Defence - Minutes of EvidenceHC 197

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Oral Evidence

Taken before the Defence Committee

on Wednesday 11 September 2013

Members present:

Mr James Arbuthnot (Chair)

Mr Julian Brazier

Thomas Docherty

Mr Dai Havard

Mr Adam Holloway

Mrs Madeleine Moon

Sir Bob Russell

Ms Gisela Stuart

Derek Twigg

________________

Examination of Witnesses

Resolved, that the Committee should sit in private. The witnesses gave oral evidence. Asterisks denote that part of the oral evidence which, for security reasons, has not been reported at the request of the Cabinet Office and with the agreement of the Committee.

Witnesses: Sir Kim Darroch KCMG, National Security Adviser, and Julian Miller, Deputy National Security Adviser, Cabinet Office, gave evidence.

Q74 Chair: Sir Kim and Mr Miller, thank you very much indeed for coming in front of us. I know that this last couple of weeks has been a rather torrid time and we are grateful to you for coming on a private basis to give us some evidence, which we will then submit to you in the usual way for redaction in case there is anything that needs to be taken out of it before it is published. However, there will be negotiations and discussions between our staff and your staff about that.

This is the final evidence session before we have the Secretary of State in front of us to talk about the next defence and security review. The way that I would like to begin is to talk about the conclusions that the Joint Committee on the national security strategy has recently brought out and to ask you why some things have happened. First, that Committee says the National Security Committee appears to have focused on operational matters and short-term imperatives rather than strategically on long-term and blue-skies topics. Secondly, it is not convinced that the NSC is making the contribution to enabling the Government to work as a co-ordinated whole in the way it should; it questions how much extra value is derived from having the NSC, or whether it has become just another Cabinet committee. Thirdly, it says that major strategic policy changes appear to have been made by individual Government Departments without discussion at the National Security Council, such as Future Reserves 2020, or Army 2020, and that the NSC has not given a steer or considered what the security strategy implications would be. Fourthly, the National Security Council appears to have neglected central questions such as the eurozone crisis, Scottish independence and the US rebalancing to Asia-Pacific. Fifthly, there is no serious evidence yet seen of the Government pressing ahead with planning for the next security strategy or engaging outside people in that process.

So there is a sense, here, that the National Security Council appeared to be a good idea in prospect, but has turned out to be a bit of a disappointment. Why have other people-not you, perhaps-got that impression?

Sir Kim Darroch: Chairman, first, thank you for agreeing to my request to postpone my appearance here by a week. I was hoping that by the time I appeared the situation on Syria would be clearer and simpler. If anything, it is more complicated and murkier. Nevertheless, it was kind of you to agree to that; I am really grateful.

*** As you noted at the outset, I have brought with me one of my deputy national security advisers, Julian Miller. He is known to some of you; he has a long MoD pedigree and has specific responsibility for defence issues in the National Security Secretariat. If I may, I will turn to him at some points.

I suppose that the short answer to why the JCNSS took that view is that, clearly, it was unconvinced by my evidence to it to the contrary. That is something of a failure on my part. Since then the Chairman of that Committee has been in to talk to the Prime Minister, to go through her concerns on the points in that report. On the back of that, because the Prime Minister is a great believer in the value of the National Security Council and the work that it does, he has agreed to appear before the Committee if we can arrange a date before the end of the year, so it will have the opportunity to put these criticisms to him direct.

I can go through all of them, though I may turn out to be speaking rather too long for the patience of the Committee. The gist of our position is that the National Security Council does a mixture of the operational and the strategic. We believe that we get the mix about right. Of course, you can always debate whether we have done and considered every strategic issue that we could have done; there are only so many hours in the week, so many meetings in the year, and you can’t cover everything. On Future Reserves 2020, before I became national security adviser, they discussed the 2010 SDSR extensively. We would argue that these changes introduced by the MOD since then are within that framework and did not need to come back to the full NSC for extended policy discussion, since the basic framework had been agreed; but there was a lot of inter-departmental work and consideration of the changes you referred to.

On the issues that are neglected, it is not as though the Government are neglecting European defence issues. Before the European defence discussion at the December European Council, which is coming up in a few months, there may well be an NSC discussion of those. However, there is another committee that does European business, which has focused on those issues already.

On Scottish independence, there is a huge amount of work going on in Government, although not in the NSC so far.

Q75 Chair: Hold on. You said there is another committee, which implies that the National Security Council is just another committee. Is it? Should it be?

Sir Kim Darroch: No. I don’t think it is just another committee. If you look at the way it is set up and its membership, it is unusual if not unique among committees, but there is a European Scrutiny Committee which does European business. So far the National Security Council has not done European issues. In the end the Prime Minister decides what the agenda should be. There are always two or three options for every slot. So far European defence has not made it, but in future it might do so. Is the NSC like every other committee? It is not. The Prime Minister’s chairmanship and the nature of its membership makes it unique. European defence has been considered by senior Ministers in the appropriate forum.

Q76 Chair: We were not suggesting that European defence was the key issue. Maybe the eurozone crisis should have been.

Sir Kim Darroch: Again, there was an awful lot of discussion of the eurozone crisis, including in the full Cabinet. Those discussions were prepared in the European Affairs Committee. You could argue that the NSC should have done it, but the Prime Minister took the view that he wanted to use it for other important discussions.

Q77 Mr Havard: You have just picked up the point I was making. It was not European defence, it was whether the changes in the eurozone and with the euro were of such a strategic nature that they needed a response on that basis. You have given your answer. One of the tensions arising is a broader academic-type question about what happened to Cabinet government. Is this a substitute for the Cabinet? Some people would advocate one body for the foreign policy and defence thing, and a similar body for domestic policy. There is a lot of discussion. My question is whether it is dealing with what is seen as strategic, rather than departmentally described or hanging labels around?

Sir Kim Darroch: I think it is the right mix. You could always argue about whether the mix is right, but it is the mix of the operational and the strategic. If you are looking for strategic discussions, in the course of this year we have discussed the long-term nature of the UK’s relationship with the emerging powers, all the big emerging economies around the world ***. This is a very strategic issue. I could go on.

Equally you have operational discussions. The National Security Council yesterday met to deal with two operational issues. As you all know, over the course of the previous 24 hours, a Russian-Syrian proposal had emerged for Syrian chemical weapons to be put under international supervision and potentially taken out of the country or destroyed. *** That is the kind of thing that it does that I think the JCNSS would have said was very operational. I think that there is strategy in there as well, but you have to respond to events. It was appropriate to use the NSC if the subject had happened within the previous 24 hours, but we do quite a lot of longer-term stuff as well. As I say, there are always two or three options for each NSC meeting as to the subjects that you cover, and you cannot do everything without it meeting every day.

One last point, if I may, on the connection with the Cabinet. When we did a special NSC in the holiday week, just before you were all pulled back for that debate in Parliament on the Thursday, I did an NSC(O) on the bank holiday Monday-I called in most of Whitehall to prepare it-and we had an NSC on the Wednesday. The NSC did not decide on the British posture on potential involvement in US military action; it prepared a recommendation that went to full Cabinet on Thursday-again, a special Cabinet called back. So, on issues of that importance, you have that sort of relationship. On other issues, the NSC will basically set the agenda, set the strategy or set the course. Sometimes things need to go up to full Cabinet; sometimes they do not.

