55.When the Government launched the NSCR in July 2017, it acknowledged that threats to UK national security had intensified and diversified more quickly than had been anticipated in 2015. In January 2019, Sir Mark Sedwill described the “ambiguity and complexity” of these threats as “one of the big challenges in the 21st century”. In the second part of our inquiry, we explored the key initiatives outlined in the NSCR report that are intended to equip the Government to meet this challenge.
56.The Government’s NSCR report introduced a “new national security doctrine”, called the ‘Fusion Doctrine’, to improve national security strategy-making and delivery. According to Sir Mark, the cross-government structures and processes created under the Fusion Doctrine (see Box 2) were designed to establish national security as a “whole-of-government effort” that went beyond the ‘traditional’ national security departments and agencies, and to move away from a “federated system” of policy delivery towards genuine “teamwork”. According to the NSCR report, this new approach will better enable the Government to use the full range of “security, economic and influence capabilities” available to the UK to achieve its three strategic priorities of ‘protecting our people’, ‘projecting our influence’ and ‘promoting our prosperity’.
57.Sir Mark told us that the March 2018 Salisbury attack was an example of how the Fusion Doctrine can be used to strengthen the Government’s response to particularly complex threats, such as ‘hybrid warfare’—that is, the tailored and coordinated use by adversaries of a range of conventional and unconventional tools to achieve a state of “perpetual competition and confrontation” that falls below the threshold of ‘war’. Referring to the way in which the investigation into the Skripal poisoning—”an act of state aggression”—had combined intelligence, law enforcement and counter-terrorism techniques, Sir Mark explained:
“we need to be very thoughtful about capabilities that can be deployed against a range of threats, and have the agility to do so, particularly as we move into the cyber era. This is an important part of our work.”
Box 2: Overview of the Fusion Doctrine
The Fusion Doctrine is intended to improve the ability of the National Security Council (NSC) to make national security strategy and then implement its decisions across Government. Following the NSCR, a new set of cross-government structures and processes were created to support this goal.
A principal component is the National Security Strategy and Implementation Group (NSSIG) established for each of the NSC’s key national security priorities.
Each NSSIG is chaired by a ‘Senior Responsible Official’ (SRO) at Director-General level. These SROs are drawn from relevant departments and agencies across Government and, according to Sir Mark Sedwill, are “personally accountable” to the NSC. Their role involves developing options for the NSC and “coordinating [across Government] in support of collective decision-making.”
There are currently 16 NSSIGs. However, there are only 14 SROs in total, as two of the SROs are each responsible for two NSC priority areas.
According to the NSCR report, the Fusion Doctrine represents an attempt to embed the lessons of the Report of the Iraq Inquiry (the Chilcot report).
Source: HM Government, National Security Capability Review, March 2018, pp. 3, 9–11; oral evidence taken on 28 January 2019, HC (2017–19) , Q36; oral evidence taken before the Defence Committee on 1 May 2018, HC (2017–19) ; National Security Adviser (); PQ [on Gulf National Security Implementation Group], 6 November 2018
58.We asked Sir Mark why he thought the Fusion Doctrine would have more impact than previous attempts to improve cross-government working, such as ‘joined-up Government’ and the ‘Comprehensive Approach’. He told us that there had been a tendency for those efforts to “end up as the lowest common denominator” in seeking “common agreement” between departments. On the Fusion Doctrine, he explained:
“It is strategy-led, and there are three elements to it: strategy-led design of policy and planning; cross-government mechanisms to implement, including senior officials at the three-star level leading cross-government teams to implement the decisions of the National Security Council; and a link between that and capability, through the annual posture reviews and the five-yearly cycle of SDSRs. Those are still developing; it has been in place for only about a year.”
59.Our witnesses’ responses to the ‘Fusion Doctrine’ concept were mixed. Dr Kori Schake of IISS described the NSCR’s work on cross-government integration as useful, saying that it had already led to better policy. However, General (Rtd.) Sir Richard Barrons suggested that there was insufficient detail on how the Government would deliver on its intention to engage systematically with the private sector, allies and partners—for example, on countering hybrid threats and building resilience. Our report on the Cyber Security of the UK’s Critical National Infrastructure, published in November 2018, emphasised the importance of close collaboration between the Government and the private sector on UK national security. We consequently called for the Government to take a firmer and more proactive approach in its dealings with UK operators of essential services, most of which are privately owned.
