By CAGE Editors

On 16th March, the UK government published its Integrated Review of Security, Defence, Development and Foreign Policy, outlining the priorities for Britain’s national security and foreign policy over the next decade.

While the lead up to the Integrated Review focused on its military dimensions – with it being touted as Britain’s ‘biggest [military] investment since the Cold War’ – the review includes a more expansive picture of how Britain at home and abroad will be transforming itself over the coming years. It also includes some distinct continuities, with ‘Islamist terrorism’ remaining high on the security agenda, alongside ‘Northern Ireland-related terrorism, and far-right, far-left, anarchist and single-issue terrorism’.

The changes in National Security strategy – under which counter-terror policy is nested – will have direct implications on both the ideological and organisational space made available in Britain for alternative or dissenting views. 

The review indicates a turn towards more aggressive international posture and presence that is wrapped in the language of democratic values. This will in turn be reflected at home in expanded policing powers for state agencies, jingoistic promotion of militarism and even less tolerance for perspectives that challenge this. Those who oppose the direction of foreign police will be liable to charges of undermining national values, or being in league with Britain’s opponents. 

The ‘Cold War’ comparisons are therefore very apt – but the practical realities will likely build off the frameworks established under the guise of the War on Terror that we have long been campaigning against.


Britain’s permanent war footing

The headline claims accompanying the review have focused on the military implications of the review. Central to this are Britain’s hardening opposition against Russia – which is identified as the “most acute direct threat to the UK” – and by way of a tilt towards the Indo-Pacific region, China – which is framed as a long-term strategic threat that Britain military developments will be orienting themselves around.  

The review exudes an arrogance and assuredness of Britain’s global role that is somewhat out of step with its declining status and prestige worldwide. Yet for all its bluster about Britain acting as a guarantor of the international order, the review ultimately signals its subordination to the US – expressing a strong Atlanticist thrust, and frequently reiterating its commitment to the US, NATO and their respective foreign policy direction.

The strategy to contain its designated opponents includes transforming the nature of Britain’s armed forces – reducing dependency on the traditional army in favour of long distance capabilities. This also includes deploying armed forces overseas more routinely, expanding Britain’s military presence through overseas strategic hubs, as well as increasing military preparedness for engagement ‘below the threshold of war’ – which is to say, a permanent footing of aggression.

The impacts of this overseas strategy will ripple throughout the regions involved – an expansion of Britain’s military belt will invariably lead to a squeeze on local populations and politics.  To illustrate – the presence of the US’ AFRICOM forces and bases –  an under-covered aspect of the War on Terror, itself established as part of the US strategy against China – across African nations have stoked conflict and instability, and enabled a permissive international attitude towards violence exercised by friendly local governments. With the review mentioning cases like the monarchy of Oman as allies in this overseas military strategy, we can be sure that a similar approach will be taken by Britain as it expands its military footprint.


War of values

The threat posed by Russia and China is not framed as simply a threat to Britain, but as rogue ‘authoritarian’ elements that pose a threat to its supposed shared values and ‘open, democratic societies’. Inevitably, Britain will insulate itself from this ‘anti-democratic’ threat through repressive measures at home, while policing an ideological consensus in favour of warfare and imperialism. 

The Counter-terrorism and Border Security Act 2019 first introduced a set of powers to tackle the threat of ‘Hostile States’, including a power mirroring Schedule 7 stops at borders. The review indicates further laws incoming to deal with ‘Hostile States’ and espionage, which will invariably build off of the architecture established by ‘counter-terror’ powers over the last two decades. 

Alongside this we can expect a similar political climate whereby any domestic opposition is recast as ‘sympathy’ or ‘apologism’ for Britain’s adversaries. This would include shrill denunciations of government opponents as national ‘disloyals’, alongside jingoistic promotion of military and defence that will likely find bipartisan support. Binding together a defence of ‘our’ values as a defence of the nation will mean that questioning those values is tantamount to national security threat. 

This will in turn create an ideological climate where the media and hawkish outfits can whip up baseless scare stories of foreign connections to justify government crackdowns on autonomy of universities and civil society.

As we have found in the course of the War on Terror this ideological and linguistic policing is often adapted by different government to serve their own domestic agendas; among the more visible recent examples is the Chinese state using the War on Terror framework of ‘counter-extremism’ in the repression of Uyghurs in Xinjiang (East Turkestan).

