First review of the National Security Strategy 2010 - Joint Committee on the National Security Strategy Contents

2  The National Security Strategy

The 2010 review process

6.  The Government published the most recent NSS, Strong Britain in an Age of Uncertainty: The National Security Strategy, on 18 October 2010, five months after the General Election. The Strategic Defence and Security Review—which sought to describe how the NSS would be implemented—was published on 19 October. On 20 October, the Chancellor of the Exchequer, The Rt Hon George Osborne MP, presented the Government's Comprehensive Spending Review (CSR), which set out budgetary allocations to government departments, including those charged with implementation of the NSS and SDSR.[9] It is significant that the NSS and SDSR were produced in parallel with the Spending Review—rather than guiding or following it—and after a review of just five months.

7.  The Defence Committee has described this five month timetable as "truncated".[10] We asked our witnesses about their views on the review process and the lessons for the future. Lord West told us that to do an NSS "properly" with the current level of resources would take a year.[11] Sir Peter Ricketts (who was then NSA) said that, were he in post for the next NSS, he would "start two years ahead on the research and the detailed analysis that would build up to then completing the National Security Strategy".[12] Baroness Neville-Jones disagreed, saying it should take less than a year: "I do not think that the quality of thought is improved by taking excessive time. Putting people under a bit of pressure to think intensively over a period of time produces just as good, if not rather better, results".[13]

8.  Our witnesses agreed that that doing the NSS and SDSR and the spending review in parallel was probably the correct way to do things.[14] Oliver Letwin said that, while he personally thought the approach used in 2010 was the correct one, the Government had not yet decided how to conduct the next NSS and SDSR.[15] Sir Peter Ricketts said that:

if we had had the alternative of completing the spending round and then turning to the strategy and the SDSR, the budget would have been fixed and there would have been no opportunity to argue for more for defence or the Home Office as a result of the strategy work.[16]

Sir Peter Ricketts told us that, as a result of the NSS and CSR being done at the same time, extra money had been found for counter-terrorism and cyber security.[17]

9.  The relationship between the NSS, the SDSR, and the CSR is complex. It might be thought better to develop the NSS, and SDSR, first, to find out how much it will cost to protect the UK; and then to reflect this in the CSR. However, strategy must be realistic and take account of financial realities; a strategy that is underfunded will fail. But this does not mean that the NSS and SDSR should simply be forced into conclusions predetermined by the money that the CSR has allocated. If the NSS and SDSR show that the money allocated is inadequate, then more money must be found. There is therefore benefit in carrying out these processes in parallel.

10.  We welcome the Government's decision to produce the SDSR at the same time as the NSS. In principle, this should allow us to see, alongside the Strategy, what impact it will have on policy priorities and resource allocation.

11.  We also welcome the Government's commitment to review the NSS and SDSR regularly. A five yearly review cycle, as is currently proposed, seems to us appropriate. However, producing a new Strategy shortly after a General Election—as this timetable suggests—raises the danger of a hurried review process, particularly if there is a change of Government.

12.  The order in which the NSS, SDSR, and CSR are begun is not particularly significant. What is crucial is that all three are able to influence each other, in a process which is begun in plenty of time. The timing of the Election led to the 2010 NSS, SDSR and CSR being completed in a relatively short timescale, with little consultation. We urge the Government to plan for a much longer lead time for the 2015 review.

The 2010 National Security Strategy

13.  The SDSR states that:

The National Security Strategy sets out two clear objectives: (i) to ensure a secure and resilient UK by protecting our people, economy, infrastructure, territory and ways of life from all major risks that can affect us directly; and (ii) to shape a stable world, by acting to reduce the likelihood of risks affecting the UK or our interests overseas, and applying our instruments of power and influence to shape the global environment and tackle potential risks at source. It also sets out in its National Security Risk Assessment a clear prioritisation of those potential threats we face.[18]

14.  The NSS is a 37 page document in four "parts" or chapters. The first two parts set out the strategic context and how the Government sees the UK's role in the world. It sets out a range of threats (including Al Qaeda,[19] nuclear proliferation,[20] espionage,[21] and terrorist groups linked to Northern Ireland[22]) and makes predictions for the future. The predictions include: increased economic interdependence and integration,[23] the potential growth of ideological threats other than Al Qaeda,[24] population pressure in parts of the world leading to instability and conflict,[25] and an increasing threat from accidents in, or the malicious misuse of developments in, the biological sciences.[26] The third chapter of the NSS contains a table of "priority risks"[27] divided into three tiers, and the chapter then sets out how the Government intends to address the four tier one risks (terrorism, cyber security, natural hazard or accident, and an international military crisis drawing in the UK). The last chapter, "our response", addresses implementation and resources, but says that detailed information is in the SDSR.

15.  Thinking about what the future may hold, and the UK's role in it, is essential if the Government is to be prepared and to target resources effectively. This does not mean making rigid predictions, which constrain our ability to respond to the unexpected, but creating a long-term framework, within which the UK has the flexibility to respond to short-term demands.

16.  We welcome the decision of this Government and the last to publish an NSS. We believe that producing and publishing an NSS can help to play an important role in identifying likely future threats to, and opportunities for, the UK. This allows the UK to prepare for them and, in an era of scarce resources, to prioritise effectively. This is important to maintaining the security of the country.


