The UK is warning that China is posing an era-defining challenge to the world order

Britain has described the international order as a “defining challenge of the era” in updating its foreign and defense policy, which has identified the threat posed by Russia and the outcome of the war in Ukraine as the highest immediate priority.

In an update to the government’s so-called integrated review, it warned of “intensification of systemic competition” as evidenced by Moscow’s deepening relationship with Beijing and Tehran, which “have become the main drivers of the deteriorating international security environment”.

The policy document, first released in 2021, has been updated to reflect Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine, accompanied by the weaponization of Moscow’s energy and food supplies, and “China’s more aggressive posture in the South China Sea and Taiwan Strait,” Rishi said. prime minister. Sunak forwarded the report released on Monday.

The 60-page document coincided with Sun’s trip to San Diego to meet with US President Joe Biden and Australian Prime Minister Anthony Albanese at a summit to discuss the next steps for Aukus, the trilateral defense pact against China. These include the UK giving Australia access to its program to build the next generation of nuclear-powered attack submarines.

During the review, Sunak promised to spend an extra £5bn on defense over the next two years, including £3bn on the UK’s nuclear deterrent and submarine programme, and £2bn to replace weapons stocks depleted by arms shipments to Ukraine.

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He also set as an “aspiration” the goal of spending 2.5 percent of the gross domestic product on defense, instead of 2 percent.

“The good news is that the military got a bit more money,” said Sir Richard Barrons, the former head of the British armed forces. “It’s less good that Sun has not said when the increase in defense spending will happen. I am concerned about the UK’s position in NATO as allies such as France, Germany and Poland massively increase their defense spending.”

Following the Russian invasion of Ukraine, France, the main military power in Western Europe alongside the United Kingdom, announced that it would increase its defense budget by more than a third. Germany has outlined a 100 billion euro fund for the transformation of its armed forces. Meanwhile, Poland aims to increase its military budget to almost 4 percent of GDP this year.

Bronwen Maddox, director of the Chatham House think tank, said: “The big gap in this review is money. Yes, you have the great symbolism of the Aukus announcement, but the question is whether the UK has the resources to do it.”

Analysts said one of the big differences between Sunak’s policy update and the 2021 integrated review led by Boris Johnson as prime minister was a greater emphasis on the importance of Britain’s European allies.

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The document described the defense relationship with France as “particularly strong”. Brexit has damaged previously close military ties, but Sunak has moved to patch up wider Anglo-French ties, visiting Paris last week for the first UK-France summit in five years.

From left, British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak and French President Emmanuel Macron
British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak, left, and French President Emmanuel Macron at a press conference held as part of the Franco-British summit at the Élysée Palace in Paris on March 10 © Gonzalo Fuentes/AP

Another difference, analysts say, is a recognition of the need to deepen British ties with middle-sized powers that China has courted, but without forcing them to take sides and make “zero-sum decisions”.

“The fact that China has managed to bring Saudi Arabia and Iran together shows Beijing’s ever-growing power,” said Edward Stringer, a former senior British air force officer and director general of the Defense Academy, referring to the recent arrest mediated between the two countries. . “It is crucial that we do not expect the countries of the Global South to decide between us or China and Russia,” he added.

A third difference is a greater emphasis on domestic economic security, including the creation of a new unit for Britain’s MI5 domestic intelligence service to help the private sector deal with industrial espionage and potential terrorist threats.

Ministers will also set up a national resilience unit within the National Security Council to examine how the UK’s semiconductor supply could be disrupted by a catastrophic shock such as China’s invasion of Taiwan.

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“It is clear that economic activity defines conflict in the same way that military weapons have in the past,” said Oliver Dowden, the minister responsible for the Cabinet Office.

But one question the review has left hanging is how Britain’s armed forces will be reshaped to meet what the review called “a more contested and volatile world”. More details are expected in a Defense Command document in June.

Despite defense spending rising by £24 billion over four years in 2020, Defense Secretary Ben Wallace has repeatedly warned that Britain’s military has been “drained” by decades of spending cuts. Such is the state of the army that many analysts fear the UK will struggle to deploy and sustain a division if it is needed.

“The integrated review could have solved the vacancy problem without waiting for the Defense Command paper. This was the moment when we could have told our allies what we intended to do about it,” said Ed Arnold of the Royal United Services Institute, a think tank in London. “It was a bit of a missed opportunity.”

Additional reporting by Robert Wright