Open Society, Closed Conversations: External Consultation and the Integrated Review

A new briefing paper from Rethinking Security and UNA-UK compares the external consultation processes of the recent Integrated Review with previous UK security reviews. Ben Donaldson and Richard Reeve conclude that the consultations were not only inadequate and inconsistent with the government’s own guidelines, but also conducted in bad faith. It aims to inform better practice and contribute to Rethinking Security’s Alternative Security Review project.

Summary

“Open society” was a core refrain of the UK’s 2020-21 Integrated Review of Security, Defence, Development and Foreign Policy, billed as the most important, comprehensive and joined-up review in three decades. But the Government’s process for developing the review was far from open or comprehensive, leaving the public, civil society and other stakeholders out in the cold, save for a chosen few. In important respects the Integrated Review’s external consultation marks a new low. There is ample evidence that key strategic decisions within the Integrated Review were taken outside of the official process and in the absence of any external consultation.

This is of more than procedural concern. Far from “challenging traditional Whitehall assumptions and thinking”, as was its stated objective, the Review privileged the views of those who are already at the table and reinforces a patriarchal ‘leave it to us’ policy-making mentality.

In failing to put people at the centre of security policymaking, and in ignoring the perspectives of those most acutely experiencing injustice and insecurity, it not only misses the opportunity for an important and necessary national conversation, it also guarantees ineffective strategy.

When there is a disconnect between policymakers and the public, when people do not feel included and do not trust those in power, it is much harder to get the whole-of-society responses we need to tackle security challenges – from pandemics to climate change. It can also pose a security threat in itself; rich countries are not immune to social unrest and violence.

Given the disastrous outcomes of recent national security policy, including multiple foreign wars-of-choice alongside growing levels of inequality and mistrust in politicians, this closed, exclusive approach to the UK’s security should concern us all.

This briefing compares the practice of the Integrated Review with previous reviews, drawing on published methodologies and information gained from a series of Freedom of Information requests. It aims to inform better practice and contribute to Rethinking Security’s Alternative Security Review project.

Key Findings

  • External engagement appears to have been included in the Integrated Review as an afterthought and rushed through in contravention of established government guidelines. Public outreach was extremely limited and resulted in less than one-quarter the number of inputs as the previous (2015) review.
  • While proactive engagement with external expertise increased on 2015 by at least 50%, the rationale for consultees’ inclusion appears ad hoc and skewed towards like-minded institutions experts. This is highly likely to have entrenched and validated pre-existing assumptions.
  • Notable by their exclusion were those with greatest experience of global insecurity, including NGOs with international development, humanitarian and peacebuilding expertise; those representing vulnerable communities, and organisations based in the Global South.
  • Despite the stated ambition to challenge Whitehall assumptions, the narrow framing of the public consultation denied any opportunity to challenge the underlying approach to security,
  • Key strategic decisions were repeatedly taken outside of the Integrated Review process and without external consultation, including the abolition of DFID and major spending decisions on defence and international development.
  • Despite pledges to develop its ‘public engagement capacity’ to support implementation of  the Review, it is not clear if, and if so, how, the government intends to develop a meaningful conversation with the public on security policy.

Read the full Briefing: Open Society, Closed Conversations: External Consultation and the Integrated Review.