4 Capacity to make strategy
overwhelming view from our witnesses was that the UK is not good
at making National Strategy and there is little sense of a national
direction or purpose.
Sir Robert Fry thought that "we have a national tradition
of being good at Grand Strategy, but we have not illustrated that
33. We heard evidence of the UK's capacity for strategy
making in the recent past. Professors Hennessy and Prins both
referred to the Committee on Imperial Defence created by the Prime
Minister, A J Balfour, in 1902. It was as an attempt and a precedent
to create a standing capacity for strategic thinking necessary
to spot potential troubleand potential opportunitiesfor
our diverse imperial interests.
34. Professor Hennessy also referred us to more recent
attempts to undertake a fundamental reappraisal of Britain's position
the world: Harold MacMillan's Study on Future Policy. Commissioned
in 1959, it assessed where Britain would be by 1970 on the basis
of current policies. However its candid assessment led to it eventually
being pulled from discussion by Cabinet.
Similarly the Centre for Policy Review Staff in the 1970s provided
No. 10 with the capacity for a no-holds-barred appraisal of the
issues facing the country at that time.
35. The ending of the Cold War and the absence of
a clearly identifiable 'enemy' threatening our existence has meant
there was little incentive to devise a new 'Grand Strategy'. The
view after the fall of the Soviet Union was, if anything, of a
'new world order'. Sir Robert Fry believed that:
[...] you fall out of the habit of Grand Strategy,
and I think that is what happened to us in the second part of
the 20th century. Also larger strategies that were extranationalso
NATO, the cold wartook over and really took the place of
any Grand Strategy.
36. Instead we have seen a much more reactive approach
to dealing with the threats and crisis which we have faced over
the last decades, with no capacity to assess potential risks.
The then CDS lamented that the UK did not have nearly sufficient
capacity for strategy making at the moment. He did not think "we
have inculcated the art of strategic thinking [...] the default
mode of thinking is tactical".
Instead much of our effort has been, and is, directed at 'fire-fighting'
and contingency planning, necessary but not sufficient.
Professor Paul Cornish described it in a slightly different way,
"The British preference has been for incrementalism in
strategy'ad hocery' or 'muddling through'".
37. There is some evidence for the existence of good
practice and new approaches. For example, the Office for Security
and Counter Terrorism is seeking to promote better cross-departmental
approach in this area. Departments themselves, as the Departmental
Capability Reviews have identified, have got better at horizon
scanning and strategy making, but respond to the changing strategic
context independently. Moreover many desk officers have good networks
across Whitehall and work effectively with their counterparts
in different departments on their day-to-day work.
However, Cat Tully noted that such, "practice[s are] ad-hoc
across Whitehall, reinvents the wheel frequently and depends on
the individuals involved".
38. In his evidence to us, the Foreign Secretary
asserted that strategic thinking not only had to be done at the
highest circles of government but was being done by the new Government.
He explained that "there is a national strategy [...]
which the Prime Minister and the Cabinet discuss together and
pursue together, central to which is the deficit reduction without
which we will not have a credible national position in the world
on very much at all".
Senior ministers were discussing strategic issues and some
of this thinking was reflected in his July speech.
39. The new Government's
aspiration to think strategically is most welcome, but we have
yet to see how this marks any significant improvement in qualitative
strategic thinking from its immediate predecessors. Apart from
the creation of the NSC, which we go on to discuss below, we
have found little evidence of sustained strategic thinking or
a clear mechanism for analysis and assessment. This leads to a
culture of fire-fighting rather than long-term planning.
40. This leads
us to the profoundly disturbing conclusion that an understanding
of National Strategy and an appreciation of why it is important
has indeed largely been lost. As a consequence, strategic thinking
has atrophied. We have failed to maintain the education of strategic
thinkers, both in academia and in governmental institutions. The
UK lacks a body of knowledge on strategy. Our processes for making
strategy have become weakened and the ability of the military
and the Civil Service to identify those people who are able to
operate and think at the strategic level is poor.
35 Q 188 Back
Qq 8 - 9 and Ev 90 Back
Q 22 Back
Q 215 Back
Q 270 Back
Q 25 [Julian Lindley French and Peter Hennessy] and Ev 79 Back
Ev 85 Back
Ev 94 Back
Ev 94 Back
Q 110 Back