Q78 Ms Stuart: May I take you back a couple of summers? This follows Dai Havard’s question about the eurozone crisis. There was one summer when it looked possible that Greece would default and that we would have masses of British tourists on Greek islands and ATMs would not take their debit cards. The following summer, we had a similar situation in Cyprus. As I understand it, the Bank of England made provisions in Cyprus and at some stage we flew out bank notes. I do not think we did that in the case of Greece. Could you take us through the decision-making process in situations where British citizens would be stranded somewhere? What happened between Greece and Cyprus so that there was a different response? Who finally made the decision that we had to do something?

Sir Kim Darroch: I can answer that to an extent, but this is third hand because I wasn’t the policy lead on this-it was being done elsewhere in Cabinet Office, led by my colleague Ivan Rogers, who does European and international economic policy. He has his own structure beneath him, which is a bit smaller than the National Security Secretariat.

I can tell you what was happening as I was watching it. ***

Q79 Ms Stuart: As I understand it, there was a lot of talking, understanding and taking of leads in the case of Greece, but by the time it got to Cyprus, the penny dropped that at some stage someone would have to do something, and we did. Where was that recognition that talking and taking note was not sufficient and that action was required? Was that within years?

Sir Kim Darroch: At no point were we heavily involved in the policy. The papers were being copied to us ***. So we were involved, but we were not leading it. I would not have thought that in the case of Greece we were just talking and there wasn’t any action involved, but I am not sufficiently in touch with the detail of that policy process to be able to give you a considered and sensible answer. Rather than just risking it, I probably ought to write to you afterwards.

Q80 Chair: But the answer is not an NSC.

Sir Kim Darroch: It wasn’t an NSC lead or a subject to be discussed in the NSC.

Q81 Sir Bob Russell: Sir Kim, in respect of European security, where does Turkey sit within the definition of Europe?

Sir Kim Darroch: It is not a member of the European Union, but it is an important player in a lot of the issues that we deal with. For example, when we are looking at Syria, they are extremely important in that context. In terms of Turkey’s military potential, obviously they are a NATO member and they have one of the larger and more effective Armed Forces around Europe, so they are important and we talk to them a lot.

Q82 Sir Bob Russell: I ask because, obviously, greater Turkey is not in Europe. Then we have got northern Cyprus. And within greater Turkey, we have the Kurds. And then the Kurds are also in other countries. I wondered how Turkey, in its entirety, fits as a part of European security.

Sir Kim Darroch: We can talk about the Kurdish issue at great length and, of course, the Kurds overlap several national borders; you find Kurdish populations in Iraq, Turkey, Syria and there may be some in Lebanon-I cannot remember. And there is a separate issue about the Kurds.

In terms of whether we plug in the Turkish angle when we think about security issues in that region, yes we do because they are increasingly big political players, as anyone who watches Turkey will have seen from the amount of exposure and activity you get from Mr Erdogan’s Government.

Q83 Sir Bob Russell: So they are more included than excluded.

Sir Kim Darroch: Yes, but we are talking very general concepts here.

Sir Bob Russell: I understand. Thank you.

Q84 Chair: Getting back to the difference between the NSC and other Cabinet Committees, to what extent do you drive things? To what extent do you feel more powerful as the National Security Council than, say, Government Departments? To what extent can you take charge?

Sir Kim Darroch: The National Security Council is a creation of this Government and it is still evolving, so it is not a fixed picture. We do not-and do not have the resources to-do the policy lead. That is what the Foreign Office is for. But we do a huge amount-

Q85 Chair: Should you have the resources?

Sir Kim Darroch: It is a different structure, and if you had a National Security Council that was creating and making a lot of policy, then you would be disempowering the Department of State that is meant to do the policy.

Chair: Was it not envisaged at the beginning that the National Security Council would grow in power, rather than what seems to have happened: namely that its power has diminished, at least from the expectation?

Sir Kim Darroch: The terms of reference for the NSC state that they "consider matters relating to national security, foreign policy, defence, international relations and development, resilience, energy and resource security". It is essentially a Committee that provides a forum in which you can get a coherent, cross-Government view about all of those issues and from which you can drive policy delivery, but the lead on policy delivery still sits with the individual Departments. The task of the NSC is to take things forward, whether it is to the Foreign Office or the Ministry of Defence or the Department for International Development.

Has it grown in power or has it diminished? I would be disappointed if you were right in suggesting that it has diminished. It seems to me that most civil servants and a lot of Ministers around the Government would say that the NSC is ever more central to the way we conduct international relations and policy and it is now inconceivable that any serious foreign policy choice or decision would not come through the NSC; partly because the Prime Minister attaches such personal investment to it and ensures that it meets every week, so you have 30-odd meetings a year to get through quite a big agenda. I think it is ever more central to the way the Government conducts its business. It is difficult for me, now, to imagine a Government that did not have a National Security Council pulling things together, tasking out and ensuring that National Security policy is conducted coherently and in a well co-ordinated way.

Q86 Mr Havard: May I go back to a question I half asked? There is an argument that you would then perhaps have something established of a similar nature for economic issues-that this wouldn’t necessarily restrict itself. You are the National Security Committee. We have the national security strategy. You are built up as being a security adviser, but the actual Committee and the process you describe is more about co-ordination and liaison; it is not really saying, "Look, out of all these competing things people are saying here, the ones that are really important are this one and that one". Everybody is making bids that they think are terribly important and everybody is "strategic"-they use that language. When they mean that they need a tactical response to something, they call it a strategy-[Laughter.] Well, they do-in here, anyway. You are supposed to filter these out and say, "Look, never mind that: this is the real position and the things that are really important." Do you decide things like the construction of the agenda? That might be something to be done for national security-a grand strategy and all the rest-but maybe a similar model is needed for other areas, if all it will then be is a co-ordination process.

Sir Kim Darroch: That is an important question and a big one. There are three points. First, who decides the agenda? Ultimately the Prime Minister decides the agenda but he decides it every quarter on the basis of a piece of advice that I put to him. The process is simple. I chair a meeting of Permanent Secretaries every week. Once a quarter, I ask them what proposals they want to put on the national security agenda for the next three months. We get in a lot more proposals than we have space for. I take a view on what is sensible and what is the right mix of the operational and the strategic. I put that advice to the Prime Minister, and he takes the decision and that agenda is then set.

It will change. We had an extra National Security Council in the last week of August because of the Syria crisis. Sometimes stuff happens and you move something back down the agenda and you bring something else forward, so it does shift around a bit. Essentially we decide at the centre. Secondly, someone just said-it was you or the Chairman-that we just did a bit of co-ordination. I don’t want to give the impression that we don’t do any policy at all. If you have conflicting views among Departments and you bring them to the National Security Council to try to get a co-ordinated, coherent Government view, it is no secret that I will put a note to the Prime Minister saying, "This is where I think the right balance of policy lies." He may agree with it. He may not agree with it. But he will use that as his brief for the meeting. So we have some policy capability.

