Who does UK National Strategy - Public Administration Committee Contents

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 1-51)



  Q1 Chair: Thank you very much to our witnesses for joining us this morning. I understand that Julian you've flown in from Rotterdam this morning for this session?

Professor Julian Lindley-French: Yes.

  Chair: I'm extremely grateful for that. For the record, could each of you just say briefly who you are?

  Professor Julian Lindley-French: I'm Julian Lindley-French, Professor of Defence Strategy at the Netherlands Defence Academy and head of the Commanders Initiative Group of the Allied Rapid Reaction Corps.

  Professor Peter Hennessy: Peter Hennessey, Attlee Professor of Contemporary British History, Queen Mary, University of London.

  Professor Hew Strachan: Hew Strachan. I'm Chichele Professor of the History of War at the University of Oxford. I run a programme there on the changing character of war and a propos our earlier conversation I'm on the Chief of the Defence Staff's strategic advisory panel.

  Q2  Chair: Thank you very much indeed for joining us. We had an exceptionally informative seminar on Tuesday. This is our first public evidence session of this inquiry and I wondered if I could kick off. Professor Strachan, in your paper "The Lost Meaning of Strategy", you describe what seems to be an existential crisis around the term "strategy" and say that it's become too loosely defined to mean anything. Could you explain what you mean by that?

  Professor Hew Strachan: Yes, I could. I think there is a tendency—I'm in danger of being otiose and repetitious on this point—to confuse strategy and policy. There is clearly a relationship and the boundaries between the two are fuzzy. We need to understand that policy may provide direction, but strategy is more concerned with the means by which policy is effected. There is also an implication in strategy that you are dealing with somebody who is trying to do something opposite to what you wish to do.. Therefore it is a more reactive business and an inherently more complex business. The remit of this Committee is to look at Grand Strategy. I think that part of the confusion arises from that, because the implications of Grand Strategy embrace both strategy and policy Particularly when it was coined—that is in the context of World War II—it was about how Allies co-ordinated their efforts. It was about how they brought together not just military capability but also economic and social capability. It involved the co-ordination of different theatres of war, so it had an application that was much broader than a traditional definition of strategy would have had. The latter was more clearly focused on the conduct of war and more clearly a matter for soldiers, and arguably sailors. Part of our confusion is that we've been dealing with wars that haven't quite had—to use the word you used in a different context just now—those existential dimensions. So we've got ourselves in the situation where strategy itself has become confused, because we've thought of it in terms of Grand Strategy. We're not terribly sure whether Grand Strategy is something that is appropriate, especially when we are, these days, involved not only in wars, which I think somewhat mistakenly and unfortunately have been described as discretionary, but also in wars where we have been the junior partner. So, if there is Grand Strategy to be made, it's not been our responsibility and I think that raises a fundamental question for the United Kingdom.

  Q3  Chair: Can we just stick to terms at the moment?

  Professor Hew Strachan: Yes.

  Chair: Language seems to be part of the barrier to understanding. What comes first, policy or strategy? Is it policy to have a strategy or does policy flow from strategy?

  Professor Hew Strachan: Well, I think the relationship is an interactive one. In theoretical terms, in the much over-quoted, and selectively quoted, phrase from Clausewitz, the implication is that strategy flows from policy and in an ideal world that would be the case. But, in reality, there's not much chance of implementing your policy if it's strategically unsound and impossible to fulfil, so there is likely to be a much more dynamic relationship between the two. That actually goes to the heart of the problem, which is that much strategy is written as theory but then there is the issue of strategy in practice, which is a different undertaking. So, theory may inform your judgments in practice, but when you have to deal with the messy business of doing it, then, clearly, you have to be much more pragmatic. That relationship between policy and strategy is likely to be an iterative and a dynamic one.

  Q4  Chair: Professor Hennessy and Professor Lindley-French.

  Professor Peter Hennessy: I think policy without strategy is, to a high degree, flying blind, actually. I'm very grateful to this committee because I've never had to write down before and I thought I better had, what I thought national strategy—because I know you want to go much wider than the SDSR—might be for a country like ours with our past and the condition in which we find ourselves. So, I had a little stab, Chairman, if I can inflict it upon the Committee. I think the national strategy for us is about the reconciliation of intentions with possibilities. It needs, if it's to have a chance of working, to be realistic in every respect. For example, I think the word "vision" is now such a piece of linguistic litter that it should be abandoned. The contagion of the language of the management consultant into the business of government, I'm sure, appals you all as much as it appals me. I think if the word "vision" comes up, we should have the equivalent of a red buzzer to squeeze it out in our discussions today and with other witnesses. But that is a prejudice, as you might have noticed. The ingredients of a national strategy need to encompass a considerable range of moving parts: economy, society, condition of political and public life, systems of government, military kit, diplomacy, intelligence capacity, and intellectual capital, by which I mean the mix of universities and technological R&D. Only then can Britain's international relationships and place in the world be assessed properly, if you've done a very realistic assessment of all those moving parts. And the trick, if there is one, is to create both possibilities and achievements that are greater than the sum of those parts; that is the bonus of strategy, if we can do it. It's hugely difficult and stretching and it's not aided by the tendency among political leaders to collapse into a combination of Blue Peter-like wishful thinking. Your generation I hope is immune from it, but New Labour always sounded like, to me, Blue Peter on stilts, complete bollocks actually. "We do world poverty this week and we solve AIDS the next". There is usually a combination amongst politicians in government anyway of Blue Peter and Tommy Cooper naivety, believing that "just like that" these things can be done. It's kind of the Triumph of the Will: British Version. Also, the great delusion of those in government, particularly if they're new; they think because it's them, the great intractables are going to become malleable because, at last, we're here. So, I think it's terribly timely that you're doing this for a lot of reasons, one of which is an antidote to the bollocks and the fairy stories that, no doubt, new ministers still flush with the joys of being there are telling each other in the Cabinet committee rooms.

  Professor Julian Lindley-French: I would take a slightly different angle and say that in fact Grand Strategy, as we are discussing it here today, is a new term; and it's a mistake—no disrespect to Hew—to put it in historical terms. We are talking about the organisation of very large British means to large British ends. This is probably the first time since Suez, if not before, that we've had to do this. For the last 50 or 60 years, our penchant for balancing others has tended to lead us to seek common ground between the American worldview and the French-European view, to put it bluntly, but those pillars are changing. Those assumptions that we've had for 50 or 60 years about where our best national effort should be made to achieve the most likely security for our citizens are themselves in question. Right now, I would put the question as being, how does the United Kingdom cope with the relative American decline? We handed over from British power dominating the system to American power dominating the system. Now, the Americans do not dominate the system as they did. George Bush came to power thinking he was 1840s Britain; America today is 1880s Britain. All of this means that we can't simply assume that we can find a common ground. Therefore, where strategy at that level comes in requires first and foremost political leadership to establish national aims and objectives. Then strategy operationalises at that level aims and objectives. Thereafter, you make policy, which leads to change in government. But it's about where Britain needs to be in terms of influence over change. Now, if you had said to me 10 years ago, that we'd have the world that Britain resides in today, then I would have said that's very hard to judge and that's been part of the problem. We have many, many risks, but no real existential threats. However, there is enough friction in the system today—and very clear friction with systemic, regional, weak states, technology proliferation—that a country like Britain will need to be at the forefront of influencing positive change. Now, how we do that will require all national means to be organised effectively to a stabilising end. In the absence of such a concept of government and governance, this would be, I would argue, the first time that Britain has conceived of a Grand Strategy that is truly British and not a reaction to somebody else's.

  Q5  Chair: The Cabinet Office says of course that Grand Strategy is a term that is falling into disuse and is no longer appropriate.

  Professor Julian Lindley-French: Well, I would argue that they would say that, wouldn't they? Because they would argue that it's a way of ensuring bureaucratic control over what is essentially a political process.

  Q6  Chair: Professor Strachan?

  Professor Hew Strachan: I was just going to say that if you read British Defence Doctrine, Grand Strategy was at one stage written out on the grounds that it sounded too imperial; it's now been written back in essentially because it was concluded that you did need the sort of intellectual framework that that provides. So I think that there is a recognition that there is a problem here and which is itself part of the challenge. The Grand Strategy is a problem and represents a problem; part of the difficulty, as I'm sure you're well aware, and I dare say we'll come on to this discussion, is to find, not only an intellectual focus, which is largely where we've been so far, but also an institutional focus.