60.We also note that the Government’s decision in January 2018 to separate the ‘defence’ strand from the NSCR went against the fundamental principle of the Fusion Doctrine. Although we concluded in our March 2018 report that this had been necessary in that instance due to “the challenges posed by the hole in the defence budget”, we expressed concern that
“this short-term political fix once again exposes a long-term fault line in Whitehall between defence and other security-related Departments and policies, which leaves the Government unable to bring them together coherently in setting and delivering its national security strategy. This will likely remain the case until the inadequate level of the defence budget is resolved.”
61.The Fusion Doctrine was one of the stand-out announcements of the National Security Capability Review. We welcome this attempt to strengthen the National Security Council’s authority across Government—both in pursuing its strategic priorities and in responding flexibly to national security threats. However, it is unclear how, under the Fusion Doctrine, the Government is engaging with the private sector and the UK’s allies and partners, all of whom are central to our national security.
62.We also remain concerned that efforts to integrate the assessment and use of defence and security capabilities across Government will continue to be hindered by the fundamental challenges facing UK defence. It is no solution to ‘fuse’ reviews of security with reviews of defence, as the NSCR attempted to do, if every extra pound spent on the one comes at the expense of the other.
63.We recommend that the Government publish the list of National Security Strategy and Implementation Groups, the ‘home’ department of the Senior Responsible Official for each NSC policy priority, and the frequency with which each NSSIG meets. In its response to this report, the Government should also set out:
The Conflict, Stability and Security Fund (CSSF) was established in April 2015. It replaced the Conflict Pool as a “new, more strategic approach to [the UK’s] work in conflict-affected states”. It was intended to deliver a whole-of-government approach to conflict prevention, stabilisation and crisis response in countries and regions of strategic importance to the UK.
The annual budget for the CSSF in 2017/18 stood at £1.18 billion and will rise to more than £1.3 billion each year by the end of the Spending Review period (2019/20). As with the Conflict Pool, the CSSF combines Official Development Assistance (ODA) with non-ODA funding, enabling a wider range of responses to conflict and instability overseas. In 2017/18, 47% of the total budget was ODA and 53% non-ODA.
Twelve departments are currently in receipt of CSSF funding. The Foreign and Commonwealth Office, Ministry of Defence and Department for International Development were the three top recipients of CSSF funding in 2017/18.
Source: [on the Conflict, Stability and Security Fund settlement for 2015–16], 12 March 2015; oral evidence taken on 19 November 2018, HC (2017–19) , Q9; HM Government, Conflict, Stability and Security Fund: Annual Report 2017/18, July 2018, pp. 3, 25
64.In its February 2017 report, our predecessor Committee criticised the lack of ministerial oversight over the Conflict, Stability and Security Fund (CSSF)—a cross-government structure that pre-dated the Fusion Doctrine. At that time, the National Security Council (NSC) engaged systematically with the CSSF only twice a year: to agree the country, regional and thematic strategies that guide the use of CSSF funding and the delivery of CSSF programmes; and to allocate funding to those regions and themes. Our predecessor considered that
“Reliance on collective ministerial responsibility for cross-government funds involving multiple Government Departments and agencies inevitably runs the risk that nobody takes responsibility … This has important implications in relation to the CSSF, which funds activity in environments where the risks of human rights abuses, corruption, harm to personnel, reputational damage and project failure are particularly high”.