Perhaps most chillingly, the review mentions that Britain will ‘reform laws, policies and practices to remove impediments to the protection of national security, ensuring that the security and intelligence agencies and police have appropriate powers to combat all the threats we now face’. 

This comes in a context where the sitting government has recently secured Royal Assent for the Covert Human Intelligence Sources (Criminal Conduct) – aka ‘Spycops bill’ – to legitimise murder and crimes for undercover operatives recruited by all manner of state agencies, as well as introducing the Overseas Operations Bill to protect soldiers and the Ministry of Defence from prosecutions for torture and war crimes abroad, and the wholesale powergrab of the recent Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill.

As we have previously stated, these laws form part of a wider project of fundamentally ‘reorganising the structure of power within Britain…[as the] government is seeking to strengthen its relationship with the state’s organs of brute force: the police, the security services, and military’.
We can therefore expect more legislation to increase the suite of powers available to Britain’s state agencies, while diminishing the scope of accountability or checks.


Securitisation of the public sector

The review outlines a ‘Whole-of-society approach’ to National Security issues, which will include fusing and reorganising government departments to better integrate them with military and security services, while embedding National Security priorities across sectors. In short: constructing a security state.

A ‘whole-of-society’ approach towards counter-extremism has blurred the lines between society and surveillance in recent years, and this shift will effectively subordinate issues like economic, health and environment policy to the dictates of National Security rather than public need.

This was something seen from the very beginning of Britain’s pandemic response, with figures in the National Security and counter-terrorism field calling for a health response that drew from the existing counter-terror response.

Rightwing thinktank Policy Exchange, which acts as a revolving door for policy makers and is steeped in Islamophobia, made the case for a centralised command structure to tackle the pandemic, mirroring the example of the National Police Counter Terrorism Network and Joint Terrorism Analysis Centre (JTAC). Shortly afterwards the government set up its Joint Biosecurity Centre, described as operating “along the same lines as Britain’s Joint Terrorism Analysis Centre”.

As we stated in our report Exploiting a Pandemic – The Security Industry’s Race to Infiltrate Public Health:
‘[the] long-term privileging of security is the problem, not part of the solution.
The case for renewed investment and prioritisation of public health must be made outside and against the logic of security and surveillance; to try and reconcile these distinct approaches will blur the line between them, and produce a militarised response to public health.’

Using ‘bad’, securitised and privatised frameworks in order to do ostensibly ‘good’ work like influencing health policy only broadens the sphere of security, and infuses the logic of security and policing across sectors. It will also allow for the penetration of shady private interests, who have made their name in service of surveillance, security and warfare, into public sectors like health and environment.


Cyber security

A major emphasis of the Review is placed on Cyber Security as key to National Security defence. A new National Cyber Force will bring together personnel from GCHQ, the Secret Intelligence Service (SIS), the Ministry of Defence (MoD) and others, with a new cyber strategy due out later this year.

This new emphasis should also be taken in light of the appointment of MI5’s latest Director General, Ken McCallum, who described his priorities as ‘harnessing artificial intelligence in tackling hostile state and terrorist activity’ last year, and whose operational background includes cyber security.

The shift towards cyber security will facilitate greater public-private partnerships, enabling today’s ‘counter-terrorism’ securocrats to find a new market niche in the tech industry – while at the same time, leading to a trickle down of cyber security developments into public life, being used for the purposes of monitoring and surveilling the population.

Similarly, policies like the upcoming Online Harms bill – introducing a system for British state regulation and policing of the online space – are touted as necessary to defend against malign ‘disinformation’ from foreign opponents.



The Integrated Review of Security, Defence, Development and Foreign Policy heralds a dangerous new era for Britain’s domestic and foreign policy, that signals a possible transition out of the War on Terror era, while retaining and expanding its infrastructure and closed circle of benefactors.

As part of it we can expect a litany of new laws that empower state agencies to police British society like never before, while civil society will be suffocated into compliance with a hawkish imperialist agenda.

With clear continuities with policies of the ‘War on Terror’, CAGE will continue the role we have played for 18 years: of documenting, defending and organising for our rights.

We will continue to shine a light on those impacted by these new security policies, as well as those seeking to further securitise Britain.


Image courtesy of Flickr/NATO North Atlantic Treaty Organization 

(NOTE: CAGE represents cases of individuals based on the remit of our work. Supporting a case does not mean we agree with the views or actions of the individual. Content published on CAGE may not reflect the official position of our organisation.)