  Q7  Chair: And would you agree that what became known as—it was driven by the military—the comprehensive approach, was actually a failed attempt to substitute something for Grand Strategy?

  Professor Hew Strachan: I absolutely agree it has elements of that and the problem of course was that it came with MoD stamped all over it; so it was very hard to use that as a basis for a common set of assumptions across government departments. In a way, the comprehensive approach was the military also speaking to itself, the recognition of a need for a such a thing and, at the same time, a somewhat unwilling recognition that they would have to do 90% of the delivery because they were going to have to do things they wouldn't otherwise define as military.

  Q8  Chair: National Security Strategy—does that say enough? Is that a broad enough term?

  Professor Peter Hennessy: There is also the new National Security Council (NSC) on which I'm very keen—Professor Strachan is the expert on the Committee of Imperial Defence, which is a 1902-1904 idea with better IT. That's what the NSC is: it's the Committee of Imperial Defence under another name. It would be tactless to call it that again, but that's what it is. I do think its hour has come again, but it won't work, however, it won't rise to the level of events, unless it broadens this notion of strategy. Whether they call it "Grand" or not doesn't matter. When you look at the ingredients that feed into the NSC, as they were meant to into the National Security, International Relations and Development Cabinet Committee (NSID) that Gordon Brown set up, it's much, much wider than anything we've ever had, ever probably, certainly since World War II, when the whole war effort had to—it's like MRD Foot used to say, "total war is like the sea, it's one", you can't separate home and overseas, you can't separate the theatres. The NSC, if its remit is to be believed, and I do believe that that is what it wants to do, has to rise to the level of the events, not just in institutional terms, but in appreciating the widths of the inputs and the blending of the inputs, and how it's handled, and how it's integrated. It's going to be very hard work for both the ministers and officials to make it work. But so far the signs are quite promising in terms of the attention level: as you know, it meets every Tuesday after Cabinet and the Prime Minister, if he's here, chairs it, all of which is crucial. The papers are good, I'm told, and all the rest of it. It's got to be a step change if it's to fulfil its promise, which I really hope it will do because the level of events does need rising to. Perhaps we will come on to this, but we really do need for them to think in strategic terms, but if the Cabinet Office has said "Grand Strategy, we don't conceive of it in those terms anymore", well, it should.

  Professor Julian Lindley-French: I would question whether the NSC is sufficiently powerful in relation to the four power ministries: Foreign, Defence, Department for International Development (DFID), and the Home Office. That is critical because ultimately, it is a national effort across government and that will require fundamental changes. I really wonder, looking at the National Security Strategy, whether it actually leads to any planning traction across government and that will be the true test.

  Q9  Chair: But doesn't that depend upon this problem of definition that the language that people use in various different departments, has got to be homogenised and created as a single idiom of thought? Otherwise people keep talking at cross purposes.

  Professor Hew Strachan: One of the key difficulties, I think, here, just signalling the point of language, is that even within the Ministry of Defence—this is not an attack on the main building specifically but applies; let me reiterate, this across the piece—as far as the armed services are concerned, strategy is too often seen simply as the planning process. Planning is obviously what staff colleges train you to do, quite rightly, but strategy itself is, not only wider than the purely military, at least in the terms in which we're talking about it, but also crucially as its first stage the identification of questions and problems. The tendency in the planning process is to think through to the solution, but there's an earlier stage. That is why it is inherently difficult for government to do it. It's not that it shouldn't do it, but it's why it's difficult because the tendency and, I think probably Peter Hennessy will be able to speak about this much more directly, the tendency is to go to the solution as quickly as you possibly can, because, of course, you want results and you want something that looks immediately attractive and promises a quick outcome. There is the other side. Mention has already been made of the Committee of Imperial Defence. One of the problems about the Committee of Imperial Defence was that, although it had many of the attributes of the National Security Council, it was an advisory committee only, an advisory committee to the Cabinet, and crucially its agenda remained remarkably focused and narrow, compared with the sort of security agenda we now have. It seems to me if the NSC today is to have a role, then it needs to think, "What are the bits that lock into it?". At the moment it exists in isolation. Where is the thinking part of the NSC? Where is the point where you actually think about strategy? You could identify possible agencies. You could ask for example; what is the relationship between the NSC and the Royal College of Defence Studies? Could a relationship be forged between these two? Should the NSC have its own staff of people who actually think more coherently and more consistently about strategy. And without that thinking, what do you actually do with the constituent ministries that might also contribute to national security, it's very hard to see how to proceed. And it's indicative in that context that we're here in this committee when we could equally well be talking about exactly the same issues to the Defence Committee or the Foreign Affairs Committee.

  Professor Julian Lindley-French: I think there is a very important point here, mainly with respect to my work with senior officers, but also the Civil Service; I'm always surprised that at above two-star level, be it civilian or military, it's assumed that strategy is understood; there is no education for strategy. The Committee of Imperial Defence took place at a time when Britain was an imperial power: strategy by definition was on the table every day. Much of our effort for the last 50 or 60 years has been European focused, very regional and suddenly we're being asked to step up to a global role at a time of great financial stress. I suspect that it is not a problem of government that we can't think strategically; it's a problem of education. I do strongly believe that one could use existing institutions like RCDS, Defence Academy, National School of Government, to start preparing people from politicians through to senior civil servants, who are very management, rather than strategy focused, on the essentials of strategy in a contemporary world. We cannot assume that there is a grasp of this at the higher levels of government or institutions in this country any more.

  Professor Peter Hennessy: I can help here. I thought for a long time since the NSID cabinet committee was created by Gordon Brown when he became Prime Minister in June 2007 that we needed one of those capability reviews, as they're now called, to look at the relationship between NSID's width, and now the NSC's width, and the providing departments and agencies right across the piece, from the first line of defence, which is "C"'s agents in the field to the last line of defence which is HMS Victorious on patrol this morning somewhere in the North Atlantic, with politico-military, trade and aid, diplomacy, soft power, BBC Overseas Service, British Council, and the money, BIS and Treasury, the whole lot in between. You need a review of the relationship of all these providers to the proper flow of material to the NSC, but also with the strategic question being asked at the time. There is only one bit that's had a capability review, since NSID was formed, and that was Ciaran Martin's review of the relationship between the Cabinet Office and the intelligence agencies. But the rest of it is unexamined. It's as if, by re-badging at the top, they would somehow adapt themselves, and I don't think that's enough. If we're going to have a chance at this strategic mentalite, it's not just language, it's a state of mind, really, that we're talking about. If we're going to nurture that state of mind, you need everything that Julian has said, and Hew has said, about the staff colleges and all the rest of it, but also you need a review of the special linkages, otherwise it won't fly. The great virtue of NSC so far compared to NSID is that at least it meets; the full NSID very, very rarely met. It went down into its sub-groups, which is just the same as the old model, but NSC actually does meet, so the prospects for what you're doing are increased by the fact that at least it is at work. So a reason to be cheerful.

  Professor Julian Lindley-French: Critical in this whole process of course—

  Chair: We must move on as there are a lot more questions. Charlie Elphicke.

  Q10  Charlie Elphicke: I also saw the military owned security side of the Government machine as, if you like, a tool of the implementation of wider national policy, wider national purpose, which goes far behind the whole issue of security and military matters—the implementation tools. I read with interest the article recently of General Newton in the RUSI journal. He starts this article, he and others, saying "We don't have a national strategy", which I take again as slightly wider to mean, that we don't have a general national purpose, national aim and national direction. Would you agree with that and what would you say that sense of purpose or wider strategy should be?

  Professor Julian Lindley-French: First of all, I would agree with that. Second, the consequences of agreeing with that are what you see in the British armed forces today: basically a country that has tried to follow American Grand Strategy, an activist one, and rightly so, but on British resources; a government that is by and large on a peace time footing while the armed forces are at war; and a classic attempt to muddle through without properly considering the generation and organisation of the means required to be successful in any given venture. That will have to change. That in a sense is what we mean by Grand Strategy, which is the organisation of far greater national means across government. The sadness of all this for me is that right now this country looks far weaker in the wider world. I live on the continent. I had one very senior Dutch politician tell me that the British have gone soft. If the Dutch are saying that, then there must be a problem. The tragedy for all of us is that Britain looks far weaker than it is, as does the West, and that encourages our adversaries—take Iran, I'm not going to mention China, but these kinds of countries—to miscalculate. Grand Strategy at this point isn't just about organisation; it's about sending out a narrative, an intent, to allies, partners, and adversaries as well as publics—to say "because of difficulties we are engaging, not disengaging". My great fear for the whole SDSR debate, which is military-focused, is that it gives the impression of a cliff edge. It gives the impression that there is this age of austerity and there is nothing beyond that. In fact, looking at the figures of debt, Britain's national debt at the moment is relatively small compared with the national debt between 1920 and 1955, 30% to 40% of GDP compared with 130%. The narrative that we've created by not having a stated Grand Strategy is one of weakness, exaggerating our weaknesses and communicating that weakness to others. If for no other reason, such a statement would put that right.