65.The NSCR report announced a new sub-committee of the National Security Council, chaired by the Minister for the Cabinet Office, to improve the “strategic direction” of the CSSF and the Prosperity Fund. The NSC sub-committee is expected to meet “around quarterly, depending on need”. The SRO for the CSSF and Deputy National Security Adviser, Dr Christian Turner, said that his priorities included improving the Fund’s governance—ensuring “proper political direction”—and making sure that CSSF activity “is properly aligned with the strategic intent” of the NSC. Dr Turner also explained the role of the Fusion Doctrine in deconflicting the work of the CSSF with that of other departments and agencies:
“In the past, when we started out on the old Conflict Pool, there was a danger that the pot sat in a bit of a bubble and was done by one part of government and did not have read-across. Under the fusion doctrine and the structures we are trying to put in place, it is critical that I am sure, and can assure the Minister, that an intervention we would be making through CSSF funding is completely synchronised with other activities”.
66.The value of the Conflict, Stability and Security Fund comes from the way in which it brings together multiple departments and agencies—as well as both Official Development Assistance and non-ODA funding—to deliver programmes which provide significant national security benefits but might ordinarily be beyond the remit and/or risk appetite of individual departments. The Committee recognises the value of this approach. However, it is precisely this combination of complexity and greater risk that necessitates strong direction from the centre of Government, and especially proactive ministerial oversight. We will therefore monitor the work of the new National Security Council sub-committee closely as part of our ongoing scrutiny of the CSSF.
67.We recommend that the Government share the agenda for the NSC sub-committee on cross-government funds with us, in confidence and on a regular basis, as it does for the NSC and its other sub-committees.
68.The NSCR report introduced the concept of the ‘annual posture review’:
“The NSC will take stock each year of the UK’s positioning on national security in terms of resilience, threats and opportunities to take decisions about strategic prioritisation. The annual posture review will also inform departmental business plans and the government’s annual report to Parliament on SDSR implementation.”
Providing oral evidence in January 2019, Sir Mark Sedwill explained that while SDSRs would continue to be used to make major decisions about capabilities, the annual posture review provides an opportunity to identify:
“how the existing capability set can be deployed in order to meet the national security priorities, and, if there are some capabilities that are oversubscribed and some that are under-subscribed, whether there can be re-prioritisation, although in effect you will be aware that with that kind of cycle there is a fairly fixed supply.”
Sir Mark also confirmed that the Government had already started to conduct its first such review.
69.The idea of holding regular, smaller ‘posture reviews’ was generally well received by the experts we heard from. Lord Houghton, for example, said:
“The simple fact is that if you live on a dynamic planet … the second and vital part of [strategy-making] is that it [the strategy] is managed in order to maintain coherence while all sorts of other things are changing: demography, economics and the nature of the threat.
… there ought to be better machinery to carry out [interim reviews like] the national security capability review and the modernising defence programme as part of the natural routine business of maintaining strategic coherence without it coming out as a headline and surprise.”
He added that this should be a central task of the NSC, which he criticised for operating primarily in “present-tense crisis mode”, at least during his tenure as CDS between 2013 and 2016. Baroness Neville-Jones was similarly positive about the potential of interim reviews for keeping the UK’s national security posture up-to-date, though perhaps limiting their frequency to every two years. Tom McKane also warned against holding such reviews too frequently, which would reduce the time in which to implement their results.
70.The national security landscape is changing more quickly than the current cycle of five-yearly reviews of UK national security can accommodate, suggesting that a form of interim review is needed. The way in which the National Security Capability Review and then the Modernising Defence Programme unfolded in 2017 and 2018 demonstrated the importance of a more deliberate, considered process. Such reviews of national security should be led, as far as possible, by policy need rather than politics.
71.We therefore welcome the Government’s intention to hold regular, limited ‘posture reviews’ in between the publication of the National Security Strategy every five years, although we caution against holding them too frequently. This formalised approach would allow the Government incrementally to adjust the UK’s course and capabilities. It would have the advantage of providing:
72.We recommend that when the Government publishes its first posture review, it should set out: how it was conducted; by whom (including which Ministers were involved and at what stage); whether it was “fiscally neutral”; and how it relates to the National Security Risk Assessment (which is also conducted on a regular basis between the five-yearly reviews of national security). In addition, the Government should weigh up the benefits of conducting this first posture review against the costs to departments, with a view to making a more informed decision about when to hold the next one.
