Who does UK National Strategy - Public Administration Committee Contents

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 298-347)



  Chair: Baroness Neville-Jones, thank you very much indeed for joining us today. It is a great pleasure to welcome you to our session. This inquiry is not about what the national strategy is, or about the Grand Strategy is; it is about how strategy is made, what capacity for strategic thinking we have across Whitehall, and whether that is sufficient and enough. The evidence we have heard so far, I have to say, is very mixed. Generally, the National Security Council, which is very much your baby and a product of the policy you drew up in opposition, is seen as a good start, but National Security Strategy is seen as a narrower concept than Grand Strategy or national strategy, and the National Security Council does not necessarily have the institutional underpinning to provide it with that capacity for strategic thinking that would enable it to fulfil that wider role. I will start, if I may, by asking Kevin Brennan to ask some questions.

  Q298  Kevin Brennan: You said in a recent speech, Baroness Neville-Jones, that one of the main outcomes of the creation of the NSC should be to develop a capacity across government for strategic assessment, long-term policymaking and sustained delivery. Can you give us some examples of how this is happening?

  Baroness Neville-Jones: Certainly. Chair, might I just say thank you very much for inviting me to contribute to the Committee's work on this issue?

  Q299  Chair: Sorry, I should interrupt. I do apologise. Could you each identify yourselves for the record?

  Baroness Neville-Jones: Of course. I am Pauline Neville-Jones, the Security Minister.

  William Nye: I am William Nye, a Director in the National Security Secretariat in the Cabinet Office.   Chair: I do apologise for interrupting you.

  Baroness Neville-Jones: Thank you. To answer your question, if I might give a tiny bit of background, I think that one of the reasons why in opposition I was very keen that when a Conservative government came into office we should indeed set up a National Security Council was indeed a perception that although I think the British method of government has some very strong points and has always traditionally been extraordinarily good at cross-departmental co-ordination—a characteristic that is not found in all governments; there are many governments who are much more stovepiped than that of the United Kingdom—I nevertheless felt that we needed a capacity for being able to make policy more in the round as distinct from co-ordinating the activities of different departments, and that a structural change was actually needed in order to achieve that. So that is the background. To answer your question, I think I would say two or three things. Obviously the remit of a body is very important and the remit of the National Security Council is indeed to be responsible for drawing up and implementation—or the monitoring of implementation, because we do not want to create a body that cuts out all responsible departments and their accountability to Parliament, but we want to create is a body where the strategy that the Government have agreed, and the sub-strategies also which are implemented, all go to and are agreed by the National Security Council and should then be effectively implemented, and for there to be machinery inside government, as well as accountability to Parliament, for ensuring that is the case. One of the features of making policy that way is that it is possible from the beginning to create a policy framework that is avowedly inter-departmental, cross-departmental and not simply, which I think has been the characteristic of many policies previously, where there has been a lead government department to which others have then contributed. Let me give you an example of a new area of policy where we are developing something which is, from the start, cross-departmental with cross-departmental contribution, and that is in the area of cyber.

  Q300  Kevin Brennan: Of what, sorry?

  Baroness Neville-Jones: Cyber.

  Q301  Kevin Brennan: Is that a word on its own?

  Baroness Neville-Jones: Indeed, yes it is. Because our cyber strategy is not simply a cyber security strategy; it is a strategy which is designed undoubtedly to increase our ability to ensure that the Government have a secure cyber network and cyber platform. Also—and here is another characteristic, I think, of the National Security Council that I think is a bit different from our predecessors—we do regard security as being something that not just governmental; it is actually societal. That is to say that if you look at the security needs of the country these days, they cross into things that the Government do not look after; there is a huge area of our national capability and assets that we need to protect which is owned and operated by the private sector.

  Q302  Kevin Brennan: Okay. First of all, that is incorrect. The previous Government did exactly think about that. Secondly, we are not really interested in going into the issue and the policy itself; we are interested in Grand Strategy and the role possibly of the National Security Council within the creation of that strategy. If it is as strategic a body as you say, why are there twice as many staff serving it who are there for contingencies as there are those who are there for long-term strategy?

  Baroness Neville-Jones: There are two sorts of people, I think, who we are talking about, and I will ask William to contribute to this. We have people who are actually in the National Security Secretariat who directly serve the national security machinery: the Council, the Prime Minister and everything that goes on inside the NSC. We then have, separately from it, staff in the Cabinet Office who perform and who are engaged in policy functions that are very often cross-departmental in character, but they have separate policy responsibilities.

  Q303  Kevin Brennan: Is the assertion that there are twice as many contingency staff as there are staff in longer-term strategic issues correct or incorrect?

  William Nye: Should I say a word on that?

  Baroness Neville-Jones: Yes.