  Professor Hew Strachan: Just to go back to the issue of the National Security Strategy and the National Security Council, which is where I thought your question was leading, there is a mismatch between rhetoric and means here. The language of globalisation used in the National Security Strategy of 2008 essentially confronts us with a range of problems, such as climate change, migration, the ills of the world in general and the threats that might face the world in future, as though those are specifically the national interests of the United Kingdom. What strategy should be doing is to identify more closely what are genuinely national interests, and to express them—in national terms. They could relate to many of those wider phenomena. At the same time strategy has to match that bigger picture with where we put our resources. At the moment, we're in a situation where we talk in global terms—and we have not properly debated whether that's appropriate or not. On the other hand, we're really only willing to put in the resources of a medium rank European power and this is the nub of the debate in terms of where Grand Strategy should be going and the nub of the debate for the NSC.

  Professor Peter Hennessy: I think Julian's reply to Mr Elphicke's question has really put his finger on it. The way possibly to audit this from the outside is to ask yourself where all the nervous energy is going at the moment? The nervous energy is going into getting by, not even muddling through. One of the reasons for attempting to go to a Grand Strategy is that it can be a bit of an antidote to excessive mood swings. I'm not Pollyanna about anything really—I'm too old for that; once you get beyond 60, just getting by is the norm—but it really can help in this area.

  Chairman, there is one question that is lurking that nobody has asked yet, though maybe one of you is going to, so forgive me if I'm being presumptuous. It's that we're all assuming that Britain cannot contemplate just being a mediocre, second-rate, former great power tucked up inside a huge regional organisation.

  Professor Julian Lindley-French: A super-Belgium.

  Professor Peter Hennessy: Yes, Belgium with a nuke. We're not considering that any of us perhaps, but maybe it will come up in a minute. The assumption is that it's no longer wider still and wider for our beloved county, but we we ain't out of the business yet; and if we have cunning plans of Baldrickian proportions, even though we have no money and bugger all kit, we can somehow still move Johnny Foreigner in ways that Johnny Foreigner doesn't entirely want to be moved. Now, that's the assumption of everything that we've talked about so far; I don't know if that's your assumption. Actually, I don't mind it. I'm not a wider still and wider chap, although Cambridge historical tripos, when I took it, trained you to be a District Commissioner or a spy and nothing else. I'm not a wider still and wider person, but I am very keen that we should maintain as much influence as we can in the world, because, by and large, I think with some terrible aberrations, which we all know about in 2003, we do bring decency and, above all, a sense of due process, to international affairs. On the rare occasions where we do the reverse of bringing due process to international affairs, the world is the poorer for it. So I'm very keen on this assumption, but it is an assumption that has suffused everything we've said so far—including your questions.

  Professor Julian Lindley-French: It's a very strange debate for me, if I may just have a quick word on this, because, living abroad, I'm always surprised how the British seem to think they're far weaker than they are these days. We're the fifth or sixth largest economy in the world, the second biggest cash spender on defence still—obviously that will probably change fairly shortly. We're simply too big to hide from friction in the world. What I see from much of Europe—from my talk to the French and the Germans last week, for example—is that there is really an opportunity through a grand strategic statement for Britain to lead, and yet we seem to have lost the plot there. We seem to have said that we're broke and that's it, we now give up. For me that is why, as Peter rightly says, a Grand Strategy is an antidote to self-defeatism which I find all over the place in this town every time I visit. So, it's not just a structural issue.

  Q11  Charlie Elphicke: I absolutely agree that underpinning my thinking is a sense that I get from my constituents that, frankly, they're sick and tired of the mediocrity, and there is too much mediocrity in this nation, not enough sense of purpose, not enough sense of direction, not enough sense of national heave and where we should go. I guess the question is, in terms of—and it's not military, it's trade: who are our trading partners; we've got trading with Europe going on, and a lot of us want to trade with China and India, then we have a military strategy that is tied up with America, and then we have this whole global thing like climate change issues going, so there is a sort of dissipation of purpose and clarity about where we should go. Should we capture that clarity as a country and how should we conduct that kind of process?

  Professor Julian Lindley-French: Well, like it or not, Britain has global trading interests. That is what ultimately drives the shape of your security policy, military and civil. We will have to be clever in how we secure those. At the centre of that will be influence through institutions and through reinvestment in a diplomatic service that is currently depressed into the tool it should be to shape events and structures though institutions. By the way, Britain has a particular genius for leveraging the interests of others in pursuit of our own objectives. Above all, that takes political leadership. You can organise government all you like, but strategy is an essentially political process that comes from the top and unless that injection of ambition is there, rather than the current narrative of doom and gloom, then I fear that Britain will lose that influence critical to its interests.

  Q12  Chair: We're going to have to get through our questions much faster and the answers are going to have to be shorter. Professor Strachan.

  Professor Hew Strachan: This is a short answer. I think we're confusing policy and strategy; I think we're in danger of going down exactly the same rabbit hole that we've just been criticising. We need to be clear conceptually of the distinction between the two.

  Q13  Chair: Well, if you can make sure that we get a paragraph in our report which distinguishes between the two I will be eternally grateful to you. Charlie, are you finished?

  Charlie Elphicke: Yes, thank you.

  Chair: Paul Flynn.

  Paul Flynn: Professor Hennessy, I am eternally grateful to you for giving a possible title to our report; it would be an arresting one if we call it, "An Antidote to the Bollocks" and I will press for that.

  Professor Peter Hennessy: I look forward to it.

  Paul Flynn: You quote the definition by Sir Michael Quinlan about this subject: "A theorem in matters of military contingency: The expected, precisely because it is expected is not to be expected. Rationale: What we expect we plan and provide for. What we plan and provide for, we therefore deter. What we deter doesn't happen. What does happen is what we did not deter because we did not plan and provide for it because we did not expect it." Now, I think that could be summed up as saying running around in ever decreasing circles and finally disappearing into a dark orifice and it does strike one with the futility of a Grand Strategy. Is a practical, useful Grand Strategy as elusive and unattainable as discovering the meaning of life?

  Professor Peter Hennessy: That was, I think, pretty well the last thing the great Sir Michael Quinlan wrote and I call it Quinlan's Law. There is a lot in it but it's not a reason for just saying, "To hell with it! The world is impossible to predict. Even the best intelligence analysis produced by the Joint Intelligence Committee assessment staff can't get it" and so on and just reacting. If you do want the UK, in the overused phrase of Douglas Hurd, to punch heavier than its weight in the world, there are certain preconditions for that. One is us being greater than the sum of our parts in the ministerial and the departmental input and all the rest of it, as well as the wider political nation that are interested in these things. But if you do assume you want to cut a dash in the world, that is, to some degree, out of proportion to your wealth, kit, size of population and all the rest of it, then you have to be guileful. You have to have as a good a system for horizon scanning as you possibly can, with all the necessary caveats. For example, we haven't talked about it yet, but the one that I find the most helpful was an institutionalisation of something that was done in the last defence review, the DCDC people at Shrivenham, the "Shrivenham Scans" as I call them, I find them absolutely fascinating. As far as I can see, they produce—

  Q14  Chair: DCDC?

  Professor Julian Lindley-French: Development Concepts and Doctrine Centre.

  Professor Peter Hennessy: That's right, exactly. And they produced a very good one, the bulk of which was made public in time for this review and, as far as I can see, it's having no salience at all in the way the SDSR is being cut—yet another example of an own goal and being less than the sum of our parts. But I'm not defeatist in the way that you might—I suspect you're teasing me on this because you're not an opt out of the world man either, are you? It's not for me to ask you questions.

  Q15  Paul Flynn: I don't share the view that you expressed about Britain. Like almost any nation on earth, Britain believes it has some virtues that it has to spread wider and wider when instead it would probably be more rational to accept our position in the world and become narrower and narrower. Every nation from North Korea to North America would say that they had unique virtues that they had to spread worldwide. If you take the practicality of having a Grand Strategy, then the one we were linked up to in recent years was the project for the new American century, which had this vision—we shouldn't use that word—the view of a whole century that was going to be blessed by the benign influence of one superpower that would be led by the wisdom of Bush, Cheney and Halliburton. We signed up to that and got ourselves involved with two wars.

