The Comprehensive Approach: the point of war is not just to win but to make a better peace - Defence Committee Contents


1.  The MoD and the Armed Forces, the FCO and DFID all recognise that engagement in future conflicts is likely to require the use of the Comprehensive Approach. It is, therefore essential that a shared understanding exists across Government and, in particular, within the MoD, the FCO and DFID about what the Comprehensive Approach is. This must be underpinned by joint policy and doctrine. In recent years, the UK has always operated in coalition with allies and international organisations making a common understanding of methods and desired outcomes and of the Comprehensive Approach crucial. The UK has been at the forefront of thinking on and the development of the Comprehensive Approach, and it must continue to work with allies to embed its use in the major international organisations—the UN, NATO and the EU. (Paragraph 175)

2.  The forthcoming Strategic Defence Review should form part of a wider and more comprehensive security review looking at the UK's desire and ability to participate in operations requiring the use of the Comprehensive Approach. The Review presents an opportunity to ensure that the Comprehensive Approach is embedded in future Government policy and that the Armed Forces are designed, trained and equipped to perform their role in such operations. (Paragraph 176)

3.  It is crucial that, in all situations requiring the Comprehensive Approach, certain elements should be agreed at the very earliest stage based on a thorough and all-embracing assessment of the situation. These elements include leadership, objectives, a defined end state, strategy, tactics and the nature of personnel required. This assessment may need to be amended in response to changing threats and other circumstances but this should not prevent an early assessment taking place which reflects the needs and expectations of local nationals. Communication is a key component of any strategy and needs to include plans for conveying the strategic intent of the mission to local nationals and also to the British public in an informative but fair and balanced way. (Paragraph 177)

4.  There is evidence that the Comprehensive Approach is beginning to work in Afghanistan and elsewhere but there is still much to develop especially in Whitehall and in working multi-nationally with allies and international organisations. We have heard a lot said about the importance of the Approach but if it is to continue to work in Afghanistan and in future areas of conflict, then the policy must be given the leadership, political clout and resources it needs. In responding to this Report, the MoD must set out how the Comprehensive Approach is being addressed in the Strategic Defence Review. (Paragraph 178)

Development of the Comprehensive Approach

5.  The Comprehensive Approach is widely accepted as valid in most situations where military force is required and in other situations such as those requiring post-conflict reconstruction and stabilisation. The National Security Strategy re-iterated the need for a cross-government approach drawing upon the capabilities of the Armed Forces, the FCO, DFID and others. We recommend that the MoD, the FCO and DFID, working together with the Stabilisation Unit, produce a Comprehensive Approach policy and doctrine. Many of the ingredients for such a policy and doctrine already exist but are not brought together in one place. The doctrine should take account of our recommendations in the remainder of this Report. The MoD should incorporate the Comprehensive Approach policy into its Strategic Defence Review. (Paragraph 30)

Strategic intent and planning

6.  It is evident that the need for a clear strategy and vision has been recognised for Afghanistan. It is important that all parties share an understanding of the context and nature of the challenges faced. In future situations where the Comprehensive Approach is adopted all relevant government departments and the Armed Forces should agree a clear set of objectives with appropriate measures of achievement and with a clearly defined end state set in the context of the nature of the challenges faced. The need for post-conflict reconstruction and stabilisation should be recognised and incorporated into the planning at the earliest stages. These objectives may need to adapt and evolve but it is essential that the agencies pursuing the Comprehensive Approach have an agreed and feasible end state in mind at every appropriate juncture. (Paragraph 41)

Who is in charge?

7.  We understand why, for major situations such as those in Iraq and Afghanistan, it is inevitable that the Prime Minister should take overall responsibility for the use of the Comprehensive Approach. We note there has been a debate about whether this is necessary, whether it provides effective leadership and clarity for all missions and whether it might be appropriate for the Prime Minister to appoint a lead Minister. We consider that at the start of each operation using the Comprehensive Approach, the Government should formally decide and announce what the appropriate governance arrangements should be. Certainly as missions evolve these matters should be kept under review. (Paragraph 47)

