5 The way forward |
41. The previous chapters have examined: the concept
of National Strategy; the importance of having such a National
Strategy; and the lack of capacity currently in the UK to generate
and sustain National Strategy. This Chapter considers how the
Government might restore this capacity.
42. The importance of political leadership was a
theme which emerged from the seminar we hosted. The challenge
is securing coherence. Strategy making should be more than the
sum of individual departmental strategies.
43. There was a view that the incoherence in strategy
had been due to the absence of adequate political leadership.
This view blames 'sofa-government', presidential-style foreign
policy decision-making, the break-down in Cabinet government and
rifts between relevant ministers, for the lack of clear strategic
vision. This may
be too pessimistic. The previous Government did commission and
published two National Security Strategies in 2008 and 2009. The
previous Prime Minister also established the National Security,
International Relations and Development cabinet committee (NSID),
albeit it rarely met, and even more rarely under the chairmanship
of the Prime Minister himself.
44. The Foreign Secretary was clear that strategic
leadership had to come from the top of government and that the
Prime Minister and senior colleagues were providing it. In his
view, "The person at the top of the organisation has to
be doing the essential thinking about the long-term, otherwise
it is not possible to implement strategy".
He told us that the current Government was doing just that. "That
is the single most important consideration here, because I feel
that in the current Government [...] there is a strong sense of
the need for strategic thinking".
Previous failures in strategy making were the consequence of political
failure to lead in this way and therefore led to a failure to
ask or expect officials to think strategically.
This is certainly true. We agree with Steven Jermy's proposition
that "[...] one of the most important things in strategy
is that politicians must engage early and continually".
45. It is therefore
essential for ministers to invest time and energy into strategy
making. It is the demand from ministers for strategic appraisals
which will create the "strategic appetite" within departments
and Whitehall more generally for better and soundly based strategic
analysis. In turn this will promote the culture of strategic thinking
we have identified as necessary.
46. There is
a second and equally important element about strategy: the need
to ensure democratic legitimacy and to recognise the political
limits of what strategy and our national interests can achieve.
As Dr Niblett put it to us:
In the end, however, the Government will need the
British public's support if it is to marshal the financial resources
and the political legitimacy with which to pursue a bold Grand
Strategy. The Government should talk frequently, openly and honestly
about how the world is changing, about the challenges, opportunities
and choices that this presents and the resources that the UK should
be prepared to allocate to promote its future prosperity and security.
47. Participants at our seminar also noted, it
is elected politicians and ministers that have the democratic
legitimacy for such decisions. Elected
representatives are best placed to articulate an understanding
of what the electorate will find acceptable.
Structure and Frameworks
48. In recent years, the creation of departmental
strategy units has recognised the necessity for taking a long-term
view. We do not doubt that the Civil Service has sought to grapple
with the need to instil strategy making as a skill; we question
whether the effort has been correctly focused. It is telling that
the weakest element of the strategic "function" in the
Departmental Capacity Reviews is "building common purpose".
49. Answers to parliamentary questions about several
departments' contribution to national strategy, show there was
neither consistency nor clarity. In particular, HM Treasury refers
to its "central role in the development and implementation
of strategy on a national scale, on both the economy and the public
finances" but makes no reference whatsoever to any other
strategic priorities which it might be required to fund.
Where should strategy reside?
50. The Foreign Secretary was robust in his view
about the central role he envisaged for the Foreign Office in
driving National Strategy "[...] with the responsibility
of doing the thinking, of having creativity and producing long-term
thinking [...]" to ensure that foreign affairs run through
the "veins of all domestic departments".
51. We understand
the logic of the Foreign Secretary's aspiration, and we welcome
his drive to create more coherence across government. We strongly
disagree with the idea that any single department, even FCO, can
drive National Strategy. For intuitive strategic thinking to flourish;
for it to be effectively harnessed, and for coherent National
Strategy to be made and implemented, requires the establishment
of specific mechanisms with the appropriate authority.
A role for the NSC?
52. The new Government has established a National
Security Council (NSC) made up of senior ministers and served
by a revamped National Security Secretariat. The Secretariat is
headed by the new post of National Security Adviser, Sir Peter
Ricketts. The first two tasks for the NSC will be the delivery
of the SDSR and the publication of a new National Security Strategy.
53. The creation
of the NSC has been broadly welcomed by all those from whom we
took evidence. However from the perspective of National Strategy,
the NSC is only a start. Firstly its remit
is restricted to matters of national security. Baroness Neville-Jones
sought to give national security a wide definition and 'reach'.