  William Nye: The National Security Secretariat encompasses quite a number of different types of function within the Cabinet Office. I think you have been given the organogram, Mr Brennan, and from that, you have probably seen that my area—strategy and counter-terrorism—itself covers a number of different functions. Within counter-terrorism, I have some people who support the Prime Minister in the National Security Council on counter-terrorism policy. I also have some people who run and manage the COBRA crisis management facilities as well as people who focus on strategy. The civil contingencies area is a hub at the centre of government that works with many departments as the centre for dealing with domestic emergencies. That is more like a function that could be in another department if ministers chose to put it there. It corresponds in many respects to the function of the Office for Security and Counter-terrorism for co-ordinating counter-terrorism strategy, but it includes people who deliver elements of the policy, as well as people who are doing the strategic analysis. You need both and so I do not think I would draw a conclusion from the numbers in quite the way you suggest.

  Q304  Kevin Brennan: If that is the case, how can you avoid, over time, the short-term contingencies predominating over strategic thinking in a body like this if it is dealing with both fire fighting and strategic thinking?

  Baroness Neville-Jones: I think in fact that perhaps the word "contingencies" suggests something slightly misleading. What the Civil Contingencies Secretariat is engaged in is actually long-term planning in relation to a whole series of threats and hazards that have been identified on a planning basis—

  Q305  Kevin Brennan: So it is a strategic contingencies element?

  Baroness Neville-Jones: It is a strategic body, absolutely. Yes it is.

  Q306  Kevin Brennan: When the floods come, it isn't there to react to that; it's there to plan long-term about where floods might happen?

  Baroness Neville-Jones: No, that will be the salt cell or it will be COBRA. There is a piece of machinery of government which will then come into being as a result of the planning that has taken place on how you actually manage a contingency.

  Q307  Kevin Brennan: In the circumstances of a contingency, then, is it still COBRA that will meet in order to deal with that, rather than the National Security Council?

  Baroness Neville-Jones: If it is at national level, yes. If it is at regional level or local level, you will probably find it will be dealt with by the police, who do not raise everything, evidently, to the national level unless it is necessary. But certainly if you do, that is what happens.

  Kevin Brennan: I'm done.

  Chair: Thank you. Mr Halfon.

  Q308  Robert Halfon: How do you plan to ensure that the National Security Strategy is accountable and effective?

  Baroness Neville-Jones: Let's deal with accountability first. Clearly, departments that are charged with duties of implementation under the National Security Strategy, to which they will have contributed through their ministers, will be accountable to their departmental heads, and Secretaries of State will be accountable to the appropriate parliamentary committee. The National Security Strategy is clearly built up of a whole series of the overall strategy and then are a series of sub-strategies under that that help implement it. But you can see, perhaps in the case of defence, that there is a whole area of defence delivery of the strategy that is the proper purview, I would suggest, in parliamentary terms, of the Defence Committee. However, there is also I think a need that Parliament has recognised in the setting up of the Joint Committee on the National Strategy to look at those issues which are cross-cutting in nature and do not necessarily or easily fall into—and indeed need a different kind of examination from—the subject matter strategies. So I think that what we expect, and we will be gladly willing to do, is to give evidence on the implementation of the strategy overall and particularly on those areas where you have a strategy only if you are operating across departmental boundaries. Indeed, our ability to do some of these things, if I might just say so, does depend on including and having partnerships with the private sector. This is not just government.

  Q309  Robert Halfon: Do you think that Joint Committee will be effective in providing checks and balances and challenging the National Security Strategy, or do you think that Parliament should set up its own independent think tank to do that role?

  Baroness Neville-Jones: Perhaps that is a matter for Parliament. I imagine that the National Security Strategy Committee will want to take some expert help to enable it to have a good dialogue on this subject. I do think that we do have a national opportunity on the basis of the setting up of the National Security Council now to have broader dialogue on the subject of what it is that this country is trying to do and how it is trying to do it. It seems to me, Chair, if I might say so, that this is a very good start in that I do not think the national strategy, or for that matter Grand Strategy, should be something only the Government do. It does seem to me that it is something where we should try to achieve a national consensus and therefore that there should be contribution from all parts of the governmental machine, Parliament and indeed our intellectual establishment—our universities and our think tanks. This is not, I think, something to be confined to the Government.

  Q310  Chair: Aren't you a little disappointed that the Joint Committee has not been established yet?

  Baroness Neville-Jones: I think it will come into being quite shortly, won't it, Chair? Of course, it does contain Peers and the Lords are not yet in session.

  Q311  Chair: Given that we all agree that National Security Strategy is a subset of national strategy or Grand Strategy, shouldn't the Committee be about national strategy as a whole, not just National Security Strategy? How do we oversee this process that, you have just described, should be so broad and involving?