Going back to before I joined-Julian can tell you about it-the SDSR was largely written out of the National Security Secretariat. So we do a bit, but it is not primarily our role to create policy across the breadth of the foreign policy spectrum. That answers two out of your three questions. There was another one at the end.

Q87 Mr Havard: ***

Sir Kim Darroch: Yes, that is a fair way of putting it. It is why we try to strike a balance.

Q88 Mr Havard: What do you draw on to do that, then? You don’t have very many people.

Sir Kim Darroch: What I draw on in terms of how we draw up the agenda is, as I said, I take the views of the permanent secretaries who sit around the group that I chair, and put advice to the PM. In terms of people-I don’t want to imply that I have no people at all. I have 200 and a budget of £19 million.

Q89 Mr Havard: And shrinking?

Sir Kim Darroch: Yes. But we live in austere times. We have to take our share of the hit. That gives me enough to do the sort of occasional policy generation and initiative work that is required of us sometimes. The other thing I would say is that when you get a crisis, we have a surge capacity. *** When we did the SDSR, Julian, you had people drawn in from other places-

Julian Miller: We did.

Sir Kim Darroch: So we have a surge capacity when we need it.

I now remember your last question, which was whether there should be an economic element. I don’t want to give the impression that we never touch economics, because national prosperity is part of the national security remit, and so we do. When we have a discussion, which we have at least once a year, on our relations with the emerging powers, we look at our economic and trade performance in relation to these big economies. We think about how we are doing. If we are doing badly and being way out-performed by, say, France or Germany, then the Prime Minister sets us the task of doing better and we try to find out why we are doing badly. So it is not just about security issues. Given the constraints of time, we can’t spend as much time on economic issues as we want. If there is another Committee over there doing European policy, the Prime Minister is reluctant to try to pull that into the NSC as well, although it is his decision in the end.

Chair: I will call Gisela Stuart, and then Julian is going to ask about Libya.

Q90 Ms Stuart: May I just drill down a little bit more on your policy capabilities and the Prime Minister setting the agenda? Let’s for the sake of argument say that the Prime Minister looks at this and, from your point of view, you think that nobody is really taking cyber-security sufficiently seriously; nobody is looking at resilience after a first hit. What would be the process of your gently suggesting to No. 10 and the Prime Minister that the way they have set the agenda has not got quite the right priorities, and that there might be something else he might like to look at in greater depth?

Sir Kim Darroch: He is not inaccessible. His office is a few doors along from mine. In the past week and a half-

Q91 Ms Stuart: You are physically in No. 10.

Sir Kim Darroch: No, *** in the Cabinet Office. My office is next to the Cabinet Secretary’s office. It is closer in distance than when I worked at No. 10 for a previous Prime Minister.

Secondly, he is very accessible and interested in foreign policy, so it is never a problem to get five minutes when you need to talk stuff through. In fact, I have probably spent hours in his office over the past couple of weeks as the Syria crisis has developed.

Thirdly, I read with great interest some of the evidence you took from people such as Lord Hennessy and Professor Cornish. It is fascinating and valuable stuff; I don’t agree with all of it, of course. Lord Hennessy said that civil servants now find it difficult to tell truth unto power. I don’t agree with that. ***

Chair: Don’t leap over the word "resilience" that Gisela just used, because you are going to come back to it.

Q92 Ms Stuart: I can repeat this because the meeting was on record and Julian Brazier was there as well. John Kerr, whom we all love and admire, put forward the hypothesis that he was the last permanent secretary who understood that you were only in the room with other Ministers. You were with the Secretary of State when he disagreed, and you read him the riot act of saying "You got this wrong", and then you withdrew. He put forward the notion that he was probably part of the last generation of civil servants who without fear or favour or loss of dignity would say, "Prime Minister"-or Secretary of State-"you have got this wrong." In the succeeding 15 years you have had a whole culture of people wishing to please their masters.

Mr Holloway: Iraq and Afghanistan.

Ms Stuart: Indeed. They were saying, "It’s fine; it’s all going well; it’s okay." There was a stream of well-meaning people who presented the truth as they thought their masters wished to see it. Is that still happening? This is where Hennessy comes in. Or has there been a change of civil servant-speak to Ministers?

Sir Kim Darroch: I bow to no one in my admiration of Lord Kerr. He was a mentor to a whole generation of us in the Foreign Office, a great ambassador in Brussels and in Washington, and a great permanent secretary. But I don’t think the culture changed when he left. I say again that I see senior civil servants disagreeing with Ministers and saying in not many more words, "You have got this wrong," all the time, every day. I was not involved in Iraq and Afghanistan, so I cannot speak on those, but in the areas I have been involved in-it was European policy, as you know, through the first decade, and I have been National Security Adviser since then-there has been a great deal of open debate, dissent and disagreement.

Chair: In considering this issue, you might like to read the evidence that we took yesterday from the permanent secretary at the Ministry of Defence in relation to one issue: whether he thought the idea of moving towards a GoCo was good or bad. I will give you a bit of homework.

Q93 Mr Brazier: Sir Kim, the Libya crisis is a major worked example which we have been through, so to speak-to say completed would be too optimistic. I gather that, quite rightly, there was an exercise on lessons learnt afterwards. Has that resulted in any particular structural or procedural changes, or not?

Sir Kim Darroch: Not particularly. We have discussed Libya a couple of times in the National Security Council this year, and I have been myself, three or four times, this year, because of the way the situation there was deteriorating. Again, this is before I took over the job, but I don’t think we have drawn lessons or made any dramatic changes to the way we handle things as a result of that exercise. Is that right?

Julian Miller: I think that is essentially right. One change that was recommended in the lessons learnt study and that has been implemented is some improvement in the way that a situation is reported into the NSC on a day-by-day basis during a crisis, so there is a better fusion of the intelligence and military inputs than we experienced during the Libya crisis. That is a bit of sharpening of process.

Q94 Mr Brazier: Thank you. How did the Libya sub-committee of the NSC sit alongside COBR? Did it subsume it for the duration?

Sir Kim Darroch: It was before my time.

Julian Miller: My recollection is that it started off very briefly in COBR, when the focus was on the evacuation of UK nationals. As the crisis developed it then very soon switched across to being the NSC-Libya, which met at ministerial level, as we know, 60-odd times over the duration of the crisis. So it met in COBR mostly-always, I think-but was clearly a policy committee, chaired by the Prime Minister, the Foreign Secretary or the Deputy Prime Minister, and not the crisis management committee that COBR normally provides.

Q95 Mr Brazier: I am sorry-I am being stupid but I am not sure I quite understand that. When you say it met in COBR, are you talking about the physical location?

Julian Miller: Yes.

Mr Brazier: I do understand, then.

Sir Kim Darroch: Just to add to that, there are COBR meetings which are called, for example, if a British hostage is taken overseas; the Prime Minister or the Foreign Secretary often chairs those, and they consist of all the experts from around Whitehall pulled in quickly-experts in hostage negotiation or whatever. That is what you often see in the newspapers. ***

Q96 Chair: ***

Sir Kim Darroch: ***

Q97 Mr Brazier: May I move on, as we are talking about specific communication facilities, to one aspect of resilience? I think it is fair to say that the Committee was quite impressed with its visit to NMIC, the National Maritime Information Centre, which certainly seemed to me to be an extraordinary example. It brings together 11 or 12 different feeds of data on maritime matters. Why has NMIC been floated off from reporting up to the Cabinet Office? We are an island, after all, so one would think that maritime matters are quite important for resilience, but NMIC seems to have disappeared down to the Home Office.