We accept that issues like immigration, climate change and energy
security can pose security as well as environmental or economic
problems to the UK. However the excessive use of "security"
labelling for issues can be dangerous. We accept that national
security will be among the largest component of National Strategy.
However, as the Foreign Secretary and Sir Peter Ricketts among
others conceded, national security is merely a subset of National
Strategy. As Peter Hennessy observed, the NSC "won't work,
it won't rise to the level of events, unless it broadens this
notion of strategy".
54. Sir Peter Ricketts confirmed that "[...]
the only place where [National Strategy] comes together finally
is in the Cabinet".
However, the Cabinet is not the best forum for iterative exploration
and reflection. The functioning
of National Strategy requires a proper deliberative forum with
access to proper analysis and assessment. As a decision-making
body the Cabinet is best suited to discussing and approving options.
We recommend that a senior committee, such as the NSC, should
have the task of developing those options relating to strategy.
The Government should expand the remit of the NSC and of the National
Security Adviser to take on a central coordinating role for National
we recommend that the Foreign Secretary, with the Prime Minister,
should focus his leadership of National Strategy more explicitly
through the NSC rather than relying too much on his own department.
56. To undertake such a role, the NSC needs to be
supported by a cross-Whitehall organisation that operates coherently
and as one body. The evidence to date, and especially in regard
to the SDSR, is that the NSC functions more as a clearing house
than as an organ of critical assessment. Sir Peter Ricketts sought
to explain that he was "[...] part of the Cabinet Office
and so national security is my bit, but Gus O'Donnell and the
other parts of the Cabinet Secretariat and the policy unit and
the strategy unit and the other bodies that are available to them
are where strategic thinking would be done in preparation for
It appears to us that national strategic thinking is divided and
57. Related to this, we are also concerned that the
NSC lacks its own independent source of assessment and analysis
of the strategic environment in which it should be operating.
Professor Strachan posed a key question about the NSC, "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?
Asking for this information from departments run the risk in his
view of "balkanisation", advice reflecting their particular
58. The Cabinet Office described recent efforts at
improving cross-departmental strategic working as being reflected
in initiatives such as the Whitehall Strategy Programme (WHISPER)
and the Future Intelligence and Security Outlook Network (FUSION).
It claims that these groups recently brought together the strategy
and the analyst communities from across government.
59. We acknowledge
the notion that Whitehall operates in silos may be an exaggeration.
Certainly, we accept that there have been attempts to overcome
the traditional barriers such as the Office
for Security and Counter-Terrorism (OSCT) and the UK's counter-terrorism
strategy (CONTEST). However
this is insufficient
for creating National Strategy which must harness the necessary
capabilities and resources already existing in Whitehall.
to us, including the answers to Parliamentary Questions at Appendix
1, suggested that in fact cross-departmental collaboration is
variable, analytical resources are underutilised, and that different
departments understand and discuss strategy in different and incompatible
ways. Departmental collaboration therefore falls short of what
individual departments can do independently. The whole is less
than the sum of the individual parts. The emerging Strategic Defence
and Security Review would seem to be a case in point.
SDSR and strategy
61. It is clear that the main priority of government
is deficit reduction and the Treasury is bent to that task. However,
SDSR is meant to be "strategic". The Foreign Secretary
told us that what he was seeking to ensure over the next few years
is that the Foreign Office has the capability to do long-term
thinking. "That means, for instance, that if I have to
choose  between reducing some programme expenditure now [and
the] capability to do the sort of things I am just describing
in the future, I will stress preserving the capability for the
62. And yet our colleagues in the Defence Select
Committee have felt compelled to seek assurances that "the
outcomes of the SDSR will be fully funded". Moreover
given the novelty and complexities of the SDSR's pan-Departmental
nature, and its coincidence in time with the CSR, they have expressed
concern "that the rapidity with which the SDSR process
is being undertaken is quite startling", leading them
to conclude that "serious mistakes will be made".
63. This seems to reflect a collision between the
isolated 'strategies' of different government departments, notably
with HM Treasury. It is to be hoped that the outcome of SDSR will
reflect the ability of NSC and the Cabinet to resolve these differences
in sympathy with a genuine National Strategy. As Sir Robert Fry
observed, "[...] when you have to husband your resources
and really define the ends that you want to pursue, Grand Strategy
is much more important than when you are in more prosperous times".
Strategic Thinking Skills
64. The Cabinet Office said "Strategic thinking
is a valued skill in the Civil Service. It is one of the six core
requirements in the Senior Civil Service competency framework".