  Baroness Neville-Jones: I think you are obviously quite right to distinguish between those two things. They are not the same. If I might say so, I think National Security Strategy is probably quite a considerable part of what you might regard as being Grand Strategy. I suppose, in our system of government, it is the Cabinet in a sense that is the owner of Grand Strategy. I might say I think that in the compass of what we regard as being the component parts of National Security Strategy, we have given it a very wide definition. If I can come back for a moment to the cyber strategy, it is, as I say, not just a cyber security strategy; it is actually also how you actually ensure that our cyber capabilities are ones that help to provide a platform for economic growth and industrial change. So we do conceive of the National Security Strategy as being not only how do we deal with the threats and hazards that face us and the challenges we face, but what opportunities are open to the nation and how should we try to exploit them? That does not make any kind of sense unless you are actually also being active on the economic front.

  Q312  Chair: But given that security strategy tends to be preoccupied with threats, risks and contingencies, where is the capacity for wider strategic thinking? Should that be part of the NSC's remit?

  Baroness Neville-Jones: First of all, you are quite right to say that that is a significant component. I hope, when the National Security Strategy is published, that one of the things you will find in the SWOT analysis is that opportunity is there as well. That is not just how do we act defensively, how do we deter; it is also what opportunities are open to us and how do we seek to exploit them?

  Q313  Chair: I think we are in agreement about that.

  Baroness Neville-Jones: The Foreign Secretary is extraordinarily keen that the Foreign Office should be part of the advancement of the economic and trading opportunities of the United Kingdom. This is not just security writ narrow, if I can put it that way. I think it is a much broader interpretation that we are giving it.

  Q314  Chair: Your earlier comment echoed Sir Peter Ricketts in his evidence earlier this week that it is the Cabinet that does Grand Strategy, but I pointed out to him that the Cabinet is a decision-making body; it is not an iterative thinking body.

  Baroness Neville-Jones: No, that is quite true.

  Q315  Chair: Where is the capacity for this deep and iterative and continuing thinking? We have been told that strategy lives; it is not a strategy. Strategy lives and is permanently developing. Where is the institutional home of this strategy? At the moment, it seems to us rather scattered around rather disparate parts of Whitehall that do strategy in different ways in different departments. Is there a strategy community?

  Baroness Neville-Jones: Clearly, what we have set our minds to is the development of a National Security Strategy, and I think we both agree that one does distinguish that from something which you might call the grander strategy. I do, on the other hand, think that the capacity of departments to think strategically is actually enhanced and enlarged by the National Security Council, because one of the functions of the National Security Council in the way it is operating is to challenge some of the assumptions. It brings a whole series of other issues to the central table. They include, for instance, our energy prospects—how we plan for the future for a world of changing energy needs and climate change. These are very big issues; they are not trivial issues that somehow can be neatly apportioned into operational policy. They do require a great deal of thought. So the fact of having to bring the fundamental underlying policy and the thinking that lies behind it, and the ambition that you are going to try to achieve, does itself generate much longer range and much more ambitious thinking than might otherwise be the case, and forces government, in its decision-making processes, to take account of that. So they do not actually get what I think is very often a danger in government: you have thinking over here and you have operation over here and not much contact and connection between the two. I hope that is something we can actually—

  Q316  Chair: I think that is very much our concern, but in terms of thinking up scenarios, I was quite surprised that Sir Peter Ricketts told us that he could not remember a time when a red team exercise had been done with the Iranian Government on various scenarios and various policy options to look ahead at what would the Iranian regime do if we did this and if we did that, and how would they respond to this and respond to that? How can you plan energy security if you do not have that kind of thinking going on in Whitehall?

   Baroness Neville-Jones: Chair, I don't know that that kind of thinking isn't going on in Whitehall.

  Q317  Chair: We haven't found it yet.

  Baroness Neville-Jones: Perhaps it would be a good idea to ask Mr Huhne to come and see you. Can I say one thing? We are at the beginning of a path. This is not a fully fledged and completely organised project yet. We have had five months and we have succeeded in setting up the absolutely key central piece, but I would not want to pretend to you that I think that we have necessarily put all the design in place—either what serves the National Security Council underneath or indeed its links into the rest of Whitehall.

  Q318  Chair: But you do accept that that kind of thinking is required?

  Baroness Neville-Jones: I do. Absolutely I do, yes.

  Q319  Chair: William Nye?

