In the media

Why the ideas in the UK’s IR should be implemented now

Cate Pye

By Cate Pye

Jane's Defence Weekly

01 December 2020

This article first appeared in Jane’s Defence Weekly

We have now seen the first elements of the keenly anticipated Integrated Review of Defence, Security, International and Development Review, along with additional funding for Defence. As we wait to see the full detail of the IR in the New Year, we should start implementing the initiatives now.

Given the UK Government’s focus on the COVID-19 response, bandwidth for implementing the Integrated Review of Defence, Security, International and Development Policy (IR) will be limited, although good thinking has already been done. Arguably, the ideas are more relevant than ever and provide the new ways of working that we desperately need to improve effectiveness and affordability.

The IR will further outline the need for greater integration and fusion across Whitehall; to make more effective use of information and technology, as well as drawing on our friends and allies for critical capabilities. This fits with the United Kingdom’s drive to make sure people can work and live effectively and safely online, and to have the most cost-effective, efficient and joined up capabilities we can across government.

The best way to make our future effective and efficient is to implement the good ideas that have been generated during the IR thinking. The one-year spending review in some areas, and four years in others, means our approach must be agile and adaptive; we must keep the long-term picture in mind and plan short-term spending to keep those future options as open as possible.

Bringing together the themes of people, prosperity, purpose, and planet, the UK can use the opportunity of the strategic shock COVID-19 is giving to the system, to make the once-in-a-generation change to build the global role we want, and can afford, in the post-Brexit world. Shaking us out of our entrenched 20th Century working models, COVID-19 has forced us to rapidly adopt technological advances. The government needs to capture these to stay ahead of the technical curve going forward.

Providing people with skills and training, notably in science, technology, space and cyber will provide fulfilling careers and build the capability the UK needs to compete and excel on the world stage in these areas. The UK’s ability to work remotely and securely as we move into longer-term working from home, relying more on the internet and information systems, will also indirectly benefit from this focus on science and technology as the baseline capability and skill of citizens increases. The integrated Whitehall approach to creating jobs in, and building skills for, information advantage will also pull through the workforce of the future; encouraging students, from primary school upwards to engage with science, technology, engineering, and maths (STEM) and cyber as a career, and offering the opportunity to bring in talent with the aptitude for technical roles from non-STEM backgrounds. People will also need to be supported as traditional sectors contract and new sectors expand. How we protect our people in a time of economic hardship becomes paramount.

The UK economy will change as a result of COVID-19, and the role of prosperity driving measures will be to support the growth of capability and capacity at home and overseas. Our international policy can be a catalyst for increased international development and domestic growth. The benefits are clear: support overseas to build capability and prosperity reduces the risk of transferred conflict and indirect risks to the UK and our interests. A more prosperous UK can regenerate faster to overcome COVID-19, build beyond Brexit, and keep our economy on track.

The driving ethos will be value for money. In a global recession with the mountain of debt casting a long shadow, spending will need to be rationalised to produce the best multipurpose outcomes, inherently driving collaboration.

Resilience is a topic that has made the headlines in a way previously unheard of and has become a vital part of government’s purpose. The way departments have worked together to respond to COVID-19 should be captured, and the innovation and ingenuity that has enabled response at speed should be built into future ways of working. The role for integrated information sharing and use of resources across departments, and the ability to create a resilient society that reduces the weight at a national level, has been a crucial stream in IR thinking that needs to be realised through practice and structures. Similarly, we must review the lessons of crisis management, how bureaucratic delays can be circumvented to enact meaningful change, identifying what we can embed in ‘business as usual’ to improve operations.

Finally, we need sustainable change. Not just in building a lasting change to ways of working, information use and structures, but also in the way we look after our planet. It may seem a far-away challenge, but the implications of sustainability in a climate change sense are long term and far reaching. The political, societal, and economic unrest created by scarce water, power, or food will inevitably destabilise countries and lead to the need for aid intervention from the UK and its allies. Prevention is better than cure and effort now to reduce the effect on our planet and prevent these tensions will mean we can focus resources on more constructive security priorities and on economic growth.

So, let us not hesitate to implement the ideas in the IR. It is these measures that will enable the UK to increase integration and optimise spend as we use our joined-up defence, security, international, and prosperity levers more intelligently and efficiently.

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