  Professor Peter Hennessy: A Prime Minster did, and a few members of his immensely supine Cabinet, but you didn't sign up for it for one minute.

  Q16  Paul Flynn: I know I didn't. The country, the Prime Minister, went into two wars because we were following America blind. We didn't have an independent foreign policy. I mean we have an independent nuclear deterrent, but we don't have an independent foreign policy in that way. That's the story of the last decade. If we had a Grand Strategy written down somewhere, the decisions would be taken—not on a rational basis, not on a basis of evidence—it would be based on the need of the Prime Minster to get a drip feed of adulation every day from the tabloid press. Thatcher wouldn't be bound by a Grand Strategy. Is this really seeking for a Holy Grail that we'll never find? If we do find it, it will turn to ashes.

  Professor Peter Hennessy: The Holy Grail is a very useful concept for your entire inquiry because we've been looking for something like this since the Committee of Imperial Defence first met, before it was made permanent, in 1902, so we've got 108 years of looking for this Holy Grail in institutional terms, but always, throughout my lifetime, we've been making the best of an increasingly difficult fist. This is the eighth defence review, if not the ninth in my own lifetime. The first one didn't leak: we realised it had taken place after 31 years when the papers were declassified, but this is the ninth defence review. They're all in tough circumstances. They all pretend to be taking a strategic look and very few of them do, so there are a lot of Holy Grails here. But I think it is slightly unfair—I can't believe I'm saying this—to say that the Blair Cabinet signed up to the project for an American century. You're using the kind of language—I hope I don't sound disrespectful—that Mr Blair was rather prone to use.

  Paul Flynn: Oh dear Lord.

  Professor Peter Hennessy: Millenarian, you know.

  Q17  Chair: Professor Hennessy, I don't want to get diverted too much on to personalities, but I think there are two very important questions in what Mr Flynn raises.

  Paul Flynn: I'm quaking with indignation at being compared to that contemptible charlatan that you mentioned, which is now more apparent from his confessions in his book. Embarking on the Iraq war was influenced by the belief that the world was in a fine place when America and Britain were working together. If we look at the way that policy is made in this country, and I think I take a more cynical view than you do on this, you see that most policies, like policy on drugs, for instance, is completely evidence-free. It is rich in prejudice but there is no question of ever looking into results and we have had some 40 years of error, disaster, tragedies, deaths as a result of such policies by all countries. We don't compare it with what's happening in other countries like Portugal or Holland, but we carry on with that. What is going to change it? What is going to persuade any government to escape from their addiction to daily adulation in order to keep their popularity up?

  Professor Julian Lindley-French: I think it is going to be forced upon you and I think it is going to be forced upon the UK by the Americans. Harold Wilson in 1968 said no to Vietnam and he was prepared to pay a political price for that. The Americans feel—I'm off to Washington again shortly—that we're no longer the ally of first resort that we once were because of performance in Iraq and Afghanistan, and that because of our position financially, we may have to say no for other reasons. Now, saying no to the Americans will have consequences. But I go back to the point I made earlier which was, looking from abroad, I do think that the British mustn't undersell themselves because we are seen by many as being a particular nation in the stable future of the international system. We have no evangelical role, as such, but we do have a particular reputation that is worth preserving and ultimately this comes down, not to trying to exaggerate British power, but to getting the balance between effectiveness and efficiency right. I would argue that the way that British Government is structured makes Grand Strategy virtually impossible and therefore makes effectiveness virtually impossible because it's a series of fiefdoms that are not particularly focused on any set of national aims and objectives.

  Q18  Chair: In what Mr Flynn is asking you there are two nubs, one is Grand Strategy: is it hubris to pretend that we can control things we can't control? Secondly, are we too small a country now to have a Grand Strategy?

  Paul Flynn: The hubris has led to more than 500 deaths, 1,500 serious injuries in Iraq and Afghanistan because Tony Blair wanted to see us walk tall in the world. And it is ostensibly—

  Chair: Professor Strachan, Grand Strategy.   Professor Hew Strachan: Can I just come in on this very point? The debate about 2003 highlights what I think we're trying to get at, which is that because we didn't have a coherent idea of our own strategy, we were unable to engage sensibly with the United States in terms of what our priorities were, as opposed to what the United States' priorities were. It may be that our priorities were and are identical with the United States'; that's fine, but we didn't actually seem to think that process through. So the first point I would make is that. The second point I would make is that the purpose of strategy is, in some sense, to be prudential, to try and be long term in its focus, to try to think through how the future might look. The reality is, as 2003 suggested, or, going back, as 9/11 suggested, that contingency tends to get in the way and therefore political pressures quite naturally put pressure on strategy to change and go in different directions. That leads us on to the Quinlan problem and the point about what Michael Quinlan was saying is that you hope that strategy, and deterrence as an offshoot of strategy, will have some effect in shaping and minimising the role the unexpected can play, and therefore the opportunity for short-term contingency to put you totally off course. But don't imagine that contingency isn't going to be a vital part of strategy-making because the political will always present strategy with the unexpected. That is the nub of the relationship and why we need to distinguish between policy and strategy.

  Q19  Paul Flynn: What he's saying is we can deter what we expect, but we cannot deter the unexpected. So, what we're looking for in a Grand Strategy is utopian compared to the experience of the last—

  Professor Julian Lindley-French: It's simply the ability to adjust, adapt and augment. It's really about the centre of gravity of your effort. If you don't understand—

  Q20  Paul Flynn: And how do you get the unexpected into the Grand Strategy?

  Professor Julian Lindley-French: Because history would establish basically four sets of different scenarios that are likely to happen at any one time given circumstances. Now you make a judgment over your main effort, about where it should be—at the moment it is counterterrorism—based on your strategic judgment at that time. What you must not to do is sacrifice the ability to change and adapt in light of change. My concern about the way the Government is currently structured is that loss of flexibility; that is perhaps most damning.

  Professor Peter Hennessy: Can I just say one thing in support of Mr Flynn, actually because I do respect what he says and get us away from 2003. The difficulty of the unexpected is illustrated—Michael Quinlan was involved in this—by 1966, when the big carrier to replace the existing ones was cancelled, scrapped. It's the sort of debate we're having now. If somebody had said in those discussions in 1966, which led to two resignations—the First Sea Lord and the Minister for the Navy—"Come forward to 1982. We're going to need a carrier-based task force to go 8,000 miles into the south Atlantic to reclaim the Falklands", the person who said that, at the very least, would have been offered counselling. It's part of the problem of the life, but I do respect what you say and I know what's motivating you in saying it, but we must be careful of letting 2003, for all the lividness of that scar, overshadow us too much. In some ways it can't overshadow us too much, but for the purposes of this debate, if we're too 2003-centred, we could be in a bit of trouble .

  Q21  Chair: Nick de Bois.

  Nick de Bois: Thank you, I'm going to move it on a little bit and talk about the skills and capacity for making strategy. Given that there seems to be a view that we haven't had Grand Strategy for a while, the Cabinet Office, in its submission to us, said that one of the key requirements in the Civil Service is the ability for strategic thinking. Would you agree with the Cabinet Office in that statement that it is actually a valued skill? If it is a valued skill, I suspect that you might say that that doesn't sit comfortably with the fact that we've lacked a Grand Strategy.

  Professor Peter Hennessy: I suspect that their use of "strategic thinking" is not the kind of notions that you're working on. Again, it's the management consultant nonsense: everybody has vision, everybody has a strategy. Both words have been almost entirely debauched and because of the overflow of managerialism, over a very long time now in Whitehall, the way they use the word strategy is not as in the Michael Howard study of World War II Grand Strategy, that Hew has written wonderfully about, for a large part of the last century. It's something much more narrow and meagre and management consultant contaminated. So when they come and give you evidence, I think you should probe them, with your customary courtesy, on that because I have a feeling that that is nonsense on stilts too.

  Professor Julian Lindley-French: I would like to reinforce that; I think they probably mean "management", when they talk "strategy". There are very good reasons for that. The British Civil Service traditionally dislikes French Enarque grand dessein, which is implied in Grand Strategy, but to have Grand Strategy, a bureaucratic elite needs to be challenged in its thinking internally and externally. Strategic management from the Civil Service point of view has been really about the control of information. I would argue that in fact we are now involved in a knowledge war, where intelligence and government information are all very well, but without understanding the context of that knowledge it's very hard to make informed strategic decisions. So broadening out their community, if you like, to inform their leadership is a critical aspect of Grand Strategy.

