Who does UK National Strategy? - Public Administration Committee Contents


Strategy is today a ubiquitous a term. Consequently it has lost its precision and become detached from its original military meaning. Every organisation, at almost every level, has strategies for dealing with perceived risks and taking forward opportunities. This report is not concerned with these sorts of plans or lists of actions. It looks instead into the capacity we have as a country to devise and sustain a continuing process which can promote our national interest.

This was once defined as 'Grand Strategy'. However, while its imperial, and potentially hubristic associations, may prove a hindrance, the notion inherent in it, that of an overarching process intrinsic to good governance, remains of value. It can best be described as 'National Strategy'.

It has long been assumed that UK national interests are best served by the touchstones of the US special relationship and our economic interests within the European Union. Uncritical acceptance of these assumptions has led to a waning of our interests in, and ability to make, National Strategy. Recent events such as 9/11, climate change and the banking crisis are making us think differently about the world, but require us to find the means by which we can anticipate and understand these challenges and devise an appropriate response to them.

If we now have a renewed need for National Strategy, we have all but lost the capacity to think strategically. We have simply fallen out of the habit, and have lost the culture of strategy making.

The new Government's aspiration to think strategically is most welcome but to restore strategic leadership ministers must invest time and energy into this. It is the only way to stimulate demand for strategic analysis and assessment within government. It must be supported by the establishment of specific mechanisms with appropriate authority.

Therefore, we propose that the recently established National Security Council and the post of National Security Adviser should have their remit widened to encompass National Strategy with a central coordinating role.

The single most important thing which can be done to restore our strategic capacity is to have a community of strategists, both inside and outside Whitehall. To foster such a community, government will need to look at its recruitment practices. We propose that the Civil Service and defence training establishments should come together to deliver an education programme and a career appraisal system should recognise and reward strategic skills.

For this reason we welcome the efforts of the previous Chief of the Defence Staff to engender a culture of strategic thinking. We encourage the new Chief to sustain and enhance this initiative and invite him to report to us on progress.

The disparate and uncoordinated elements for analysis and assessment which currently exist in government also need to be harnessed. We propose that the tested Whitehall audit tool of a capability review should be employed to ensure that capacity in departments is properly brought together. We anticipate that, in time, this cross-Whitehall capability can be developed into a new agency as a resource available to the whole of government.

We propose that research funding to universities in this area is at least maintained to ensure there is sufficient external input into strategy making in government. Interchange with outside bodies and academia must be positively encouraged and facilitated.

We also propose that parliamentary accountability and scrutiny is adequate to the task by widening the remit of the Joint Committee on National Security Strategy. Its makeup should also reflect the diverse interests in National Strategy with membership drawn from appropriate select committees, including ours.

We are conscious of the current financial circumstances. Our proposals have therefore sought to be largely cost neutral. However, we propose a small budget to enable central coordination of departmental contributions to National Strategy in a coherent fashion.

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Prepared 18 October 2010