17.  It is stated that the "priority risks" in the NSS were identified by the NSC after it had seen the National Security Risk Assessment (NSRA).[28] The NSRA has not been published but its methodology is described in an annex to the NSS.[29] The NSRA process is said to have

compared, assessed and prioritised all major disruptive risks to our national interest, which are of sufficient scale or impact so as to require action from government and/or which have an ideological, international or political dimension.[30]

The plausible worst case scenario of various risks were scored in terms of likelihood and potential impact (giving greatest weight to those with the ability to cause immediate and direct harm to the UK's territories, economy, people, key institutions and infrastructure). These were then plotted on a matrix to allow comparisons to be made. The process was done at 5 and 20 year horizons.[31]

18.  Sir Peter Ricketts told us "I think the prioritisation of the risks in the National Security Strategy is worthwhile".[32] Lord West told us that a similar exercise under the previous Government had successfully identified pandemic flu as the greatest risk in the short-term. It had also led to important counterterrorism work.[33]

19.  The NSS says that the NSRA process:

provides an insight into potential future risks, so as to contribute to decisions on capabilities for the future. It does not directly address immediate security issues. Thus we did not include in the NSRA a risk directly related to a conflict in Afghanistan, since we are already engaged there. But we do include risks of future terrorism and risks of future conflicts.[34]

However it does include cyber security, even though it says this is a current risk: "this is not simply a risk for the future. Government, the private sector and citizens are under sustained cyber attack today, from both hostile states and criminals".[35]

20.  We asked Oliver Letwin about the decision not to include Afghanistan in the NSRA. He told us that:

Because it [the NSRA] looks at the probability and impact—two axes on a graph—of specific events that affect our national security, it is not looking at decisions within our control. It is looking at the question of what may come and hit us … The question of the withdrawal of British troops [from Afghanistan] at a given date is resoluble in the sense that it is under our control. Of course, the consequences of doing so are another matter, but the decision on whether to do it or not is one that we can ourselves make.[36]

21.  We asked the Cabinet Office for more detailed information of how the priority risks were assessed on likelihood and impact over the next five and twenty years, and for a chart showing how these risks were plotted in the matrix presented in the Annex to the NSS. It provided some more information, but not the requested chart.[37] We raised the matter with the Minister, who subsequently sent us an illustrative diagram which added little to the information given in the NSS.[38] We pursued the point with Sir Peter Ricketts, asking him what material was put before the National Security Council; whether they had information indicating how each risk was scored and how those scores were arrived at. Sir Peter Ricketts told us that the NSC had:

a very detailed and very highly classified document that went through a large number of national security risks and set out alongside them the consideration they had been given in terms of their possible impact, the likelihood of them happening and, therefore, where they would come out in the matrix work that had been conducted.[39]

We asked to see that document, if necessary in confidence. By letter of 7 February, Sir Kim Darroch, the new NSA, informed us that "the Government are willing to answer specific questions about the risks to national security assessed in the NSRA" but that "Pending further consultations on the precedent which release of a Cabinet Committee paper might set, however, we are not able to provide the text in this case."[40]

22.  We find this unacceptable. It is not that we particularly wish to see a Cabinet Committee paper, but we cannot judge if the priority risks are the right ones without more detailed information about how they were arrived at. We fully accept that some parts of the NSRA, particularly those relating to terrorism and hostile countries, are sensitive and must remain classified. Other elements—the NSRA also covers pandemic flu, accidents, flooding, and severe space weather, for example—could probably be published.[41] We note that, for the civil risk register, tables are in the public domain showing the relative values that the Government placed on life, loss of homes, and economic losses, in order to compile the register.[42] We would like to see similar information for the NSRA.

23.  We regret that the Government's unwillingness, to date, to provide us with all the information we requested about the NSRA, means that we are not in a position to give the two Houses any assurance about its adequacy. We urge the Government to reconsider its position on this. We need this information if we are to do our job properly, as a Joint Committee tasked with scrutinising the NSS.

24.  We remain to be convinced of the Government's reasoning for not including Afghanistan in the NSRA. The Government has said that it is not including "immediate security issues" but terrorism, accidents, flooding and cyber attack are included, though they are all current threats. While the date of troop withdrawal may be a firm policy, we take the view that Afghanistan and the surrounding region remain an area of risk for the UK's security and this ought to be reflected in the NSRA.

25.  In principle, we welcome the development of the NSRA but the Government must ensure that it does not lead to a false sense of security. Any forecasting tool, however well designed, is imperfect and speculative, and the results produced should be treated with caution and used as a support for, not a substitute for, good judgement. The NSRA will not always predict the next big problem: resources must be allocated to continual horizon-scanning, and must be available to deal with unpredicted risks as they emerge.


