Appendix 2Letter to the Prime Minister |
14 December 2010
I understand that the Government's response to PASC's
inquiry is in the advanced stages of preparation and that it is
not positive. It was also clear from our exchanges in the Liaison
Committee on 18th November, and from the Foreign Secretary's letter
to me of 14th November (copy enclosed), that the burden of our
recommendations has encountered resistance in Whitehall and from
the FCO. I would urge the Government to delay issuing a response
until there has been further consideration of the issues raised
in our Report.
The central finding of our Report (unanimously agreed)
is that you have inherited a system that has lost capacity to
think strategically. This reflects what the recently retired CDS
told us. This was confirmed by virtually all our witnesses. Their
concerns were not confined to the previous administration, as
the Foreign Secretary's letter erroneously suggests. We also concluded
that this is a concern for the whole of government.
To improve the quality of strategic thinking, it
is necessary to understand that "strategy" is not the
same as "a plan". Strategy is about dealing with uncertainty,
complexity and the dynamic. Strategy is not policy but the means
of making policy effective. Grand Strategy (or National Strategy)
is about ensuring that the whole of government identifies and
acts effectively upon the national interest. It needs to be articulated
constantly and updated regularly.
We welcome the Foreign Secretary's drive to create
more coherence (National Strategy) across government, but neither
he, nor the FCO, nor the NSC as presently supported can achieve
this. The national interest is expressed in terms so broad ("security,
freedom and prosperity") that they lack meaningful application.
We conclude that, as things stand, there is little concrete idea
of what the UK's national interest is, and therefore what our
national strategic purpose should be. There is a disconnect between
the language rejecting "strategic shrinkage" and cuts
in defence capability and diplomatic capacity. The NSC can do
little more than attempt to broker competing agendas and interests
from across Whitehall, rather than setting down coherent National
Strategy which leads departmental thinking.
This was evident in the closing stages of SDSR. Each
of the armed services also sought to promote their own version
of National Strategy, inevitably reflecting their own perspective
and interests. In the absence of a coherent National Strategy
laid down by the NSC, what else could they do? NSC is incapable
of generating coherent National Strategy, because it lacks access
to the necessary capacity for analysis and assessment. It cannot
therefore ask the right questions or make fully informed judgements.
It is entirely right that the final decisions on such matters
as the SDSR are for the Prime Minister and senior ministers, but
you must have been concerned that the process left you with so
many irreconcilable dilemmas.
Its security remit is also too restrictive. If the
NSC is confined to the security issues, who creates the remaining
aspects of National (Grand) Strategy and ensures NSS is integrated
with the whole? The Cabinet has no body or structure to support
it in this role. This is why we recommend that the NSC take on
the wider role for National Strategy (or "grand strategy").
This is not so that it should usurp the Cabinet's role or to become
a rival power centre, but to strengthen the quality of Cabinet
decision making by ensuring that there is proper examination and
challenge of all the options put before it. The Cabinet is fundamentally
a decision-making body, not a deliberative one.
Evidence to us also suggested that cross-departmental
collaboration on strategic thinking is variable and often conflicting.
Analytical resources are underutilised, and different departments
understand and discuss strategy in different and incompatible
ways. (Many seem to think that their departmental business plan
is "strategy". The MoD has 14 roles within the department
with "strategy" or "strategic" in the job
We did not recommend "a new bureaucracy"
for strategic thinking as the Foreign Secretary's letter suggests.
We do say it is essential to recruit, train and promote "a
community of strategists" from across Whitehall with different
experiences and expertise, who can work collectively, sharing
the same language and idiom of thinking. There is absolutely no
reason why this cannot be achieved from within existing resources.
When there is a new and completely unexpected strategic
shock, creating a new crisis, to whom does the Cabinet (and indeed,
to whom do permanent secretaries) turn? The lessons of recent
experience suggest that advice from those who have done speculative
analysis and assessment is at a premium at such moments. The NSC
represents potentially good architecture, but it cannot operate
effectively without comprehensive research and assessment capacity
Put in these terms, I would be surprised if either
the Cabinet Secretary or the National Security Adviser would disagree
with this. I would also expect the Foreign Secretary to support
a structure which would give him more leverage at the centre of
government to create cross-departmental coherence around foreign
policy, rather than relying on his single department to have the
I trust that the Government's considered response
to PASC's report will not simply seek to justify the status
quo. It should reflect a fuller appreciation of what the word
"strategy" means, what National Strategy should be,
and how it should be more effectively supported. If the Government's
response is essentially a rejection of our findings, PASC is not
minded to let matters rest.