Written evidence submitted by the Cabinet
The security of the nation and its people
is the first duty of government. That is why on the first day
of the new Coalition Government the Prime Minister established
the National Security Council (NSC) to oversee all aspects of
the UK's security.
The NSC provides the forum for collective
discussion about the Government's objectives and about how best
to deliver them in the current financial climate.
As an early priority, the NSC is overseeing
the development of a national security strategy, taken forward
as part of the comprehensive Strategic Defence and Security Review
(SDSR). The SDSR is wide-ranging and cross-cutting, drawing on
the work of all the Departments concerned.
The discipline of systematic, weekly
consideration of national security priorities in a Ministerial
forum chaired by the Prime Minister is already driving a more
coherent approach to strategy across government Departments. A
series of inter-Departmental committees at official level culminates
in a weekly meeting of NSC Departments at Permanent Secretary
level, chaired by the National Security Adviser. This allows strategic
priority-setting, a closer alignment between strategic policy
making and the work of the Joint Intelligence Committee, and agreement
on issues which do not need Ministerial attention. Strategy Units
across Whitehall are working more closely on national security
Q1. What do we mean by "strategy"
or "grand strategy" in relation to the foreign policy,
defence and security functions of government in the modern world?
1. Grand strategy is no longer a term that
is in widespread usage; but it is understood to mean the purposeful
and coordinated employment of all instruments of power available
to the state, to exploit the changing opportunities and to guard
against the changing threats it faces.
2. The National Security Council is therefore
developing a national security strategy that starts with a definition
of the national interest based on an analysis of the UK's place
in the world and covering all aspects of security and defence.
3. This strategic definition of the UK's
national interest will set the framework for the Government's
approach to national security over coming years, and will form
the basis for the decisions that emerge from the Strategic Defence
and Security Review.
Q2. Who holds the UK "strategic concept"
and how is it being brought to bear on the Strategic Defence and
4. As noted above, the national security
strategy, setting out the key principles and priorities which
define the UK's approach, is being developed collectively by the
NSC in a process driven forward by Ministers, supported by the
National Security Secretariat in the Cabinet Office. This national
security strategy sets the context for the SDSR through which
all instruments of national power are brought together to ensure
the security and prosperity of the UK, and to promote a more secure
Q3. Do the different government departments
(eg Cabinet Office, Number 10, FCO, MoD, Treasury) understand
and support the same UK strategy?
5. The government Departments with key security-related
functions are all represented on the cross-government National
Security Council chaired by the Prime Minister. Member Departments
include: FCO; HMT; Home Office; MoD; DECC; DFID and the Cabinet
Office. Cabinet Ministers in other Departments not principally
engaged with security issues also attend Council sessions as the
subject matter requires. The national security strategy is being
developed with all Departments concerned, and it will be endorsed
by the NSC collectively.
6. The benefit of having a single strategic
approach to national security is exemplified by DFID, which has
aligned its crucial contribution to the Government's response
to conflict and instability overseas in a way that can both help
the world's poor andby making the world a safe and more
stable placeenhance UK security.
7. There are currently two ministerial
sub-committees of the Council; NSC (THRC) to consider Threats,
Hazards, Resilience and Contingencies and NSC (N) to consider
Nuclear Deterrence and Security. Their remit is to examine more
specific national security areas, in which a range of relevant
Departments participate, including MoJ, DH, BIS, CLG, Defra and
8. Additionally there are associated cross-government
senior official groups that support and inform these ministerial-level
structures. Principal amongst these is the Permanent Secretaries
Group, chaired by the National Security Adviser, Sir Peter Ricketts.
All of these centrally co-ordinated structures aim to ensure a
coherent strategic approach to national security across government.
As part of the planning for the implementation of the national
security strategy through the SDSR, the Government is considering
how it can further strengthen strategic direction and oversight.
9. The overarching national security strategy
will be underpinned by a number of sub-strategies such as CONTEST
and the UK's Cyber and Counter-Proliferation Strategies. Relevant
Departments are collaborating on the development of these cross-cutting
strategies, delivering them in partnership where this is appropriate.
10. The coherent approach engendered by
the National Security Council, the National Security Strategy
and the assorted sub-groups and sub-strategies is further bolstered
by the fact that the Joint Intelligence Committee brings together
both policy-makers and intelligence agencies to agree intelligence
assessments weekly: this cross-government consensus ensures that
policy making takes place on the basis of a common assessment
of the intelligence picture.
Q4. What capacity exists for cross-departmental
strategic thinking? How should government develop and maintain
the capacity for strategic thinking?
11. On establishing the National Security
Council, the Prime Minister also appointed a new National Security
Adviser, Sir Peter Ricketts, to lead a central Cabinet Office
team, the National Security Secretariat, which co-ordinates national
security activity across government. This Secretariat includes
a strategy team that is working with strategy units or equivalents
in other Departments such as the MoD and the FCO on developing
and implementing national security strategy and strategic projects
relating to it. It is also responsible for coordination of cross-government
horizon-scanning and early-warning. There is already a culture
of collaboration across strategy units: they often work cross-departmentally
on issues of mutual interest and which cut across departmental
12. Other capacity includes the Whitehall
Strategy Programme (WHISPER) for senior policy makers run by the
Royal College of Defence Studies (RCDS), which looks at issues
of strategic significance and their implications for government
policy, planning, culture and capacity, and the Future Intelligence
and Security Outlook Network (FUSION): a forum for futures analysts
run by the Foresight Horizon Scanning Centre to share expertise
and challenge existing mindsets. These groups recently brought
the strategy and the analyst communities from across government
13. There are notable examples of collaboration
in the national security field, including:
the common framework for the UK's counter-terrorism
the cross-governmental mechanisms for
responding to civil emergencies;
the Conflict Pool which funds UK efforts
to prevent and respond to conflict overseas; and
the Stabilisation Unit which has recently
strengthened its capacity to facilitate cross-HMG planning and
strategy in fragile and conflict-affected states.
