Towards the next Defence and Security Review: Part One - Defence Committee Contents

Conclusions and recommendations

Was the 2010 Strategic and Security Review strategic?

1.  We have previously noted that the 2010 Strategic Defence and Security Review and the 2010 National Security Strategy were governed by the overriding strategic objective of reducing the UK's budget deficit. (Paragraph 12)

2.  We have found it difficult to divine any other genuinely strategic vision in either document. This is the first of a series of reports that we intend to publish to assist in the preparation of the next Defence and Security Review; we hope that they will both inform and shape the next Review and the next National Security Strategy and help to drive a more strategic approach to security across Government. (Paragraph 12)

3.  There is a need for an agreed definition of strategy. Our inquiry has suggested that there is not a clear definition being adhered to within Government. We offer our definition of strategy as "a course of action integrating ends, ways and means to meet policy objectives", which the Secretary of State has accepted, as one that should be adopted in preparation of the next National Security Strategy and the next Defence and Security Review. We recommend that the Ministry of Defence should work within Government to ensure that this definition is used consistently. (Paragraph 13)

4.  We welcomed the establishment of the National Security Council which has given greater operational focus and coordination across Departments. However, we echo the criticism of the Joint Committee on the National Security Strategy that the National Security Council is failing to take on the higher strategic role that it might have done in Government. (Paragraph 14)

The drivers of SDSR 2010

5.  The 2015 Review should set out the Government's thinking on how the Armed Forces need to be re-balanced following the end of operations in Afghanistan, and address the challenges inherent in regenerating their capability following the end of operations. (Paragraph 18)

Public support for defence spending and for expeditionary operations

6.  One of the greatest strategic threats to defence is the disconnect between the Armed Forces and the public caused by a lack of understanding of the utility of military force in the contemporary strategic environment. The Government cannot hope to bridge this divide without looking to explain what it believes the UK's position in the world could or should be, and the manner in which that is to be delivered. Without a proactive communications strategy, there is a serious risk of a lack of support for defence amongst the public. We ask the Department to review its communications strategy for the next Defence and Security Review and keep the Committee fully informed of its conclusions. We are convinced that there is an important role for this Committee, and Parliament as a whole, to play in articulating the case for defence to the public at large. (Paragraph 24)

The case for a national strategy?

7.  The imminent end of operations in Afghanistan provides an opportunity for the Government to think more strategically about the UK's place in the world in shaping the 2015 National Security Strategy and the 2015 Defence and Security Review.We believe that there is a persuasive case for a national strategy to be incorporated in the National Security Strategy, defining what position in the world the UK should adopt as the ends of the strategy and setting out the combination of hard and soft power that represent the ways and means of getting there. Even though the strategy will, in practice, be dynamic to meet changing threats and challenges, the document should make clear the process by which it has been arrived at, confirming the Government's priorities, and contain clear definitions of policy and strategy and how they relate to each other. The National Security Strategy (NSS) should be the subject of a published annual report on its implementation. The NSS should provide the strategic context for the Defence and Security Review. (Paragraph 32)

8.  The concept of fighting power provides a useful framework for analysis of the operational effectiveness of the Armed Forces. The 2010 Strategic Defence and Security Review (SDSR) pledged that it would not entail a "strategic shrinkage" for the UK. We ask the Ministry of Defence to provide us with an assessment of the fighting power of the Armed Forces both prior to the SDSR 2010 and now, and to outline in the Defence and Security Review 2015, the impact of any changes on that fighting power. (Paragraph 33)

The UK's place in the world

9.  A vision of the UK's position in the world needs to be articulated in the National Security Strategy as the basis for any consideration of the next Defence and Security Review. As noted above, this requires active communications in which this Committee is ready to play its part. This vision would represent the definition of the ends of the strategy; a truly strategic DSR should outline the ways and means by which those ends could be achieved to provide the integration that is presently lacking. (Paragraph 37)

The changing context for the DSR 2015

10.  This short inquiry has only scratched the surface in examining the potential impact of current geo-political developments on the UK and its strategic alliances. However, there can be few developments more fundamental to the UK's strategic position than the US pivot to the Pacific. The Government's thinking on the implications of this and other developments for the country's broader security and for the military capabilities that the country requires is a matter of vital interest for both Parliament and the public. The process of development of the National Security Strategy should be the vehicle for the Government to seek to engage both in this debate. (Paragraph 43)

11.  The fact that a number of the asymmetric security threats to the UK, such as from terrorism or cyber attack, may not be capable of being deterred in all circumstances requires the Government to think more strategically about the resilience of the country's critical infrastructure and recovery following a successful attack. This needs to inform the next NSS and DSR and an assessment must be made of the proportion of resources dedicated to these functions. (Paragraph 50)

12.  The list of changing factors identified in this interim inquiry gives only a flavour of the full range of those that will need to be taken into account in framing the next NSS and DSR. We acknowledge that some factors affecting Government strategic thinking cannot be put in the public domain, but, if the public is to be brought on board, the Government must do more to set out the rationale behind its strategic thinking and make a commitment to allocate the necessary resources to give it substance. (Paragraph 51)