73.The Government should use these posture reviews to establish a regular dialogue with our Committee on national security threats and wider challenges, on the understanding that some of this discussion will need to take place in private. A good first step would be for the Government to share the 2018 National Security Risk Assessment with us, in confidence, so that we can better understand its current assessment and prioritisation of risk.
74.As we stated in our March 2018 report on the NSCR, the expectation has developed since 2010 that a new National Security Strategy and Strategic Defence and Security Review would be published every five years, coinciding with cross-government Spending Reviews and the start of a new Parliament. Providing oral evidence to the Defence Committee, Sir Mark Sedwill said that this sequencing was desirable because it allows the Government to look first at the strategic context (“opportunities, challenges and threats”) and at the capabilities needed to deal with that strategic context before national security funding priorities were pitched against other priorities from across Government. Our predecessor Committee also argued that the five-yearly review of national security should first involve determining what is needed before budgets are considered—an ideal for which the Government should strive even if it is not always possible to achieve it.
75.The 2017 general election has put these processes out of sync. Sir Mark told us in January 2019 that Ministers had not then decided when to hold the next full review of national security, even though the current NSS & SDSR is due to expire in 2020. Tom McKane suggested that with the NSCR and MDP having been completed only recently, 2020 would in any case be too soon to conduct the next full review. The timing and terms of the next Spending Review are also not yet clear; and the forthcoming change of Prime Minister adds a further layer of uncertainty about the future of the five-yearly review of national security.
76.If security and defence reviews are held with no Spending Review in sight, the likely result will be a rupture in the Fusion Doctrine, such as that which happened when the Modernising Defence Programme was divorced from the National Security Capability Review.
77.The new Government should set out in its response to this report when it intends to hold the next full review of UK national security, and how in the longer term it intends to reconcile the divergent timelines of the NSS & SDSR, the Spending Review and the start of a new Parliament.
112 “Strategic Defence and Security Review Implementation”, Cabinet Office news release, 20 July 2017; Joint Committee on the National Security Strategy, First Report of Session 2017–19, National Security Capability Review: A changing security environment, HL Paper 104, HC 756, paras 13ff.
113 Oral evidence taken on 28 January 2019, HC (2017–19) , Q44
115 Oral evidence taken on 28 January 2019, HC (2017–19) , Q36; oral evidence taken before the Defence Committee on 1 May 2018, HC (2017–19) , Qq225, 230
116 HM Government, National Security Capability Review, March 2018, p. 3. These national security objectives were set in the 2015 NSS & SDSR. HM Government, National Security Strategy and Strategic Defence and Security Review 2015: A Secure and Prosperous United Kingdom, , November 2015, pp. 11–12
117 Oral evidence taken on 28 January 2019, HC (2017–19) , Q46; oral evidence taken before the Defence Committee on 1 May 2018, HC (2017–19) , Q222
118 Oral evidence taken before the Defence Committee on 1 May 2018, HC (2017–19) , Q163; General (Rtd) Sir Richard Barrons (). In written evidence to the Defence Committee’s inquiry on the UK’s response to hybrid threats, the MoD stated: “A hybrid approach is usually intended to achieve a state’s aims using methods which avoid reaching conventional conflict. The term ‘hybrid warfare’ typically refers to the combination of means during international or non-international armed conflict.” It added: “Examples of the methods which states may use include: propaganda and disinformation; cyber; direct and indirect political pressure; economic coercion; energy coercion; supporting separatist or other political movements; military pressure; and irregular warfare via special forces or proxies (such as organised crime or guerrilla groups). Activities will be tailored to a specific context; there is not a ‘one-size-fits-all’ approach.” Ministry of Defence () paras 4–5
119 Oral evidence taken on 28 January 2019, HC (2017–19) , Q46. This objective of being able to deploy the most effective tool for the task regardless of its departmental ‘owner’ is further reflected in the Government’s emphasis in the NSCR report on making better use of “threat-agnostic capabilities”. HM Government, National Security Capability Review, March 2018, p. 12