  William Nye: Can I just say a word? Going back to your first question, Chair, I think there is a strategy community in Whitehall, but I think it is a work in progress as a community. There are strategy units and you are quite right to say that they are a bit different in different departments and they do operate slightly differently, but we do bring them together through a network and through working together most concretely on things like the National Security Strategy, which as you rightly noted is, of course, smaller than Grand Strategy, but since it is quite a good chunk of national strategy, is quite a good bit of practice at helping bring people together. Those of us who are in the strategy community have also tried to find opportunities for specific examples of bits of work that can bring those people together. But, as the minister has said, it is a work in progress; it is not fully established and I am sure there is more we could do to make best use of the synergy between the different bits of strategic capacity across Whitehall.

  Q320  Nick de Bois: Just building on that point, because I think you are leading into something I was going to ask, if you don't mind, Chair. It is almost as if, to get to a Grand Strategy, in a way what is potentially holding us back is that the National Security Council and the National Security Strategy is almost too limited a concept, because we seem to be focusing on that. While I hear what you are saying about different silos of strategic capability across Whitehall, it seems to be very NSC-centric. Is that limiting the Grand Strategy of what we aspire to, even in our manifesto, when we were talking about cutting across various other areas?

  Chair: He means the Conservative manifesto.

  Baroness Neville-Jones: You provoke a very interesting line of questioning. I think personally my concept of national security is not that it is the Procrustean bed into which other things should fit; I think it is rather the other way round. Those elements of policy that are important and that touch on the national interest, of which you clearly have to have a definition before you can even begin on a serious strategic approach, in their totality make up what you regard as being your National Security Strategy. I have to come back, Chair, to the point I made at the beginning, which is that we do give the word "security" a very broad definition. We do not think it is the Security and Defence Review with a little bit of foreign policy and one or two other things added on. We regard it as being much more broadly based in what society needs moving forward and that the definition of security is not so much attached to the machinery of government or to the organs and the assets of the state; it is actually how you protect and advance the whole of the interests of society. So it is broader than that and for instance, to give you an example, issues that you might regard as being domestic soft power issues on things like how we deal with extremism and radicalisation in the United Kingdom are a matter for the National Security Council. So it is both flexible and broad in the way we approach it.

  Q321  Chair: I don't want to prejudge it, but I think our report is likely to be very positive about the developments so far, but rather echoing your sentiment that it is a basis for future development. It has been suggested to us by Dr Paul Cornish in his evidence that we should set up some kind of an inter-departmental strategic think thank—an organisation known to be independent of departments of State that reports to and advises the Prime Minister and the Cabinet Office, presumably through the National Security Adviser. What do you think of that proposal? It is not policy; I am asking you to horizon scan.

  Baroness Neville-Jones: Yes, absolutely. I am rather keen, I must say, on the Government developing a good capacity for horizon scanning. I have done enough work on horizon scanning to know that good horizon scanning is quite difficult. I would want to be confident that anything that we did beyond what already exists—and there is a certain capacity in the Government for it—really represented value-added pounds. I think that size is not necessarily what you need there; what you do need is a very good unit of really capable, well-trained and able people. So that would be where I think we should try to go. Does it need to be "avowedly inter-departmental"? I don't know. What I would say, Chair, is that what you want out of horizon scanning is something that services all departments. I don't think it has to be so formally inter-departmental. What I think it needs to do is to be given a remit of the kind that enables it to tackle those issues that are really future issues for the Government and do the job, obviously, of "where is the world going and what do we need to look out for?" This is pre-emption of hazards and threats coming our way that we will find we have to manage if we do not pre-empt them, or it is opportunities that we ought to be seizing. That is where I hope also the existence of the National Security Strategy provides you with the foundation of what it is you are trying to look for in the national interest.

  Q322  Chair: It is about people who are developing a clear idea of what sort of country we want to be in five, 10 or 20 years' time.

  Baroness Neville-Jones: They have to be informed by that and they have to contribute to its continuing development, yes, although I do think that a function of leadership, right at the beginning, is to decide what kind of world we live in and what kind of country we want to be, and therefore what consequences of those two perceptions flow for policy.

  Q323  Chair: This is music to my ears, but is the office of National Security Adviser sufficiently developed yet? When you were Chairman of the Joint Intelligence Committee, or when you talk to the director of one of the security services, you feel you are talking to someone who has a degree of independence and authority because of the job they do. Has the National Security Adviser developed sufficiently in that role, do you think, to have that measure of independence?

  Baroness Neville-Jones: I understand you. I would say that the National Security Adviser, who is an official, has considerable independent authority.

  Q324  Chair: But the problem is that he has been double-hatted with the Foreign Policy Adviser, hasn't he? Traditionally, the Foreign Policy Adviser is very much a line official role in No 10, not somebody who acts independently like the Chairman of the JIC.

