Who does UK National Strategy - Public Administration Committee Contents

Written evidence submitted by the Cabinet Office


    — 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 issues.

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 Security Review?

  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 global environment.

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 and—by making the world a safe and more stable place—enhance 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 DfT.

  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 responsibilities.

  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 together.

  13.  There are notable examples of collaboration in the national security field, including:

    — the common framework for the UK's counter-terrorism approach;

    — 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 Minister.

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 across government.

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 with it?

  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 their priorities.

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 SDSR.

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 most impact.

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 after.

September 2010

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Prepared 18 October 2010