26.  The NSS says that:

The National Security Council has reached a clear conclusion that Britain's national interest requires us to reject any notion of the shrinkage of our influence.[43]

At other points the NSS talks about extending[44] or enhancing[45] the UK's influence. What "influence" means is not defined in the NSS itself, although it is often linked to national security: "In order to protect our interests at home, we must project our influence abroad"[46] In other places influence seems to be distinguished from security. For example it states: "we need to understand the context within which we operate in order to protect our security, achieve our national objectives and maintain our influence in world affairs."[47] The NSS discusses a broad range of "influences": military power, diplomacy (including the UK's role in international organizations), aid and also cultural effects (such as the large numbers of Britons living overseas and the tens of thousands of Chinese students studying here).

27.  The NSS predicts the weight of economic activity shifting to Asia, Latin America and the Gulf,[48] the development of a multipolar world "with power distributed more widely than in the last two decades. The circle of international decision-making will be wider and potentially more multilateral",[49] and the rise of India and China as global powers.[50] The NSS refers several times to reform of the UN Security Council but says no more about what form that might take.[51] The NSS says that the "US will remain the most powerful country in the world, economically and in military terms". [52]

28.  The Defence Committee has questioned whether no reduction in influence is realistic given Government spending cuts. Its report on the SDSR and NSS published in August 2011 said that:

The Government appears to believe that the UK can maintain its influence while reducing spending, not just in the area of defence but also at the Foreign Office. We do not agree. If the UK's influence in the world is to be maintained, the Government must demonstrate in a clear and convincing way that these reductions have been offset by identifiable improvements elsewhere rather than imprecise assertions of an increased reliance on diplomacy and 'soft power'. If the Government cannot do so, the National Security Strategy is in danger of becoming a 'wish list' that fails to make the hard choices necessary to ensure the nation's security.[53]

29.  Given the UK's low economic growth rate compared with those of the world's emerging economies, we believe it is wholly unrealistic not to expect any diminution in the UK's power and influence in the medium and long term. If, as the NSS predicts, the circle of international decision-making becomes wider and new global powers emerge, then it is likely that established high-income powers—the UK included—will have relatively less influence. Similarly it is possible that reform of the UN Security Council will involve other countries gaining a permanent seat on the Security Council: although the Government supports the addition of India and Brazil, for example, this will inevitably dilute the UK's position as only one of five countries that currently holds such a position. These trends make it even more important that the Government consider how to maintain its security objectives, perhaps through building wider partnerships.

30.  A key point of the NSS is to set priorities, and to guide choices in an era of diminished resources. While such a strategy may contain aspirational elements it must also be realistic. The NSS simultaneously recognises the rise of new global powers, shifts in the centres of economic activity, and reduced resources in the UK, while at the same time asserting "no reduction in influence". This is wholly unrealistic in the medium to long term and the UK needs to plan for a changing, and more partnership-dependent, role in the world.


31.  The NSS is not clear what is meant by "influence". In places the NSS says that projecting our influence abroad is necessary to protect our interests at home; in other places, "influence" seems to be an end in itself. In written evidence, the Cabinet Office told us that "The Government considers influence to mean our ability to have an effect on the beliefs and actions of others, which in turn leads to action in support of our interests or greater acceptance of our own actions".[54]

32.  It seems to us that there are many different types of influence. For example, that which comes from goodwill and "soft power" is very different from that which comes from threats and "hard power". A country can have a lot of influence with some countries while at the same time having very little with others, particularly when it comes to "soft power". There are also complex questions around the costs and benefits of different ways of gaining influence. Some of the references in the NSS are to cultural effects, whose direct influence on behalf of national interests is inherently hard to judge.

33.  The NSS lacks a geopolitical focus; it is not clear in which areas of the world the UK is seeking to exercise influence and what form—military, cultural, economic—that influence might take. While the NSS stresses the importance of the UK's relationship with the US, it does not address which forms of influence are most successful in this relationship.

34.  The NSS makes several mentions of aid, and states that its purposes include poverty reduction[55] and the reduction of the causes of potential hostility.[56] The SDSR expands on this by arguing that "We must focus on those fragile and conflict-affected countries where the risks are high, our interests are most at stake and where we know we can have an impact".[57] The Government is committed to using 30% of Official Development Assistance to support fragile and conflict-affected states. We welcome this commitment, and the publication of the Building Stability Overseas Strategy last year.[58]

35.  We are concerned that the Government has not done enough in the NSS and SDSR to articulate its concept of what influence is, why it is needed, or what the most cost-effective way is of achieving it in different circumstances and regions. The NSS mentions many different forms of "soft power" but could do more to spell out the different roles of organisations such as the BBC World Service and British Council. We believe that greater clarity over exactly what we are seeking, and why, could enable resources to be better targeted.


