3.The NSS & SDSR 2015 was planned in parallel with the Spending Review. Two days after the publication of the NSS & SDSR 2015, the Chancellor of the Exchequer, right hon. George Osborne MP, introduced the Government’s Spending Review and Autumn Statement 2015. The Spending Review set out budget allocations to Government Departments including those charged with the implementation of the NSS & SDSR 2015.5 The National Security Adviser told us that the Government had learned lessons from the 2010 review process, when there “was a bit of a divergence between the review and the spending round and quite a lot of scrabbling and back-engineering to try to make that work.”6 Oliver Letwin explained that
We did it explicitly and consciously in tandem with the expenditure review to ensure that as we worked out what mattered most to us to defend against, we also worked out what we could afford to spend on doing it. We iterated between those two until we got to the point where we felt that we had allocated resources in a way that was proportionate7
4.The 2015 review process began before the May general election. This allowed time to assess the domestic and international security environment. Unlike in 2010, however, the results of this assessment were not published.8 The Government’s assessment of the security environment therefore did not benefit from expert analysis.
5.Our predecessor Committee in the 2010–15 Parliament criticised the limited consultation with external experts on the development of the NSS and SDSR in 2010.9 Academic witnesses questioned the effectiveness and scope of the expert consultation on the NSS & SDSR 2015.10 Professor Patrick Porter, Academic Director of the Strategy and Security Institute, University of Exeter, told us that while the assumptions underlying the NSS & SDSR 2015 might have been “very well founded, … the point is to have a process which lifts it out of the axiomatic into thinking in a calculated way”.11 He recommended institutionalising “friendly dissent” within the review process, using “red teams” tasked with providing alternative viewpoints to ensure the premises of the strategy are subject to robust testing.12
6.We welcome the implementation of our predecessor Committee’s recommendation to allow more time for review and for engagement with external experts in developing the NSS & SDSR 2015. Such engagement must, however, be more than a tick-box exercise and must include a robust examination of the substance of the security strategy. Looking ahead, the Cabinet Office should build on its achievement in engaging external expertise by forming ‘red team’ panels to challenge the assumptions underpinning the next security strategy.
7.The NSS & SDSR 2015 is by design a public strategy. We heard that the public nature of the strategy limited its content.13 For example, an open discussion of security vulnerabilities and specialist capabilities might threaten national security. And public discussion of tensions with a competitor state might increase international tension. If the NSS & SDSR is intended to be a practical guide to decision-making, then a more detailed ranking and analysis of threats, opportunities and priorities are required.14 This might take the form of a classified element to the NSS & SDSR or of more detailed classified strategies on specific aspects of the NSS & SDSR for use within government.
8.The Cabinet Office should produce classified analysis that prioritises specific threats and opportunities to inform decisions taken by policy-makers, diplomats, the security and intelligence agencies and the armed forces.
8 The then Labour Government published its Green Paper entitled Adaptability and Partnership: Issues for the Strategic Defence Review on 3 February 2010, three months before the 2010 general election and eight months before the NSS 2010 and SDSR 2010 were published. MOD, Adaptability and Partnership: Issues for the Strategic Defence Review, Cm 7794, February 2010
9 Joint Committee on the National Security Strategy, First Report of Session 2010–12, First Review of the National Security Strategy 2010, HL Paper 265, HC 1384, para 12
11 Q6 [Professor Porter]
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8 July 2016