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

1  Introduction


1.  The Strategic Defence and Security Review published on 19 October 2010 was the first strategic defence review (SDR) to be published in 12 years. The previous Government had planned to produce a SDR after the 2010 General Election, and had published a Green Paper and three supporting papers, in February 2010.

2.  One of the Coalition Government's first actions after the 2010 Election was to set up the National Security Council. This brought together key Ministers, officials and military and intelligence chiefs at the heart of government to make the most efficient use of limited resources for security and to oversee the development of the National Security Strategy (NSS). At its first meeting the NSC decided to broaden the strategic defence review to include wider security matters, so that the document became the Strategic Defence and Security Review (SDSR). The setting up of the NSC was widely welcomed, though this Committee expressed some reservations especially about the risk that military input to the SDSR would be diluted;[1] the SDSR became a cross-Government publication led by the Cabinet Office.

3.  The National Security Strategy was published on 18 October, the day before publication of the SDSR. The Comprehensive Spending Review, including details of the financial resources to be allocated to security across Government, was published on 20 October. We published reports on The Strategic Defence and Security Review,[2] on 15 September 2010 and on The Strategic Defence and Security Review and the National Security Strategy on 21 July 2011.[3] The Government's intention remains that the defence and security review should be published five-yearly, with the next iteration in 2015. We welcomed the commitment to updating the NSS and SDSR every five years.[4] However, we note that publishing the next iteration of the documents immediately after an election will be challenging, particularly if the result of that election is not immediately clear. This timetable underlines the importance of including opposition parties in consultation prior to the election, a point to which we return later in the report.

4.  In December 2012 we announced our intention of contributing to the next Defence and Security Review by carrying out an overarching strategic inquiry to examine the purpose and future use of the Armed Forces. In March 2013, we launched an inquiry entitled 'Towards the next Defence and Security Review', covering

  • the strategic balance between deterrence, containment, intervention and influence
  • the utility of force
  • the legitimacy of force, including the political/military interface, and the changing legal environment
  • lessons learned from current and recent operations
  • the relationship between hard and soft power in terms of influence.

5.  This preliminary framework Report considers the nature and purpose of a Defence and Security Review, the principles, personnel and processes involved, the timetable which should be followed and the current state of preparations. We are also, independently of the points in the terms of reference noted above, undertaking four separate case studies into:

  • remotely-piloted air systems;
  • deterrence in the twenty-first century;
  • the place, nature and timing of intervention; and
  • the UK Armed Forces and the legal framework for future operations.

These will help to inform our overarching inquiry and we will produce a final report drawing together our findings in connection with our overarching inquiry later in 2014.

6.  We have held four oral evidence sessions in connection with this preliminary inquiry. We took evidence on 24 April 2013 from Professor the Lord Hennessy of Nympsfield, Professor Julian Lindley-French and Major-General Mungo Melvin (Rtd), who also acts as an adviser to this Committee. On 4 June, we took evidence from Professor Paul Cornish, Commodore Stephen Jermy and Frank Ledwidge. We took evidence in private on 11 September 2013 from Sir Kim Darroch, the National Security Adviser, and Julian Miller, the Deputy National Security Adviser, and have published a redacted transcript of the session. We also took evidence from the Secretary of State for Defence, the Rt Hon Philip Hammond MP, on 9 October, together with Edward Ferguson, Head of Defence Strategy and Priorities, and Tom McKane, Director General for Security Policy, at the Ministry of Defence. We are grateful to all our witnesses for the frankness with which they responded to our questions and to those who contributed written evidence to the inquiry. We are also grateful for the contribution of our Specialist Advisers and of the staff of the Committee.[5]

How do we define a strategic approach?

