Today, the UK government has published its Integrated Review into its security, diplomacy, development and defence. With the mission of aligning spending and programming across these briefs, the review is a pivotal moment for the UK government as it seeks to establish itself on the world stage.
At MAG, we have been keenly anticipating the review. Mine action demonstrates the best of ‘Global Britain’, harnessing the UK’s world-leading expertise in development, defence and diplomacy to free people from fear and enable them to rebuild their lives. We have long been aware that a more joined-up approach has the potential to yield significant benefits.
To that end, the aims of the review are laudable. However, the UK government started off on a poor footing. Having abruptly cut aid to countries seriously affected by conflict, it has already undermined its own rhetoric about ‘Global Britain’ and, crucially, abandoned some of the world’s most vulnerable people. So we welcome the recommitment to the 0.7 target that the government has made today. We now need to know when this will be enacted – it can’t be a moment too soon for the communities who depend upon it.
For the UK, it’s clear there is huge potential in taking a more strategic and integrated approach to its engagement with other countries, ensuring development investments are not unwittingly undermined by work to promote other policy objectives. However, it is vital to ensure that these different priorities are balanced and that the UK does not allow its renewed focus on security and trade issues to push aside the equally urgent need to address the effects of global poverty and conflict.
There are significant opportunities this year for the UK to strike this balance and achieve transformative impact. For example, in the coming months, the UK will take up the Presidency of the Convention on Cluster Munitions (CCM), the landmark ban on the use of these horrific and indiscriminate weapons which is marking its tenth anniversary. It is a perfect opportunity for the government to show the best of British soft power in action and demonstrate just how this integrated approach can work in practice.
The Integrated Review highlights the UK’s desire to increase its focus on the Indo-Pacific region for reasons of security and trade. This region is also one that is deeply affected by the ongoing impacts of conflicts, both recent and long past. If the UK is to succeed in building alliances and promoting trade with these countries, then it is in its interest to use its diplomatic influence and development expertise to address the legacy impact of conflict on the region’s people, economies and future, and build the security that is a prerequisite for stability, partnership and trade. The CCM presidency offers the UK a practical opportunity to achieve a win-win with countries in the region, such as Cambodia and Vietnam, which are highly contaminated by cluster munitions.
The focus on the Indo-Pacific region should not come at the expense of others. We are deeply concerned about the impact of UK aid cuts to countries in the Middle East and Africa. More than 12 million people are now displaced by conflict within the Middle East and North Africa, and over 7.8 million refugees and asylum seekers have fled from the same region in the past decade. These regions contain many of the world’s most heavily mine-contaminated countries, and some of the world’s highest incidences of armed violence. For the UK to play a key role in addressing key drivers of instability is in both the national and global interest. Strengthening alliances in one part of the world must not mean turning our back on people in other regions who need the UK’s support.
Clearing landmines and the other lethal debris of conflict represents good value for UK aid – supporting countries to recover after conflict and stand on their own two feet. It is British soft power at its most tangible and often a prerequisite to progress on many of the UK government’s global priorities, such as Covid-19 relief and girls’ education.
Most importantly, it meets a humanitarian imperative: preventing the appalling suffering of innocent people. While we welcome some of the UK government’s stated aims of its Integrated Review, it must not sideline its work to address the far-reaching effects of poverty and conflict in favour of a narrowly defined national interest. We will continue to work with and hold the government to account for delivering on this agenda as it puts the Integrated Review into practice.