Written evidence submitted by Dr Paul
This paper is in response to an "Issues
and Questions Paper" circulated by the Public Administration
Select Committee in July 2010. The Paper poses 12 questions, each
of which is addressed below. Some questions have an abstract and
discursive tone that is reflected in the responses given.
Strategy forms the connection between
policy (ie government security and defence policy) and practice
(ie the preparation and use of military force).
A national strategic concept must encompass
analysis, authority, ambition and action.
The UK does not yet have a strategic
The UK does have a national strategic
process, but what matters is whether government departments will
choose, or be required to support and implement the outcome of,
The national strategic process must bear
the seal of Prime Ministerial authority.
There is insufficient capacity for, and
interest in, cross-departmental strategic thinking.
The National Security Council must be
central to the development of a national strategic culture.
More could be made of the Royal College
of Defence Studies and the Joint Services Command and Staff College.
The involvement of non-governmental experts
(in an advisory capacity only) is under-developed.
Futures/trend analysis should be undertaken
systematically and coherently, within one body.
When resources do not match commitments,
more attention should be paid to risk management.
Other countries do strategy differently,
rather than better.
What do we mean by "strategy" or "grand
strategy" in relation to the foreign defence and security
functions of government in the modern world?
1. "Strategy" is a term in
general governmental use as well as in the commercial sector and
elsewhere. As a result, strategy has come to mean little more
than "policy" or "planning ahead". It does,
however, have a precise origin, stemming from the Greek strategia
meaning generalship, or the art of the military commander. While
the term retains some of its original meaning, one difficulty
for those concerned with the application of military force is
that "strategy" will never be reclaimed from widespread
use and it will never be possible to confine its usage exclusively
to military matters. It should always be borne in mind, therefore,
that in "strategy" we have a term that has (or should
have) a specific meaning in one context, but a more diffuse meaning
2. In the military/defence context strategy
should describe a relationship between security and defence policy
on the one hand and military action on the other. Strategy, in
other words, is about purposive activity. This seems obvious:
all strategymilitary, commercial, industrial, political,
criminal, individual etcis surely about purposive activity.
But according to a deeply embedded Western intellectual tradition,
where generalship is concerned it has become especially important
that "purpose" and "activity" should not be
conflated. When military force is applied, the purpose should
be not merely to achieve military ends, but to serve some overarching
and legitimising political goal. Since Carl von Clausewitz, the
early 19th century Prussian soldier-philosopher, we have been
familiar with the idea that the primary strategic task is to establish
the political goal, and only then to consider the role of military
force in achieving that goal. In the sense used here, strategy
is what gives policy its ways and means, and military action its
3. Clausewitz divides the activity of
war spatially and temporally into three overlapping areas of activity:
country/war, theatre of operations/campaign, position/battle.
These correlate closely with the division of warfare into the
strategic, operational and tactical "levels" taught
in western military academies and staff colleges:
(a) Strategy refers to the higher organisation
and planning of defence and war: the interface between the military
and the diplomatic/political worlds.
(b) Operations are the level at which armed
services are organised and equipped to carry out strategic decisions
Nc) Tactics, reflecting Mahan's observation that
"tactics" are about "contact" with the enemy,
are the concern of fighting formations and units from divisional
to platoon level.
4. It is useful to add one level to the
top (Grand Strategy) and another to the bottom (Individual) of
(a) Grand Strategy has been used to mean "all
the factors relevant to preserving or extending the power of a
human group in the face of rivalry from other human groups."
Other terms, such as "total strategy", "war policy"
and "high politics", have been used to convey the same
meaning, but at a time when war for survival is arguably a remote
contingency the traditional use and meaning of grand strategy
as an exceptional activity is obsolete. Yet with some redefinition
the term can remain useful. Security and defence challenges are
more complex, interwoven and mutable than in the past. This is
also a time in which it is considered most effective to meet these
challenges with a "comprehensive approach" or "joined
up government", as well as a time of financial stringency
affecting all functions of government. In such circumstances,
grand strategy can be used to locate strategy (as defined above)
within the overall plan for government, indicating that strategy
is one among several aspects of normal government rather than
an exception to normal government. Grand strategy can then show
where defence and security lie within the overall plan for government
and how strategy might be prioritised against other areas of government
activity and expenditure.
