National Security Capability Review: A changing security environment Contents

2The National Security Capability Review process

Was it necessary to revisit the 2015 NSS & SDSR?

7.The Government last undertook a full review of the UK’s national security strategy and capabilities in 2015, the results of which were published in the 2015 National Security Strategy and Strategic Defence and Security Review (2015 NSS & SDSR).8 The next such full review of the NSS & SDSR was due to take place in 2020. But in July 2017, the Government announced another, more limited review that would focus primarily on capabilities. We heard from the NSA, Sir Mark Sedwill, and from the witnesses to our inquiry on the NSCR that there were good reasons for revisiting the 2015 NSS & SDSR within two years of its publication, in November 2015. These included:

A changing security environment

8.Our witnesses painted a picture of an increasingly unstable and unpredictable global context. Sir John Sawers, former Chief of the Secret Intelligence Service (2009–14) and the UK’s Permanent Representative at the United Nations (2007–09), listed a potential war in East Asia over North Korea, doubt over the Iran nuclear deal, and a series of terrorist attacks in the UK as “important changes in the strategic environment” since 2015.9 To this, Dr Andrew Rathmell, a stabilisation expert and Director of strategic consultancy Aktis Strategy Ltd., added a worsening “trajectory of instability” in the Middle East, North Africa and sub-Saharan Africa, which is manifested in conflict, extremism and migration.10 These changes are occurring against the backdrop of a fundamental shift in economic and geopolitical power away from the West, towards Asia—and towards China in particular, symbolised by its $900-billion infrastructure campaign, the Belt and Road Initiative, announced in 2013.11 12

A change in US Administration

9.Sir John Sawers told us that the factor that has changed the most since 2015 is “the expectations that countries have of the United States”.13 According to Sir John, the Trump Administration’s ‘America First’ approach—with its emphasis on great power politics and weakening of traditional alliances—had already led to changes of behaviour among US allies in the Middle East and East Asia. He said that “we Europeans collectively need to look at the implications for us as well”, although he stressed that the US would remain the UK’s closest ally.14 15 Professor Sir Lawrence Freedman, Professor Emeritus of War Studies at King’s College London, agreed that despite the “extraordinary depth” of the US–UK relationship, the Trump presidency had so far been “a very unstable and unsettling period” for the UK and other key US allies, not least because of the Administration’s frequent failure to speak with a single, unified voice.16

The UK’s departure from the European Union

10.The NSA also told us that the UK’s vote to leave the European Union was a factor in the NSC’s decision to launch the NSCR, because it means that the UK is now working in a “different context” on foreign and security policy matters.17 18 He stated that there will be “significant challenges” in negotiating continued cooperation with the EU on defence and security. But he was positive about the political will on both sides to create a “deep and special partnership”, as outlined in two papers published by the Government last September.19 20

11.Other witnesses struck a more cautious tone, however. Sir Adam Thomson, former UK Permanent Representative at NATO (2014–16), thought that there is currently “too much pride on either side” to make the necessary compromises, at least in the short term.21 This also highlights the possibility of long-lasting ‘ill-will’ following the UK’s negotiations with the EU, with implications for the ease of collaboration in future. Lord Ricketts, former National Security Adviser (2010–12), distinguished between areas that must be negotiated between the UK and the EU because they are currently covered by EU treaties—such as the European Arrest Warrant—and defence and foreign policy cooperation that is currently outside formal EU competences. Nevertheless, he said that there is still a “question mark” over these because “All that is still to be pinned down in negotiation.”22 Sir John Sawers and Robert Hannigan, former Director of GCHQ (2014–17), both expressed strong concern that the EU’s more stringent rules on data-sharing with third (non-EU) parties may hinder the intelligence-sharing that currently occurs outside EU structures.23

12.Sir John commented that the change in the United States’ approach to global leadership and the UK’s withdrawal from the EU “creates a combined effect and can add to the complications for us as the UK”.24 In a subsequent interview with Prospect magazine, he concluded that: “One thing I don’t think we can accept is Britain adrift. A Britain without a major strategic anchor in the western world.”25

Intensifying and diversifying threats

13.Providing oral evidence in December, the NSA told us that the “evolving threat picture” was one reason why the NSC commissioned the NSCR.26 The 2015 NSS & SDSR had previously identified four particular challenges to UK national security:

Our witnesses agreed that these challenges remain the right priorities for the Government,28 painting a picture of intensifying and diversifying threats that reflects the changes to the wider security environment.29

14.James de Waal, Senior Fellow in International Security at Chatham House, said:

One of the real measures of whether this exercise [the NSCR] is a success will be if there is a clear set of priorities. It is important that you are clear why you have chosen those priorities so that if those things change you can say, “Maybe we need to change our priorities”, but I think that is the key thing.30

The NSA told us in December that of the four particular challenges set out by the 2015 NSS & SDSR, he would focus on Russia and the terrorist threat because “They have probably become troublesome more quickly and broadly than was anticipated” in 2015.31 When we asked the NSA how the UK should prioritise these two threats, he said:

Russia and a strategic threat of that kind from a nuclear state has a significant strategic effect for us, but given the capabilities that we and our allies have, it is unlikely that that threat will manifest itself except in the ways that we are already seeing—essentially below the level of military conflict. However, we face an acute threat that is killing British citizens both at home and overseas from terrorists. I do not think that one can say that one is more than the other. They are different and we need to address both.32

Sir Mark was speaking before the poisoning of Russian former intelligence officer Sergei Skripal in March 2018. This incident suggests that the four particular challenges set out in the 2015 NSS & SDSR are not clearly distinct.