A Comprehensive Spending Review

13.  We raised concerns in our report on the last SDSR that there might be a discrepancy between the ambitions outlined and the resources available to fulfil them. If the expected real-terms increase in funding from 2015 were not to be made available, the Defence and Security Review would have to make clear that strategic ambition would have to be curtailed, and explain how that would be achieved. There is an inescapable link between budget and the capacity to deliver a strategic ambition which must be recognised and acknowledged in any DSR process. (Paragraph 59)

14.  A failure to meet the Ministry of Defence's budgetary assumptions could lead to a disproportionate decline in the Armed Forces' fighting power, which would have a significant impact on the UK's strategic ambition. (Paragraph 60)

15.  There is a danger of defence becoming a matter of discretionary spending. We note that the National Security Adviser referred to expeditionary capability as "optional". To a degree, the NSA is correct. However, discretionary decisions about the expeditionary capability that the UK retains must be based on proper strategic decision making about the UK's place in the world and not simply flow from the "horse-trading" that surrounds the CSR process. (Paragraph 61)

Sequencing of the NSS, CSR and DSR

16.  While we accept that the three documents should be developed in parallel, we believe that the National Security Strategy should be published first. As we have argued, the NSS should outline a vision of the UK's role in the world that should not be driven purely by a consideration of the resources available. (Paragraph 66)

17.  The NSS, together with the CSR, setting out respectively the "ends" and the "means" should logically precede the DSR outlining the "ways" of meeting the security objectives within the resources available. The allocation of resources will be based on national spending priorities set to meet the nation's security needs. Once the national strategy has been articulated in the NSS, the process of agreeing the ways and the means is therefore an iterative one. Getting the balance right between the CSR and the DSR is more important than strict adherence to a particular timetable. (Paragraph 67)

Strategic skills

18.  We call on the MOD to provide us with an update on education and skills training in strategy offered to senior officers and officials, both within the Defence Academy and at other institutions. (Paragraph 70)

Accurate and timely historic analysis

19.  We recommend that the Ministry of Defence, in close conjunction with the Cabinet Office and National Security Secretariat, initiate the writing of official histories of the Iraq and Afghanistan campaigns and of other conflicts since the end of the Cold War; review how the history function is being undertaken by all three Services and by the Ministry of Defence as a whole; and confirm in the 2015 Defence and Security Review its plans for the preparation and publication of histories and other measures designed to address these deficiencies. This work could usefully call on input and expertise from other Government Departments including the Department for International Development and the Foreign and Commonwealth Office; since the comprehensive approach became a hallmark of the operations in both Iraq and Afghanistan, its lessons should be learnt from and shared across Government as a whole. (Paragraph 76)


20.  We see much advantage in the widest consultation on the next National Security Strategy and Defence and Security Review. We have no doubt that the process would be better if Government thinking were available at an early stage to enable structured comment. We have already recommended that the NSS should be published in advance of the DSR. We further recommend that a National Security Green Paper be issued at an early stage in the proceedings to provide a framework against which interested parties may comment. (Paragraph 84)

21.  We consider that there are lessons for the MoD to learn from the practice of the French Government in seeking a wide range of input into the reformulation of its Livre Blanc. Given the importance of allies to the implementation of both SDSR 2010 and DSR 2015, it is essential that the UK's key strategic allies are fully engaged in the process from an early stage. (Paragraph 85)

A shadow process and red team challenge

22.  Constructive challenge must be part and parcel of national strategy making. We recommend that independent groups be set up as soon as possible to provide a structured "Red Team" challenge to both the National Security Strategy and Defence and Security Review. (Paragraph 87)


23.  Our inquiry has focused on the need for a truly strategic approach to the next Defence and Security Review, which integrates the ends of what the UK wants to achieve, with the ways, outlining the full spectrum of capabilities of both hard and soft power required, and the means available. This methodology requires the Government to set out a national strategy in the National Security Strategy, identifying the UK's position in the world and how the UK's national interests and obligations will be upheld in the face of shifting threats and profound geo-political and geo-economic changes. This document should be published giving sufficient time to provide the strategic context for the 2015 Defence and Security Review. (Paragraph 88)

24.  There is a lack of understanding amongst the public of what HM Armed Forces should be for, and this represents one of the greatest strategic threats facing the Armed Forces. Public sympathy and support for the Armed Forces is to be welcomed, but it must not obscure or undermine a hard-headed understanding of what they are for. The process of producing the next Defence and Security Review, shaped by the next National Security Strategy, is the opportunity to engage the public in understanding the future of the Armed Forces. Parliament and this Committee, in partnership with the Ministry of Defence, have an important role in debating and explaining the case for defence to the public at large. For this reason, we have made a number of recommendations around the process for preparation of the next Defence and Security Review to ensure that it is inclusive, is informed by full historical analysis, and is subject to robust internal and external challenge. (Paragraph 89)

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Prepared 7 January 2014