Q5. What frameworks or institutions exist or
should be created to ensure that strategic thinking takes place
and its conclusions are available to the Prime Minister and Cabinet?
14. As described above, the newly established
National Security Secretariat within the Cabinet Office works
with relevant government Departments and agencies to ensure a
coherent approach to national security. Ministers have the opportunity
to consider key strategic national security issues at the weekly
meeting of the National Security Council, chaired by the Prime
Q6. How is UK strategy challenged and revised
in response to events, changing risk assessments and new threats?
15. The Government recognises that there
is a need to maintain flexibility in its national security response,
underpinned by a realistic understanding of the current context,
the opportunities and threats the UK faces and a sense of how
that context might change over time.
16. There are currently several horizon
scanning functions within government, including a co-ordinating
team within the Cabinet Office's National Security Secretariat,
which offers systematic mechanisms for examining potential future
national security threats and opportunities and enables us to
plan and adapt accordingly. The Defence Intelligence Staff analyse
longer-term strategic threats, and the MOD Development, Concepts
and Doctrine Centre produces long-range analysis of the global
strategic trends in the international system, and of the future
character of conflict. For domestic security risks, a National
Risk Assessment (NRA) process has been in place since 2004. This
is updated annually and since 2008 a public version has been made
available in the form of a National Risk Register. These horizon
scanning mechanisms have fed into assessment of risk as part of
the national security strategy and the SDSR.
17. The work of the National Security Council
and the JIC both involve senior-level challenge functions. Government
is also subject to external scrutiny and challenge through Parliamentary
Select Committees and the Joint Parliamentary Committee on the
National Security Strategy.
18. The cross-government strategic response
to real-time events such as terrorism or natural disasters is
provided by the COBR mechanism, chaired by the Prime Minister
or senior Minister of the lead Department. Longer-term strategies
examining the national response to incidents are often informed
by independent reviews such as the Anderson Review into Foot and
Mouth Disease and the Pitt Review into the summer 2007 floods.
The recommendations of such reviews are usually implemented via
Cabinet Committee processes.
Q7. How are strategic thinking skills best developed
and sustained within the Civil Service?
19. 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. There is also specific
expertise within government, for example in the Prime Minister's
Strategy Unit, which aims to encourage and promote strategic thinking
Q8. Should non-government experts and others
be included in the government's strategy making process?
20. The inclusion of non-government experts
in the Government's strategy making process is important as a
stimulus and challenge to its thinking and provides additional
expertise where it may not exist within government. As part of
the development of the national security strategy and the SDSR
the Government has engaged with think tanks and key experts in
the defence and security field to seek their views on the key
strategic issues the Government faces. For example in cyber security,
where the private sector own most of the Critical National Infrastructure
(CNI), the Office of Cyber Security has held discussions with
a number of non-government experts from across industry, the universities
and the professional institutions to help with the development
of its cyber plan.
Q9. How should the strategy be communicated
across government and departmental objectives made consistent
21. The national security strategy is being
developed through the NSC, as the basis for the SDSR: both will
be published in the autumn. This will enable relevant Departments
to take full account of the national security strategy in developing
Q10. How can departments work more collaboratively
and coordinate strategy development more closely?
22. There are already mechanisms in place
to facilitate collaborative working and strategy development across
government, many of which have already been outlined in this response.
The Government recognises however, that there is more that it
can do to turn strategy in to action and will be considering how
to strengthen and encourage a coherent and consistent approach
to national security across government as part of its planning
for the implementation of the national security strategy and the
Q11. How can reduced resources be appropriately
allocated and targeted to support delivery of the objectives identified
by the strategy?
23. The Government must make difficult decisions
in all areas of spending, including national security. A well
developed strategy and effective strategic thinking will be essential
to make the most of scarce resources, by identifying the Government's
key priorities and focussing resource where they can have the
Q12. Do other countries do strategy better?
24. The Government recognises the value
in studying and learning from other countries' approaches to National
Security. This is already evident in the ongoing work to develop
its national security strategy as part of the SDSR. The Government
has adopted a risk-based approach to national security, drawing
on the UK's experience of using this for domestic security and
on the experiences of the Netherlands in developing a risk-based
national security strategy. The Australian focus on national interest
has also informed our thinking. As part of the SDSR the Government
has consulted a number of close international allies, to engage
them in its thinking and seek their views and advice early on
in the process.
Other countries also look to the UK's experience
of developing strategy. The US Department of Defence, for example,
recently undertook a fact finding mission to the UK to learn from
the UK's experience of pooled funding in support of more joined-up,
cross-HMG approaches to conflict and instability overseas. Places
for overseas students at RCDS are oversubscribed and highly sought