36.  The SDSR states that, based on the NSS, the NSC has decided on an "adaptable posture" (the phrase does not appear in the NSS).[59] The definition it gives is long and descriptive. "Principal elements" include tackling the four tier one risks identified in the NSS (terrorism, cyber security, natural hazard or accident, and an international military crisis drawing in the UK), maintaining a nuclear deterrent, "ensuring, in partnership with allies, the ability to regenerate capabilities given sufficient strategic notice" and:

to respond to growing uncertainty about longer-term risks and threats, we will pursue an over-arching approach which:

  • identifies and manages risks before they materialise in the UK, with a focus on preventing conflicts and building local capacity to deal with problems
  • maintains a broad spectrum of defence and other capabilities, able to deter and contain, as well as engage on the ground, developing threats
  • ensures those capabilities have in-built flexibility to adjust to changing future requirements
  • strengthens mutual dependence with key allies and partners who are willing and able to act, not least to make our collective resources go further and allow nations to focus on their comparative advantages
  • coordinates and integrates the approach across government, achieving greater effect by combining defence, development, diplomatic, intelligence and other capabilities.[60]

37.  In written evidence the Cabinet Office explained how the decision had been made:

The [NSC] considered two alternative posture options to the adaptable approach. One option placed more emphasis on protecting the UK from imminent threats. The Armed Forces would have been configured for protecting the homeland and for short, sharp interventions overseas but would not have been capable of conducting stabilisation operations. There would have been cuts to all military capabilities. The other option placed more emphasis on protecting the UK by acting at distance. The Armed Forces would have been configured for long-term stabilisation operations but not for interventions.[61]

The three options presented required the same financial resources, but would have allocated them differently.[62]

38.  From Oliver Letwin's perspective the adaptable posture went beyond the armed forces. He told us that:

We have set out to create the basis for adaptability, flexibility and the ability to recognise that we are a kind of world which changes faster than the world did a few years back. [....]So the strategy is about maximising opportunity, minimising visible threat and maintaining maximal degrees of flexibility and adaptability. We then carry that into the SDSR, which is all about not plumping for this or that but rather having a range of possibilities and giving ourselves maximum military flexibility. The same is true of the way in which we administer the DfID budgets and programmes. The same is true of our direct foreign policy goals.[63]

He went on to say that:

The most important thing about this strategy is what we are not doing in it. We could have had a strategy which said that we are devoted to having an alliance exclusively with A and B, or that we are devoted to ensuring that X and Y are achieved in the next three years.[64]

He was asked if the NSS could be summed up by saying, "We will do what we can that looks sensible at the time, with rather limited resources". He replied that "That is not a bad description".[65]

39.  When we asked Oliver Letwin how the NSS had influenced the differing responses to Libya, Bahrain and Syria, he replied that:

It is important not to see the National Security Strategy as if it were a sort of recipe book, from which one can draw how to make eggs Benedict [...] What is really important is the functioning of the National Security Council itself and the way in which it considers things in the round [...] . That is really much more important than the very words of the National Security Strategy itself.[66]

Sir Peter Ricketts felt that the NSS had influenced capability decisions:

Without trying to produce a recipe that tells us exactly where the next crisis will happen, the National Security Strategy has been helpful in directing work to produce our capability to deal with the crisis wherever it happens. I think it has been worthwhile.[67]

40.  We welcome the idea of an "adaptable posture" in principle. But in a world in which it was deemed right in principle to intervene militarily in Libya but not, for instance, in Syria, we would welcome more clarity on how this principle shaped decisions on the mix of capabilities to be maintained. We call on the Government to elaborate on the thinking linking the NSS, the "adaptable approach" and the capabilities decided upon.

41.  We accept that the NSS is not a "recipe book" which dictates our response to every event, but we would have expected to have seen some evidence that it had influenced decisions made since the SDSR, including the Government's responses to the Arab Spring. We have found no such evidence. As the NSS states, "a strategy is only useful if it guides choices"; it is about thinking in the longer term, and not simply doing what is in the UK's short-term interest. If the current strategy is not guiding choices then it needs to be revised.


42.  The Public Administration Select Committee's further report into Who does UK National Strategy? described the NSS as "more 'review' or 'plan' than 'strategy'".[68] It said that:

What is [...] missing is recognition that strategic aims cannot be set or adjudicated without an articulated account of who 'we' are and what we believe, both about ourselves and the world.[69]

It called for a National Strategy, which it equated with "grand strategy".[70]

43.  In oral evidence we asked our witnesses for their views on the merits of "grand strategy". [71] Lord West told us that "I am a great believer in the UK having what I always used to call a grand strategy".[72] He wanted the NSS to address questions such as, how the UK saw its place in the world, whether the Government believed in the "sovereignty" of certain industries, and whether the UK still considered itself to be a maritime nation and what the consequences were of that.[73] In contrast, Oliver Letwin told us that "We are not devotees of what I believe is called "grand strategy"".[74]

44.  There are varying definitions of the term "grand strategy", as both the Public Administration Select Committee and the Defence Committee noted.[75] We use the term "overarching strategy" and define this as a common understanding about the UK's interests and objectives that guides choices on investment across government departments, as well as guiding operational priorities and crisis response. An overarching strategy should be based on a realistic vision of the UK's future place in the world, which will both shape, and be shaped by, the UK's interests and objectives.