8.  As part of its role in facilitating cross-departmental assessment and planning, the Stabilisation Unit should support the relevant Minister and Whitehall committees in the operation of the Comprehensive Approach. The Government should consider whether the Unit should be placed within the Cabinet Office to ensure it has sufficient political clout with other departments. Likewise, leadership focus and effectiveness in some missions might be enhanced by appointing a special envoy or representative. This person should have direct access to the Prime Minister. (Paragraph 48)

Changing departmental cultures

9.  The Government should consider whether there is any benefit in putting this on a more formal basis. (Paragraph 49)

10.  We recognise and welcome the progress that has been made in making the Comprehensive Approach a reality. The MoD, the FCO and DFID have all made efforts to reduce cultural and operational differences but all acknowledge more needs to be done. We call upon the Departments to identify what changes, particularly in respect of departmental cultures and working practices, still need to be made. For example, we expect, as a minimum, to see that any review should consider the involvement of high level officials, the enhancement of promotion prospects for those involved in Comprehensive Approach activities and a financial commitment to co-ordination of the Approach. The three Departments should, in response to this Report, provide us with the results of the review into the changes needed to working practices and how they intend to plan and manage the necessary changes. (Paragraph 54)

11.  Whilst we note that DFID believes that the International Development Act allows it to participate fully in reconstruction and stabilisation operations and in conflict prevention, we believe a review of whether the Act creates a culture within DFID which adversely impacts on its participation would merit the further attention of post-legislative scrutiny. (Paragraph 60)

Structure and funding

12.  It is only right that the Armed Forces should be funded from the Reserve for operations such as those in Iraq and Afghanistan. However, as situations change and conflicts move away from war fighting to reconstruction and stabilisation, resources may need to be reprioritised or redistributed. The balance of investment decisions become crucial. The Government, therefore, should clarify the mechanism which funds other government departments for conflict. (Paragraph 65)

The Stabilisation Unit

13.  The work of the Stabilisation Unit in developing and maintaining a cadre of deployable civilians and civil servants has been significant in the UK's capacity to implement the Comprehensive Approach. The Stabilisation Unit should be provided with sufficient resources to continue maintaining this capacity and the training of appropriate individuals. (Paragraph 76)

14.  We look forward to seeing the results of the Association of Chief Police Officers' work on the deployment of serving police officers. The Home Office and the devolved administrations should resolve the issues inhibiting serving police officers from volunteering to serve in areas of need as quickly as possible. The Home Office and the devolved administrations should promote the use of serving police officers to train local police forces in areas of need. The MoD should also set out the role for the MoD Police in contributing to stabilisation operations. (Paragraph 77)

Learning lessons

15.  We acknowledge that the evolution of the work of the Stabilisation Unit will progressively ensure that cross-institutional knowledge and skills gained during deployments in Iraq and Afghanistan will be retained and built on. How to maximise improved capability for the Comprehensive Approach from 'lessons learned' should be addressed in the Strategic Defence Review. (Paragraph 81)

16.  We note that the three Departments are looking further at the process of learning lessons. The Stabilisation Unit working with the three Government Departments should make it a priority to encourage those involved in the Comprehensive Approach to learn lessons from each situation and to disseminate the lessons as appropriate. In particular, the Stabilisation Unit should work closely with the Permanent Joint Headquarters of the Armed Forces drawing on its thorough and comprehensive lessons learned process. The Stabilisation Unit should institute a transparent and regular process of such dissemination and should run regular seminars for relevant staff in the three principal Departments and in other departments involved and for staff on its database of deployable personnel. The Unit should be given sufficient resources to carry out this essential function. (Paragraph 82)

Making the case in the UK

17.  Communication is a key component of maintaining support amongst the British public for the use of military and civilian forces in unstable areas. As part of the planning process for the use of the Comprehensive Approach, a communications strategy should be developed for each deployment and then be implemented to ensure that Government policy is fully described and communicated to the British public. This strategy should be part of a wider strategic communications plan linking in with communication to all parties including allies, international organisations and, importantly, to local nationals. (Paragraph 85)


18.  We recommend that DFID, the Stabilisation Unit and the FCO should reconsider whether they can delegate to the MoD the responsibility for maintaining the security of their personnel, to ensure that there is sufficient flexibility to take account of temporary security arrangements created by the Armed Forces in a way that meets the Departments' duty of care. (Paragraph 90)