(b) Individual. Albeit at the bottom of the
politico-military hierarchy, individual members of the armed forces
have always been the essential components of military activity.
This statement is so obvious as to be scarcely worth making but
with the advent of real-time surveillance and communications and
the extensive media coverage of military operations in recent
years the importance of individuals has become far more pronounced.
Sometimes the activity of an individual soldier can have strategic
significancecf. the idea of the "strategic corporal".
5. Where politically motivated military
activity is concerned we now have a five-level model: Grand Strategy;
Strategy; Operations; Tactics; and the Individual. The relationship
between the levels is circular: grand strategy sets the overall
context in which strategy is determined and resourced; strategy
shows how political goals can be achieved through the use of military
operations; operations are shaped by what is tactically possible;
tactics are driven by the operational plan and are limited by
what is individually feasible; the individual is the foundation
upon which the whole effort is built and can on occasion have
direct significance at the strategic or grand strategic level.
What is important about this "levels of war" model is
that it describes a dynamic, action- and outcome-oriented politico-military
process. As Clausewitz argued, "The political object is the
goal, war is the means of reaching it, and means can never be
considered in isolation from their purpose."
Who holds the UK "strategic concept"
and how is it being brought to bear on the Strategic Defence and
6. Some governments are systematic in preparing
and publishing a national strategy. Every US Administration, for
example, is required by the 1986 Goldwater-Nichols Act to publish
a National Security Strategy. The document has often appeared
late, and sometimes not at all; the latest edition appeared in
7. The United Kingdom is a more recent and
rather reluctant convert to an idea that might be thought to go
against the grain of British pragmatism. Britain's political classes
might consider national mission statements to be the preoccupation
of other, less self-confident and less experienced countries.
The British preference has been for incrementalism in strategy"ad
hocery" or "muddling through".
8. The UK cannot yet be said to have a "strategic
concept" if by that term we mean a combination of several
elements: analysis, ambition, authority and action:
(a) Analysis: a published description/forecast
of the international situation in the early 21st century.
(b) Ambition: a concise articulation of the "interests"
and "values" which the UK Government will seek to protect
and/or project in the context it describes/forecasts.
(c) Authority: leadership on the part of central
government to insist that the concept must drive policy.
(d) Action: a commitment to implement the concept
on the part of all relevant government departments (eg Cabinet
Office, HMT, FCO, MoD, DFiD).
9. The UK Government has, however, altered
its approach in recent years, producing a National Security Strategy
(NSS) at the rate of one per year: the first version appeared
in March 2008, the second a little over a year later and with
the third due later in 2010. The first two versions of the NSS
were impressive analytically and descriptively (particularly NSS
2009) but lacked "authority" and "ambition";
it seemed that compliance with the NSS remained at the discretion
of the relevant government departments. This state of affairs
might change with the advent of the National Security Advisor
and National Security Council (NSC), with the NSC's work to "commission
and oversee" a Strategic Security and Defence Review (SDSR)
in parallel with its work to "develop and publish" a
new NSS, and finally with the "strong involvement" of
the Treasury in the work of the NSC.
10. The relationship between the NSS and
the SDSR is difficult to discern. The most obvious relationship
would be linear/sequential, whereby the NSS would drive the action
of the MoD as a delivery department, set out in the SDSR. However,
by some accounts the preference is instead for the rationale (ie
the NSS) and its implementation mechanism (ie the SDSR) to develop
in parallel, consistent with an umbrella concept (eg "Adaptable
Do the different government departments (eg No
10, Cabinet Office, FCO, MoD, Treasury) understand and support
the same UK strategy?
11. It is my understanding that these government
departments, as well as DFiD and the Home Office, have all been
involved in/contributed to the development of the NSS 2010. In
that respect it would be hard to imagine that these government
departments were not aware of the NSS and understand it. But whether
they all support and will implement the NSS will depend on the
(a) Whether the NSS is written in such a way
as to provide clear and unequivocal strategic guidance as to the
operations to be undertaken by the delivery departments.
(b) Whether the delivery departments will be
required by No. 10 to implement the NSS.
