for global influence. By defining indicators to track the deployment of soft power and the effectiveness of alliances, the UK can measure the success of its interventions, and adapt them where results are not in line with expected targets.
Together, this will ensure that soft power remains a key strand, and not merely a ‘bolt-on,’ to the Global Britain strategy.