Julian Miller: I can give you a slightly speculative answer, but I cannot give you a completely authoritative one. The Home Office is responsible for national security and border security. Those issues often involve maritime aspects, so they have a regular interest in the information synthesised by NMIC. On a day-to-day basis, it seems natural that they should be the Department that takes a leading interest in that. I have no doubt that if there was a crisis that involved the nation at a very high level, that information could be channelled into the NSC or COBR as appropriate.

Q98 Mr Brazier: And the next national security strategy will mention that we are an island? The first draft-[Interruption.]

This last question is not, strictly speaking, relevant, but it is hard to see to whom it is directly relevant. A study of what went wrong in 2006 has come up again and again. It was central to the breakfast meeting which Gisela mentioned. It was pretty clear that a large part of it came back to four or five key posts in government all changing over within a week or two. Is there anybody responsible for ensuring that we don’t suddenly find a lot of key people with related jobs all changing over at the same moment? We discussed this yesterday with the permanent under-secretary, and there is nothing in MOD. Is anyone anywhere in the NSC responsible?

Sir Kim Darroch: The short answer is that no one in the NSC has that specific responsibility. Personally, I have quiet a lot of sympathy with the underlying point about the danger of too rapid a churn of civil servants or indeed military personnel. As a lifelong Foreign Office man-although I have not worked in the Foreign Office building for over a decade-I think that in the last 10 years or so, the Foreign Office got into a habit of churning its top and middle level posts rather too quickly. People were only spending a couple of years in jobs where you should never underestimate the value of experience, expertise and particularly regional experience and expertise.

Chair: That is a slightly different point.

Sir Kim Darroch: It is a slightly different point. My personal view is that we had been getting it wrong. I think both the Prime Minister and the Foreign Secretary take that view. The Prime Minister has been pushing for people to stay in jobs longer. Where he has direct control, he keeps them for longer. The Foreign Office has to clear all senior ambassador appointments with him, and he occasionally responds that, given the situation in country X, the ambassador needs to stay longer. The tide is changing. It still has a way to go. There is a move within Government to slow down the churn and keep people in key posts for longer. It is something that I encourage. If I ever see someone in what I think is a very important post moving too quickly, then I tell the Prime Minister to see if he can intervene.

Q99 Chair: As I said, that is a slightly different point. There is an issue of how short a time people are in post. There is an issue as to whether four, five or six people change contemporaneously.

Sir Kim Darroch: There is. Speaking for my own Department, the theory is that this should never happen. You should never, for example, change the No. 1 and the No. 2 in a post at the same time. Usually we kept to that rule. Sometimes circumstances overtake you, but in the Foreign Office we had a rule that you would always try to keep some stability in a post. For example, when I left Brussels and in theory my No. 2 was leaving at the same time, he then stayed on for nine months to ensure that didn’t happen.

Q100 Mr Brazier: But only officials can do this, because nobody else is going to tell-Ministers cannot be expected to. The key thing that went wrong there was that the Secretary of State changed at the same moment-literally on the same night-as the Chief of the Defence Staff. Several other people had to be changed over at once. Somebody in the permanent staff needs to ensure that if there is political reshuffle, any planned changes of officials are put on temporary hold.

Sir Kim Darroch: Again, there are no rules laid down on this, but there is an understanding that that should happen, if it is possible. If someone’s resignation or retirement is not already pre-scheduled, then the Permanent Secretary does try to make that happen.

Chair: I think we have covered that.

Q101 Mr Holloway: I know you do not make policy, but just to give us an idea: how far down do you get involved? For example, would you ever look at radicalisation in prisons or the long-term effects of immigration or things of that order, or is it much more current and pressing things?

Sir Kim Darroch: The way we organise the NSC or the National Security Secretariat, I tend, given my background, to concentrate on the foreign policy agenda. I have three deputy national security advisers, one of whom, Oliver Robbins, is the lead on counter-terrorism, and he certainly does spend quite a lot of time on the radicalisation agenda. For example, he is effectively the secretary of the group the Prime Minister set up on radicalisation after the Woolwich bombing, which met again this week. So, yes we do that within the NSS, and Oliver Robbins is the man who does it. Do I personally do very much work on it? I don’t, I’m afraid. I wish I could spend more time on it.

Q102 Mr Holloway: I didn’t mean that specific subject, but those sorts of issues.

Sir Kim Darroch: Yes, we do. How much do we drive policy? It is a bit like with the foreign policy agenda-if there is a need for policy to be brought together or to be driven or for a process to be driven, we do that. The policy lead lies with the Home Office, but we get quite involved.

Q103 Mrs Moon: In terms of your discussion about civil service roles and their capacity to speak truth unto power, perhaps you would like to read the views of Chief of Defence Matériel, who thinks that public sector workers are not able to do that because they are too dependent on promotion, and therefore you need people in the private sector who can do it. You might wish to have a look at that.

Sir Kim Darroch: I will.

Q104 Mrs Moon: It is not a view I happen to agree with. I am unclear about how the national security strategy relates to the Strategic Defence Security Review. Can you say a bit about that? Do you play any role in preparing it? If you see a cut in a provision that you think might lead to a loss of capability that might impact on national security, are you able to say, "No, no, we mustn’t do that"? Can you talk a bit about your role in that?

Sir Kim Darroch: On how the National Security Strategy and the SDSR fit together, to put it very crudely, the National Security Strategy, which should precede the SDSR, sets the strategic context-the risks and the threats that are out there. The SDSR is about the ways and the means of responding to it. To put it very crudely and simply, that is the way it works.

How are we preparing the next one, if that is the next part of your question? There is a choice to be made about whether you have a long lead-in to the 2015 NSS and SDSR, or whether the focus is on the implementation of the last one with less focus on the next one. We put that question to the Prime Minister, and he wants the focus to be on implementing the 2010 NSS and SDSR. Although he wants us to prepare for the next one, he does not want that to be the predominant area of work at this stage. So we are doing some work to prepare for it, which will increase in intensity next year, but I cannot pretend to you that there is a lot of preparation already under way for the 2015 SDSR and NSS. It would be dishonest of me to suggest that. There is work going on in the main Government Departments that would be concerned. They are all doing their own preparatory thinking, but we are not at the stage yet of starting to produce first drafts or workshops. That will come next year.

Q105 Mrs Moon: Things seem always to be rolling at the same time, and I am not clear how they impact on each other-I am a bear of very little brain. You have the national security strategy, which is moving all the time; you have the comprehensive spending review; and you have the SDSR. Which has primacy? Which says, "This is the most important, therefore you cannot do that in the comprehensive spending review," or, "We have got to cut our budget by so much, so you will have to cut our national security strategy"? What has primacy? What leads?