  Baroness Neville-Jones: Chair, you can argue that one both ways, I think. You can say, no, the Chairman of the Committee should have separate advice on how he chairs the Committee, which is obviously one of the functions of the Foreign Policy Adviser, or you can say that it follows logically from being head of the Secretariat that the head of that Secretariat services the Chairman in his role as Chairman of that Committee. I could argue both those cases. I do not personally think that is the key point. I think the key point is that the National Security Adviser should have a good grasp of, and understand what are, the main issues in front of the National Security Council itself and be important and play a central role in their development. I do believe that that is what the present incumbent is doing.

  Q325  Chair: When you were Chairman of JIC, of course, you had your assessment staff.

  Baroness Neville-Jones: Yes.

  Q326  Chair: Does the National Security Adviser have a strategic assessment staff or should he have that?

  Baroness Neville-Jones: I would say that the National Security Adviser certainly has to have people on his staff who can either do the work themselves or cause the work to be done—gather the resources of government together to oblige them to do things that they are not otherwise doing. Absolutely it does. Does he need a whole separate Department of State in order to achieve that function? I am much less convinced.

  Q327  Chair: I wouldn't say Department of State, but maybe an agency.

  Baroness Neville-Jones: But it is possible, Chair, to build a very big body very, very quickly. One of the things we did say in opposition was that we wanted to keep the centre of the Government small. We do believe that small and efficient very often go together, rather than large goes with efficient. What we do think is that it is not so much for the National Security Secretariat to begin to substitute in its thought processes and its policy making for the rest of government, but actually to get the rest of government thinking and acting much more strategically than it otherwise would.

  Q328  Chair: How should that be done?

  Baroness Neville-Jones: I think it is by very considerable involvement. There is already—this did not exist previously within the National Security Secretariat—a structured system of official committees, and William perhaps will tell you a bit more about this, and the Permanent Secretaries from the relevant departments now meeting once a week. That was something which in opposition I was extremely keen to see happen, because I wanted—and I think it is right and I think it is proving fruitful—the heads of those departments and not just their subordinates to be working at the centre and themselves understanding the contribution and the role of their department in central policy making for an outcome that the Government have identified as wanting or needing. Then also, of course, there is, quite normally, a structure of ministerial committees as well. Having had experience of government previously, I do think the agendas and papers that come before these various sub-committees of the National Security Council are different in kind from the sort of papers I used to see when I was an official dealing in the Cabinet Committee system. They are much more cross-cutting—much more forward looking, I think—than would necessarily habitually have been the case previously. I do think the shape within which decision making takes place is changing.

  Q329  Chair: So you think that we are beginning to see a cultural change?

  Baroness Neville-Jones: Yes. I would not want to exaggerate how far it has gone and it is extraordinarily easy to lapse. We are at the moment, obviously, in a creative phase where we are trying to build a policy. It will be a test of the system how creative it remains when we are in the implementation phase, but I think that everybody who is involved is trying to make a significant effort to change the way policy is made.

  William Nye: I agree with that. It is essentially a networked model that the minister has been outlining. You have the National Security Secretariat working closely with not just the strategy units of departments but with other departments of State generally—sometimes on strategic thinking, sometimes on specific policies, but trying to inculcate a sense of common endeavour across all the departments that are involved. Obviously, some of them are more involved. Some of them are 100% involved, like the Foreign and Commonwealth Office. Others are involved as regards some of their activities, but the spread of the network across Whitehall is quite wide, so we have the Ministry of Justice and the Department for Energy and Climate Change, and on certain issues, as the minister says, the Department for Communities and Local Government also involved. It is a work in progress—and I am not going to comment on how the papers are compared with before—but we are certainly trying to get a sense of common endeavour and that forward-looking approach.

  Q330  Charlie Elphicke: Mr Nye, how are they all educated?

  William Nye: In what sense? They are a mixture of different backgrounds. My own team, for example—

  Q331  Charlie Elphicke: How are they going to be taught? Do you just suddenly say, "Oh, you look very promising. Why don't you just do this?" or are you going to have some kind of formal structuring, formal education and formal teaching? Or is it all just generalism?

  William Nye: We have a mixture of specialists from different backgrounds whom we bring together. To take my own team, I have a mixture of people from the Ministry of Defence, the Home Office—I am from the Home Office myself, albeit originally from the Treasury—some of the intelligence agencies, Revenue and Customs, some of the armed services and various other departments. Some of them have been through more formal training in things that are relevant for, say, horizon scanning or strategic thinking. Typically, those in the armed services and to some extent the Ministry of Defence civil servants may have been through more formal training, because that tends to be more embedded there; some of the other departments slightly less so. I do agree, if you are saying they need some common training, that there is an issue for us to think about. You want a variety of perspectives, as I think Peter Ricketts said, but you also want enough common mutual understanding to be able to work together. If I can mention one example, which is very nascent, we are working with the Defence Academy on a pilot project for a series of relatively senior level—One Star, Grade Five Deputy Director—leadership courses, organised by the Defence Academy but aimed at people who are going to work anywhere across the broader national security community so that they come together and, as part of their development, have this opportunity to think about national security issues in the round at the same time as doing personal leadership development.

