The Strategic Defence and Security Review and the National Security Strategy - Defence Committee Contents

6  Conclusions

213.  During our inquiry we sought to establish whether the new national security thinking and structures, under the leadership of the National Security Council, had led to a more coherent and well defined security policy in terms of the ends of the National Security Strategy and the ways and means set out in the Strategic Defence and Security Review. We agree with the Government that the operation in Afghanistan was the top priority during the development of the NSS and SDSR. Operations in Libya must also be prioritised.

214.  We welcome the establishment of the National Security Council and the commitment to an updated NSS and SDSR every five years. The changing character of the threats facing the nation required a more collective response from Government. The previous culture of departmental-silos and turf wars needed reform. However more reform is still required, such as the development of the role of the National Security Adviser, the capacity of the National Security Council Secretariat and greater use of interdepartmental budgeting arrangements. The National Security Council must also ensure that the UK's Armed Forces and the general public are seized of the aims and objectives of its security policy and increased engagement by the Government is essential to achieve this. The National Security Council should develop a uniform vocabulary for strategic thinking across Government. Strategy is understood in many different ways across Government and the military and too often the message and intent becomes blurred.

215.  The latest National Security Strategy is an improvement on earlier versions but we have major concerns regarding the realism of its statement of the UK's position in the world and its influence. There is a clear contradiction in the short to medium term between the NSC's statement "that Britain's national interest requires the rejection of any notion of the shrinkage of UK influence in the world" and the Government's overriding strategic aim of reducing the UK's budget deficit. Despite the stated intention of rejecting any notion of the shrinkage of influence, our witnesses have forcefully told us that the UK's global influence is shrinking. Future National Security Strategies must have as their starting point a policy baseline that is a realistic understanding of the world and the UK's role and status in it. That said, the UK has demonstrated, and continues to do so across the world, that it has a major role to play in global affairs.

216.  The UK's national ambition must be matched and constrained by a realistic assessment of the resources available to achieve it. The adaptable posture advocated in the current National Security Strategy is a good starting point, but must not become a hostage to fortune requiring the UK to participate in the resolution of every global security challenge. This policy baseline must be available at an early stage to ensure that the correct decisions are made in the subsequent Strategic Defence and Security Review in terms of force structures and capability and platform decisions.

217.  We acknowledge that it was necessary to undertake the SDSR alongside the CSR. This resulted in a better financial settlement for the MoD than might have been realised if the two processes had been separated. However, given the speed of the review we are not convinced that the best use was made of experts from outside the Department.

218.  Our Report outlines some major concerns regarding the capability decisions made in the current Strategic Defence and Security Review. The starting point for capability decisions in future SDSRs should continue to be a consideration of what "sovereign" capabilities are required. The SDSR identified seven military tasks and the Defence Planning Assumptions that underpin them. However it does not set out how capability decisions such as those on Carrier strike and Nimrod MRA4 ensure that the Armed Forces are able to undertake the military tasks. In addition, the measures to be taken to cover the risks that capability gaps engender need to be developed—it is not sufficient to rely on old and new alliances, although these are valuable. When capability gaps occur, concrete plans should be developed to regenerate the capability, including the necessary skills amongst Service personnel. We hope that the plans to redevelop the carrier and carrier strike capability might serve as a model for the future.

219.  The biggest challenge arising from the SDSR and the next SDSR is the realisation of Future Force 2020. We have serious concerns about whether it will be achieved, particularly as the provision of necessary resources is only a Government aspiration, not Government policy. Given the uniqueness of MoD procurement we regard it as essential that the MoD has more certainty in its long-term planning and recommend that ten-year budgeting be introduced. This would also give the MoD greater confidence in the decisions it takes in future SDSRs. However, as part of this, the MoD must reform, and ensure substantially improved transparency and control over its finance and budgetary practices. Without this it is extremely difficult for the MoD to argue for additional resources. While we welcome the Government's new initiatives on value for money such as the Major Projects Review Board, we are not confident that given the reductions in the MoD budget and the continual reassessment and uncertainty in forward financial planning the UK Armed Forces will be able to reach Future Force 2020.

220.  The SDSR was unfinished business. It has been supplemented by a three month review and by further reports on the structure and senior management of the MoD, on the balance of Regular and Reserve Forces, on equipment, support, and technology for UK defence and security and the basing review. In the light of these changes it appears to us that despite statements to the contrary the SDSR has to all intent and purpose been re-opened and it has been done without the re-opening of the Comprehensive Spending Review. We will monitor events to ensure a coherent plan providing UK national security.

221.  Finally, we repeat our admiration for the Armed Forces and the civilians who support them. We must ensure that the implementation of the current SDSR and future SDSRs does not fail them.

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Prepared 3 August 2011