Sir Kim Darroch: Julian can give you an answer in a minute. I was not around for the 2010 exercise, and there may be some lessons from 2010, which Julian was a big part of, that he can draw on. But you have put your finger on something about which it is very difficult, frankly, to give you a clear and satisfactory answer, because you cannot sensibly work out a strategy, and certainly not the ways and means of delivering that strategy-the SDSR-without a clear picture of the resources. There is no point in producing an SDSR without the resources to back up the things you need to do. That is why, in a sense, it is difficult to do too much anticipatory, preparatory work at this stage, because an awful lot rests on the next funding decisions in the 2015 spending review. There is a limit to how much you can do now. I would say that you need to have in your mind an idea of what is funded and where the funds are before you take final decisions on either your strategy or, particularly, the SDSR.

There is a certain minimum around defence of the realm and the protection of Britain’s clear and vital national interest that you have to fund if you are going to be a serious Government. Then there are the optional things about your expeditionary capacity and suchlike, which you do beyond that. You need to know what the funds are and how much you can finance before you take decisions about what you are going to do. That is a very long-winded way of saying-I will let Julian add to it-that you have got to have some clarity on the funding picture before you attempt at least to draft the SDSR, so you can work out the threats and risks out there in the NSS in parallel with your funding debate. All that makes 2015 dependent on-if I may say so, it has to be post-election and it has to be dependent on the Government of the time’s decisions on resources. Julian, you may have something on 2010.

Julian Miller: I have not much to add-the way you described it is exactly right. The three elements had to be developed together so that there was an interaction between the work of the national security strategy, the SDSR and the CSR. For example, there was a lot of speculation at the beginning of the process about the size of the potential cut in the defence budget, and there was some surprise at the end of the process that it was, perhaps, rather less than some people speculated that it might be. There had been an interchange between the CSR and the options that were developed in the SDSR to consider, if the defence budget were cut further, whether the consequences of that would be acceptable. The balance has to be struck, which is always difficult for Governments: you cannot do one very satisfactorily without considering the other. So the three elements moved forward together and came to a conclusion pretty much at the same point.

Q106 Mrs Moon: I have two questions, to follow up very quickly. First-this follows from Julian’s question-do you think that enough attention was paid to the fact that we are a maritime nation? Was that factored into all three? Was it given enough prominence?

Secondly, given that hindsight is a wonderful thing, do you think we got the balance right?

Julian Miller: I think that the maritime aspect was very thoroughly recognised in the SDSR and in the national security strategy. The contextual bit of the national security strategy to which Kim has referred gave some weight to our role as a trading nation-a nation that needs good interconnections around the world. The maritime element of that is important. Obviously, the deterrent is an aspect of our maritime power that was dealt with and clear decisions were taken there, too. The decisions on the carriers, although controversial, lead to the acquisition by this country of a very major maritime capability in a few years’ time. My sense was that yes, it was adequately taken into account.

Obviously, there was always advocacy by each of the branches of the Armed Forces and by proponents outside Government, and Ministers have to weigh that up. It seemed to me at the time that that was done rationally and reasonably.

On your second question, which I am afraid I have slightly lost-

Mrs Moon: Hindsight is a wonderful thing-

Julian Miller: Hindsight is a wonderful thing-was it done right? It was done reasonably well. Obviously, there was an adjustment a year later, when we worked through the three-month exercise, looking at the cost pressures on the equipment programme and at the simultaneous decision, which Mr Brazier was closely involved with, on the Reserves and the size of the regular Army. That was a significant adjustment after the event. With that proviso, it was carried out in a rational way, given that it is always difficult to balance the competing claims.

Q107 Mrs Moon: Would you say that it was in the interest of our national security to get rid of our maritime surveillance capability, given all that you have said about the importance of our nuclear deterrent and our trading nation status?

Julian Miller: It was considered very carefully and the arguments were weighed up as to how important it was to have that capability to protect the deployment of the nuclear submarines, for example. It was a question, as ever in such cases, of competing priorities. In the end, that was where the judgment was taken. I can only really say that it was fully exposed, the issues were weighed up and that was the conclusion that was reached.

Q108 Thomas Docherty: I don’t want to rehearse the arguments about 2010-we are going forward. In 2010, the running order in October was Monday NSS, Tuesday SDSR, Wednesday CSR. Some people suggest that that is not the way it should be done. Do you think that that is the correct running order for the next one, whether it be 2015 or 2016? In fact, it might take both years. Not only what is the right order, but what is the right gap between the three reviews?

Sir Kim Darroch: You can argue it any way. This is a personal opinion and it will depend on the Government of the day. First, I would not do it over three consecutive days, if that is how it was. Secondly, the first thing that should appear is the national security strategy, because that sets the strategy context and indentifies the threats and risks. That is the foundation upon which everything else should be run. You have to be clear about the funding base, so I would say that the CSR should come next, because then you are clear what resources are available to meet the threats, risks and opportunities. From that, you work on the next SDSR. First, you understand what you need to deliver the basics of our fundamental national security-protect the homeland and so on-and then you look at how much is left for the add-ons. That is a personal view.

Q109 Thomas Docherty: In terms of the gap, if it is not over one, two and three days, what kind of gap should there be between the three of them?

Sir Kim Darroch: This is a bit of a bureaucrat’s answer, but you can be working on the NSS well before 2015. It can then be produced relatively quickly-unless a new Government comes in and wants to change it fundamentally-because we ought to have an analytical base, and that is not dependent on political choice or whatever; it is what we think the strategic context is. The spending review is basically going to be run by the Treasury in the normal way, and they can do it quite quickly, but it usually takes a few months. We can do a certain amount of work on the SDSR in advance, and we will, but I think that that should necessarily follow a little time after the spending review comes out. If you know where you are going from the outset, or if the Government knows the answer on the spending review before it goes through the process, maybe you can do a certain amount. But if you have to wait until the figures are announced and you know the budgets for the Ministry of Defence and the Foreign Office, and what the aid budget is, you would maybe need a little while. That would be my take.

Thomas Docherty: That’s helpful. Thank you.

Q110 Chair: And you would expect all this to happen very shortly after the next general election?

Sir Kim Darroch: I think it should. I think that, whatever the political context, it should be a priority for the next Government.

Q111 Thomas Docherty: The problem with that is that I am guessing it is based on the assumption that the Opposition are being allowed into the building before the general election.

Chair: Which would be the normal case.

Thomas Docherty: Perhaps in previous times. If the Secretary of State is not willing to provide-this is a private meeting; it is not compulsory to attend-or continues not to play with the Opposition, you cannot get a lot of this done before the general election.

Sir Kim Darroch: It is a matter for the Cabinet Secretary to tell you the precise process, but I have been involved in the past and normally what happens, at least for senior officials, is that you get a letter round from the Cabinet Secretary empowering or allowing permanent secretaries to talk to Opposition shadow Cabinet Ministers about the range of challenges that they might face if they were in Government in a few months’ time. That is a standard process, as you said, Chairman, which has happened, as far as I know, with all previous Governments. Involving the Secretary of State is a different question. As a civil servant, I know I have been involved in those contacts in the past.

Q112 Chair: But with something as normally bipartisan and as essential to the national security as the formulation of a national security strategy, would you not agree that the longer that process, the better?

Sir Kim Darroch: Within reason. I should have said-sorry, there is one further thought I should add on the last point-that the Leader of the Opposition has attended a National Security Council. He has also been in perhaps half a dozen times for briefings, on privy council terms, about issues that are before the National Security Council-most recently on Syria-so there is a procedure that has happened already in terms of talking to him and the shadow Foreign Secretary about national security issues.