(c) Whether the Treasury will ensure adequate
resources are made available.
What capacity exists for cross-departmental strategic
thinking? How should government develop and maintain the capacity
for strategic thinking?
12. In the field of security and defence,
I am aware of a certain amount of inter-departmental strategic
working through committees and through cross-departmental posting
of officials. The latter is particularly effective when those
concerned are experienced mid-career officials. I am aware also
of formal Whitehall structures that seek to develop an inter-departmental
strategic approach; the Prime Minister's Strategy Unit, the Conflict
Pools, the Post-Conflict Reconstruction Unit and its successor
the Stabilisation Unit are all illustrative. In my view, however,
the culture of government in the UK is not amenable to cross-departmental
strategic working: government departments consider themselves
sovereign in their field and protect their "turf" vigorously.
This is reflected in (or perhaps caused by) the Treasury's resource
allocation system that privileges a culture of departmental sovereignty
over inter-departmental working.
13. As far as I am aware there has been
and remains much less scope for cross-departmental strategic thinking.
In some cases, such as the MoD's Development, Concepts and Doctrine
Centre, I believe there has been cross-posting of staff in order
to undertake strategic thinking and futures work. I understand
that some non-MoD officials also attend the Royal College of Defence
Studies (RCDS). But in general, my perception is that government
departments conduct their own strategic thinking, possibly driven
by the turf protection motive described/referred to above.
14. What is required is an inter-departmental
strategic "think tank", an organisation known to be
independent of the departments of state and which reports to/advises
the Prime Minister and Cabinet Office. Staff for this organisation
could be recruited from outside government, to form a new cadre
of civil servants, or from within government. The first option
runs the risk of creating a team of "whizz kids" who
know little about government and whose analysis would be considered
to lack foundation. The second option is preferable, ensuring
that the government strategy organisation would reflect the culture
and preferences of the various departments and would be able to
make use of the most capable people within those departments for
periods of two or three years. The NSC seems to promise something
of what is outlined here. But for this to work the relevant departments
of state would have to support the initiative fully. The initiative
would also require adequate resources, not least to enable sophisticated
computer modelling, scenario planning and "war gaming",
and appropriate staffing levels.
What frameworks or institutions exist or should
be created to ensure that strategic thinking takes place and its
conclusions are made available to the Prime Minister and Cabinet?
15. As indicated above, the requirement
must be for a body which can conduct research and analysis and
pose strategic questions impartially at the national level rather
than partially at the departmental level. As far as I can see
the NSC is the only organisation to undertake this function and
it is in the best place (the Cabinet Office) to do so.
16. It will probably be insufficient merely
for the conclusions of an inter-departmental strategy organisation
to be made "available" to the Prime Minister and Cabinet.
There should also be some indication of "leadership pull".
There should be a sense that the Prime Minister supports the work
of the strategy body and wants/needs its advice. Equally, there
should be evidence from time to time that the Prime Minister is
willing to act upon the analysis received.
How is UK strategy challenged and revised in response
to events, changing risk assessments and new threats?
17. There can be no doubt both that UK strategy
has been challenged over the past 15-20 years: the end of the
Cold War; the first Gulf War; the Balkans conflicts; the fire
strike; flooding; Sierra Leone; the foot and mouth outbreak; 9/11
and 7/7; operations in Iraq and Afghanistan. My perception is
that UK strategy has been revised as a result of these challenges;
how could government have done otherwise? I consider that the
revision of strategy has been cautious, which I welcome, and has
been more ad hoc than formal and declaratory. This is not
to say that strategic shifts have not been reflected in formal
government policyconsider both the "New Chapter"
to the 1998 Strategic Defence Review, the NSS sequence outlined
above, and the excellent "Strategic Trends" work of
the DCDCbut it is to suggest that the UK preference is
first to assess and to act, and to describe/explain later. In
a particularly complex and volatile international security environment
this is the best, if not the only approach.
How are strategic thinking skills best developed
and sustained within the Civil Service?