William Nye conceded that while there was training available in
the Civil Service, it was not as uniform or established as it
used to be.
65. The Institute for Government considered that
joint working by strategy units in departments has led to an embryonic
"strategy community". However, it saw current arrangements
for providing training on strategy, planning and national security
issues as ad hoc. There was an absence of joint training and strong
cultural and skills differences between departments with relatively
little movement between them.
66. Professors Hennessy, Lindley-French and Prins
were more dismissive of the idea of what Cabinet Office meant
by strategic thinking. For Peter Hennessy "It's something
much more narrow and meagre and management consultant contaminated".
Professor Lindley-French thought "they probably mean 'management',
when they talk 'strategy'".
Professor Prins called for removal of "[...]the faux-commercial
language of targets, contracts and 'deliverables'".
67. We heard from the former CDS how he set up a
strategic advisory panel for the Chiefs of Staff and a programme
of education for middle-ranking officers with the aim of developing
"the habit" of strategic thinking.
The former CDS explained that there was no real enthusiasm in
Whitehall more widely:
[...] the Permanent Secretary and myself had a go
at setting up something along these lines [a Whitehall wide forum
for the practice of strategy] about two and a half or three years
ago across Whitehall and it did not really garner much support.
As a consequence, I decided that the way to do it was to start
something off our own bat and make it such a success that everybody
wanted to pile into it, so we hope to expand that over the next
two, three or four years.
strongly support the efforts of the former CDS to engender the
culture of strategic thinking. We commend his initiatives of setting
up a strategic advisory group and a forum for the practice of
strategy. It is disappointing and telling that his broader Whitehall
efforts gained so little support. It has served to reveal the
apathy and intellectual weakness, even antipathy, towards strategic
thinking in the rest of Whitehall. We invite the new CDS to ensure
that this initiative is maintained and if possible enhanced and
to explain personally to us how he plans to do so. We would also
exhort the rest of Whitehall to engage in the process.
69. We found a critical gap in current thinking skills
required in government. Different evidence demands different types
of analysis. Strategy is about dealing with uncertainty. Professor
Prins pointed out that an increasing number of the current challenges
are not amenable to neat 'solution' because they comprise "[...]open
system issues, incompletely understood with no bounded data set,
no stopping rule for research, no possibility for iterative experimentation
and notorious for producing perverse, unintended consequences
when governments try to act on them".
Without recognition of this there is a dangerous tendency to form
strategy in a comfort zone, treating all problems as 'tame'.
70. The Foreign Secretary acknowledged the value
of trained staff and ensuring that strategic skills are recognised.
He emphasised that ministers should: demand such skills from their
staff; ensure that civil servants feel they have the freedom to
express their views; and recognise these skills in their evaluation
of their performance.
71. The best strategists will not always be the most
senior officials. However, an ability to think strategically is
an essential quality of senior leadership. Such a leader will
ensure that their organisation welcomes and nurtures strategic
thinking at all levels. Selecting and promoting senior officials
for their capacity for strategic thinking, and not just their
management skills, is a crucial factor in regenerating the practice
of strategy within government.
72. It is essential
to recruit, train and promote a community of strategists from
across Whitehall with different experiences and expertise who
can work collectively. Without this, strategic thinking will be
misinformed leading to a mis-appreciation of the true strategic
situation, particularly when we are hit by 'strategic shocks'.
Moreover, strategy is a skill that can be learned. We recommend
that the Royal College of Defence Studies and the National School
for Government and others should consider how best to devise a
joint forum and programme of education to provide the cultural
change that is necessary.
skills should not only be valued but properly recognised in the
appraisal system. Such skills would help provide the UK with greater
sense of strategic direction and national purpose.
A national strategic assessment
74. The Foreign Secretary thought it was a mistake
to have a separate strategy unit in his department. He wanted
strategic thinking to be infused throughout the entire organisation.
He considered that strategy was something best done by every official.
Asked if even the ambassador in Washington should be a contributor
to UK National Strategy, he was emphatic: "Absolutely,
yes". When asked if this meant "strategy is better
done on the hoof", he responded, "No, it is better
done all the time".
However, we suspect that relying too much on busy line managers
for strategic analysis and assessment, and too little on dedicated
assessment staff, is what contributes to 'ad hocery' and 'muddling
75. We strongly disagree that politicians and civil
servants should do strategy on their own. The Foreign Secretary
made reference to the fact that "Napoleon did not have
a strategy unit. He worked it out; he made his strategy".
