Why science investment is key to UK's future national security: George Freeman

Science is as key to long-term global and national security as our military hardware. In a world where lack of food, energy and water represent such massive global challenges - and geopolitical tensions - our security is increasingly shaped as much by our ability to prevent and cure disease, feed 9 billion mouths, prevent the famine and poverty driving the mass population dislocation in Africa, help lessen our dependence on Russia and China for energy and strengthen global commitment to our values as by our military might.

Of course, soft and hard security and soft and hard power go together.

As we have seen in Ukraine with the appalling attack by a brutal Kremlin war machine determined to flex its muscles, divide the world and test the resolve of the “West”.

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It’s a test for all of us and one we will stand up to and pass - with our recent announcement of the new UK Japan Italy next generation fighter technology project.

George Freeman spoke recently in JapanGeorge Freeman spoke recently in Japan
George Freeman spoke recently in Japan

But I want to focus on the other: the soft power and security that comes from science and technology leadership.

The UK has taken the opportunity of the last decade (the Crash, Austerity, Brexit, Pandemic and War) to reset out global economic and geopolitical vision, mission and strategy.

Our recent Integrated Review sets out a clear analysis of the UK’s place in an increasingly dangerous world.

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At its heart is a strategic commitment to science, research, technology and innovation.

It’s reflected in a series of important policy reforms.

First, our strategic commitment to significantly increase the level and role of science, research, technology and innovation in our economy for improved economic growth, productivity, international competitiveness, inward investment, technological sovereignty, industrial resilience, global security and geopolitical soft power.

Second, the establishment alongside the National Security Council of the National Science and Technology Council, chaired by the Prime Minister, with the top half of Cabinet, myself as Science Minister and our National Science and Technology Adviser my good friend Patrick Vallance.

Third, our 30 per cent increase in public R+D over three years announced by the Prime Minister when Chancellor twelve months ago and now protected by Chancellor Hunt last month in a necessarily difficult budget.

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Alongside our 30 per cent increase between 2022 and 2027 - to be matched by private sector, pension reforms in the City of London to boost scale-up finance and use of post-Brexit freedoms in Procurement and Regulation to support the UK Technology sector.

Our Science Superpower mission isn’t about a militarisation or aggressive sovereignty in science - it’s about delivering six key objectives:

One: world class science in an increasingly competitive world.

Two: Global Impact for global good.

Three: attracting much more global R+D inward investment.

Four: recognising science demands global career and talent paths.

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Five: insisting on the values of scientia: free speech, critical thinking, challenge.

Six: harnessing demonstrable UK commitment to these for geopolitical soft power.

George Freeman is Minister for Science, Research and Innovation. This is an edited version of a recent speech given in Japan.