Chair: It didn’t seem to do the trick.

Mr Holloway: It did.

Sir Kim Darroch: To answer your question, Chairman, yes, we need to do it properly. I do not think we should be taking years, but we need to do it properly.

Q114 Chair: You generally accept that first we need to assess the threat out there and then we need to work out the extent to which we are able to afford to deal with that threat.

Sir Kim Darroch: You have to be able to afford it if you are serious about dealing with the direct threats to our national security and to homeland security. What I meant by the optional bit is how much resources you have to put into, for example, the kind of expeditionary capacity that the last SDSR encouraged our Armed Forces to develop. How much do you want to be involved in future Syrias and Afghanistans or whatever?

Q115 Chair: The next SDSR will deal that, will it?

Sir Kim Darroch: It will have to address it.

Q116 Mr Havard: One of the criticisms that we as a Committee made about the last one was that what seemed to be missing was any clarity about the foreign policy underpinning for what appeared to be an exercise about matériel and whether you could afford it on the day, and alongside it came a security strategy. What will happen next time? Where is that underpinning of your intention?

Sir Kim Darroch: There is no doubt that we would have liked more time-in a perfect world-to have done the last SDSR. I was not involved in it. Given that the Government embarked on it with quite a restrictive timetable, it was, I thought, a good piece of work in the time available. We hope to have a better prepared basis for it next time and more time to prepare for it.

Q117 Mr Holloway: The point is often made about lack of coherence. We often do not have a long-term view of where we want to be. Take the Middle East and the extraordinary disparities in our policies towards different countries. It does not feel very joined up. Who, if anyone, is responsible for that sort of thinking?

Sir Kim Darroch: The Foreign Office has the policy lead on the Middle East. They have a very good Middle East division that would be responsible for it. They also have a planning staff who think more strategically-to overuse that word-and conceptually. I am not sure I accept that there is not enough strategic thinking going on. At any one time, I have half a dozen pieces of paper in my in-tray that are headed "strategy". Some of them are very good; some, you might say, are in need of further work. There is a lot of strategy around in Government.

The problem with strategy is that stuff happens. One of your own witnesses said something about the difficulty of seeing into the future and plotting a strategy that is relevant even six months after you have written it. It is a difficult business, but there is no lack of effort or attention going into it. I have people in my own National Security Secretariat who are, at least in terms of acquiring the qualifications, experts in strategy, who have done the LSE masters course in strategy and that kind of thing. So there is no lack of expertise around; it is just that strategies have to deal with stuff that changes-there is the phrase, "no military plan survives the first shot of battle". If you look, for example, at what has happened just in the last few weeks on Syria, from the first phone call from the American President on whether we would participate in military action and those twists and turns, I promise you that, at every stage of that, we have had in our minds a concept of exit strategies and where we want to be and whatever, but stuff all changes.

Q118 Mr Holloway: But that was outrage, not strategy. That was born not out of strategy, but out of outrage and the immediate feeling that we must do something now. That was not out of any overarching, long-term thinking, was it?

Sir Kim Darroch: There is the long-term thinking about not allowing proliferation of and use of chemical weapons that underpinned the whole American, British and French approach on this.

Q119 Chair: This all comes back to the point that we were making right at the beginning about reacting to events rather than forging a way in the world, deciding what our security strategy should be over the longer term and working out, therefore, the ends, and how we achieve those; in other words, how we achieve the ways, and what the means-namely, the resources-are.

Sir Kim Darroch: You get events-you are right-and we have demands on us and requests from allies and we have to react to that. But going back to the national security strategy and the SDSR, those are attempts, surely, both to set a strategic concept for the UK and for the Government and to determine what ways and means we have to deliver.

Chair: Everybody wants to come in, but Derek Twigg has been very disciplined and he is entitled to come in.

Q120 Derek Twigg: I want to clarify some of the things you said in your answers to Mrs Moon and then Mr Docherty. I think you said-correct me if I am wrong-that, when asked about developing the national security strategy, the Prime Minister said that that was not a priority at the moment. I think you then went on to justify that by saying that we are on the run up to an election and we are not sure what funds will be available. Then in a later answer-I think to Mr Docherty-when you were asked in which order they should go in, you said that the strategy should come first and then the money. So I wondered which it is, really.

It seems obvious to me that you should have a national security strategy, which needs to be ongoing and developed and as it is about looking at the possible threats and how we deal with those, I cannot possibly see how that would change considerably due to a change in Government. Could you therefore clarify what you mean?

Sir Kim Darroch: If I gave the impression that the Prime Minister does not wish to do anything about the next security strategy-

Derek Twigg: I did not say that. Let us take the words carefully. I said that you said-

Sir Kim Darroch: His priority at the moment, given that there are not unlimited resources, is implementation of the 2010 SDSR. But he does want us to start preparing for the next national security strategy. In particular, there is a thing called the national risk register, which we revise every two years. The next revision comes up in 2014 and that in turn informs the next NSS, because it is an analysis of the various risks that the UK faces: all the way from terrorism to another of those volcanic clouds that affects all air transport; a whole range of risks are analysed there.

He wants that work to continue. He wants us to start thinking about how we will do outreach next year: how we will involve the academic community and Parliament and how we will develop the next NSS. So it is not like we are doing nothing, but he just says that he does not want all the attention on the next one and implementation of the last one to be put on the back burner.

Q121 Derek Twigg: From what you are saying, there is not much attention on the future one, so could you tell us at what point serious, significant work will start on the strategy? Will it be in the next six months, or the next year?

Sir Kim Darroch: There is preparatory work in Departments now on scope and structure and process and timing options for external engagement, and I think that next year we will start doing those things, rather than just thinking about them. What we will probably do is take our proposals on all of those things to a meeting of the NSC-or we may do it by writing around-and then when we get a green light, we will take it forward next year.

Q122 Chair: When?

Sir Kim Darroch: I would expect to do this in the early part of 2014, which gives us a full year and a half to work through things, given that we will not be writing the SDSR until 2015. We will do a certain amount of preparatory writing, but the main text will have to be done in 2015.

Q123 Derek Twigg: Just to be clear on the SDSR and its relationship with the strategy, you will start doing it next year, and the SDSR will follow from that.

Sir Kim Darroch: It all depends on Ministers agreeing to the timetable on the work programme that we put to them.

Derek Twigg: So you have not got a timetable?

Sir Kim Darroch: I have in my own head a timetable-

Derek Twigg: So there is no timetable?

Sir Kim Darroch: We have said to the Prime Minister, "This is what we will do this year in terms of preparation. We will put to you some firm proposals around the end of the year and take it forward next year." He is content with that, and he is content for that work to be going ahead. We have not agreed with him a timetable.

Q124 Derek Twigg: Is there a timetable or not?

Sir Kim Darroch: At the moment, there is not a timetable, but there will be-

Q125 Derek Twigg: When will that timetable be published?

Sir Kim Darroch: We will put a proposition to him at the end of the year. When he has decided that, if he agrees it, then we will move ahead next year.

