Who does UK National Strategy? - Public Administration Committee Contents

1  Introduction

Strategy without tactics is the slowest route to victory. Tactics without strategy is the noise before defeat.

Sun Tzu

1. On 26th May this year, the Rt Hon William Hague MP, Foreign and Commonwealth Secretary told the House of Commons:

This Government reject the idea of strategic shrinkage. We believe that this would be to retreat as a nation at the moment when a more ambitious approach is required.[1]

Later, in July, in the first of four major speeches, he proposed "a distinctive British Foreign Policy that extends our global reach and influence". He claimed that "the previous government had neglected to lift its eyes to the wider strategic needs of this country, to take stock of British interests…". [2]

2. He said that the Strategic Defence and Security Review, "will be a fundamental reappraisal of Britain's place in the world and how we operate within it". He continued: "the increasingly multipolar world […] means […] that we must become more active".[3]

In what he called "our new Government's vision of foreign affairs", he concluded:

So we are raising our sights for the longer term, looking at the promotion of British interests in the widest sense. In the coming months, we will develop a national strategy for advancing our goals in the world […].[4]

3. This is the context in which we decided to hold an inquiry into, "Who does UK Grand Strategy?" in order to provide a fresh appraisal of the qualities of strategic thinking in government and any recommendations for improvements.

4. PASC's 2007 inquiry on 'Governing the Future' examined strategic thinking within government. That report noted that:

Future thinking is an uncertain business. Strategies should be kept under review so that they take account of new information and developments in research. Willingness to adjust policy in light of new evidence or changing circumstances should be seen as a sign of strength, not of weakness.[5]

5. The previous Government published the first National Security Strategy in March 2008, followed by a second a year later.[6] One of the first acts of the new Government was to establish a National Security Council (NSC). An early priority for the NSC has been to oversee the development of a new version of the National Security Strategy alongside a Strategic Defence and Security Review (SDSR).

6. However, concerns continue to be expressed, publicly and strongly, that the UK has long since lost both the ability to articulate its national interests and the capacity to think strategically about how to meet them. In a lecture delivered last December, the then Chief of the Defence Staff (CDS), Sir Jock Stirrup, drew particular attention to the fact that, in his view, the UK has "lost an institutionalised capacity for, and culture of, strategic thought".[7] Whilst acknowledging that the UK did have people who could think strategically, Sir Jock considered that we had become "hunter-gatherers of strategic talent, rather than nurturers and husbandmen".[8] He went on to explain how this lack of strategic thought made it much more difficult for us to formulate strategy to deal with problems in today's rapidly-changing world, and just how important it was to re-create the culture of strategic thought within Whitehall.

7. The implications of the CDS's judgement should be worrying for the whole of government and his concern is one of the main reasons for our inquiry. This report examines: what the term 'strategy' means; how it should be made, sustained, challenged and adapted; and whether the Government has the capacity and the skills to do so.

8. We took oral evidence from the Rt Hon William Hague, the Foreign Secretary and the Rt Hon Baroness Neville-Jones, the Security Minister as well as key senior officials including Sir Peter Ricketts, the National Security Adviser and Sir Jock Stirrup, the then Chief of the Defence Staff. We also heard from former officers involved in strategic planning, Sir Robert Fry and Steven Jermy and three eminent historians in this field, Professors Peter Hennessy, Hew Strachan and Julian Lindley-French. We also hosted an expert seminar with participation from government, the military, academia and the corporate world. We received twelve memoranda. We would like to thank all those who gave evidence as well as to our specialist adviser on this inquiry, Chris Donnelly.

1   HC Deb, 26 May 2010, col 174 Back

2   Britain's Foreign Policy in a Networked World, 1 July 2010 , http://www.fco.gov.uk/en/news/latest-news/?view=Speech&id=22472881. Back

3   Ibid Back

4   Ibid Back

5   Public Administration Select Committee, Second Report of Session 2006-07, Governing the Future, HC 123-I Back

6   Cabinet Office, The National Security Strategy of the United Kingdom: Security in an Interdependent World, Cm. 7291, March 2008 and Cabinet Office, Security of the Next Generation:The National Security Strategy of the United Kingdom: Update 2009, Cm 7590, June 2009  Back

7   Annual Chief of the Defence Staff Lecture, 3 December 2009, http://www.rusi.org/cdslectures  Back

8   Ibid Back

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