Saturday, 27 February 2021

‘Global Britain’: Interview with Menna Rawlings

In this interview, James Rogers, the Editor-in-Chief of The British Interest, asks Menna Rawlings, Director-General of Economic and Global Issues at the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, about the meaning and strategy behind the vision of ‘Global Britain’…

JR: We have heard much about ‘Global Britain’ in recent years. What are the central ideas behind this vision? For example, is it nothing more than an attempt to boost British commercial links with the world’s fastest-growing economies?

MR: Global Britain is the United Kingdom’s (UK) response to a challenging and rapidly changing global environment, strengthening our influence on the world stage to promote the prosperity and security of our citizens. It is about projecting the UK as a world class economy; a free, fair and tolerant society; an active and responsible country; and a global power.

In terms of specifics, we are focusing on three key areas:

  1. Tackling the global challenges that will affect the next generation and updating the international rulebook so it is fit for today;
  2. Standing up for values of democracy and freedom because they help to keep people safe and improve their quality of life;
  3. Building the world’s most innovative economy at the forefront of new industries, and projecting it as an open and attractive place to visit, work and study.

So yes, part of this is about boosting links with the world’s fastest-growing economies: of course we have to do that. But it is much broader than that, and also requires deeper collaboration with traditional partners, including transatlantic and Commonwealth allies, as well as our friends and neighbours in Europe.

JR: How does Global Britain fit into the ‘Fusion Doctrine’, as outlined in the 2018 National Security Capability Review?

MR: It fits! Global Britain is a broad-based programme that involves the full range of security and economic and capabilities to achieve global influence. The fusion doctrine is all about breaking down organisational boundaries so we can leverage to maximum effect the UK’s assets – be they diplomatic, defence, development, security.

As a country, we have considerable strengths and world-leading capabilities across the spectrum of soft to hard power – as you recognised in your Geopolitical Audit again this year. Fusion is about applying the right set of these capabilities – which often lie in different government departments, agencies or non-governmental bodies – to deliver for UK interests in a particular policy area – in this case the Global Britain agenda.

So I chair a National Strategy Implementation Group (NSIG) which applies the Fusion doctrine to delivery of Global Britain. It includes a wide range of government departments (plus the British Council and Visit Britain) who work together to drive policy and outcomes that flow from the Global Britain vision.

JR: Ostensibly as part of Global Britain, the Foreign Office has recently bolstered its portfolio of overseas missions, with particular emphasis placed on the Indo-Pacific region. What is driving this renewed focus?

MR: The UK is extending its reach and impact with new sovereign missions across the world. The 14 posts we are opening or upgrading will mean our presence extends to 161 countries – a larger network than any other European country.

We will indeed be opening three new posts in the Pacific – in Samoa, Tonga and Vanuatu. There will also be a new mission in the Indian Ocean in the Maldives and a representative office to the Association of South East Asian Nations (ASEAN) based in Jakarta. Our renewed focus on this part of the world is appreciated by our close allies throughout the region – as I know from personal experience after four years as British High Commissioner to Australia. And we are seen as putting our Global Britain money where our mouth is by upgrading our diplomatic presence in the Indo-Pacific – and beyond.

Many of the new posts are in Commonwealth member states with whom we share deep historic and cultural ties. I believe we can use our increased presence to further promote our values and interests, including the UK’s influence in the multilateral system.

JR: Jeremy Hunt, the Foreign Secretary, recently gave a speech at the Lord Mayor’s Banquet where he argued that “We face a more aggressive Russia and a more assertive China. We simply do not know what the balance of power in the world will be in 25 years time.” Is there a role for Global Britain in helping to dissuade our competitors from indulging in geopolitical revisionism?

MR: Through Global Britain, we are seeking to defend and develop the Rules Based International System (RBIS), which has helped to ensure peace and security for decades. As an example: we did this successfully last year in response to the outrageous use of chemical weapons on the streets of Salisbury, mobilising international support to strengthen and reinforce the Chemical Weapons Convention.

I think this the right way to tackle what you call geopolitical revisionism – quite simply: we need to show that there is no impunity when the rules of the game are broken. That is because the RBIS serves not only ourselves and traditional allies, but also smaller, less powerful nations. We need to sustain norms and values that help to keep people safe and give them the freedom to improve their quality of life.

That does not mean that the system is static: the international rulebook needs to be updated as we approach the third decade of the twenty-first century. There are new realities we face and different global challenges that the next generation will confront, including in the fields of Artificial Intelligence and Space. We acknowledge that multilateral systems will need to adapt and engage in some level of reform in order to retain their influence.

JR: What additional resources might be required to realise the vision of Global Britain?

MR: I am pleased to say that additional resources have already been committed to achieving our international ambition. This includes the largest expansion to the global diplomatic network for a generation, with 1246 new positions and, as mentioned earlier, 12 new posts and two upgraded missions.

We are currently considering what more might be needed to meet the challenges ahead, with a Spending Review on the horizon. I am working through that at the moment with colleagues across government – in line with the fusion doctrine – as well as inside the Foreign Office.

JR: What are the Foreign Office’s priorities for the future of Global Britain?

MR: I cannot put it better than Jeremy Hunt, the Foreign Secretary, who said at his Mansion House speech on 13 May 2019: “Britain’s decisive and enlightened role at the heart of global affairs is potentially more vital, necessary and significant than it has ever been.”

In addition, I think we need to make a better pitch that an active and activist foreign policy remains unequivocally in our national interest. We need to do more to explain to our citizens that a safe, secure and freely trading global environment underpins security and prosperity at home.

In relation to future priorities, we will of course sustain Global Britain strategic objectives of protecting our people, promoting our prosperity and projecting our global influence. And with a future outside the European Union (EU), we need to enhance the UK’s robustness, agility and adaptability for the challenges of the future. It’s an exciting time to be leading this agenda! 

JR: Thank you for your time in answering these questions!

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