45.  The NSS does have some elements of an overarching strategy. Its statements on no reduction in influence[76], the primacy of the UK's relationship with the US,[77] the focus on bilateral relationships,[78] the Government's belief in free trade,[79] the importance of values in our foreign policy[80], and desire for an increased role for international law[81] are all elements of this. An overarching strategy should require the Government to look at any tensions and contradictions between departmental policies, and prompt questioning of the underlying assumptions underpinning present policies. It could be argued that the Government has other documents which taken together make clear its overarching security strategy, but these would benefit from being brought together in a coherent and accessible form. Baroness Neville-Jones was clear that one of the advantages of an NSS "is that it brings the departmental priorities together in a single document and in a sense forces the Government to put them in order and to choose between them".[82]

46.  In the NSS, the Government has started to set out crucial statements which can guide future policy. However it does not yet present a clear overarching strategy: a common understanding about the UK's interests and objectives that guides choices on investment across government departments, including domestic departments, as well as guiding operational priorities and crisis response. Such a strategy must be based on a realistic vision of the UK's future position in the world. This vision will both shape, and be shaped, by the UK's interests and objectives.


47.  The NSS had a chapter on "Britain's distinctive role" which says that: "We have a web of relationships across the globe, with a unique position as a key member of multilateral fora as diverse as the UN Security Council, NATO, the EU, the G8, the G20 and the Commonwealth"[83]. The NSS makes brief references to specific countries and geographical areas such as predicting the rise of India and China as global powers,[84] and the US remaining the world's most powerful country.[85] It also says that the UK must strengthen its network of bilateral ties with new partners as well as traditional allies, recognising that many emerging powers put a premium on direct relationships.[86]

48.  The SDSR also sets out the Government's approach to bilateral co-operation:

We are developing deepened bilateral security partnerships with Turkey, India, Japan, the Gulf Cooperation Council states and others; we share crucial security interests with Pakistan; and we are building up our political and security dialogue with China, with Russia, and with fast growing economies like Brazil and Indonesia.[87]

Clearly this list includes countries with which the UK has very different relationships. Unlike some of our allies, the Government does not set out which countries it sees as friends and which countries could potentially pose a threat. In contrast the US has said explicitly in its recent publication Sustaining US Global Leadership: Priorities for the 21st-Century Defence that "the growth of China's military power must be accompanied by greater clarity of its strategic intentions in order to avoid causing friction in the region".[88] It is also explicit that the US's collaboration with the Gulf Cooperation Council is aimed at countering Iran.[89] The latest Livre Blanc from France also contains more geographical prioritisation than the NSS.[90]


49.  The SDSR contains a section (part 5) entitled "alliances and partnerships".[91] It sets out the plans for the UK's relationships with US, France, UN, NATO and the EU. The pages on France and the US set out very specific ways in which the UK hopes to strengthen ties between the nations. For example, with France the UK will be "developing joint military doctrine and training programmes relating for example to noncombatant evacuation operations, and responses to counter-improvised explosive devices".[92] It also says that "we will focus our planned forces on what we judge will be of greatest utility to our allies as well as the UK".[93] The sections on UN, NATO and the EU imply some criticism. For example it states the UK will work to "ensure that NATO has the political will and ability to respond to current and future threats".[94]

50.  The SDSR gives little attention to regional alliances. The Economic Community of West African States, and the Arab League are not mentioned at all. The sole comment on two other major regional organisations is "We also support regional organisations such as the African Union and the Association of South East Asian Nations.". None of these organisations are mentioned in the NSS, despite the key roles that they all play in their regions. The African Union has intervened in Somalia, suffering considerable casualties, and (since the NSS was written) the Arab League has played a key role in Libya, Yemen and Syria.

51.  We are concerned that the NSS's focus on bilateral relations with large emerging powers—and concomitant investments in diplomatic and capacity-building activities—should not be at the expense of strengthening relations with the Commonwealth and with key regional organisations such as ASEAN, the Arab League and African Union.

52.  The SDSR says that "we will maintain our ability to act alone where we cannot expect others to help"[95] but overall it stresses the role of the UK's allies. It notes that Sierra Leone in 2000 is the only significant operation the UK has conducted alone since the Falklands Conflict in 1982. It goes on to say that:

If, in the context of multilateral operations, we agree with other nations that we will rely on them to provide particular capabilities or conduct particular military roles or missions, and they will likewise rely on us, then we will be ready to underpin this understanding with legally binding mutual guarantees."[96]

The SDSR does not mention any areas where the UK might sometimes have different interests or priorities from its allies, or limits (including geographical ones) to the UK's co-operation with them. And it does not expand on what it means by situations "where we cannot expect others to help". For example, the possibility of a recurrence of the Falklands conflict is not mentioned.

53.  Lord West was concerned about this reliance on allies: "over the past 15 years even well established alliances and partnerships have looked decidedly discretionary when pressure has come from either internal or external forces". He gave the example of the Germans abstaining during the Libya conflict, but said there were many other examples.[97]

54.  We are concerned that the NSS and SDSR have avoided some of the difficult questions about alliances. There does not appear to have been a fundamental assessment of the extent to which the UK can rely on its allies, and the extent to which it needs the capacity to operate independently. The SDSR states that "we will maintain our ability to act alone where we cannot expect others to help". We call on the Government to set out in response to this report in what situations it thinks the UK may need to operate alone and what capabilities they would require.