  Q22  Nick de Bois: In many ways, if we accept your suggestion that strategy in the Civil Service is really talking about management and that is inherent throughout every department, are we effectively in a position where any drive for strategy and ultimately a Grand Strategy within the Civil Service is going to be totally bottom-led as opposed to top-down? The preference is that it should come more from government ministers and leadership to set the strategy. Are we are effectively seeing bottom-led strategy within the departments?

  Professor Julian Lindley-French: I think in the absence of an American style think-tank culture inside the Beltway—what you see in Washington is this constant interaction between political leadership, think-tanks and bureaucracy to constantly test ideas and to establish frameworks for policy and management; we don't have that here—the tendency is to always control information and pull it towards the bureaucracy which prevents that, if you like, market-led reality test. That's a fundamental if we are to move it above management to the genuine consideration of strategy.

  Professor Peter Hennessy: You tend only to get what you are seeking and what we're seeking, I think, if there's a real constraint that is self-evident, like the need to prevail in a total war or when Ernest Bevin, Mr Attlee and A V Alexander and others, and Whitehall generally between 1945 and 1948-49 when NATO was created, had to react to events in Eastern Europe and some really menacing, although not entirely readable, intentions on the part of Stalin in the Kremlin. That produced a reaction which became a Cold War secret state and a certain set of strategic assumptions and prisms through which a great many questions were addressed. In the absence of that, it needs a Prime Minster to do it, particularly if it's a multiplicity of anxieties. The last time I think it was done, in terms of the archive I've worked in, was when Harold Macmillan in June 1959, in immense secrecy, called Sir Patrick Dean, Chairman of the Joint Intelligence Committee, to Chequers and said we need a study, no holds barred, of where Britain will be by 1970 on current policies. It's the whole lot: society, economy, place in the world, future of the remaining empire, Britain and Europe, the relationship with the United States, can we afford nuclear weapons, all of it. They did a remarkable piece of work and it was so realistic and so therefore pessimistic in those circumstances, because of our over-extension, that the Cabinet paper was pulled from full Cabinet discussion at the last minute in February 1960. It's declassified now. The "Future Policy Study", you might want to send for it to the National Archives because it's an extraordinarily good piece of work and it went into a little Cabinet committee. Mr Macmillan consoled himself because it was all so difficult by saying, "Very often, the best periods in our history have been not when we've been in charge of the world. It's our language, our culture, our literature." You always collapse into the sleeping bag of soft power when you haven't got the faintest idea of what to do. But it was the last serious attempt to do it on the scale that I think is required and it took a Prime Minster who had that state of mind. Macmillan had that state of mind and it's pure chance if you get one. And you know the Prime Minister far better than I do, Chairman, and you will know whether he is that sort of a chap or not, but if he isn't, it is going to remain extremely difficult for this to happen to any degree.   Professor Julian Lindley-French: Just a quick point on that Chairman. Every single instrument of this country's influence is in crisis: the EU, NATO, the United States. The bureaucracy is primarily focused on the Comprehensive Spending Review, for understandable reasons, but the mismatch between the change out there, the decline in our influence tools; and our own internal focus on cuts at a critical moment makes it incumbent that we move beyond a management culture.

  Q23  Nick de Bois: Is that a lack of confidence in ourselves now, particularly since some argue, as I think all three of you were arguing earlier, that because we've tied ourselves so closely to the US in the military and to the EU economically, we've effectively lost the confidence, if you like, to add up all the individual strengths we've got and to pack a punch above our weight? Is there a lack of confidence and is it that we may have tied ourselves too closely to the others that may have led to that?

  Professor Hew Strachan: Putting the historian's hat on, as Peter and I might most naturally do, I think part of the issue is: what is it that actually generates the capacity and appetite to think strategically. In Britain's case, the empire certainly did, which was why the Committee for Imperial Defence existed: there was a real problem of imperial defence, so there was a real issue to tackle. The appetite for strategic thought is often associated with national crisis. I have to say that last year I was quite optimistic that Britain had reached such a point. Perhaps that optimism is reflected in the fact that this committee is addressing this issue. The combination of financial crisis and the recognition of the points you have just made, prompt the moment when you sit down and try to think through what strategy is and what you should be trying to do with it. That thinking tends not to happen in times of relative stability, relative peace and relative superiority. The United States is also having similar sorts of debates because however much you may think it is better on the other side of the Atlantic, they're less convinced than we are that it is. I think there are opportunities; the issue is whether, when those opportunities arise, the institutions to give effect to the thinking can come in to being. Our difficulty is that at the moment, institutionally, we've disaggregated the capacity to do this. We mentioned the DCDC. What happened there was that the function of strategy within the Ministry of Defence, which is one of the core owners—not the only owner of the process, but the core owner—was put out of the main building to Shrivenham, and physically divorced from the centre. That institution now finds itself doing at least two or three competing tasks. One is writing doctrine, which is entirely different from what we're talking about, but which has become conflated with it. The second issue was whether it is dealing with immediate and short term issues—how the armed forces are employed today, and what they're doing—or long-term strategic trends, some of which are extremely important for the security of the United Kingdom. Some of them fall into what I think Professor Hennessy would call a Pollyannaish moment—only in this case probably in reverse, because strategic trends tend to emphasise the bad news rather than the good news. Strategic trends stress those things that are likely to happen to the world, but not much of what they do really focuses on what the United Kingdom is trying to do. It's extraordinary that DCDC is at Shrivenham, at that distance, (quite apart from the other things that have happened to it), rather than in London and central to the processes that we're talking about. Professor Hennessy mentioned just now the publication last year of a document called "The Future Character of Conflict", which was designed to address precisely what its title says, but its arguments are nowhere evident in current thinking in relation to strategy, let alone in relation to the Strategic Defence and Security Review.

  Q24  Chair: We will come back to capacity later on. Are you finished Nick? Greg Mulholland.

  Greg Mulholland: I want to turn the focus specifically on the changes that the new coalition Government has made that are clearly relevant here. I think we found it interesting in the written evidence supplied by the Cabinet Office that Grand Strategy was no longer a term in widespread usage. They then went onto to say that the NSC is therefore developing a National Security Strategy that starts with a definition of national interest based on an analysis of the UK's place in the world and covering all aspects of security and defence, a slightly narrower definition. Do you think this actually presents an opportunity or a problem for having a genuine Grand Strategy?

  Professor Hew Strachan: It's an opportunity.

  Professor Peter Hennessy: Yes, it is.

  Professor Julian Lindley-French: But it depends: if it's another exercise in recognising only as much threat as we think we can afford, which is always the danger of these exercises, then it will fail. If it's really willing to push the envelope with external advice across the range of potential risks and threats, then it has a chance of establishing policy within a correct framework, but it still seems a very narrow intellectual exercise.

  Professor Peter Hennessy: I don't think it goes wide enough because it is driven by—It's a good development, though I must admit I think it would be very hard for any of us, even though we're very close to all this, to quote a single paragraph from the two National Security Strategies we've had already. Hardly any of it has stuck to the Velcro of memory and we're meant to be animated by these things. It's hardly been noticed in the press or anywhere else. It was necessary. It is funny that I remember at the time thinking that we'd acquired and disposed of an empire, fought in two total wars and were on the winning side in the Cold War over 40 years but never felt the need to write down anything on these lines. A lot of it suffered from the linguistic contamination, a kind of Pollyannaism writ large. Then it would stagger to hard pol-mil, real stuff and then come back to wishful DFID thinking. David Miliband's foreign policy refresh was very much along those same lines. That's not to say that it wasn't a good initiative of Gordon Brown's, and we've only had the two, but I hope this one goes wider. One of the things we need to think about is that I think the intention of the coalition is to have only two in the space of a Parliament, rather an annual one. If it is only going to be two in the space of a Parliament, then I think it needs to go much wider. It needs to have that width that Macmillan's inquiry had in 1959-60, otherwise it excludes a great many of the real weather makers about our country, its place in the world, and its prospects.

