I know my IR colleagues like nothing better than a strategic review document, since it gives them hours of enjoyment coding for stuff and generally feeling like there’s some interest in their field.
And the arrival of the UK’s much-delayed Integrated Review this week has given me some sense of that, even as it almost instantaneously reminded me of why I so heartily dislike such documents.
For the benefit of those with more sense than to be into such things, this was the culmination of a rather protracted process of trying to conceptualise the new foreign policy and security environment for the UK.
A central part of the delay was the getting-out of the EU, so it’d be not unreasonable to think that EU relations might be an important part of the general picture. Plus, as I’ve endlessly argued, it might also give us some clues about what the broader context for those EU relations might be, given that a central problem has been that the UK doesn’t seem very clear about what it wants to be in the world.
You’ll be possibly unsurprised to find that this document does not really provide the answers to such questions.
I’ve covered references to the EU in this thread, so I’ll spare you the finer detail:
However, the core is worth restating here: the Review treats the EU as a firm ally and one with whom there is much scope to build further collaborations on points of mutual interest.
What’s missing is any sense of a problematic relationship that will take – even in the most ludicrously positive scenario – many years to find a mutually-trusting stability.
This matters both for itself and more generally. There’s much talk about the value of multilateralism, of regulatory power and of free trade, with no sign of how a closer relationship with the EU might advance those agendas.
While it is perfectly understandable to consider that withdrawal is a done deal, and the Trade & Cooperation Agreement with it, that should not mean there has to be a rose-tinted view of how things stand. Instead, a strategic document like this needs to take a much more hard-nosed approach, to allow for the planning of responses to threats and opportunities.
If nothing else, some plan to work towards rebuilding trust with EU partners might have been in order.
All of which brings us back to the paradox of the EU in British politics. This might not be another example of the deliberate antagonism that seems to colour so much of Johnson’s actions, but it will be an important contributory factor to an unnecessarily fractious environment.
As I’ve noted in another thread, the UK’s going to continue to struggle with its European policy as long as it fails to be seen as having credible alternatives:
That doesn’t have to mean a closer relationship to the EU, or any programme of working to rejoin the organisation, just a sense of some things being beyond the UK’s power to control or influence, which in turn require finding ways to get along.
As the Integrated Review notes, there’s a lot going on out there, so we have to engage with, and work with, others if the international system is to persist.
Working out some ideas on how to do that with our neighbours might be a good place to start.