Navigating global challenges: Laura Clark outlines how the United Kingdom is dealing with threats to its security and way of life in the decade ahead.

AuthorClark, Laura

My generation grew up in an era of almost unprecedented peace, prosperity and progress. It was not quite the End of History--but there was a sense of inexorable progress in tackling poverty and all kinds of inequality, in preventing large-scale conflict and in democratisation and respect for human rights. Take, for example, our progress in poverty reduction: the World Bank tells us that back in 1981 44 per cent of people were living in extreme poverty, but by 2019 that had fallen to 8.23 per cent. That is, by any measure, an extraordinary achievement.

Of course, there was still plenty to keep us worried (terrorism, climate change, conflict), and I am not looking back with rose tinted glasses. But the overall sense was that liberal democracies had won the battle of ideologies and that countries could work together, imperfectly, to address the challenges facing the world. There was also a sense in New Zealand, at least until a decade or so back, that it was, by virtue of perhaps size, geographic location and policy settings, more or less protected from many of the dangers facing the rest of the world. And for all of us there was a clear distinction between the domestic and the foreign.

I am not sure that any of that is true today. Progress is not linear, the challenges facing us are increasingly transnational, respecting neither borders nor distance, and our domestic security and resilience cannot be separated from what happens overseas. So it is in that changing context that the United Kingdom has just mapped out the big challenges facing it, and the world, over the next ten years. Its Integrated Review paints a complex, dangerous and rather daunting picture, with implications for all of us, whether we are in London, Auckland or somewhere in between, in terms of our security, prosperity and way of life.

Main challenges

Those challenges can be summarised as follows:

* There is an increasing competition between states over interests, norms and values. Authoritarian states and malign actors are seeking to undermine the democratic systems and openness that underpin our way of life. We see that democracy can retreat just as easily as it advances. In this decade the combined GDP of autocratic regimes is expected to exceed the combined GDP of democracies. That has implications far beyond the domestic, or the freedoms of those living in each system. Authoritarian regimes are more likely to house or sponsor terrorists, go to war, commit mass human rights abuses, trigger large-scale flows of immigration or interfere in other countries' democratic processes. They are more likely to breach international norms. Consider, for example, the use of chemical weapons in Kuala Lumpur airport; on a flight from Tomsk to Moscow; on a street in Salisbury or in a residential neighbourhood in Syria. All breach the long-held norms on the use of chemical weapons.

Authoritarian regimes are also far less likely to want to engage multilaterally, and in good faith, to solve the world's problems. So the international order which has served us well, if imperfectly, to date is under great pressure. And why should we care enough to make a stand on this? Because British people expect their government to stand up for freedom, democracy and the rule of law --both at home and overseas. It is in our DNA, and it is in New Zealand's DNA too. The flouting of international norms challenges the freedom and safety that we each hold dear.

* The second challenge is the overwhelming array of global challenges facing us right now. The existential challenge that is climate change--threatening the very existence of Pacific Islands states in this neighbourhood and playing havoc with our weather systems. The crisis in biodiversity: if you have not watched David Attenborough's A Life on Our Planet, I encourage you to do so. Pandemics, organised crime, terrorism, the list goes on. These are challenges that do not respect national borders, that have a direct, local impact on us as individuals and can only be solved by countries working together.

* The third set of challenges is the as yet unregulated wild west that is space, and cyber space, and the rapid technological change which brings both opportunities and threats. The blurring, for example, of the boundary between war and peace. We all know what war looks like when one country's troops cross a border, and invade the sovereign territory of another. But if a country or even a non-state actor conducts a cyber operation that brings down another country's financial system, or health system, is that war? States and non-state actors everywhere are grappling with these challenges--how to protect themselves from threats and how to use them to their advantage--and it is our assessment that science and technology will be a driver of competitive and strategic advantage in the world, whether through artificial intelligence, quantum tech or engineering biology.

* The fourth set of challenges lies in geopolitical and geoeconomic shifts: the growing importance of the IndoPacific region to global prosperity and security, and China as a systemic competitor. We assess that China's increasing power and assertiveness internationally is likely to be the most significant geopolitical factor of the 2020s.

And all this, of course, in the time of Covid, which still has a long way to play out--and adds further complexity to the challenges facing our world.

Integrated review

So it is all a lot to take in, and navigate--and the temptation, of course, is to say it is all too difficult: not to venture out in the dangerous oceans, but to keep our boats, our waka, safe on the shore; to hunker down, and look after our own. But looking after our own means engaging internationally. Resilience begins abroad, and our day to day lives are impacted. Whether it is the Ever Given adding to already disrupted global supply chains, spiking shipping prices and hurting export profits, the health and economic impacts of Covid, the increase in online extremism, the drugs sold to young people on our streets or cyber-attacks on local...

To continue reading

Request your trial

VLEX uses login cookies to provide you with a better browsing experience. If you click on 'Accept' or continue browsing this site we consider that you accept our cookie policy. ACCEPT