Boris Johnson recently unveiled the United Kingdom's defence and foreign policy review details after the country's exit from EU. The move is in an attempt to establish UK's security strategy for the period of next five years. The six-month exercise is the next step in Johnson's assertion of control after the controversial and much-talked-about Cabinet reshuffle recently. The move also comes amidst constantly growing uncertainty around UK's position in the present-day world order, and threats from cyber criminals and terror entities like ISIS and others.
Review to be Headed by Sir Alex Ellis
The review will be spearheaded by Sir Alex Ellis, assisted by Dominic Cummings who has always been critical of excessive spending by Ministry of Defence, and the methods used by its key contractors including BAE systems. Some reliable sources revealed that appointing Ellis can be considered a defeat for Dominic Cummings who had been having a hard time recruiting officials for the review himself, owing to his aggressive reputation.
Although Ellis will directly report to the most powerful public servant in Britain and Cabinet Secretary Sir Mark Sedwill, the terms laid out in the review have clarified that the process will also involve a Downing Street team comprising of experts out of and inside the civil service domain.
The security and defence related reviews normally happen after every five years, however, this one is slightly different as it involves UK's foreign policy, and is being done at a time when UK has just parted ways with the EU. It is important also considering how closely Britain would want to be associated with the United States.
Royal United Services Institute's Prof. Malcolm Chalmers believes that the people conducting the review will need to tackle the increasing uncertainty around the UK's long-term association with Europe at one end, and whether the country can depend upon Donald Trump-led US at the other.
The move has already received criticism from various quarters as the review will be carried out simultaneously with the Comprehensive Spending Review, implying that the conclusions made by it would be subject to the financial constraints put by the latter.
Henry Jackson Society's Dr Alan Mendoza believes that the step is a major win for the civil service, as against Boris Johnson's advisers. He is of the opinion that the announced review risks foreign policy strategy-related decisions being overruled by financial concerns over the short-term.
The central team conducting the review will receive inputs from the Ministry of Defence, the foreign office and various other government agencies and departments. The final decisions will rest with the National Security Council, which comprises of senior ministers, and is headed by the PM.
Some of the key issues that will be considered by the team will be the extent to which the UK wishes to develop its offensive hacking capabilities, in an era when China and Russia are aggressively engaged in low-level and long-term cyber warfare. It will also go over the equipment purchases done by intelligence agencies as well as Ministry of Defence.
The review will cover organised and serious crime too, a domain which has been conventionally under-resourced compared to spending on terror combating. The earlier review carried out in 2015 was heavily focused on spending related to fighting ISIS and various non-state terror entities.