Wednesday 5 August 2020 4:41 pm

Finance must play a bigger role in the UK's national security, says think tank

A think tank has called on the government to use the UK’s financial capabilities to further support its national security policy.

The Royal United Services Institute (RUSI) has recommended the UK capitalise on its financial advantages ahead of an integrated review of the UK’s foreign policy, defence and security. 

In February, the government announced the review, which was described as the largest review of the UK’s foreign, defence, security and development policy since the end of the Cold War. 

The role of the economy in the UK’s national security has mainly been confined to recognising the importance of a strong and healthy national economy, including to pay for national defence. But Tom Keatinge, author of the paper, argued it should be contributing more. 

“The narrow focus applied to national security to date… suggests that there is no cross-government strategy that draws together the range of opportunities afforded by these capabilities,” he said.

The Intelligence and Security Committee has spoken about the “grey area” threats which include organised crime, overt and covert financial influence campaigns and state-sponsored cyber attacks on financial institutions. 

“The common factor in these and the many other threats and opportunities the UK faces is finance,” said Keatinge. 

He told City A.M. that among the threats are illicit financial flows facilitated by the UK or invested in London. This was highlighted in the Russia Report published last month, which revealed political interference in the 2019 general election.

Finance continues to underpin many of the malign threats to national security. RUSI points to the purchase of social media campaigns by anonymous companies that aim to destabilise the democratic process. 

“The government has failed to invest in the necessary analytical capability to understand these threats,” the report stated. It has called on initiatives such as the Joint State Threat Assessment Centre at MI5 to be resourced with the necessary knowledge to engage with the financial side of these threats.

Another central issue is the UK’s reputation as a leading centre for the facilitation of money laundering. “This damages the UK’s international standing, subverting its authority with current and desired partner countries,” Keatinge said.

A more careful assessment of purchasers in the UK’s open economy should be considered to protect national security. The think tank also suggests that greater investment in the resourcing of the UK’s capabilities, would help countries identify and repatriate stolen assets sequestered in or via the UK.