Who does UK National Strategy? Further
1. We reported to the House on "Who does UK
National Strategy?" in our First Report of Session 2010-11,
published on 18 October 2010 as HC 435.
2. The Foreign Secretary wrote to the Committee on
14 November 2010 about the Report. It was evident from the terms
of that letter that our proposals were not finding favour in Whitehall.
The letter is published as Appendix 1.
3. We were concerned that the Government's response
would seek primarily to justify the status quo. We therefore
agreed that the Chair should write to the Prime Minister encouraging
him to pause and reflect on the implications of our findings and
the importance of our recommendations, before finalising the response.
This letter is published as Appendix 2.
4. The Government response was received on 21 December
2010 and is published at Appendix 3. We are disappointed that,
despite our urging to the contrary, the response has failed to
engage more fully with our findings or to address adequately our
proposals for improvement.
5. The central contention of our Report is that Government
has lost the capacity to think strategically. The burden of expert
evidence we received was that short termism and reaction to events
predominate in recent Whitehall practice. The ability to articulate
our enduring interests, values and identity has atrophied. Strategy
is too often thought of as a plan for action or a document rather
than a process which needs to be articulated constantly and updated
regularly. We argued that the Government needs to reclaim the
art of creating "national strategy" which should encompass
all areas of Government activity and not focus just on national
security. Our Report advocated an overarching and ongoing strategy-making
6. The Government's response suggests that there
are fundamental confusions about terms, no agreed definitions
and hence at present none of the prerequisites for constructive
engagement with the analysis in our Report. It is entirely prescriptive.
In its response, the Government asserts that its overall strategy
is set out primarily in the document "The Coalition: our
programme for government".
Allied economic, defence and national security strategies are
contained in the Budget, the Spending Review, the Strategic Defence
and Security Review (SDSR) and in the National Security Strategy
(NSS) (which is also more 'review' or 'plan' than 'strategy').
Departmental business plans, in turn, determine priorities for
the whole of Government. However, important as the terms of the
Coalition Agreement and the other statements of policy may be,
they are by no means a statement of Britain's enduring national
strategic interests: nor could be expected to be such. The Government's
response confuses interests with tactics. It is an illustration
of why so many of our witnesses came to the conclusions they did.
7. The Government insists that it is right to confine
strategy to the narrow context of national security, and there
to frame it in terms of the NSS. In our view the response fails
to acknowledge the significant and serious concerns expressed
to us by the former Chief of the Defence Staff (CDS), retired
senior military officers and other observers, that the UK has
"lost the institutional capacity for, and culture of,
What is also missing is recognition that strategic aims cannot
be set or adjudicated without an articulated account of who 'we'
are and what we believe, both about ourselves and the world. Many
of our witnesses were concerned that there were hidden assumptions
underpinning present policies. These need to be exposed so that
they may be tested and, if necessary, altered.
8. Our main recommendation is to create a "community
of strategists" from across Whitehall - and beyond -
to provide the necessary capacity for analysis and assessment
to support a National Security Council (NSC) with a widened remit
encompassing National (or 'Grand') Strategy. Such assessment would
include a standing requirement to judge how well the various methods
of analysis and different issues from across Whitehall are brought
together. We remain concerned that without this capacity the NSC
can only broker compromises between departmental views based on
incompatible principles, and that the failure to establish a common
language and idiom of thinking about strategy is bound to leave
different parts of Whitehall at cross purposes, as is widely believed
to be evident in the outcome of the SDSR.
9. The Government says it shares our views on the
importance of strategic analysis to underpin policy making, but
the response rejects a systematic approach in favour of the current
system of cabinet committees. However, they are primarily decision-making
bodies and lack the supporting capacity for assessment and analysis.
The NSC is not "a powerful centre of strategic assessment"
as the response claims because it lacks virtually any staff to
undertake such work.
10. The response does accept our argument for stronger
collaborative working in Whitehall and agrees to review ways of
ensuring better linkage, clearer commissioning and stronger impact
of the various existing strategy making networks with the aim
of fostering the culture of strategic thinking across government
which we believe to be necessary.
11. We welcome this and the Government's intention
to report to the Committee on the outcome of this review in six
months time. However, the review will focus only on national security
and not national strategy. We are encouraged by the fact that
the new CDS will maintain his predecessor's initiatives on strategy
capability and that the Defence Reform Review is considering how
to develop these further. However, the response is largely silent
on our central recommendation about the need to recruit, train
and promote strategic thinkers and to renovate the methodologies
12. Getting National Strategy wrong has real and
sometimes dire consequences. At the time of the Helmand incursion
in 2006 only two British soldiers had been killed in battle in
Afghanistan. The total is now 349 - almost all as a consequence
of the Helmand decision. Yet the Government has failed to respond
to evidence given to us that that decision was taken in the absence
of a coherent strategy at the politico-military level and without
any grand strategic sense of our national interest. The Government
has yet to produce evidence of the extent to which the doubling
of aid to fragile and conflict states will reduce threats to the
13. An inability to think effectively about wider
National Strategy in government presents a continuing risk to
the UK's future prosperity and safety. Getting it right matters.
The failure to anticipate the risk of the banking collapse and
take remedial action, for example, has affected the lives of every
14. As we witness the public and professional discussion
of our Report now continuing, we believe that it has provoked
a debate about strategy and National Strategy which the Government
will have to address. We are in no doubt that a continuation of
this debate is in the national interest and can only be of benefit.
We therefore intend to pursue opportunities to do so.
15. In particular, the Committee will launch a second
inquiry on the question of National Strategy when the Government
has reported to us on the outcome of its review in six months'
time. We intend that inquiry should focus on how effectively the
Government has assessed the UK's national interests; and how decisions
to protect and promote them have been reached.
1 Cabinet Office, The Coalition: our programme for
government, May 2010 Back
Annual Chief of the Defence Staff Lecture, 3 December 2009 Back