  Professor Julian Lindley-French: It still smacks at times of a desperate military trying to persuade the rest of Whitehall to get its act together that somehow this stuff really has not gained much traction in other ministries who are more concerned about the funding allocations. It's almost as if we've yet to cross the threshold where we've perceived sufficient friction to warrant more cohesion and I wonder if this exercise will do it. I would prefer, unlike the 1930s, or, indeed, the first decade of the last century, there to be some element of planning in our response to uncertainty, that is strategic judgment: to have some sense of the parameters of our future effort. I fear that once again there will be a strategic shock before we do make that real effort to break down the bureaucratic boundaries between ministries.

  Q25  Greg Mulholland: Do you think that the new framework that has been set up and trumpeted is broadly the right one? I know, Professor Hennessy, you've raised concerns about the regularity of meetings, for example, but is the new National Security Secretariat the right framework for delivering that, and, if not, what would be a better one?

  Professor Peter Hennessy: That's a very interesting question because the secretariats needed tidying up. There was a whole load of overlapping ones, which as the diagram that Oliver Letwin sent the Chairman shows, come together, which was the first step. But in terms of this inquiry, where is the thinking capacity? There are some very clever people in those secretariats, the best and the brightest that Whitehall can provide in this generation, across several generations, but are the best and brightest of them doing more than fire-fighting in these circumstances, particularly with the Comprehensive Spending Review? What proportion of their working week, let alone their working day, can they put into the intellectual R&D that is necessary to give us a chance of getting to where I think this committee wants this country to go? The best and the brightest in Whitehall are inevitably in the fire-fighting positions because that is what happens. The danger is if you put them into a bespoke kind of think-tank, they don't feel that they're in the swim of things because they're not part of the secretariat at the Cabinet committees, and all the rest of it, not writing the brief for ministers for particular casework of the NSC. But it would take a particularly self-confident and determined Prime Minister to say, "Out of all this, I want a core thinking capacity and a reasonably high proportion of the best people in the generations now in Whitehall, and in the military, and in the armed forces and in the intelligence agencies, I want deployed on this fusion approach to knowledge and possibility rather than the fission approach."

  Professor Julian Lindley-French: I think part of the problem is that there is no equivalent of the Senate Armed Forces Committee or Senate Foreign Relations Committee driving the process forward from the purely parliamentary level as it were. There needs to be much more direct parliamentary involvement in ensuring that that momentum towards convergence at the top of bureaucracies, prime ministerial leadership and a genuine willingness to consider our basic assumptions for future strategic planning with insiders and outsiders. That is exactly what happens in Washington, that interaction between staffers, the committees, the bureaucracy, and the political process, which frankly this town lacks.

  Professor Hew Strachan: That comes back to the point I made earlier about institutions, that logically we should be talking to a House of Commons National Security Committee because that would then mirror the creation of the NSC and you would be relating exactly to what the NSC would be doing. Logically, we should also be thinking about how exactly you put the thinking part into the NSC. The NSC secretariat is not that thinking part. I think it's incredibly hard for anybody actively in the Cabinet Office or indeed any other Department of State currently to approach a topic in the terms in which we're imagining it would have to be approached, because government departments have a different mode of operating on a day-to-day basis. If you operate on the basis of the e-mail in front of you, then your capacity to sit back and reflect and get a sense of distance over time is affected—I mean distance both in terms of a context as to where you have come from and a sense of where you might be going to—and a sensitivity to what is really changing, as opposed to what seems to be changing because of the hype in today's papers or the current debate in Parliament. These are all the attributes that you need to be able to put into this process for it to have any sense. And to that extent it has to be both removed and also linked in. I'm not just deliberately speaking in paradoxes, although paradoxes capture the point. We're told that General Petraeus is particularly good at putting thinking time into his day; he tells his staff that he must actually clear time where he stops. I hope each of us manages at some point in the day to do the metaphorical equivalent, whether it's sitting on a train, walking the dog, or having a bath. But there needs to be a moment when actually you get some sense of perspective, rather than being driven by immediacy. The problem within the Cabinet Office, and also I suspect within the NSC secretariat, is that the immediate drives out the considered. It is getting that consideration into the process, something which is not just hampered by the current culture within government, but also by its mechanisms of working.   Professor Peter Hennessy: There is one quote that might help your report Chairman on this as a stimulus. With the money running out, you might have thought that this would help create a climate for this. I can never trace this quote, but if I remember this correctly it's Sir Lawrence Bragg, director of the Cavendish Laboratory in Cambridge. He called them all in, and they were nearly all men in those days and he said, "Gentlemen, we've run out money. Now is the time to think". That is a very useful maxim for all this.

  Q26  Chair: Before I come to Kevin Brennan, may I concentrate on this question of capacity and oversight? Are you saying that there is a lack of some central organisation that has the capacity for strategic thinking, not just generating a single document but sustaining and adapting that strategic thinking in the light of the e-mails that are coming in? Is there a lack of a central secretariat?

  Professor Peter Hennessy: I can't see where it is. I can't detect it.

  Professor Hew Strachan: Absolutely. The Cabinet Office is logically where it should be situated but of course the Cabinet Office is relatively light and mean, compared with other government departments. It doesn't necessarily see itself in this role. Crucially, the consequence at the moment of having the Cabinet Office do the job, is not necessarily to create a central form of thinking—if it has that capacity—but more often to create another government department to generate increased friction with the remaining ministries.

  Q27  Chair: So does what is in the Cabinet Office therefore need to be an outpost of something more independent, more collegiate, more intellectual?

  Professor Hew Strachan: Well, you're talking to academics, so of course we'll say yes to that.

  Professor Peter Hennessy: You need some rough trade in there as well, some very awkward people, not just smoothies like us.

  Q28  Chair: But if it was all located at Whitehall, it would all be caught up in the day-to-day pressures. Shouldn't we have the royal strategic establishment or something like that?

  Professor Hew Strachan: This is where something I've already mentioned, the Royal College of Defence Studies comes in. It doesn't have to be the RCDS.

  Q29  Chair: But defence is too military for what we're talking about.

  Professor Hew Strachan: Absolutely of course it is, but that is why the creation of the NSC is an opportunity. Precisely because it's chaired by the Prime Minister, it is absolutely the right forum, in terms of giving the message of its national importance, its central significance. It should then think about how it generates the thinking capacity. If the NSC says, "We need a bit of work on this, or we need to understand that", how is that now done?

  Chair: It goes to the head of the department.   Professor Hew Strachan: Exactly, and it then becomes balkanised.

  Q30  Chair: Isn't there a danger that government departments are going to resist this because they're going to lose control over things they think they control at the moment?

  Professor Julian Lindley-French: Again, I would go back to the Washington model. If you take the think-tanks, CSIS and Brookings and these types of institutions. They either have people in them who are temporarily out of government or real experts. Why? Because in those forums you can take intellectual risk to challenge policy. There is nothing like that in London where you can really take intellectual risk and have sufficient stature in taking it that it will influence policy; policy inside the bureaucracy tends to be, by definition, risk-averse. We are looking at a very, very complex environment, That kind of intellectual and conceptual risk is essential before sound policy is established.

  Q31  Chair: Didn't Whitehall used to fund university chairs, university departments?

  Professor Julian Lindley-French: A little bit, but not much.

  Professor Peter Hennessy: A little bit, but not much, never much.

  Professor Hew Strachan: The big initiative was Denis Healey's in the late 1960s, when he established defence lectureships across the United Kingdom, funding them for five to 10 years and then the universities took them on. Broadly speaking, I think there are probably one or two still in post in the United Kingdom as a result of those appointments, but they are reaching the end of their careers. So Healey recognised that that was an issue. Today, if I could just elaborate on that point, there is a real pressure on strategic thinking outside Whitehall. It is created by the current mechanisms both of university funding and of research assessment, because, within a politics department, engagement in public policy doesn't figure within the UK as something that will get brownie points in the research assessment exercise of the past and the REF exercise of the future. Very few academics are therefore put in a position where it is seen to be productive in terms of research assessment and research income to engage with the Government. That is somewhat offset, by the latest proposals in the REF for public impact to be part of the process.

  Professor Peter Hennessy: Which is immeasurable of course.

  Professor Julian Lindley-French: We either have ivory towers or policy bunkers; we don't have much in between.

  Professor Hew Strachan: The consequence, it seems to me, is that you will be struggling in 10 or 20 years time to have some of these irritants outside the system, just because at the moment the system isn't well-geared to producing them.

  Q32  Chair: And, in terms of oversight of this process, it is proposed that it should be a joint committee of both Houses on national security. Is that enough?

