National Security Capability Review: A changing security environment Contents


1.The Joint Committee on the National Security Strategy (JCNSS) was established in the 2005–10 Parliament with the purpose of considering the National Security Strategy. It also considers two related documents: the National Security Risk Assessment, which the Government uses as a guide in creating the National Security Strategy; and the Strategic Defence and Security Review, which sets out the capabilities the Government intends to use to achieve its national security goals. As part of its remit, the JCNSS scrutinises the structures for Government decision-making on national security, particularly the role of the National Security Council (NSC) and the National Security Adviser (NSA). It also looks at cross-government funds—such as the Conflict, Stability and Security Fund, with a budget of more than £1 billion each year—and cross-government policy related to the National Security Strategy.1 The Joint Committee comprises of 10 Members of the House of Lords and 12 Members of the House of Commons, eight of whom are Chairs of Commons select committees.

2.In July 2017, the Government announced that it had launched the National Security Capability Review (NSCR). The review’s objective is to ensure that the UK’s investment in national security capabilities, as set out by the 2015 National Security Strategy and Strategic Defence and Security Review (2015 NSS & SDSR), is “as joined-up, effective and efficient as possible, to address current national security challenges”.2

3.The NSCR is a cross-government review led by the NSA, Sir Mark Sedwill, and the Cabinet Office. There is little detailed information in the public domain about the scope of the NSCR. However, the NSA told us that the review is primarily focused on national security capabilities and has not involved a full review of the 2015 National Security Strategy or the National Security Risk Assessment.3 The Government has also said in response to our inquiry that it comprises 12 ‘strands’:

The work for each strand has drawn upon the expertise of relevant Departments and agencies. The outcomes of these strands, with the exception of defence, will be set out in a report by the Government later this spring.4 In January, the NSC commissioned the Modernising Defence Programme (MDP), on the recommendation of the NSCR, to continue and expand upon the work done so far on defence. A report on the MDP is due in the summer.5

4.In January, we decided to launch a two-part inquiry into the NSCR. This report for the first part of the inquiry is intended to give the Committee’s view as to key points the NSCR should address, and some preliminary comments on the process. The second part of our inquiry will take place after the Government has published the outcomes of the NSCR and will scrutinise the substance of that work.

5.In the first part of our inquiry, we set out to examine:

6.We published inquiry terms of reference and a call for evidence for the first part of our inquiry on 17 January 2018. We took oral evidence in public from four former senior Government officials: Robert Hannigan, former Director of GCHQ (2014–17); Lord Peter Ricketts, former National Security Adviser (2010–12) and UK Ambassador to France (2012–16); Sir John Sawers, former Chief of the Secret Intelligence Service (2009–14) and UK Permanent Representative at the UN (2007–09); and Sir Adam Thomson, former UK Permanent Representative at NATO (2014–16). In addition, we took oral evidence in public from two panels of policy experts and experienced practitioners in defence and security.6 And in January 2017 we held a closed roundtable on the NSCR. Participants of the roundtable included our Specialist Advisers—Professor Malcolm Chalmers, Professor Michael Clarke and Professor Sir Hew Strachan—and Nigel Inkster, Senior Adviser at the International Institute of Strategic Studies (IISS), and Professor Patrick Porter, Academic Director of the Strategy and Security Institute, University of Exeter. We completed the process of taking evidence before the poisoning of Russian former intelligence officer Sergei Skripal and his daughter in Salisbury in early March, and our report may be published before the full details of what happened, and of the Government’s response, are known. However, we have made reference to this incident in our report. We are grateful to all those who have submitted oral and/or written evidence. The evidence received so far will be used to inform the second part of our inquiry. We also thank our Specialist Advisers for their input.7

1 For further information about the Committee’s work, please see the Committee’s website. For our predecessor’s work on the CSSF, see Joint Committee on the National Security Strategy, Second Report of Session 2016–17, “Conflict, Stability and Security Fund”, HL Paper 105, HC 208

2 “Strategic Defence and Security Review Implementation”, Cabinet Office news release, 20 July 2017

3 Oral evidence taken on 18 December 2017, HC (2017–19) 625, Qq4–5

4 Sir Mark Sedwill, National Security Adviser (CSE0018)

5 Oral evidence taken before the Defence Committee on 21 February 2018, HC (2017–19) 814, Qq16–17

6 The witnesses on these panels were: General (Rtd.) Sir Richard Barrons; Elisabeth Braw; James de Waal; Professor Sir Lawrence Freedman; and Dr Andrew Rathmell.

7 The declarations of interests by Professor Malcolm Chalmers, Professor Michael Clarke and Professor Sir Hew Strachan are available in the Committee’s Formal Minutes 2017–19.

Published: 23 March 2018