The House of Lords is scheduled to debate the UK’s position on foreign affairs on 5 March 2024. The debate will take place on a government-sponsored motion.

The first section below provides a short summary of key overarching policy documents relating to security, defence, development and foreign policy. The second section provides links to recommended reading material for further information on the government’s foreign policy position in connection with specific issues or regions. This includes through statements and responses to parliamentary questions and debates, as well as briefings on particular foreign policy areas.

1. Overview of UK foreign policy approach

The government published an initial integrated review of security, defence, development and foreign policy in March 2021.[1] The document, entitled ‘Global Britain in a competitive age’, described the government’s vision for the UK’s role in the world. In particular it set out the UK’s foreign policy focus as follows:

In keeping with our history, the UK will continue to play a leading international role in collective security, multilateral governance, tackling climate change and health risks, conflict resolution and poverty reduction. We accept the risk that comes with our commitment to global peace and stability, from our tripwire NATO presence in Estonia and Poland to on-the-ground support for UN peacekeeping and humanitarian relief. Our commitment to European security is unequivocal, through NATO, the Joint Expeditionary Force and strong bilateral relations. There are few more reliable and credible allies around the world than the UK, with the willingness to confront serious challenges and the ability to turn the dial on international issues of consequence.[2]

The review identified four overarching trends facing the UK in the period up to 2030:

  • Geopolitical and geoeconomic shifts: such as China’s increasing power and assertiveness internationally, the growing importance of the Indo-Pacific to global prosperity and security, and the emergence of new markets and growth of the global middle class.
  • Systemic competition: the intensification of competition between states and with non-state actors […]
  • Rapid technological change: technological developments and digitisation will reshape our societies and economies, and change relationships—both between states, and between the citizen, the private sector and the state. Science and technology will bring enormous benefits but will also be an arena of intensifying systemic competition.
  • Transnational challenges: such as climate change, global health risks, illicit finance, serious and organised crime, and terrorism.[3]

In response to these trends, the review set out a strategic framework comprising four overarching and mutually supporting national security and international policy objectives for the period to 2025:[4]

  • sustaining strategic advantage through science and technology
  • shaping the open international order of the future
  • strengthening security and defence at home and overseas
  • building resilience at home and overseas

In March 2023 the government updated the integrated review in response to a “more contested and volatile world”.[5] In a foreword to the refreshed policy document, Prime Minister Rishi Sunak said the 2021 review had “anticipated some but not all of the global turbulence of the last two years”. He continued:

Russia’s illegal invasion of Ukraine, weaponisation of energy and food supplies and irresponsible nuclear rhetoric, combined with China’s more aggressive stance in the South China Sea and the Taiwan Strait, are threatening to create a world defined by danger, disorder and division—and an international order more favourable to authoritarianism. Long-standing threats from terrorism and serious and organised crime are enduring and evolving, and may find new opportunities in events like the Taliban takeover of Afghanistan. Other transnational challenges such as large-scale migration, smuggling of people, narcotics and weapons, and illicit finance have become more acute, with grave human costs and strain on our national resources.[6]

The document said the government’s assessment was that the “broad direction” set by the initial integrated review “was right, but that further investment and a greater proportion of national resource will be needed in defence and national security—now and in the future—to deliver its objectives”.[7] It added that a revised strategic framework comprising four pillars would underpin how the government would now seek to meet its strategic objectives, including addressing the threat posed by Russia to European security and responding to the “evolving and epoch-defining challenge” posed by China. The document listed these as follows:

  • Shape the international environment: this pillar commits the UK to shaping, balancing, competing and cooperating across the main arenas of systemic competition, working with all who support an open and stable international order and the protection of global public goods.
  • Deter, defend and compete across all domains: this pillar reinforces the ongoing shift to an integrated approach to deterrence and defence, to counter both state threats and transnational security challenges. It reaffirms that NATO is at the core of this effort, but is clear that—given the changing threat picture—effective deterrence will mean working through other groupings and beyond the Euro-Atlantic theatre. It also introduces a renewed emphasis on the concept of strategic stability—establishing new frameworks and building a new international security architecture to manage systemic competition and escalation in a multipolar environment.
  • Address vulnerabilities through resilience: this pillar develops the UK’s approach to resilience, shifting to a long-term campaign to address the vulnerabilities that leave the UK exposed to crises and hostile actors. This will strengthen the UK’s deterrence by denial, and ensure that operational activity under pillar two can be focused where it has the greatest impact.
  • Generate strategic advantage: this pillar reinforces and extends IR2021’s focus on strategic advantage—the UK’s relative ability to achieve our objectives compared to our competitors. In a more contested environment, this is indispensable to maintaining the UK’s freedom of action, freedom from coercion and our ability to cooperate with others, and is the underpinning for the other pillars of the strategic framework.[8]

The integrated review refresh was followed by an updated defence command paper, entitled ‘Defence’s response to a more contested and volatile world’, published in July 2023, and an international development white paper, entitled ‘International development in a contested world: Ending extreme poverty and tackling climate change’, published in November 2023.[9] In February 2024 the government published a sanctions strategy entitled ‘Deter, disrupt and demonstrate: UK sanctions in a contested world’, which explained how the government intended to use sanctions as a foreign and security policy tool and the investments, partnerships and structures that would support sanctions work.[10]

Lord Cameron of Chipping Norton was appointed as foreign secretary a week before the international development white paper’s publication in November 2023.[11] Lord Cameron recently marked 100 days in office.

2. Read more

The following selection of material provides further information on the UK’s position on foreign affairs.

2.1 Government material

Further information on the government’s position on particular issues can be found via the ‘Policy papers and consultations’ and ‘News and communications’ sections of the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office website.

2.2 Parliamentary questions, statements and debates

2.2.1 Questions

Written questions answered since the beginning of the 2023–24 session by the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office are available on the UK Parliament website.

2.2.2 Statements and debates

2.2.3 Committee activity

2.3 Briefings

2.3.1 House of Lords Library

Further House of Lords Library briefings on world affairs are available.

2.3.2 House of Commons Library

Further House of Commons Library briefings on world affairs are available.

2.4 Articles and opinion

Cover image by Kyle Glenn on Unsplash.


  1. HM Government, ‘Global Britain in a competitive age’, 16 March 2021, CP 403. This replaced an earlier ‘National security strategy and strategic defence and security review’, published in 2015. Return to text
  2. As above, p 11. Bold in original. Return to text
  3. As above, p 24. Bold in original. Return to text
  4. As above, p 18. Return to text
  5. HM Government, ‘Integrated review refresh 2023’, 13 March 2023, CP 811. Return to text
  6. As above, p 2. Return to text
  7. As above, p 11. Return to text
  8. As above, p 16. Return to text
  9. Ministry of Defence, ‘Defence’s response to a more contested and volatile world’, 18 July 2023, CP 901; and Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office, ‘International development in a contested world: Ending extreme poverty and tackling climate change’, 20 November 2023, CP 975. Return to text
  10. Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office, ‘Deter, disrupt and demonstrate: UK sanctions in a contested world’, 22 February 2024. Return to text
  11. Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office, ‘Lord Cameron of Chipping Norton’, accessed 26 February 2024. Return to text