  Professor Peter Hennessy: That would help, and also if Parliament could find the money to create its own thinking capacity; a very small one, but very high quality. The National Audit Office is the closest thing you've got, but you've got a wonderful library and very good support services in many ways. If select committees of both houses could pool a little bit of money and there was a joint committee on Grand Strategy that wasn't just defence and foreign policy-focused with its own small think-tank, it might help you have an influence out of all proportion to your size, as it were, in terms of budget.

  Professor Julian Lindley-French: Look at the Library of Congress Research Service; that is exactly what they do, very high quality indeed.

  Q33  Kevin Brennan: Aren't you all massively over-claiming what a Grand Strategy could achieve in practice?

  Professor Peter Hennessy: Probably. We're trying to cheer you up. We're trying to give you a sense of possibility. We're an antidote to the politics of pessimism. We're Ian Dury, reasons to be cheerful, that's what we three are.

  Professor Julian Lindley-French: What it achieves is by and large up to you gentlemen. You are close to policy making, you are the political oversight. It ultimately comes down to the quality, the level of ambition and the quality of policy that comes out of the analysis.

  Q34  Kevin Brennan: But at one point you said that we shouldn't exaggerate our power in the world and at another point you said we should punch above our weight.

  Professor Peter Hennessy: They're both compatible. If you have exaggerated notions of what you can do in the world, it's hopeless really; it leads to delusion and disappointment. But not if you have a realistic notion that if you shove it a bit this way and if you try it that way. And if you keep your investment in high-class diplomacy—terribly, terribly important. I never thought that in my life time I would ever have to worry about the condition of the British Foreign Office. It was like Canada, it was just there, it was all right, but I really do worry about the condition of the Foreign Office; it's been appallingly run down.

  Q35  Kevin Brennan: Don't we have to, in thinking about Grand Strategy, there is a strong sense and a weak sense; it is not necessarily to do with optimism and pessimism. There is the strong sense imperial view of a Grand Strategy, which is utterly impractical in the current world and in the current reality of politics, which hasn't been sufficiently discussed or not just the current reality but the reality. Then there is a weaker sense, which isn't necessarily a pessimistic sense which is, if we could agree what is possible across political divides about the things that Professor Hennessy set out at the beginning about what a Grand Strategy ought to consist of and then garner our institutions and resources around attempting to meet those needs, then you could get the longer term impact of Grand Strategy. However, if it is—not overly ambitious, but overly grand, if you forgive the phrase—isn't doomed to fail?

  Professor Julian Lindley-French: I think the danger—I feel very moved about this—is that the title "Grand Strategy" is that it implies that it's about power itself. No, it's not. I guess I'd rather change it to "Big Question Strategy". It's a willingness of government to address the very biggest questions that affect a nation's security across the whole board in partnership with other experts, other stakeholders, to use that over-worn phrase, that ensures that there is balance in our response to the environment, but also ambition in our ability to shape events. It isn't simply about trying to punch above our weight. It is simply making sure that we have sufficient imagination to deal with what's out there and, frankly, I would say that right now we do not.

  Professor Peter Hennessy: On one timing level, isn't a good idea to maximise our influence in the United Nations by being a permanent member of the Security Council; not by being the awkward one or flaunting ourselves, but by being the decent due process, thoughtful one? Sir Percy Cradock was the former Chairman of the Joint Intelligence Committee. I did a radio documentary in 1991, called "Out of the Midday Sun?" about whether we should give up on all this. Percy, I think I'm quoting him pretty accurately, said, "History has dealt us a certain hand because of being an imperial power". There was an assessment made by Harold Wilson when he became Prime Minister in 1964, or for the Foreign Secretary, by the Foreign Office planning staff. Because of our history we were, and we still are I think, represented on more international organisations than any other country in the world and I think that's a huge asset; plus the cliched asset, and it doesn't mean to say that it's wrong, of our language being the language of international diplomacy and trade. So that is there even if you look at it in the terms of the hand that history has dealt us. In the same programme, Sir Anthony Parsons, who was our man in the UN at the time of the Falklands said—actually this is Julian's point—"The rest of the world isn't ready for us to withdraw. They expect us to be there". Partly because they think, a lot of them, that we caused a great many of their problems; I think we could make a lot of money by being the permanent scapegoat for every failing nation because it's our fault, you see.

  Q36  Kevin Brennan: They do think that and they don't think the Chinese did and that's a problem for us I think in Africa. Can I just ask this question, which is a bit off-piste, but if you were contributing to a UK Grand Strategy—I'm just asking you to think off of the top of your head—where would Trident feature?

  Professor Peter Hennessy: I have to come clean. I think we should keep it. People say it's a political instrument. The Indians always say that we have to have our bomb because that's how you increase your chances of a UN Security Council seat. It's very difficult for historians to be anything other than humble—though that doesn't come naturally to me—about what the world is going to be like in 50 years' time and once you give up a capacity it's gone.

  Professor Julian Lindley-French: Britain should have a nuclear deterrent. Whether or not the technology should be a Trident derivative, it seems to me that the question is whether there is a cheaper alternative that does the same job. It's a balance/investment question.

  Professor Hew Strachan: It's the cart before the horse.

  Kevin Brennan: I thought you might say that.

  Professor Hew Strachan: You've got to have strategy before you decide where Trident sits. One of the difficulties at the moment is that we don't think coherently about strategy and we therefore find it hard to think where Trident sits.

  Q37  Kevin Brennan: So, our witnesses are putting policy before strategy yet again.

  Professor Hew Strachan: Absolutely, and what we should be thinking about is where does deterrence fit in our thinking and therefore where does nuclear deterrence fit within our thinking and then why we would need Trident. I endorse the others in thinking we probably do need it. I would also say that, going back to your earlier question, I am confused here about whether we are talking about whether Grand Strategy is something that is genuinely useful for us to be able to do, or whether we're talking about British decline or British resurgence. There are two totally different questions there that we're conflating. It may be, and this was how I understood the burden of your question when you first put it, that Grand Strategy is overwritten as a concept; that actually a lot of it is a lot more pragmatic, sensible and doesn't need a big title. All we need is somehow to be able to draw it together. That I think is a perfectly defensible line of argument—it's foreign policy, it's economic policy, it's all these other constituent parts and we do it without thinking about Grand Strategy. Many of the great grand strategists never used the phrase when they did it; they just went ahead and did it, like the wartime Prime Ministers. Churchill didn't need to say, "I'm doing Grand Strategy"; he did it.

  Q38  Kevin Brennan: So in other circumstances a Grand Strategy would have meant resisting Indian independence for example?

  Professor Hew Strachan: Well, it might have done, but that comes again to the fact that strategy is essentially a pragmatic business and it needs to accommodate contingency. If India is not to be held, if the realistic conclusion, against Churchill's own instincts, is to say that India must be given independence, that is exactly what we're talking about.

  Q39  Chair: That was Attlee's Grand Strategy, to relinquish India.

  Professor Hew Strachan: That's why debate is central to where strategy is.

  Q40  Chair: But isn't the implication of what Mr Brennan is asking, and your answer to him, is that whether we like it or not we have a Grand Strategy, the problem with it at the moment is that it's disparate and scattered around Whitehall, not written down in one place, not supervised and not held to account by politicians.

  Professor Julian Lindley-French: Ergo, it is not grand.

  Q41  Chair: We live with the outcome of this rather disparate arrangement.

  Professor Peter Hennessy: So, you're going to recommend muddling through, are you?

  Chair: I'm not in charge of the conclusions of this committee.

  Professor Peter Hennessy: Harold Macmillan only ever gave me one interview, long ago and far away when I was a youth on The Times and when The Times was a quality newspaper. He said to me, "You can't have a foreign policy if you're in the debtors' court." That is a very obvious thing to say but we do need to remember that in the circumstances. It's the Paul Kennedy theory that great powers are on the slide unless they really do attend to their economic wherewithal and in the end the sinews of influence are economic and industrial. I mean you can argue about that—there are all sorts of arguments about that in the scholarly world—but it's a first order question isn't it?.

  Q42  Paul Flynn: You've taken a very fiercely nationalistic view that we have to have a nuclear weapon because we don't know what's going to happen in 50 years' time. That's an invitation for every country in the world to have its own nuclear weapon because they don't know what's going to happen in 50 years' time.

  Professor Peter Hennessy: I'm not wildly keen on that. You can see that I'm not wildly keen on encouraging anybody else.