This would seem to be a mistaken parallel. Napoleon did have a
cadre of officerswho he kept outside the command chainto
provide him with independent sources, so that he might evaluate
strategic advice offered and form his own views.
Moreover, Napoleon utterly failed to turn success on the battlefield
into a more sustainable political success. As the Foreign Secretary
conceded, "He came a cropper in the end".
76. There is a further overriding consideration affecting
ministers and their senior officials. Modern politics is a world
away from the relatively leisured pace of events before global
communications. Ministers and key officials today are pressed
in by the speed and intensity of events and 24 hour rolling news.
This distracts from their ability to "pause and reflect"
and to engage in strategic thinking and discussion in the way
their forebears could. Moreover, the problems and challenges of
international politics, economics and society are ever more complex,
requiring an ever broader body of experience and technical expertise
in order to form a comprehensive understanding. Ministers
will always have the decisive and crucial role in National Strategy.
Consequently, to make the best of the time they devote to strategy
making, they must have the information, analysis and assessment
availablesupplied by trained staffin order to make
rational, long-term strategic judgements.
77. Our inquiry has clearly exposed the absence of
means for detailed consideration about the risks and threats we
may face now and may face in the future, as well as about opportunities
for the UK to extend its influence and prosperity. Furthermore,
the mechanisms for cross departmental working are still inadequate.
78. It is essential that the Government's currently
disparate elements for strategising are harnessed in a way that
will enable them to contribute to National Strategy making. Professor
Hennessy proposed a capability review to examine linkages between
the NSC and those providing input. The capability review should
also be used to determine the effectiveness of strategic thinking
in No. 10 and the Cabinet Office.
79. We therefore
recommend that a capability review of National Strategy should
start as soon as possible. It should report within a year. It
should examine the various parts of Whitehall which should be
contributing to National Strategy, as well as in No. 10 and the
Cabinet Office. The capability review should determine how far
the strategy functions in each department consider themselves
part of a wider strategist 'profession'; to what degree there
is shared training, ways of working; and ensure there is 'strategic
literacy' to support National Strategy.
80. In the longer
term, we would hope that enhanced Whitehall collaboration will
lead to the development of a new agency to complement the existing
arrangements. The new agency's Director would be a key player
in Whitehall with regard to National Strategy, and whose inputs
and assessments would complement the joint intelligence assessments.
It would not make policy but be a resource
available to the whole of government.
This would avoid creating a rival power
centre as feared by the Foreign Secretary. We welcome the fact
that the Foreign Secretary conceded to us that the idea of joint
strategic assessment staff was "worthy of debate".
External Input to National Strategy.
81. One notable difference between the strategist
"communities" here and elsewhere, is the ease with which
there is flow between the Government, think tanks and other institutions.
The former CDS noted that in America:
[...] people flow between [government and outside],
so the ideas and the thinking flows into and out of government
and between these different organisations in a way that it does
not here. The thinking goes on here, but it goes on in compartments
and it is very hard to get it shifted from one field into anotherfrom
the academic to government and vice versa. 
82. The Institute for Government endorsed this view,
"Compared to some other countries, the UK was much less
porous, with less interchange between the outside world (think
tanks, academia) and Whitehall".
The Foreign Secretary recognised this too.
Professor Lindley-French summarised the situation as either "ivory
towers or policy bunkers; we don't have much in between".
However, Professor Prins documented how, within the (former) Defence
Evaluation and Research Agency (DERA) real progress had been made
before the break-up of that agency interrupted it. The (former)
Advanced Research & Assessment Group (ARAG) at Shrivenham
Defence Academy had likewise built such bridges before it was
83. The Foreign Secretary described how people from
outside were invited to speak to the National Security Council
during its meeting at Chequers on Afghanistan at the end of May,
precisely because they favoured either withdrawal or a different
strategy. We welcome the interchange and challenge which such
an occasion provided but this was a one-off. There needs to
be a constant refreshment of thinking, with genuinely challenging
analysis and ideas. This must be regularly within reach of the
Prime Minister and other ministers. There should be greater interchange
between outside experts and Whitehall and career progression should
involve spending time both within and outside of government as
part of a wide and diverse strategy community.
84. Some of our witnesses regretted the passing of
sponsorship for professorial chairs at universities. More particularly,
Professor Strachan saw real pressure on strategic thinking outside
Whitehall created by the current arrangement for both university
funding and research assessment. This is because, within a politics
department, engagement in public policy does not figure within
the UK as something that counts in the research assessment exercises.
"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".
