The time has come for integrated statecraft

Tom Barber, Program Manager, Asia-Pacific Development, Diplomacy and Defence Dialogue




Parliament 19 Jul
Speaking to the New Zealand Institute of International Affairs in July

Prime Minister Chris Hipkins said the “emerging global threatscape” meant that “shaping the international environment” would require “marshalling all of the tools of statecraft in a concerted, integrated way”. This framing is echoed in the new Strategic Foreign Policy Assessment, which warns that New Zealand’s “ability to marshal its foreign policy efforts and resources behind the set of issues that really matter” will be critical in maintaining its “influence and mana in this shifting world”.

Hipkins’ counsel that “We can’t be passive” and the Assessment’s judgment that “foreign policy will need to change” indicates a shift in New Zealand’s approach. That in turn begs the question: what’s driving this?

Put simply, a ‘traditional’ siloed approach to statecraft is no longer viable as previously discrete facets of international engagement increasingly interact and amalgamate. The same challenges that preoccupy Wellington reverberate globally, and there is growing recognition from governments across the world of the need for more holistic and coordinated approaches to international policy. In this sense, the Strategic Foreign Policy Assessment is symptomatic of a broader global trend.

An early adopter in this space was the United Kingdom, which in 2021 released ‘Global Britain in a Competitive Age, the Integrated Review of Security, Defence, Development and Foreign Policy’. As its title suggests, the Integrated Review collates what were previously distinct white papers into a single, overarching policy document. It makes the case for deeper integration across government to bring together the strands of international policy “in pursuit of cross-government, national objectives” and in response to a “more contested international environment”. A ‘refresh’ of the Review in 2023 tilted the balance toward defence and national security, but assessed that the “broad direction set by IR2021 was right”.

The Biden administration’s 2022 National Security Strategy likewise commits to an approach that “encompasses all elements of national power”, stressing the need to “modernize and adapt our tools of statecraft for today’s challenges”. This builds on earlier US examples such as the 2010 Quadrennial Defense Review, which outlined how US “authorities and structures assume a neat divide between defense, diplomacy, and development that simply does not exist”, and advocacy within the Obama administration by then-Secretaries of Defense Robert Gates and State Hillary Clinton.

This isn’t just an anglosphere trend.

Japan’s 2022 National Security Strategy identifies a need to take “a panoramic view of the diverse dimensions of international relations as a whole”, and respond to contemporary challenges, “by taking full advantage of comprehensive national power, including diplomatic, defense, economic, technological, and intelligence capabilities.” In South Korea the Yoon Suk-yeol administration anticipates an “unprecedentedly turbulent future” and hopes its June 2023 National Security Strategy will “serve as a catalyst” for the country “to adopt a proactive and comprehensive” approach across diplomacy, development assistance, defence capability and economic security.

Germany’s first National Security Strategy, released in June 2023, emphasises how “security policy is more than the sum of diplomatic and military means” and outlines in a full section on “integrated security” why “purposefully interlinking various policy fields in depth” and “bringing together all issues and instruments that are relevant” is necessary in an era of “profound change”. Released in the same month, the Czech Republic’s National Security Strategy simply notes that “the only answer to today’s complex threats is a whole-of-government and whole-of-society approach”.

In April 2023 the unclassified version of Australia’s independently-led Defence Strategic Review was released. Particularly noteworthy was an entire chapter recommending a “whole-of-government” approach to national defence. A “coherent national strategic response” is required, notes the Review, because Australia’s strategic circumstances are “radically different” to previous decades, and not in a good way. The government agrees, accepting that “genuine whole-of-government coordination” is necessary and committing that the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade “will be appropriately resourced to lead a whole-of-government statecraft effort in the Indo-Pacific.”

The concept of and case for a more ‘whole-of-government’ approach to foreign and security policy isn’t particularly new, but its current renaissance reflects its evolution from luxury to necessity in a more complex, contested and fiscally constrained world. As governments increasingly acknowledge the need for more coordinated statecraft, the real challenge lies in implementation.

While written for the Australian context, a recent report that outlines what ‘using all tools of statecraft’ looks like in practice offers some lessons and principles that are broadly applicable.

Recognising the importance of coherence to effective international policy, the report conceptualises four levels at which it can be achieved: through the articulation of overarching strategies and narratives; by building effective coordinating structures and mechanisms; through the cultivation of a diverse workforce with literacy across international policy areas; and by engaging with and obtaining buy-in from society at large. It also demonstrates why the degree of coherence need not be uniform, but should exist as a function of prioritisation ranging from simply avoiding duplication, to active coordination of independently operating elements, right through to full integration where policy is developed from first principles and implemented across multiple tools of statecraft.

None of that means a whole-of-government approach to international engagement is a panacea for complex international challenges and negative trends, nor that implementing it is straightforward. Rather, the reason it’s seen as something to strive for is precisely because it’s bureaucratically hard – if it were easy, it would have already been done. What an ‘all tools’ approach does do is better equip countries to navigate unprecedented complexity and maximise their statecraft in a more difficult and contested world. The different methods and strategies they employ to that end will offer lessons on what works, what doesn’t, and what can be improved.

Billed as a way to “help inform and ensure policy coherence”, New Zealand’s Strategic Foreign Policy Assessment is the first in “an interrelated set of strategic policy documents and assessments, spanning across New Zealand’s national security, defence, and foreign policy – including New Zealand’s first National Security Strategy.” It will be interesting to see the extent to which an ‘all tools of statecraft’ approach is embedded within them.


Tom Barber is Program Manager at the Asia-Pacific Development, Diplomacy and Defence Dialogue (AP4D), a platform for collaboration between the development, diplomacy and defence communities that combines the skills and experience of each to achieve new insights, develop new ideas and promote strategic collaboration around shared interests.


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