  Q43  Paul Flynn: Proliferation is a far greater threat in the world, I would suggest to you. Can you give me a practical example of any plausible situation when Britain would use its nuclear weapon independently?

  Chair: But this is a question of policy rather than of strategy.

  Paul Flynn: Yes, sure.

  Professor Peter Hennessy: It was always the most remote contingency that it would be used alone and if you look at all these Cold War transition-to-war exercises that I've been reading now that they've been declassified, it was an integrated NATO plan with the Nassau "supreme national interest" clause in case the United States was not prepared to sacrifice Chicago if Manchester was threatened. It was a very, very remote contingency. I remember Frank Cooper, a great figure in defence affairs for many years, said to me that as long as the memory of 1940 remains fresh in this country, when a small amount of very highly sophisticated equipment and a very small number of highly trained young men was all that stood between us existing as a sovereign nation and not as it did in 1940-41, that will always affect the prime minister of the day. If you read Tony Blair's memoirs—which is quite tough to do, I've been having to force myself—he considered getting out of the business, and said, "But could I come down to the House of Commons and say we're scrapping it?" Frank's argument was that no Prime Minster could live with himself or herself if they were the one who gave the capacity away that in future, in some immensely remote contingency, might have had high nation-preserving utility, if they said, "Look, don't even contemplate it." That is why in the Cold War a system was developed which we still have of each new Prime Minister writing down longhand on a sheet of paper and sealing it the instructions from beyond the grave that are in the safe of every Trident boat as they were in the safe of every Polaris boat. It's not a rational thing, it's not evidence-based policy making. As the great Michael Quinlan said, each generation clothes a gut instinct in a different set of rationales. That doesn't answer your question does it?

  Q44  Paul Flynn: No, it does not. You haven't mentioned proliferation, which is the greater threat.

  Professor Julian Lindley-French: Looking from a British point of view, I would not give up the deterrent and I would like to stop others getting it, period.

  Q45  Chair: This is a subsidiary debate. Mr Brennan, have you got anything further questions?

  Kevin Brennan: No, I think that will do.

  Chair: Can I just ask you, Professor Lindley-French in particular, do we need money to fund this extra strategic capacity and where would the money come from?

  Professor Peter Hennessy: Not much.

  Chair: I'm asking Professor Lindley-French.

  Professor Julian Lindley-French: Peter is quite right. I have looked at the growth in ministerial investment in the last 10 years, for example ODA, DFID, 215%, intelligence services 112%, Defence 11% and yet defence has been bearing the brunt. I really wonder, given the very fast increase in investment in certain ministries, how that could have possibly been efficient. I would suggest to you that the establishment of a national security structure could be done from within existing expenditures and I would say that it would have to be done from within existing expenditures. Now, obviously that will require choices, and tough choices, but I cannot for a minute, given NAO reports and the GAO reports equivalent in the US, believe there are not monies to be found from a power ministry investment to be put into a national security structure.

  Q46  Chair: Is the CSR and the SDSR, Professor Hennessy, the right opportunity to get this outcome from these two processes.

  Professor Peter Hennessy: It should be, but you're going to have to get on with it because it's nearly all done and dusted and they're all exhausted. Morale is at rock bottom. Having come here to cheer you up, I'm not being pessimistic, I'm being realistic. You might, if you think it matters, Chairman, do a very quick interim report on this one because the clock is ticking. I'm serious. You must get on with it, if you really think it matters; we do, and I suspect you do as well. Whatever model of the UK and the world you go for, an interim report might be very timely and it might actually help.

  Q47  Chair: We're aiming for the second week of October.

  Professor Peter Hennessy: Too late.

  Q48  Chair: Well we will reflect on that.

  Professor Peter Hennessy: On this one point.

  Chair: As a peripheral point, people have talked about a single security budget, is this an irrelevant point to this debate?

  Professor Hew Strachan: It's not an irrelevant point if you actually wish to achieve co-ordination on the grounds that the thinking may go where the money goes. It seems to be a sensible way, but are you also thinking therefore that there will be a National Security Ministry and a National Security Minister? Because presumably all those things hang together. If that were the case, then presumably you're also implicitly arguing that the National Security Minister can't be the Prime Minister so the Prime Minister would no longer chair it. So, it would be very important, it seems to me, that whoever held that office had clout that was, perhaps not comparable, but nearly comparable with that of the Prime Minister. The budget itself is part of a wider set of problems.

  Professor Julian Lindley-French: I would support that suggestion but it may be better to have a national security audit because then one can properly judge the relationship between civilian and military aspects of security. Defence budgets have historically tended to grow on the basis of a little bit more of what we've had before. If we are going to have to change of posture, the only way to do that is to establish security policy that is properly based across the national effort and an audit could help that process.

  Q49  Chair: Or, if we give ourselves a less urgent timeframe, is this the time that we need a new Northcote-Trevelyan inquiry into what the Civil Service actually is?

  Professor Peter Hennessy: You need more of a Haldane one. Northcote-Trevelyan was to stop us being run by the 18th-century equivalent of special advisers—people appointed because they believed things or knew someone, rather than because they knew anything. That cleaned it up. It took four decades to clean it up; it was an extremely difficult thing to do, but Haldane in 1918 commissioned by Lloyd George was much more what you're about; it's how your organise departments both individually and in clusters to bring thought and analysis ahead of policy decision. It bears re-reading. So, I think your model, if there is one, is Haldane 1918 and not Northcote-Trevelyan 1853.

  Professor Hew Strachan: The issue here is balance between thinking and capability. The CSR has been predominantly about capability. As I see it, what the MOD is doing is almost exclusively about capability; it's not about the thinking part at all. Yet, if you don't think, you can't actually make sensible decisions about what capability you want to have. Putting the weight back on to thinking seems to me the key point. If you need an inquiry to achieve that, then fair enough, but it's going to be hard to achieve that obviously within your own timeframe, given the fact that although these decisions are due in October there will be, I suppose, a subsequent fallout because decisions have been taken so quickly and in such an unco-ordinated way. At the moment at least, because each department is doing the same thing, it's going to be hard to see how each set of approaches will actually work out before they all come together in October. And therefore there will be a long period, I assume, after October, when the implications are actually being digested, and during which there will be follow-up work and implementation. Maybe, slightly contradicting what has been said before, there will be more of an opportunity after October to influence how this plays out, than we're currently anticipating.

  Q50  Chair: In terms of the institutional structure that is created to underpin?

  Professor Hew Strachan: Yes, it's a question; I haven't got the answer. Will the CSR be, could it be, a launching pad rather than a terminus? That's all I'm going to say.

  Professor Julian Lindley-French: Having spoken to the Defence Secretary, it's come down to carrier or not to carrier; the carriers are becoming a metaphor for whether Britain is a military power or not and part of it reflects the input nature of the culture, rather than the output requirement that we have now. There has been no case nor counter-case properly made for those carriers within the framework of future strategy. It's all about affordability. It's a mark of putting capability before strategy that the debate has been brought down to this level.

  Professor Hew Strachan: The same point could be made about the Trident question: we have not discussed whether there is a value in extended the deterrence? Does extended deterrence support international security? Is there particular value in Britain having a deterrent in relation to its contribution to extended security? That's where the question, in my mind, should be; it's not where the debate is, but it's where the strategic question as opposed to the political question is.

  Q51  Chair: Gentlemen, it's been a very intensive hour and a half. To my astonishment we seem to be about to finish on time unless there are any further questions from my colleagues or anything further that our witnesses wish to add?

  Professor Peter Hennessy: Can I just add one last thought? Whatever you recommend, it would be an idea to come back to this question very briefly, admittedly, once a year because there is always a problem of things being lost sight of. I know the Government will reply to you because they have to and all the rest of it, but you will be so preoccupied by other things, with respect, this time next year, that this might all seem very distant. It might not, depending on circumstances. But if you did an annual audit of this strategic question, a short one, it would concentrate minds over the road here and it would be extremely helpful for those of us on the outside to get a cartography of what was actually happening or not. It wouldn't take you long because you're doing all the R&D now for this one, aren't you? That's just a respectful suggestion.

  Professor Julian Lindley-French: My final comment would be, this is not just any other moment; the decision made under the SDSR will send a signal to allies and partners alike about the commitment of the United Kingdom as a major leading player or not over the next decade—it's a hugely important moment.

  Chair: Professor Strachan?

  Professor Hew Strachan: I think I've said my piece.

  Chair: Thank you, gentlemen. It's been a rich and rewarding session for us and I hope you've enjoyed it too. Order, order.

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