  Q332  Chair: I gather that the Civil Service College—correct me if I am wrong—used to run a strategic thinking course that I think was six months, was it?

  Baroness Neville-Jones: A senior leadership course, yes.

  Q333  Chair: What strategic training have you had, Mr Nye?

  William Nye: I have been on a variety of personal development courses, many of which contained aspects of strategic thinking, but you are quite right to say that the Civil Service College approach of intensive staff college-type arrangements has gone and its successor, the National School of Government, does more of a variety of courses on a whole range of issues, tailored for customers to choose as and when. One of the reasons I was interested in working with the Defence Academy on this pilot project was to see if we could produce a product that was suitable for a lot of people with a national security interest across the whole of Government and was not, as it were, just something that was a Ministry of Defence course for 20 Ministry of Defence people and two people from another department, but something that was suitable for people from a whole range of departments. I will be honest: we have the first pilot version running in October, so it has not actually started yet, but I think it is quite an interesting idea.

  Q334  Chair: We are very glad to hear that. It bears out what the CDS told us in earlier evidence and in his RUSI lecture last year: he thought there had been a lapse in the culture and the habit of strategic thinking in Whitehall. He cited in his evidence that he felt that the military do far more strategic training than the Civil Service now does. You would accept that?

  William Nye: I would accept that the military do more training of that kind, certainly. There are plenty of opportunities for training in strategic thinking in the Civil Service and people, if they are sensible, will try to seize those opportunities because strategic thinking is one of the six core competencies for the Senior Civil Service, which you are supposed to be tested on, but it is not as uniform or established as it would be for the armed services.

  Q335  Charlie Elphicke: Baroness, can I ask you a slightly wider question, drawing on your glittering experience in defence, foreign policy, security, intelligence, the Cabinet and those sides of things? We heard in previous evidence that our sense of Grand Strategy and direction as a nation is slightly muddled. On the one hand, our foreign and military policy is entirely a subset of the United States—we do not have any independence on that, we just do what they say. On the economic side, we are entirely a subset of the European Union—we just do what it says. We are a satellite of each; a poodle yapping without any particular direction because we are pulled in two different directions. Would you say that is fair?

  Baroness Neville-Jones: We are now getting on to the substance of strategy, aren't we? If you want to draw a caricature of British policy over the years, it certainly has been composed of these two big pillars in our policy—our relationship with the US and our membership of the European Union. To a large extent, the UK has been able to run these reasonably well in parallel, though has not been without internal tension and I would not try to pretend otherwise. These relationships remain core to our position in the world and I think you will find that the National Security Strategy is not going to say something that is unconventional on that subject. But one of the conclusions that, I think, the Government nevertheless draw is that precisely because of having people thinking of you—and particularly your own people being worried by this—as being a poodle means that you actually do need to reassert, restate, rethink your national ambition and what it is to be British. Part of what we are trying to do is not only what the UK's role in the world is, but what kind of society we are—that is also something that the National Security Council is looking at, so it does have some quite Grand Strategy elements in its agenda—and, in a sense, to come up with an agenda for this country in the world that takes into account and draws on the strengths that those two fundamental relationships give us, but which says, "This is what, in the light of all that, the United Kingdom is going to do." I hope therefore it will give some stuffing to the notion that there is something called British foreign policy, British defence policy and British security policy, and that that along with some of the other things I have outlined are core elements in a British National Security Strategy. As I say, I understand the distinction between Grand Strategy and National Security Strategy. What I would say to you is I think that our definition of National Security Strategy is broad.

  Q336  Charlie Elphicke: Just to follow up on that: in terms of our sense of mission, Grand Strategy, purpose and direction as a country, do you have a sense of the sort of Britain that you or the Government would like, and that the nation as a whole buys into, regarding what Britain will look like or be or be doing in 10 years' time?

  Baroness Neville-Jones: I think some of that vision will appear in what we say. There are some very short-term and very important preoccupations. We do have to correct the state of the finances of the nation. You cannot ignore issues of affordability, and affordability in the short term, obviously, has an influence on long-term ambition—we also have to be realistic. But I think that what you will see us aiming to be is not a country that pulls up the drawbridge and says it has all become too difficult, too unaffordable and too complicated for us. We need to draw on the strengths we have but also be really alert to some of the hazards and dangers we face and that we do not allow them to mount, because it is getting yourself into a situation where you can fail to manage something early that gets you into extraordinarily expensive diversions in policy. That is one of the reasons why looking forward is going to be an essential element, it seems to me, in getting this strategy right.