7.  We have deliberately called this inquiry "Towards the next Defence and Security Review", rather than "Towards the next Strategic Defence and Security Review", because in our opinion the previous review was not, despite its title, strategic. We have previously noted that "strategy is understood in many different ways across Government and the military and too often the message and intent becomes blurred"[6] and we recommended that "the National Security Council should develop a uniform vocabulary for strategic thinking across Government".[7]

8.  We have defined strategy as "a course of action integrating ends, ways and means to meet policy objectives". The National Security Strategy described strategy as a "combination" of ends, ways and means.[8] The Defence Strategy Group, chaired jointly by the Permanent Under Secretary at the MoD and the Chief of Defence Staff, has contrasted strategy with policy, which it defines as

a statement of intent, or a commitment to act. Policy decisions provide strategy makers with the objectives or 'ends' to which they must ascribe 'ways' and 'means'.[9]

The Defence Strategy Group also acknowledges the desirability of a clear definition of strategy:

The word 'strategy' is variously and often loosely used in government to denote any large-scale, long-term or broad-ranging planning activity - corporate or operational, civilian or military, domestic or international. The lack of a common lexicon within and between Government Departments can be an obstacle both to the formulation of effective strategy, and to our ability to convince an external audience of its effectiveness. Conversely, clarity of definition can help Departments to organise themselves in a way that facilitates closer interaction and understanding with the rest of Whitehall, thus providing better support to Ministers in the formulation of national strategy and, in turn, enhancing the UK's ability to work with allies and partners to influence and shape the future global strategic context.

We are convinced that establishing common terminology would be of benefit in promoting understanding and clarity of direction across Government.

Was the 2010 Strategic Defence and Security Review strategic?

9.  Our report on the 2010 SDSR and the NSS noted that the Government had an "overriding strategic aim of reducing the UK's budget deficit".[10] We raised a number of concerns about some of the capability decisions in the 2010 SDSR, suggesting that decisions may not have been based on an assessment of the capabilities required for the tasks envisaged.[11] We were also concerned that resources might not be available for the realisation of Future Force 2020. Our concerns were based on a belief that the SDSR had failed realistically to integrate the ends to which the Government aspired, with the ways and means that were at its disposal.

10.  Professor Lindley-French argued that the 2010 SDSR was a "spreadsheet review"[12] and outlined his concerns at a failure to align resources and commitments. He told us that he had observed frustration amongst allies in NATO

With the UK on the one side making these statements about ambition, and on the other side cutting the means to make that ambition real.[13]

Lord Hennessy believed that the 2010 SDSR had been in essence a series of spending reviews "with a thin patina of strategy".[14]

11.  The National Security Council is the main forum for collective discussion of the Government's objectives for national security and therefore has an important role in maintaining cross-Government focus on security and the operation and updating of the NSS and implementation of the SDSR. The Joint Committee on the National Security Strategy has been critical of the National Security Council's focus on operational matters and short-term imperatives rather than "considering long term and blue skies topics", and its failure to make the contribution it should to "enabling Government to work as a co-ordinated whole".[15] Explaining his role to us, the National Security Adviser acknowledged that

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.[16]

12.  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. 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.

13.  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.

14.  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.

1   First Report of Session 2010-12, HC 345, paragraph 8 Back

2   First Report of Session 2010-12, HC 345 Back

3   Sixth Report of Session 2010-12, HC 761 Back

4   Sixth Report of Session 2010-12, paragraph 214 Back

5   The declarations of relevant interests by our Specialist Advisers are recorded in the Committee's Formal Minutes which are available on the Committee's website Back

6   Sixth Report of 2010-12, paragraph 214 Back

7   Sixth Report of 2010-12, paragraph 214 Back

8   A Strong Britain in an Age of Uncertainty: the National Security Strategy, Cm 7953 Back

9   Organising Defence's Contribution to National Strategy, paragraph 10 Back

10   Sixth Report of 2010-12, paragraph 215 Back

11   Sixth Report of 2010-12, paragraph 218 Back

12   Q2 Back

13   Q13 Back

14   Q1 Back

15   Second Report of the Joint Committee on the National Security Strategy of 2012-13, The work of the Joint Committee on the National Security Strategy in 2012, HL 115 and HC 984. Back

16   Q137 Back

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Prepared 7 January 2014