We are realistic about
the prospects of providing any additional funding directly to
university departments to support strategic studies. However,
the Government must ensure that funding for research into National
Strategy and strategy making is not squeezed out by funding for
more fashionable or profitable academic programmes. The reallocation
of funding required is minimal and would be in the national interest.
Accountability and scrutiny
85. We have already discussed the importance of democratic
legitimacy as part of the National Strategy making process. Parliamentary
scrutiny and oversight is essential. Additionally the scrutiny
role will only be effective if it has recourse to analytical capacity.
86. The Joint Committee on National Security Strategy
(NSS) is envisaged as the way by which Parliament will scrutinise
the development and implementation of the NSS. We are extremely
disappointed that it has not met. We
recommended earlier that the role of the NSC should be broadened
to encompass national strategy. We
would invite Parliament to consider that the Joint Committee on
National Security Strategy should likewise have its remit broadened
to become the Joint Committee on National Strategy and Security.
We would also invite the House to re-consider its membership.
Contributions to National Strategy and National Security derive
from a variety of departments, not least from the Cabinet Office.
We suggest that membership of the Joint Committee should therefore
be drawn from all appropriate departmental select committees.
It would include this Committee, which oversees process at the
heart of National Strategy and National Security.
87. In our view,
reinvigorated strategic studies in universities and elsewhere
will be essential for the Joint Committee to carry out its scrutiny
and accountability role, and to give authority and support to
88. In the meantime,
in the absence of formalised scrutiny structures for National
Strategy, we intend to continue to scrutinise the development
of strategy making in Whitehall as part of our future work and
we will return to this topic periodically.
Funding National Strategy and
89. The Cabinet Office is vague about the funding
of national strategy-making. It merely states that well developed
strategy and effective strategic thinking will be essential to
make the most of scarce resources. The Cabinet Office argued that
this can be achieved by identifying the Government's key priorities
and focussing resources where they can have the most impact.
90. However in a candid admission to us, Sir Peter
Ricketts noted that cross Whitehall cooperation "works
up to, but not including, the point where money becomes involved,
because departmental budgets and the tradition of accounting officers
to this Parliament and departmental responsibility for the money
can be a real obstacle to genuinely joined up work".
that national strategic priorities, once identified, are adequately
resourced is an important corollary to strategy making. The
allocation of resources must be embedded in the process of National
Strategy. In this way, decision making will reflect the limitations
of resources, but priorities when set, will attract the funding
they require. The absence of such a process
is reflected in the fears that many have expressed about the SDSR.
As Sir Jock Stirrup graphically told us "Ideas that do
not have the adequate resource put into them are not a strategy;
they are a fantasy".
92. As for strategy
making itself, we are conscious in these financially constrained
times of the need to recommend proposals which are affordable
and practical. We would anticipate that the reorganisation and
redeployment of these resources, which are already funded, should
be cost neutral. There can be no excuse for the Government to
neglect the necessity for, and value of, properly marshalled staff
93. We do not believe that National Strategy can
be identified as a separate government programme. It is National
Strategy, and the making of that strategy, which must be "in
the veins" of every government department, including HM Treasury.
We would, however, support
a small, central budget allocated to National Strategy making;
either under the control of the Cabinet Secretary, or the National
Security Adviser in his a wider, National Strategy, role. This
funding would be enable coordination of National Strategy making
in each department, to ensure that departmental contributions
to National Strategy are compatible, to promote common training,
and to draw all those involved into a 'community' of Whitehall
45 Ev 93 Back
Q 65 Back
Q 57 Back
Q 113 Back
Q 216 Back
Ev 83 Back
Cabinet Office, Capability Reviews: An overview of progress
and next steps, December 2009, pp 19-24. Back
Appendix 1 Back
Qq 56 and 63 Back
Q 311 Back
Q 8 Back
Q 175 Back
Q 29 Back
Ev 65 Back
Q 56 Back
Defence Committee, First Report of Session 2010-11, The Strategic
Defence and Security Review, HC 345, paras 12 and 14 Back
Q 215 Back
Ev 65 Back
Q 334 Back
Ev 75 Back
Q 21 Back
Ev 91 Back
Q 273 Back
Q 261 Back
Ev 88 Back
Qq 82 - 83 Back
Q 65 Back
Martin van Creveld, Command in war, Harvard University
Press, 1985 Back
Q 66 Back
Q 90 Back
Q 284 Back
Ev 74 Back
Q 91 Back
Q 31 Back
Latterly named the Research and Assessment Branch (R&AB). Back
Q 31 Back
Q 164 Back
Q 294 Back