  Q337  Mr Walker: I am not sure whether you can help me with this, but we had an interesting closed session with some brilliant thinkers and great minds and they talked about the UK managing decline. I did not really understand that, because actually, despite the short-term problems we have at the moment, our living standards have gone up dramatically over the past 50 years and many of the things we are talking about should be more affordable, not less affordable, because we are all getting richer. In reality, it is about choices, isn't it—whether we choose to spend more money on welfare or the NHS, or whether we choose to have a strong foreign policy backed up by strong armed forces, be it Navy, Air Force or Army? Isn't it really the case that it is about how we choose to spend our money?

  Baroness Neville-Jones: I think in broad terms, yes. Ever since I have been in government, and going right back to the beginning of my career as a civil servant, I have been in a world where people talk about managing decline and I have never accepted it as the governing element in the agenda. We have certainly had some extraordinarily bumpy periods and I would not say, looking back, that the country makes policy perfectly—there have been errors alright. What I would say is that in the situation in which we find ourselves at the moment—and there is a certain short-term inconvenience with the public finances—I don't think that is what should govern the way you look at your future in the world. What you have to do is you have to get this right, but you are quite right to ask what is the strategic environment and what are our ambitions as a society, and then what policies do we pursue to ensure that we can realise those ambitions in the environment in which we find ourselves? Do I think that our capacity to safeguard ourselves remains unchanging or the ways in which we have to do that remain unchanging? No, I do not. I do think that the world we are in now puts a very big premium on international co-operation among western societies. So I do think that it is not just a question of what you are trying to do; the how of it is very important. I think that the climate we are in now is more challenging from the point of view of attaining those objectives and succeeding in ways that we want to. From that extent, I think it is harder work. That is not unique to us; you could say that of all western democracies, I think.

  Q338  Chair: So what specific changes or recommendations would you make to improve our ability to identify and express those national interests and intentions to which you have just referred, and to improve the culture of strategic thinking that will help us pursue those? Do you have specific ideas and proposals? You must have some.

  Baroness Neville-Jones: I hope that when we produce our National Security Strategy and the SDSR—which I might add is being done at the centre although all previous defence reviews have been done in the department; in this one there is a huge contribution from the MOD, but it is essentially processed at the centre, which is itself a change, and of course it includes a big "S" in it, which is also a change in how we think about security issues—those two documents taken together will be an expression of what we are trying to achieve in the world, what we see as our role, what kind of society we think we are and how we are going to go about achieving them, and they will contain, I think, quite a bit of policy which relates to what we do at home as well as how we are trying to achieve policy objectives abroad. I come back to what I was saying earlier on: I think that many of those objectives that we have to seek abroad have to be done in co-operation with likeminded countries, and who you choose as your partners is going to depend on the issue and on the degree of like-mindedness and bringing all the assets together and making them co-ordinate well. One of the results of the existence of the council and of leadership in the departments is that we have a rather closer co-ordination now between the objectives for overseas development and some of the broader national needs. I think that using the tools efficiently, given that there are not spare resources around, is also going to be an important part of getting effective outcomes and implementation. This is going to be tested in implementation, not in design.

  Q339  Chair: But isn't the art of strategy about coming up with plans that recognise the constraints and bottlenecks so that you finish up with deliverable plans?

  Baroness Neville-Jones: Yes.

  Q340  Chair: To that extent, you need that iteration and testing of scenarios, and you need that conflict of ideas and the challenge—people challenging orthodoxy and raising awkward questions. Do you share my sense that there really is not enough of that in Whitehall at the moment?

  Baroness Neville-Jones: I think an incoming government do quite a lot of challenging.

  Q341  Chair: But that is about the change of government, isn't it?

  Baroness Neville-Jones: Up to a point, yes.

  Q342  Chair: It is far more difficult to tell the boss he is wrong towards the end of a Parliament than at the beginning.

  Baroness Neville-Jones: That is also absolutely right. I understand your point, Chairman, and are we going to build into this a capacity constantly to be thinking about whether we have it right or not? I think that is going to be one of the challenges to us. Not yet tested, but clearly part of the remit, is that when the National Security Strategy is being implemented, there is going to be a monitoring function on the part of the National Security Council. This comes back to the earlier questions about accountability. Obviously the departments will be accountable to Parliament, but there will be an internal accountability mechanism where, in a sense, the National Security Council and the Secretariat under it will be calling the departments to account for the implementation of that bit of the strategy that fell to them. So there will be an iterative, "How are you getting on?", and, "Why hasn't this happened?", and, "If you haven't been able to do it, can we devise another way or do we have to rethink it?"

  Q343  Chair: That is implementation rather than strategy, isn't it?

