Reviews and continuity
Foreign affairs and security matters were not uppermost in the minds of Conservative or Liberal Democrat leaders when the Coalition Agreement for Stability and Reform was drawn up in May 2010. The foreign affairs that mattered most to the United Kingdom were no more unstable than usual and there was no obvious need to reform anything. The evolution towards a more coherent and strategic ‘whole of government’ approach to foreign, defence and security affairs was a matter of consensus throughout Whitehall and Westminster and the new government could look towards winding down military operations in Afghanistan along the same lines as those in Iraq had been. Some relationships with partners and allies were thought to need more attention and a review of how the UK was conducting its foreign affairs was the natural reaction of an incoming government.
An implicit commitment to a foreign policy review was complemented by an explicit commitment to a defence review that would also take place immediately after an election. The Conservatives had long been committed to building on the Labour Government's 1997 Strategic Defence Review with a long overdue Strategic Defence and Security Review (SDSR) that would explicitly put defence alongside internal security, and all that implied, in a single framework that would not be run from the Ministry of Defence, but rather from the Cabinet Office, at the centre of government. The only variation in the commitment to a review by the coalition partners was in the order of the words – the Conservatives' SDSR was rendered in the Liberal Democrat manifesto as the SSDR (for the sake of differentiation). Both parties were, in any case, building on the general direction of travel the Labour Government had been taking with its National Security Strategy of 2008 and the accompanying National Risk Register, alongside more sectoral policies such as cyber security or counter-terrorism.