British military planners wake up to new multipolar world, but still cling to imperialist wishful thinking
March 2021, UK published A “full joint” from London “national security and international politics” for decades to come, which would be “[shape] the open international order of the future, known as “integrated review”.
His vision was incredibly bold and called for the UK to become a preeminent power in the Asia-Pacific region, expanding its presence through overseas military bases and increasing its stockpile of nuclear weapons.
There are few signs of London making even slight progress on any of its lofty goals two years on, but what’s more, it has now released a complete ‘refresh’ these plans, “responding to a more contested and volatile world.”
As explained in the introduction to the new report, the initial integrated review “has identified four trends that will shape the international environment out to 2030: changes in the distribution of global power; “systemic” interstate competition over the nature of the international order; rapid technological change; and worsening transnational challenges.
The “refresh” reflects “the rate at which these trends have accelerated over the past two years”, but also how “the transition to a multipolar, fragmented and contested world has happened faster and more definitively than expected.” The changes resulting from this seismic change mean that it is necessary to update “key priorities and tasks to reflect the resulting changes in the global context.
Thus, the reformed London Integrated Review is the first major public acknowledgment by a Western government that the Russian military operation in Ukraine heralded the arrival of multipolarity and threw off the US-dominated world order, which has ruled unchallenged since the end of the Cold War, in chaos. . Underlining this, the introduction explicitly states the collective security of the United Kingdom and NATO is “now intrinsically linked to the outcome of the conflict in Ukraine”.
There are also major problems elsewhere. The ‘refresh’ notes that there was a “intensification of systemic competition” in recent years, and it is “now the dominant geopolitical trend and the main driver of the deterioration of the security environment” in the world.
By “deterioration of the security environment”, it means a global milieu in which the United States is no longer the uncontested hegemon, capable of dictating political and economic conditions to the rest of the world, which translates to “The vassals of Europe and North America cannot enjoy it to the same degree.” This is evident from a section lamenting the “increasing convergence” of non-Western states that are “working together to undermine the international system or remake it in their image” and carry on :
“China’s deepening partnership with Russia and Russia’s cooperation with Iran following the invasion of Ukraine are two particularly concerning developments… Tensions in the Indo-Pacific are rising and the conflict there could have greater global consequences than the conflict in Ukraine.”
However, in terms of combating these perceived threats, the new integrated review offers little in its 63 pages. To counter the “very complex phenomenon” of “systematic competition” internationally, it is proposed that the UK “must sail knowing that everyone’s values or interests do not always align with our own.”
“Today’s international system cannot simply be reduced to ‘democracy versus autocracy’, or split into binary Cold War-style blocs…A growing group of ‘middle powers’…does not want to be dragged into in zero-sum competition no more than the UK,” revision records. “We will need to work with these countries to protect our common best interest in an open and stable international order, accepting that we may not all share the same national values and interests.”
In other words, the UK finally understands the need to depoliticize its external relations in order to maintain favorable economic ties abroad. On the other hand, Beijing has long understood that smugly imposing its own ideological and ethical standards vis-à-vis other countries are counterproductive – the Review therefore admits that the global playing field is now largely dictated by Beijing, and that less powerful countries are forced to adapt to this reality.
China has a head start in this regard – two decades of deepening constructive ties with virtually all of the Global South – and infinitely greater wealth with which to pursue diplomatic, political and commercial relations with Africa, Asia and Latin America based on mutual benefits. Whether London has the ability to effectively catch up and its newfound knowledge that foreign governments and audiences will not be lectured and will be seen to be sincere remains to be seen.
A similar lack of vision and solution is evident in the updated version of the Review Strategy of Russia. He notes that the conflict in Ukraine “brought large-scale, high-intensity ground warfare back to our home region, with implications for the UK and NATO approach to deterrence and defence,” and speaks of an urgent need for “contain and challenge Russia’s ability and intent to disrupt the security of the UK, the Euro-Atlantic and the wider international order.”
Again, the concrete proposals to achieve these goals are almost completely unpredictable, but it also seems that London is in a state of denial about its lack of power to do so in any event. The Review boasts of having “has weakened the Russian war machine with hundreds of targeted sanctions, coordinated with our allies”, and provided £2.3 billion “in military and humanitarian aid to Ukraine” which will be maintained “at least at the same level” in 2023/24.
As Western journalists, think tanks and politicians grudgingly began to admit, those sanctions fell very short achieve their goal of destroying the Russian economy. In truth, trade, the budget surplus, the current account and the value of Moscow’s currency are all at higher levels now than before the start of the Ukrainian offensive – while the countries imposing the sanctions feel the pain caused by them.
The Review even acknowledges this inconvenient reality – again, a rare if not quite unique development for a Western government. It refers to “the growing impact of global volatility on the daily lives of Britons”, and the “far-reaching” Consequences of pursuing a proxy war with Moscow rather than a diplomatic settlement:
“[The conflict] contributed to a huge rise in energy prices and heavy burdens on families, leading to unprecedented government intervention. More broadly, geopolitical instability manifests itself in interrupted supply chains and rising commodity prices. therefore, the UK’s ability to shape the global environment – and to identify, address and confront threats – is of growing importance for domestic politics and for our national well-being.
To remedy this, the Review simply advocates more weapons for Ukraine, and the maintenance of sanctions. The provenance of these weapons is unclear. government ministers admit that London has sent so much to Kiev that it risks running out of weapons, and that it will take several years for the stocks to be replenished, even if there was money to do so, which would not exist not.
Following the publication of the first integrated journal two years ago, the US State Department’s journal Foreign Affairs has been scathing in his assessment of London’s superpower ambitions. In an article titled ‘The Delusions of Global Britain’, the magazine suggested the UK is addressing foreign policy “with a little more humility” And “come to terms with the role of middle power”:
“Instead of indulging in Commonwealth or Indo-Pacific fantasies, London should seek its strengths closer to home – where it can use its new status as the EU’s main external partner to amplify its global influence. .”
Clearly, this caution has failed to resonate in the halls of power in London, and now the UK finds itself in a transformed multipolar world. It still clings to wishful thinking, while offering no new ideas to deal with its diminishing significance and influence.
The statements, views and opinions expressed in this column are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of RT.