  Baroness Neville-Jones: Yes it is, but I am sure you would recognise, Chair, that in the end there is not a sharp line between the words on the paper and the strategy as set out originally and its implementation. These two things are iterative and they influence each other, and I would suggest that the test of whether you are achieving your goals is whether you don't just say, "Do your implementation by rote," and you are left alone to do it, but you are actually being pestered by other people in the National Security Council for, "How are you getting on?", and, "Where are we going?", because that is the process that asks the awkward questions about the relationship between what appears to be done and what the original objective was. That will happen. So I think that we are, I would hope, developing a situation in which the implementation itself remains a thinking process and doesn't just become execution.

  Q344  Mr Walker: As a country, I think we are riddled with self-doubt, but you do not strike me as a woman who questions herself too much, which is good—I think we need forceful personalities. Would you therefore agree that, as a country, we are in an extraordinarily strong position? We have the language of business, we have a democratic model that is widely admired around the world, we have history on our side—look at the opportunities emerging in India—we have a permanent seat on the UN Security Council and we project power across the world. We have all these things going for us at this enormously exciting time in the world's development—the world is getting richer, China is emerging. If we miss this opportunity as a country, do you think we will rue it for centuries to come?

  Baroness Neville-Jones: I certainly think that we must not be so worried about our short-term difficulties that we do not think about what the opportunities are in the long term. Your sentiments are very much mine. We have real assets and we should not forget them. History can provide you with some problems; it also provides you with a huge number of connections around the world. We have them and we should use them, so I am absolutely with you on the sentiment.

  Q345  Nick de Bois: I would really welcome your thoughts on what would be the likely constraints—and there will be constraints—on a Grand Strategy and where will they come from? Who will they be? What will they be? Will it be just our own institutions or are there external factors?

  Baroness Neville-Jones: I suppose the constraints that operate in relation to the pursuit of any objective—and this would be true, I think, whatever the scale—are: have you identified your objective clearly and correctly? If you are going up a blind alley, you are going to get into trouble and hit a wall. Have you then allocated to it the necessary and appropriate resources? Thirdly, do you then get down in a serious way to implementing? Do you work out what the stages are that you need to go through in order to achieve the objective? Very often when you do that, what you need to do when you are planning it is to start with the objective and work back to where you are and see what you do between the two. It is extraordinary the number of people who fail to do that. If you do not do those things, of course, you are liable just to wander around. So it is very necessary, in my view, if you want to achieve a policy objective, to work out a way of doing it and then constantly you have to test whether you have that right. One of the things I would say about British policy on the whole is that we are quite operational. We are not always as good, I think—and I say this in a sense as a former official—at fixing the objective and keeping our eye on it and we do sometimes go off on tactical tangents. That is a tendency that I think the existence of a broad strategy will help us correct. But I would say in the end that the things that limit you from achieving your objectives are usually your inability to bring your resources into play properly. They are in fact policy-making and policy implementation processes rather than the affordability of the policy, although it is grotesque, obviously, to identify an objective that clearly is wholly unaffordable—that is a silly thing to do. Provided you have a reasonable relationship between the two, I think very much of this lies in the quality of the policy-making process that you then put in place to pursue your clearly identified objective.

  Q346  Chair: Mr Nye?

  William Nye: Can I just add one thing to what the minister has said? I think there is also a practicality constraint if you draw the scope of whether it is a National Security Strategy or national strategy or Grand Strategy too wide. Of course, intellectually, you could relate any aspect of government to any other aspect of government and say they need to work together, and that is true, but the links between different elements are sometimes thicker than others. If you try to bring everything together into a national strategy or a Grand Strategy, rather than focusing on the things where those links are most important and you have the maximum synergies, there may just be—speaking as a practitioner—a practical problem in trying to do that much co-ordination and bringing together. We have, as the minister said, in thinking about national security, broadened the concept to bring in other departments and other elements, but in a way in which you can make a compelling case that persuades those new departments and agencies that they have a role to play. I think it would be quite difficult to try to take every aspect of government policy including, for example, health policy or welfare policy, and say, "Those are important elements of Grand Strategy." You could try to make that case, but you might want to look at which are the closest synergies. So we have picked up energy security, for example, and, as the minister has said, there are connections between elements of national security and things like extremism or integration. But I think you ought to be a bit cautious about how far you go in trying to pull everything together.

  Q347  Nick de Bois: So is it the art of the possible?

  William Nye: I think there always has to be an art of the possible in government.

  Chair: On that note, may I thank you, Baroness Neville-Jones and William Nye, for your help and support in this evidence session, and particularly Mr Nye, who attended our seminar last week? I hope our report provides the Government with some useful suggestions.

  Baroness Neville-Jones: I look forward to it.

  Chair: Thank you very much indeed.

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