18. I am not familiar with the Civil Service
training syllabus. Exposure to other departmental cultures in
the course of a career is an obvious and necessary step towards
the cultivation of a government-wide strategic culture. Attention
should also be paid to formal training and education in risk assessment
and management methodologies, in scenario planning and exercising
19. The UK has considerable assets already
available with which to develop strategic thinking, notably the
Joint Services Command and Staff College and the Royal College
of Defence Studies. I am not sure, however, that these bodies
are exploited as fully as they might be.
Should non-government experts and others be included
in the government's strategy making process?
20. Non-government experts should certainly
be included in the strategy making process. It would be unintelligent
to do otherwise. Yet there should be a clear demarcation between
analysts/adviserswhether governmental or non-governmentaland
decision-makers. Various people and organisations should be invited
to advise and comment on policy, but it is the exclusive responsibility
of government to decide and to act, for which it must be held
21. The Ministry of Defence makes an
admirable effort at liaising with non-governmental research institutes
and policy analysts. However, efforts to include non-government
experts in the policy process in an advisory capacity have at
best been sporadic and at worst ineffective. From time to time
some individuals and some organisations have enjoyed a high level
of access to the policy-making process. But this is unlikely to
encourage the growth of a critical and vibrant national strategic
culture, such as that in the United States and in some European
countries. It is noticeable that the UK is less effective than
many other western democracies in developing a durable relationship
between policy-makers and non-governmental experts, and it is
puzzling why this should be the case, given that the UK has a
very sophisticated security and defence establishment as well
as a wide range of research institutes and university departments
working on security and defence matters. Efforts such as the Advanced
Research and Assessment Group (ARAG), while well conceived, could
not durably bridge the divide between government and non-governmental
experts, were not regarded as being at the leading edge of security
and defence, and were considered by independent research institutes
and academic departments to lack both policy authority and intellectual
credibility. The failure of ARAG might have been a function of
budgetary constraints and the choice of location.
How should the strategy be communicated across
government and departmental objectives made consistent with it?
22. I am not sufficiently familiar with
intra-governmental communications to be able to respond fully
to this question. I would suggest, however, that strategy without
authorityie the Prime Minister's authority and leadershipwill
not overcome the forces of departmental sovereignty.
How can departments work more collaboratively
and coordinate strategy development more closely?
23. In addition to the points made above,
I would suggest a more consolidated and systematic approach to
futures/trend analysis. In my understanding, futures analysiswhich
is of course an essential ingredient in timely and effective strategic
planningis undertaken separately by a number of government
departments. Yet there is only one future, rather than several.
That future is fundamentally unknowable but with trend and scenario
analysis it is possible to prepare intelligently and self-critically
for the future rather than wait for it to happen. By pooling resources
from interested government departments the NSC could develop a
first-class futures/trend analysis capability. This capability
would lend itself readily to the development of government-wide
grand strategy, one that would not preclude each government department
addressing its specialist concerns.
How can reduced resources be appropriately allocated
and targeted to support delivery of the objectives identified
by the strategy?
24. To the extent that there can be a solution
to the resources/strategy gap, I believe that solution must lie
in the adoption of a risk-based approach to strategy. The challenge
is to devise a risk management methodology which is prospective
(as all risk management must be) and which can deal with a risk
picture that will continue to evolve. What is required, in other
words, is a risk management posture that has credibility and authority
even without knowing the precise nature, likelihood and timing
of the risk or the potential harm. The national risk position/appetite
evolves as well; a function of shifts in public and political
opinion. A risk-based approach must enable the refreshment of
ideas and judgements about both the threat/hazard and about the
risk position. It will never be possible to produce a perfect
response to risk, but with careful preparation and risk refreshment
it should be possible to ensure that the answer is as good as
can be expected.
25. NSS 2010 together with SDSR 2010 should
generate a system that can link values/interests, capabilities,
resources, current commitments and futures in one coherent system.
The system should be able to balance these MoD-internal demands
against each other, and should then balance MoD against other
governmental commitments within an overarching grand strategy.
Do other countries do strategy better?
26. Strategy is neither absolute nor uniform.
It is only possible to do strategy within the cultural and political
context from which the rationale to maintain and use armed force
is derived. It is always instructive to assess how other countries
frame and implement their strategy. But other countries can never
do strategy better, only differently.