55.  While the NSS is based strongly on the UK's relationship with the US, it appears that the US's focus is moving away from Europe. In January 2012 the US published Sustaining US Global Leadership: Priorities for the 21st-Century Defence. The document states that:

US economic and security interests are inextricably linked to developments in the arc extending from the Western Pacific and East Asia into the Indian Ocean region and South Asia, creating a mix of evolving challenges and opportunities. Accordingly while the US military will continue to contribute to good security globally, we will of necessity rebalance towards the Asia-Pacific region.[98]

The document goes on to say that:

Most European countries are now producers of security rather than consumers of it. Combined with the drawdown in Iraq and Afghanistan, this has created a strategic opportunity to rebalance the US military investment in Europe, moving from a focus on current conflicts towards a focus on future capability. In keeping with this evolving strategic landscape, our posture in Europe must also evolve." [99]

The UK is not mentioned by name in the document. The document also sets out that "US forces will no longer be sized to conduct large-scale, prolonged stabilisation operations". Instead it will emphasise non-military means and military-to-military cooperation.[100]

56.  There are already questions about the ability of the UK, and even NATO to act without the support of US military assets, particularly ISTAR (Intelligence, Surveillance, Target Acquisition, and Reconnaissance capabilities). It is also claimed that in Libya operations some European countries ran out of precision guided missiles and were reliant on the US for air-to air refuelling.[101]

57.  The need for a clear strategy as to how the UK (possibly along with other European states) can act without the US is heightened by the US's recent announcement. If the US is moving its focus eastwards there is the possibility it will become involved in conflicts in which the UK has little direct interest. Conversely the US may be less interested in situations involving UK interests. The US view of Europe as a producer of security suggests that it may be increasingly unwilling to meet the costs of conflicts primarily affecting Europe.

58.  While emphasising the importance of NATO, neither the NSS nor SDSR acknowledge that it will require commitment and resources to maintain our influence within the partnership. The NSA's report on the handling of the Libya crisis drew attention to the need to obtain key command positions in those parts of a reformed NATO Command Structure that are likely to be relevant to the conduct of future operations,[102] something not mentioned in the SDSR. The Government must also ensure that key positions in alliance structures are not left vacant.

59.  The Defence Committee has expressed its concerns that UK defence cuts will have repercussions for other NATO countries:

If the UK's influence in the world is to be maintained, we are concerned that the impact of defence cuts on the UK's defence commitments and role within NATO and other strategic alliances does not appear to have been fully addressed. UK defence does not operate in a vacuum and decisions taken in the UK have repercussions for the spending commitments and strategic posture of allies and alliances.[103]

The outgoing US Defence Secretary Robert Gates has warned that "if the current trends in the decline of European defence capabilities are not halted and reversed, future US political leaders....may not consider the return on America's investment in NATO worth the cost".[104]

60.  We recognise that there are limits to what can be said in a public document. However we believe that the USA's publication of Sustaining US Global Leadership provides an opportunity to open up a debate on a number of crucial issues. We call on the Government to reflect deeply on the long term implications of the geographical and functional shifts in US policy that are now taking place. It raises fundamental questions if our pre-eminent defence and security relationship is with an ally who has interests which are increasingly divergent from our own. The Government needs to decide if the UK will continue to be as involved in US military action as we have been in the past if the US focuses on Asia-Pacific. If the US is moving towards viewing Europe as a producer rather than a consumer of security, and reducing its capability to mount long term stabilisation missions, it raises more questions as to what we can expect from the US and what the US expects from the UK.


61.  An area of concern largely omitted from the NSS is the consequences of international economic instability for national security. The NSS was written before the Eurozone Crisis but makes only brief mention of the impact of the 2008-2009 banking crisis.[105] Economic problems or the collapse of the Euro were not in the NSS's "priority risks". Because of the lack of detail received from the Cabinet Office we do not know if they were included in the NSRA.

62.  The SDSR is also focused on prosperity rather than potential problems. It says that the FCO will:

maximise the economic opportunities provided by the [Foreign Office's embassy and consulate] network with a new emphasis on commercial diplomacy including more effort on creating exports and investment; opening markets; ensuring access to resources and promoting sustainable global growth.[106]

63.   The Public Administration Select Committee said in its report that:

An inability to think effectively about wider National Strategy in government presents a continuing risk to the UK's future prosperity and safety. Getting it right matters. The failure to anticipate the risk of the banking collapse and take remedial action, for example, has affected the lives of every citizen.[107]

64.  In oral evidence in October 2011 we raised with the Minister the already unfolding crisis in the Eurozone. Oliver Letwin told us that:

We are certainly concerned about many aspects of the global economic situation, but we do not think that it threatens our security at the moment. It simply makes life more difficult for us.[108]

We asked Mr Letwin if, with hindsight, he thought that the NSS gave enough weight to the consequences of an economic crisis. He told us that:

under certain very extreme circumstances, economic events could generate security risks. Undoubtedly, one could imagine such things, but they would need to be very severe indeed. We are, notwithstanding all the difficulties in the world around us and the difficulties that we ourselves face today, still a rich nation and capable of defending and securing ourselves. Even quite severe economic misfortunes in the world leave us able to do that.[109]

Sir Peter Ricketts told us, in December 2011, that the Government was undertaking contingency planning across a whole range of scenarios relating to the full or partial collapse of the Euro but that the NSC was not involved in that work. He added that "we would obviously keep in view, in terms of horizon-scanning, any potential implications for national security".[110]