Q126 Derek Twigg: Right. So there is no timetable. That will come in at some point at the end of this year or early next year.

Sir Kim Darroch: There is no precise timetable. We know that we have to publish an SDSR and an NSS in 2015, and we know that next year we have to do this risk assessment. Those, in terms of the broad timetable, are fixed, but how we work up to that is not fixed.

Q127 Derek Twigg: Can I move on to something else? You keep saying that stuff happens, and you are absolutely right that stuff does happen, whether it is in security or in Government generally. I do not suppose it was beyond the scope of imagination that there was a chance that the Syrians might use chemical weapons. I assume that some work had been done on the potential threat of that, and the strategy had been put in place to deal with that. Is that correct?

Sir Kim Darroch: Certainly, work had been done on potential responses were the Syrians to use chemical weapons.

Q128 Derek Twigg: So we had a strategy to deal with that?

Sir Kim Darroch: Whether it is called a strategy or a policy, I am not sure, but there was certainly work done on that.

Q129 Derek Twigg: So we had no strategy for it, then?

Sir Kim Darroch: I wouldn’t say we had no strategy. We did have some work, whether you call it a policy or a strategy. We had analysed the extent to which we, the UK, would be able to act in the event that the Syrians used chemical weapons, and we believed a response was possible. We consulted the military about what was possible, and we consulted Parliament’s thought about this. The conclusion we reached was that were there to be wide-scale use of chemical weapons, such as the kind of thing we have seen, it would be right for there to be some response-potentially a military response-but this could not be done by the UK alone or even just with France; it would need to be led by the Americans because of capability issues. This stuff was thought about beforehand, which is why we were able to move comparatively quickly when the phone call came through from the President.

Q130 Derek Twigg: Coming back to the issue about the security strategy and the point you made about resources, you did qualify it by saying clearly that if we had to deal with a really urgent threat, we would have to find the money, which is always the case. In terms of setting the strategy out, I assume there are certain basics that we would take as read, for instance that we would have to find money to fund the nuclear deterrent. I am trying to find out the kind of balance between the core security strategy that will probably stay the same until whenever-unless some Government changed their policy massively from that of a previous Government-and future potential threats. Could you describe to me how that work is done via the National Security Council and in co-ordination with Government Departments?

To give you a further example, I think everyone accepts now the approach, whether in Iraq or Afghanistan, of whole-Government involvement. It was not just the kinetic response; it was things such as development and investment, and obviously the Foreign Office in relation to diplomacy and so on. How will you look at these things? I would be interested to understand the mechanics as part of the process.

Sir Kim Darroch: The mechanics of?

Derek Twigg: Of how that fits into the development of the security strategy.

Sir Kim Darroch: Of Afghanistan? You mean our military-

Q131 Derek Twigg: I am saying that there are certain things that are taken as read and that you will have to take as a matter of course, such as the nuclear deterrent. But there are other things in terms of lessons that we have learned from what has happened in Iraq and Afghanistan, and possibly Libya, but also future potential threats and how we fit in with that. How does the process work? Is there a template for going through this, or is it something where someone pitches in their idea from a Government Department or defence?

Sir Kim Darroch: Since Julian dealt with the last one, he can tell us something about how we did it last time. The way the process will work next time is still to be decided. The decision has not been taken, but I suspect that the Cabinet Office will again be holding the pen on the NSS and the SDSR, and so we will need some surge capacity to cope with the extra drafting requirements. We will go through a series of Whitehall meetings with all the key Departments, where we will test the judgments and the conclusions reached in these documents against the expertise that others bring to the table and the lessons of Afghanistan, Syria and Libya, and whatever should feed into that. It is a process. It will go like that and then eventually go to the National Security Council for Ministers to take a view, probably several times. I am sure that that is not a satisfactory answer, so I shall let Julian describe how we did it last time.

Julian Miller: I don’t think that there is a template in any particular form. A mixture of issues were handled in the last exercise. For example, the overall management of the exercise was run from the Cabinet Office with a specially created team. It drew on the National Security Risk Assessment which Kim mentioned. To take a specific example, the importance of cyber was highlighted and it was therefore possible for the team in the Cabinet Office to come up with propositions about what we might do to improve our cyber capability. Those were then debated with Departments and their costs worked through as part of the CSR, coming up with the decisions which were announced in the SDSR about the increased investment in cyber capacity.

At the same time the Ministry of Defence, as it entered the spending review, was looking at the things it wanted to do, things it thought would be improvements to our forces and how those might be funded by spending less on other capabilities. It was looking at how it would respond if it was asked to live with a smaller budget, coming up with a range of options for changing the contents of the defence programme to align with a changing resource level. All of those elements were produced, some centrally and some by Departments, and then they were centrally synthesised into the documents which were published in 2010.

Q132 Derek Twigg: May I ask a final question? Were you happy with the way in which the defence decision on 2020 reserves was taken?

Sir Kim Darroch: It did not come to the NSC. Am I happy that it did not come to the NSC? Yes, I think it was the right decision that the NSC should do other business. That fell within the context of the SDSR, which had been exhaustively discussed at the NSC before I joined it.

Q133 Derek Twigg: You don’t think that had an impact on the security strategy?

Sir Kim Darroch: I think that it was consistent with the conclusions the Government had reached, that were embodied in the SDSR and were taken forward.

Q134 Ms Stuart: I am still trying to work it out. The great military strategist Mike Tyson said that you have a plan and then someone punches you in the face. For me that is one of the book-ends, and the other is Britain’s role in the world. Somewhere in there we require a framework which allows you to marry together the need to respond to an immediate crisis, but also to have some lodestar for where you think you are. It may well be that we agree with Putin’s spokesman who said that we are a small island.

Sir Kim Darroch: Did you see the Prime Minister’s response to that?

Q135 Ms Stuart: Yes, on YouTube. It is set to "Land of Hope and Glory", and it’s very good. But if you go to the Foreign Office, nowhere is there a clear statement about what we think our role in the world is and what that includes. We could start by saying that we are a member of the P5 with veto rights and we are a nuclear power, and with that come certain responsibilities. That could have been the framework within which we set the Syria debate, but we didn’t. I would have thought that that is something which ought to be falling into your pigeonhole: straddling the big strategy with the ability to respond to having just been punched in the face. Or is it not?

Sir Kim Darroch: I think it is. If you are talking about concepts and knowing where we are going, prior to 2010 we did not have a national security strategy, and it has now developed. Did we have a risk assessment prior to 2010?

Julian Miller: We had a national security strategy prior to 2010, but it was at a much higher level of generality.

Sir Kim Darroch: Okay. So, since then, you have the National Security Council, the strategy and the SDSR-we have had 12 previous defence reviews-so life isn’t too bleak. But I would say that the framework is much clearer, more solid and better than it has ever been.

In terms of the UK’s place in the world, as an EU member, a NATO member, P5, and perhaps the only country now to have reached 0.7% of GDP in terms of international development aid-I think we have the world’s fourth biggest military budget and are the sixth biggest economic power-we have quite a lot to bring to the party. I would have thought that we are reasonably clear about that. The National Security Council sits at the centre of British foreign policy making as the forum in which, collectively, Government can take decisions.

