Friday, 19 March 2021

"Global Britain in a Competitive Age"

Indo-Pacific biogeographic region map-en.png
Author Eric Gaba Licence  CC BY-SA 4.0Source Wikipedia Indo-Pacific

Jane Lambert

In Global Britain in a competitive age The Integrated Review of Security, Defence, Development and Foreign Policy, the government has spelt out its objective in decoupling the United Kingdom from neighbours and allies with shared interests in the world's richest trading bloc. It may not be an attainable objective or even a desirable one but at least it is ascertainable.  The review reveals the direction of travel the first time since the referendum thereby allowing businesses and individuals to plan for the medium term.

The document consists of five parts and three annexes:
  • The first part is the foreword in which the Prime Minister shares his vision for the UK in 2030 (pages 3 to 9).
  • The second is headed "Overview" and is effectively an executive summary (pages 11 to 22).
  • Part III is the national security and international environment to 2030 (pages 24 to 32).
  • The "Strategic Framework" between pages 33 and 95 is the biggest part of the review and consists of 4 topics:
    • The first is headed "Sustaining strategic advantage through science and technology" which is to be achieved by growing the UK's science and technology superpower and developing a cyber warfare capability.
    • Shaping the open international order of the future which includes an "Indo Pacific Tilt" over 50 tears after Harold Wilson announced the UK's withdrawal from bases east of Suez.
    • Strengthening security and defence at home and overseas includes expanding the nuclear arsenal more than 60 years after the cancellation of "Blue Streak".
    • Building resilience at home and overseas.
  • The last part is on implementation and consists of 2 ½ pages (96 to 99).
Annex A consists of a table listing spending priorities in the latest spending review,  Annex B is headed "Evidence and Engagement" and points to some of the people the authors of this review had consulted, The last annex is a glossary.

As an intellectual property lawyer, I should love to see the UK become a science and technology superpower with vibrant creative industries attracting investment and expertise from around the world.  I just can't see how it is going to happen. China applies for 1.4 million patents every year compared to the UK's 12,000. In the number of patent applications, the UK lies 9th behind China, the USA, Japan, South Korea, Germany, Russia and France (see Knoema Number of patent applications among residents).   In the European Patent Office. it consistently trails the Netherlands and Switzerland with a third and eight of its population respectively (see European patent applications per country of origin).

Although the UK economy may well bounce back once the COVID-19 restrictions are lifted, there is no reason to suppose it will grow consistently at historically unprecedented rates over the next 9 years.  Even on the most optimistic forecasts, it will be overtaken by countries that can take advantage of economies of scale.  According to Statista the UK will slip from 5th place in 2919 to  9th by 2030 behind China with $31,731 billion, the USA with $22,920, India $7,972, Brazil $5,862, Japan $5,852, Russia $4,730, Germany $4,441, France 4,206 and the UK $3,664 (see "The 15 countries with the highest gross domestic product (GDP) in 2030 (in billion U.S. dollars)").  

The review makes only one brief reference to the Belt and Road initiative, a massive road, rail, port and pipeline building project, on page 26 but fails to consider its impact on the world's economy.  It is likely to be massive. It will create a land bridge across the Asian and European continents by lowering the cost and speeding the transit of freight.  By so doing it will integrate the economies of all countries linked to that land bridge and increase still further the economic strength of China.

For this and other reasons, this review probably understates the consequences of the rise of China.  It tacitly acknowledges China's rise by referring in several places to a "multipolar" environment. However, if China has a GDP that is 38% larger than that of the USA the world will be distinctly unipolar.  If there is to be a new international order, Washington's influence will be diminished and that of middle-ranking powers such as the United Kingdom will barely register at all.  

The review makes all sorts of assumptions that may or may not be justified such as a continued union of Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland with England.  Surely any review of defence policy has to plan for the possibility of the closure of the nuclear facilities on the Forth and Clyde and the loss of military shipbuilding capabilities in Scotland. It should also plan for a resumption of terrorist activity in Northern Ireland if the Good Friday agreement is abandoned for any reason.

Anyone wishing to discuss this article or any of the topics mentioned in it may call me on +44 (0)20 7404 5252 during office hours or send me a message through my contact form.

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