120 “So what is joined-up government?”, BBC News, 23 November 1998; Defence Committee, Seventh Report of 2009–10, The Comprehensive Approach: the point of war is not just to win the peace but make a better peace, HC 224
121 Oral evidence taken on 28 January 2019, HC (2017–19) , Q34
122 HM Government, National Security Capability Review, March 2018, p. 10; General (Rtd) Sir Richard Barrons (); Joint Committee on the National Security Strategy, Note of informal discussion, 18 March 2019, accessed 24 June 2019. In written evidence submitted to our inquiry on the cyber security of the UK’s critical national infrastructure, University of Oxford researcher Jamie Collier cited one estimate, from 2011, suggesting that as much as 80% of UK critical national infrastructure was in private ownership. Jamie Collier () para 2
123 Joint Committee on the National Security Strategy, Third Report of Session 2017–19, Cyber Security of the UK’s Critical National Infrastructure, HL Paper 222, HC 1708
124 Joint Committee on the National Security Strategy, First Report of Session 2017–19, National Security Capability Review: A changing security environment, HL Paper 104, HC 756, para 59
126 Joint Committee on the National Security Strategy, Second Report of Session 2016–17, Conflict, Stability and Security Fund, HL Paper 105, HC 208, paras 71ff. For example, since we took evidence from the Government in November 2018, we have been in correspondence with the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster about CSSF-funded support to Pakistan’s justice system through the Rule of Law programme. We have asked the Government about alleged human rights abuses by Pakistan’s Anti-Terrorism Courts and the use of Overseas Security and Justice Assistance (OSJA) assessments to identify and mitigate potential risks. This correspondence is available on the Committee’s Conflict, Stability and Security Fund ; see also Joint Committee on the National Security Strategy, Correspondence from the Chair to Rt Hon David Lidington MP, 30 April 2019
128 Rt Hon David Lidington CBE MP, Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster, Cabinet Office ()
129 Oral evidence taken on 19 November 2018, HC (2017–19) , Q11 [Dr Christian Turner]. A third priority given by Dr Turner was improving the transparency of the CSSF, building on the publication of Annual Reports for the Fund and more detailed programme information, such as summaries and annual reviews. Our predecessor Committee had previously called for these measures in its February 2017 report. Joint Committee on the National Security Strategy, Second Report of Session 2016–17, Conflict, Stability and Security Fund, HL Paper 105, HC 208, paras 80–81
130 Oral evidence taken on 19 November 2018, HC (2017–19) , Q7 [Dr Christian Turner]
132 Oral evidence taken on 28 January 2019, HC (2017–19) , Q39
135 Lord Houghton’s view of the workings of the NSC in 2013–16 echoes the findings of our predecessor Committee in 2013. In a February 2013 report, a predecessor to the current JCNSS raised concern that the NSC had not “maintained its strategic focus since completing the NSS and SDSR in 2010”, instead discussing “operational matters and short-term imperatives”. It added: “we are not yet convinced that the existence of the NSC is making the contribution that it should: enabling Government to work as a co-ordinated whole.” Joint Committee on the National Security Strategy, Second Report of Session 2012–13, The work of the Joint Committee on the National Security Strategy in 2012, HL Paper 115, HC 984
137 Oral evidence taken before the Defence Committee on 1 May 2018, HC (2017–19) , Q151
138 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 6; Joint Committee on the National Security Strategy, First Report of Session 2014–15, The next National Security Strategy, HL Paper 114, HC 749, para 25. Lord Robertson told us that the 1998 Strategic Defence Review had begun in this way, with the Government agreeing a ‘foreign policy baseline’ before building capabilities from a clean sheet. However, he noted that the then Government had been fortunate in that it had not faced a major external challenge during the review period. Joint Committee on the National Security Strategy, Note of informal discussion, 18 March 2019, accessed 24 June 2019
139 Joint Committee on the National Security Strategy, First Report of Session 2017–19, National Security Capability Review: A changing security environment, HL Paper 104, HC 756, para 60
140 Oral evidence taken on 28 January 2019, HC (2017–19) , Q38. See also Joint Committee on the National Security Strategy, First Special Report of Session 2017–19, National Security Capability Review: A changing security environment: Government Response to the Committee’s First Report of Session 2017–19, HL Paper 197, HC 1646, para 4
Published: 21 July 2019