This book began from a growing sense between us that the future for British security would be more difficult than in its recent past; a sense that world politics were beginning to move against Britain’s natural best interests but also that the country was struggling to grasp quite what was happening, or the speed at which conditions were changing.
As we discussed and wrote up the manuscript, world events were always catching up with us. What felt like quite radical conclusions in 2017 and 2018, seemed to have become commonplace by 2019 – that Britain’s international environment was deteriorating, that Brexit would not be settled easily and was turning British politics inside out; that our natural international allies and partners were also in trouble and for different reasons, and so on. Above all, the country was depressed and did not look with much optimism to its security future in the 2020s.
So we found ourselves painting our picture of Britain on a broad canvas. British security is affected by the economic structure of the country and the changing face of economic power as much as by the military potential of any possible adversaries.
Being ‘secure’ in a globalised economy is not straightforward and lots of natural vulnerabilities – to terrorism, cyber attack, crime, or to the unexpected consequences of novel technologies – just have to be managed at an acceptable level of risk; even while the country has to defend itself against more traditional threats.
But, of course, Britain is still a prosperous and inventive country with many natural advantages that others in the world recognise. So we wanted to create a headline ‘audit’ of the capabilities Britain possesses to navigate its way through the tougher times awaiting us as we turn a decade. What would it take, we wondered, to mobilise all our broadest security resources to meet the challenges ahead? And could the upsides of the Brexit process be exploited better, not just to counteract the
downsides, but to avoid a drift towards international irrelevance that would ultimately diminish British prosperity?
In developing the text, we were constantly struck by the urgency with which key strategic decisions need to be made. Brexit will not be ‘settled’ for some years yet, and we cannot afford to wait until it is, before reassessing our approach to British security. We are at a tipping point now, even now, in the midst of the Brexit imbroglio.
We hope that the book will help stimulate some fruitful discussions around the tipping point. It is an attempt to synthesise a wide range of material and provide some basic outlines and facts that may help readers develop their own conclusions. It is intended, above all, to be accessible for the non-specialist reader, since it is they, more than anyone, whose political views and commitment to action will matter most to Britain in the 2020s.