65.  Some commentators believe that the consequences of economic instability have much broader strategic implications. Chancellor Merkel said in October 2011:

Another half century of peace and prosperity in Europe is not to be taken for granted. If the euro fails, Europe fails. We have a historical obligation: to protect by all means Europe's unification process begun by our forefathers after centuries of hatred and blood spill. None of us can foresee what the consequences would be if we were to fail.[111]

66.  There could also be strategic implications if the Euro is saved. On 8 and 9 December the EU held a meeting to discuss its response to the Eurozone crisis. It was reported that at that meeting the UK had effectively vetoed changes to EU treaties aimed at tightening fiscal requirements (although other countries said that they needed to consult their parliaments or possibly hold referendums). As a result it was decided that Eurozone members and others would adopt an accord with penalties for breaking deficit rules. It will be backed by a treaty between governments, not an EU treaty. The long-term consequences of the UK's decision are not yet clear, and will probably depend on how the Eurozone crisis continues to unfold. In February 2012 we were told that the NSC had still not discussed the matter.[112]

67.  We are not convinced that the Government gave sufficient attention in the NSS to the potential risks that future international economic instability might pose for UK security. These go beyond the UK being unable to afford to defend itself. International economic problems could lead to our allies having to make considerable cuts to their defence spending, and to an increase in economic migrants between EU member states, and to domestic social or political unrest. The NSC needs to take all of this into account.

68.  We hope that the problems within the Eurozone can be resolved. However we believe that, even in 2010, the potential threat to UK security from a full, or partial, collapse of the Eurozone was one of the plausible scenarios which a prudent NSRA should have examined. We call on the NSC to address the potential impacts on the UK and NATO (and how the Government would respond) were this to happen, as a matter of urgency. It also needs to examine the long term strategic impact for the UK of any measures to save the Euro, such as further Eurozone political integration or the exit of some states from EU membership.


69.  One of the surprising facts which emerged from our inquiry was that, even by February 2012, the NSC had given no consideration to the potential impact for UK security of Scottish independence.[113] Sir Peter Ricketts told us that the NSC had not considered the issue and that "I have no current intention [to advise the NSC] to do so".[114] Oliver Letwin told us that the future of Scotland was for the people of Scotland to decide and that "we have not come across any practical difficulties arising at the moment and we do not anticipate at the moment any arising".[115]

70.  While the UK coalition Government opposes Scottish independence, it is a fact that the Scottish National Party won a majority in the Scottish Parliament while promising a referendum on independence by 2015. Scottish independence could have a range of impacts from potential disputes over the response to security threats and the division of resources,[116] to questions about basing of forces and the future of the UK's nuclear deterrent.

71.  The fact that the potential impact of Scottish independence was not brought to the NSC's attention strengthens our concern that the horizon-scanning carried out on the NSC's behalf is inadequate and that the NSC's oversight of security issues is not sufficiently broad and strategic.

Annual progress report on the NSS and SDSR

72.  The NSS promised an "annual report of progress on implementation" of the NSS and SDSR.[117] We were expecting it in October 2011 (a year after the publication of the NSS and SDSR) and so hoped to have it in advance of our final evidence session. Despite postponing the session by a month the Cabinet Office was unable to supply it in time. The Cabinet Office also failed to give us notice of the publication of the Libya Crisis: lessons learned report[118] in December 2011, which limited our ability to be fully briefed on the document before the final session. Sir Peter Ricketts apologised to us and we trust that his successor will honour his assurances that the Cabinet Office will keep us informed of relevant publications in future.[119] However we have been left with the strong impression that the National Security Secretariat is either under resourced or simply disorganised and we thus have concerns about the level of service it is providing to the NSC.

73.  The annual progress report was eventually published[120] in December 2011 as The Strategic Defence and Security Review: First Annual Report. It focuses on the Government implementation of the SDSR, for example progress in reducing defence capabilities and bringing troops back from Germany. There is some coverage of recent events, for example the conflict Libya, work in Afghanistan and the deaths of Osama Bin Laden and Anwar Al Awlaki, but these are covered very briefly. It also looks at domestic issues such as the new CONTEST and Prevent strategies, and security for the Olympics. It reports on developments in the FCO network and the DFID aid programme and there is also an update on the UK's alliances (although the report was published before the US published Sustaining US Global Leadership).

74.  The report is almost unrelentingly positive. It contains no details on areas where there have been delays or problems even where those have been very high profile (such as at the UK Border Agency). It also contains no lessons learned, not even those already set out in the Libya crisis report. There is no mention of the Eurozone crisis, or the military lesson from Libya, or the withdrawal date for Afghanistan, or any comment on how the operation there is progressing. There is also very little on the work of the NSC, any challenges it may have faced, or changes it may have made to the way it works. This is despite Oliver Letwin's comments that the functioning of the NSC was much more important than the words of the NSS.[121]

75.  The 2011 progress report is a relatively uninformative implementation report on the SDSR. Next year we expect a rounded and insightful update on both the NSS and the SDSR. It should include a summary of the main events of the year that were of relevance to national security, how the UK responded to them, and the longer term strategic implications. For example this year's report could have included the problems at the UK Border Agency, the Eurozone crisis (and the strategic implication of measures to resolve it), an update on the US-UK joint strategy board, on the Anglo-French alliance, on Iran, and on commitments in Afghanistan and the adjacent area after 2015. It should also include a summary of the work of the NSC that year. The Libya Crisis report, with its identification of problems faced and lessons learned, provides a good model.