19.  Recognising the development of the Military Stabilisation Support Group, the MoD should determine under what circumstances this Group will work with the Stabilisation Unit and whether it needs to strengthen its capability in reconstruction and post-conflict stabilisation (and consequently its training and recruitment). It should report to us on the results of this assessment and confirm that this issue will be dealt with in the context of the Strategic Defence Review. (Paragraph 95)

20.  There is a need for more cross-departmental working with secondments between the three Departments to enhance the skill sets of relevant staff and to increase the mutual understanding of the different cultures in each Department. There may also be the need to recruit staff with additional skill sets in each of the Departments. DFID is already looking to do this. The FCO and the MoD should review whether they need to modify or expand the skills sets of the people they wish to recruit. (Paragraph 96)

21.  Joint training is an important element in the integration of civilian and military staff and in the successful use of the Comprehensive Approach. There should be a greater sharing of training and education within the three principal Departments. At the minimum, civilians being posted to conflict areas such as Afghanistan should participate in pre-deployment training with the military about to be sent to such areas. This should be in addition to the training provided by the Stabilisation Unit to civilians in preparation for deployment into conflict areas. We also expect to see continuing participation in joint exercises such as Joint Venture and Arrcade Fusion. The Departments should pursue appropriate means to ensure the knowledge gained by individuals is consolidated. (Paragraph 103)

22.  The FCO and DFID should seek to increase the number of their staff attending the courses at the Defence Academy, and the role of the Academy should be reviewed, as part of the Strategic Defence Review, with a view to its becoming the focus for Government-wide education and training on the Comprehensive Approach. (Paragraph 104)

Departmental information technology and information management systems

23.  As the ability to communicate and share data is key to the further development of the Comprehensive Approach, the FCO, DFID and the MoD should provide us with an action plan for how they intend to remedy the deficiencies in communication, information systems and data sharing between their Departments. The plan should include details of who will be responsible for delivering the plan and its constituent parts as well as the timetable for implementation. (Paragraph 106)

Working on the ground

24.  The UK is at the forefront of the development and use of the Comprehensive Approach and has worked well with international organisations and other member states to further the development of the Approach internationally. However, more needs to be done. We, therefore, recommend that the MoD, the FCO and DFID should continue to work with the UN, NATO and the EU to promote the effective use of the Comprehensive Approach within these organisations so that future complex emergencies requiring a multilateral approach can operate more effectively. We consider such work to be essential to addressing the perception and reality of uneven burden-sharing amongst member states. (Paragraph 127)

25.  We note the positive examples of the use of the Comprehensive Approach in the Democratic Republic of Congo and Sierra Leone, and recently, in Afghanistan. These success stories should be brought together to inform the development of a strengthened Comprehensive Approach doctrine. Positive outcomes in Afghanistan should also be used to inform the public debate about the success of operations there. (Paragraph 142)

Working with NGOs

26.  The MoD, DFID and the FCO recognise the importance of the independence of NGOs and that care should be exercised when coordinating activities with them. Nonetheless, NGOs are an important component in the use of the Comprehensive Approach and have much to offer, not only in terms of humanitarian aid work but in their knowledge and understanding of the region and the needs of local people. The three Departments should expand their work with NGOs to identify better ways to draw on their expertise and to ensure that each side is aware of the other's activities without compromising the safety of aid workers on the ground. (Paragraph 152)

Working with local nationals

27.  We consider the ability to communicate directly with local nationals to be important. We recognise that there has been additional language training for deployment to Afghanistan since 2003 but progress, particularly within DFID and the FCO, has been unimpressive. The three Departments should give the matter higher priority both in current and future operations. (Paragraph 158)

28.  The MoD, the FCO and DFID together with the Stabilisation Unit should provide training and education on the culture, history and politics of areas where their staff will be deployed on the Comprehensive Approach. For instance, training could draw upon the knowledge and expertise of personnel, including those of other countries and in particular the USA, who have served in Afghanistan, in some cases on more than one occasion. This training should be in addition to appropriate language training. (Paragraph 167)

29.  We endorse the Government's intentions with regard to the support of women, in line with UNSCR 1325, within the Comprehensive Approach and expect to see explicit reference to this in the Comprehensive Approach policy and doctrine that we call for earlier in this Report. (Paragraph 174)

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