Q136 Mr Holloway: A couple of times I have done presentations to the NSC. I remember once being asked only just a staggeringly stupid question by a very senior Minister. You guys do the sort of hypothetical planning and all of that, but you go to the Ministers for the sensitive priorities and how things should be handled. Obviously that is very good in constitutional terms, and it is fine if you have a Winston Churchill figure, but it is less fine if you have a Gordon Brown-

Chair: Steady on. There is no need for that.

Mr Holloway: So who is doing the actual strategy? If those decisions have been made by people at the very top of the politics, it means that you are not really doing the strategy in the round, are you?

Sir Kim Darroch: First of all, don’t underestimate Ministers’-especially senior Ministers’-abilities to do strategy. There are a lot of heavyweights around the table.

***

After that meeting, there was a lot of work in terms of delivering that and taking it forward-the Foreign Office doing a certain amount of international diplomacy, talking to partners and the French; me talking to my counterparts in Washington and Paris in particular, and delivering, as it were, the decision that had been taken. My experience of the NSC over 18 months is that it is pretty good at taking decisions.

Mr Holloway: Sorry. I wasn’t running down that-

Chair: Stop. Allow me to intervene. One thing I will say is that your question was phrased in a way that will need to be redacted, because it is not the sort of-

Mr Holloway: Sorry. I was just saying what I thought.

Chair: I dare say.

Mr Havard: Perhaps they didn’t understand the questions. Perhaps they were not stupid at all.

Chair: I want to draw this gradually and peacefully to a close, but I have a few questions after Thomas Docherty.

Q137 Thomas Docherty: I am concerned that we are using the word "strategy" in a more and more generous way and that we are approaching the point where the Prime Minister has to have a strategy for going to Waitrose. Do we have a problem about defining what we mean by strategy?

If you think back to the Public Administration Committee report in 2010, they said that no one does grand strategy. From my point of view, what I think-I could be entirely wrong-is that the strategy is, the Foreign Secretary sets out Britain’s relationship with the rest of the world. He is a fan of Pitt and economic interaction-that is the strategy. What we then talk about is, "We have a policy on Syria or Libya." Are we, as politicians and civil servants, getting hung up on the wrong words or not understanding what we mean, and not having the grand strategy at the very top that everything else flows from?

Sir Kim Darroch: Possibly. I think there is a lot in what you say. I think "strategy" is one of the most over-used words around. What I am required to do when we bring a subject to the NSC-it is often called a strategy but you might be right to say it is a policy-is to bring to the table something that officials have prepared, that is clear about the objectives and the implications and is clear, as far as one can be, about what might go wrong and what you would do if those things went wrong. If it is a military element it has to be clear about the exit strategy. But actually that also applies for a piece of diplomatic policy or whatever. It is a comprehensive picture of how you go forward: what will happen when you do what is proposed; what might go wrong; what you might do if it does; and where it finishes. That is often called the strategy.

But what you are talking about, in terms of grand strategy, is about what we can bring to the international community given the basis that I have described of our membership of the EU, NATO, the permanent five and all the rest of it, and Britain’s place in the world, our objectives and our role in the world. What I am basically saying is that I agree with you that they are two different things. Mostly what we are required to do and bring to the National Security Council is not grand strategy, as you describe it, but self-contained pieces of policy with clear objectives, exit strategies and a consideration of the implications, risks and threats involved.

Q138 Thomas Docherty: I am conscious that the Chair wants us to make progress. Would it be right to say that you would hope that the next NSS would be a grand strategy or is that for someone else and not the role of the NSS? It is not to be a grand strategy. It is to feed from a grand strategy. Or is it the grand strategy?

Sir Kim Darroch: I quoted earlier the objectives of the NSS. That is quite a big concept, whether you call it grand or not I don’t know, but it should be a comprehensive assessment of the range of threats and risks affecting the UK and the strategic concept in which decisions like the next SDSR have to be taken. If you want to call that a grand strategy I would not disagree, but it needs to be a very far-reaching and comprehensive document.

Q139 Chair: When will outside consultation begin on the national security strategy and the SDSR?

Sir Kim Darroch: Chairman, it depends on the Prime Minister’s judgment. I will put the advice to him before the end of the year and I think it will be at the beginning of next year. The nature of that outside consultation is still to be decided because there are various options out there: broader and narrower.

Q140 Chair: Will there be a red team?

Sir Kim Darroch: I don’t know what a red team means. I am sorry.

Q141 Chair: That is interesting. Will there be a team of people set up to suggest that you are getting this wrong?

Sir Kim Darroch: I get you now. It is an option. I don’t know whether that is the option that Ministers will go for but I think there should be. My advice to him would be that you need to have some challenge in the process.

Q142 Chair: It can be exceptionally helpful and effective, if people are working together as a united team, to say how you could do things differently. So I would recommend that to you as a course of action. Talking about red, will there be a Green Paper?

Sir Kim Darroch: What did we do last time?

Julian Miller: There was a Green Paper published in February 2010 which had been entirely focused on defence and looking at some of the issues which might need to be addressed in the SDSR after that election. It is an option for this time. No one has taken a decision on whether we should have a Green Paper. If we were to have a Green Paper it would clearly need to be more broadly based than the 2010 example and cover the full range of security issues.

Q143 Chair: If there were to be?

Julian Miller: If there were to be.

Q144 Chair: May I recommend to you the virtues of having a Green Paper? That, of itself, would identify outside views on something on which outside views are important. Please would you keep this Committee involved at every stage because our inquiry here is intended not to put you in a fix but to help the next SDSR to be better than the last one? That is not a comment on the quality of the last one. It is just intended to be a continual improvement process.

Sir Kim Darroch: Chairman, of course. As I said at the outset, first we welcome the Committee’s work, advice and thoughts on the next SDSR. Secondly, I have read with great interest the evidence you have taken so far. I look forward to reading the evidence you took yesterday. Thirdly, of course the recommendations that I put to the Prime Minister on this, involving this Committee as well as the JCNSS and other parliamentary Committees that have a role, will be part of that.

Chair: Thank you. My final small set of questions begins with this. Did you watch a programme called "Blackout" on Channel 4 on Monday night?

Sir Kim Darroch: I read about it in reviews but I was not home in time to watch it.

Q145 Chair: Well, you are like most Members of Parliament. We don’t actually watch much television.

Sir Kim Darroch: I might catch it on iPlayer.

Q146 Chair: I think that might be an idea. As I understand it, it contained a scenario that may or not be likely of the national grid in the UK going out because of cyber-attack. Do Ministers ever practise what to do in those circumstances?

Sir Kim Darroch: I don’t think there has been a practice of that. *** It is not unknown for this Government or the Prime Minister to get involved in these, but I don’t think he has done one of that kind. I am not sure whether other Ministers have.

Q147 Chair: Does the NSC practise?

Sir Kim Darroch: It has not in my time done a practice like that, but it is an interesting thought.

Q148 Chair: Do you not think it should?

Sir Kim Darroch: I think you may have a point. I think we need to think about how we could use their time and make it work. Yes, maybe we should.

Chair: I think you should. Any further questions to the National Security Adviser? Thank you both and your supporting staff. It has been very helpful and interesting, and it will help our inquiry. We have let you go before the two hours as well.

Prepared 2nd January 2014