9   Spending Review 2010, Cm 7924, October 2010. Back

10   HC 761, para 27. Back

11   Q 64 Back

12   Q 150 Back

13   Q 24 Back

14   Lord West Q65, and Baroness Neville-Jones Q24 (although she felt that the "framework" of the NSS should be done first). Back

15   Q 104 Back

16   Q 150 Back

17   Q 150 Back

18   SDSR, para 1.4. Back

19   NSS, para 1.2. Back

20   NSS, para 1.5. Back

21   NSS, para 1.6. Back

22   NSS, para 1.7. Back

23   NSS, para 1.14. Back

24   NSS, para 1.22. Back

25   NSS, para 1.28. Back

26   NSS, para 1.24. Back

27   NSS, p 27. Back

28   NSS, para 3.14. Back

29   NSS, p 37. Back

30   NSS, A.2; also Cabinet Office 02. Back

31   NSS, A.2, A.4. Back

32   Q 144 Back

33   Q 54 Back

34   NSS, para 3.9. Back

35   NSS, para 3.27. Back

36   Q 102 Back

37   Cabinet Office 02. Back

38   Cabinet Office 03. Back

39   Q 157 Back

40   Cabinet Office 05. Back

41   NSS, para 3.44. Back

42  Back

43   NSS, para 0.8. Back

44   NSS, para 0.5. Back

45   NSS, para 1.16. Back

46   NSS, p 4. Back

47   NSS, para 1.1. Back

48   NSS, para 1.13. Back

49   NSS, para 1.15. Back

50   NSS, para 1.18. Back

51   NSS, para 1.16, para 2.10. Back

52   NSS, para 1.10. Back

53   HC 761, para 64. Back

54   Cabinet Office 05. Back

55   NSS, para 2.11. Back

56   NSS, para 3.4. Back

57   SDSR, para 4.B.2. Back

58   Building Stability Overseas Strategy, Department for International Development, Foreign and Commonwealth Office and Ministry of Defence, July 2011. Back

59   SDSR, p 9. Back

60   SDSR, Para 1,5. Back

61   Cabinet Office 02. Back

62   Cabinet Office 02. Back

63   Q 92 Back

64   Q 92 Back

65   Q 92 Back

66   Q 97 Back

67   Q 144 Back

68   HC 713, para 7. Back

69   HC 713, para 7. Back

70   HC 713, para 8. Back

71   Q 44, Q 55, Q 94 Back

72   Q 44 Back

73   Q 45, Qq 50-51, Q 59, Q 74, Q 85 Back

74   Q 94 Back

75   HC 713, para 6; HC 761, para 214. Back

76   NSS, para 0.8. Back

77   NSS, para 1.16. Back

78   NSS, para 1.17. Back

79   NSS, para 1.19. Back

80   NSS, p 23. Back

81   NSS, para 1.16. Back

82   Q 21 Back

83   NSS, para 2.10. Back

84   NSS, para 1.18. Back

85   NSS, para 1.10. Back

86   NSS, para 1.17. Back

87   NSS, para 5.8. Back

88   Sustaining US Global Leadership: Priorities for 21st-Century Defence, p 2 Back

89   Sustaining US Global Leadership: Priorities for 21st-Century Defence, p 2. Back

90   Défense et Sécurité nationale Le Livre Blanc, June 2008,  Back

91   SDSR, part 5. Back

92   SDSR, para 5.7. Back

93   SDSR, para 2.9. Back

94   SDSR, para 5.11. Back

95   SDSR, para 2.10. Back

96   SDSR, para 5.4. Back

97   Q 49 Back

98   Sustaining US Global Leadership: Priorities for 21st-Century Defence p2 (Original emphasis). Back

99   Sustaining US Global Leadership: Priorities for 21st-Century Defence p 3 (Original emphasis). Back

100   Sustaining US Global Leadership: Priorities for 21st-Century Defence p 6. Back

101   House of Commons Defence Committee, Ninth Report of Session 2010-12, Operations in Libya, HC 950, paras 87-91, 107-110, 117-125. Back

102   Libya crisis: national security adviser's review of central coordination and lessons learned report, para 96Back

103   HC 761 para 65. Back

104   HC Deb, 26 January 2012, Col 485.  Back

105   NSS, p ara 1.19. Back

106   SDSR, p67. Back

107   HC 713, para 13. Back

108   Q 105 Back

109   Q 105 Back

110   Q 138 Back

111  Back

112   Cabinet Office 05, A4 Back

113   Cabinet Office 05, A4. Back

114   Q 158 Back

115   Q 118 Back

116   Q 118 Back

117   NSS, paras 0.12, 4.12-13. Back

118   Libya crisis: national security adviser's review of central coordination and lessons learned; see HC Deb,1 December 2012, col. 75WS. Back

119   Qq 122-3 Back

120  Back

121   Q 97 Back

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Prepared 8 March 2012