Terrorism and extremism

15.The five terrorist attacks in the UK in 2017 were symptomatic of what the Director-General of MI5, Andrew Parker, called “a dramatic upshift in the threat” in 2017.33 34 One factor of concern is the return of terrorist fighters from Syria and Iraq following the territorial defeat of ISIL.35 But we heard that the greater issue is the increasing sophistication of efforts to radicalise UK citizens via the internet. Past experience suggests that the terrorist threat will become more diffuse, with lone wolf attacks becoming more likely. Although a crude approach, such attacks are more difficult to prevent. Robert Hannigan drew a direct link between counter-terrorism at home and overseas, saying that “as [ISIL] has been destroyed on the ground, the online caliphate has become more and more important to it.”36 The NSA told us that the Government understands what the trends are—for instance, the changing demographic of those under scrutiny by security agencies; faster radicalisation; and the use of everyday items such as vehicles and knives to conduct attacks.37 According to Sir Mark, the new counter-terrorism strategy—drawn up under the NSCR—will seek to address these trends, building on the findings of the operational reviews conducted in response to the 2017 terrorist attacks.38 39 But the NSA said that it is “harder” to understand why these trends have evolved as they have, “and that is probably a matter as much for academic research as for our own analysis.”40

Impact of technology, especially cyber threats

16.Although the 2015 NSS & SDSR makes reference to wider, potentially disruptive technological change in areas such as big data and robotics, in this inquiry we focused on cyber threats to the UK.41 Robert Hannigan told us that “Cyber is a good example of where we saw the threat coming” but nevertheless, “it is escalating at an extraordinary rate”, with the volume and sophistication of attacks continuing to increase.42 43 He expressed concern that states have been prepared to take greater risks in cyberspace, despite the “danger of miscalculation” and of unpredictable “collateral damage”, given that most cyber weapons remain untested.44 Mr Hannigan concluded that “You cannot do cybersecurity behind the wire any more. […] The obvious way to tackle something that threatens the entire economy is to co-opt the whole economy and the whole of society to make this better.”45

17.This echoed the view expressed by the NSA, who commented that the cyber threat cuts across the national security and public safety agenda.46 Sir Mark Sedwill also sought to reassure the Committee that the Government is “conscious of the threat” to the UK’s critical national infrastructure (CNI)—including the physical infrastructure such as undersea cables—and is working with CNI operators to address it.47 48

International rules-based order

18.Arguably, international laws and norms are increasingly being tested—as demonstrated, for example, by: North Korea’s pursuit of nuclear weapons; the use of chemical weapons in Syria; ethnic cleansing in Burma; territorial disputes in the South China Sea; and the United States’ recent announcement of increased trade tariffs on steel and aluminium, under the ‘national security’ opt-out of World Trade Organization rules.49 Sir John Sawers told us that it has become more difficult for the international community to have “collective debate and discussion”, which is reflected in the declining weight of multilateral organisations such as the United Nations Security Council, International Monetary Fund and World Bank.50 He noted two principal factors in this change:

19.In written evidence to the inquiry, Professor Patrick Porter and Dr David Blagden, of the Strategy and Security Institute, University of Exeter, describe this situation as the “return of competitive multipolarity”.52 According to Sir John, the fact that “many decisions are going to be taken between Washington and Beijing and Washington and Moscow” will make it even more difficult for medium-sized powers such as the UK, France and Germany to “assert our influence, views and values in the world”, and to exert influence on issues such as free trade, good governance and human rights.53 To this might be added decisions taken between Beijing and Moscow.

20.Lord Ricketts stated that the UK must “help the system to adapt” to these new realities, to ensure that “we do not face a world that is much more about spheres of influence with dominant countries trying to control their regions”. This would only be possible, he said, by “getting out there and participating in all the debates that are going on, being more present in Asia than we have been in recent decades.”54 There was agreement among those former diplomats providing oral evidence that this would only be possible if the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) is given more resources—a view which could be thought to reflect their former affiliations, but which has also been cited as a significant issue in recent reports by the Foreign Affairs Committee, for instance.55

State-based threats

21.The threats posed to the UK and its interests by other states have evolved rapidly since 2010, when the National Security Strategy stated that “we face no major state threat at present and no existential threat to our security, freedom or prosperity”. 56 In 2015, the NSS & SDSR cited Russian behaviour as a threat to the UK, but referred only to a military response, in the context of NATO’s efforts to deter Russian aggression in Europe.57 Just two years later, in November 2017, Prime Minister Theresa May MP used her Mansion House speech to set out the multiple and significant ways in which Russia’s actions are threatening the international order “on which we all depend”. These include:

Although the Prime Minister did not refer explicitly to Russian activity targeting the UK, the Director of the National Cyber Security Centre reportedly said in November that Russian hackers had targeted the UK’s energy network, telecoms and the media in the previous year.59 There is also some evidence to suggest that Russian-directed bots and trolls on Twitter sought to influence the outcome and immediate aftermath of the UK referendum on its EU membership.60 And to this should now be added the poisoning in March of a Russian former intelligence officer, Sergei Skripal, and his daughter in Salisbury, using a military-grade nerve agent developed in Russia. The Prime Minister stated on 14 March that there was “no alternative conclusion other than that the Russian state was culpable” for this act, which amounted to “the unlawful use of force”.61

22.Asked whether the UK had underestimated the threat from Russia, Lord Ricketts said that the UK had developed a “clearer-eyed view” of the Russian threat than many of its European partners following the death of Russian former spy Alexander Litvinenko in 2006.62 But both he and Robert Hannigan agreed that the UK, along with other Western states, had been surprised by Russia’s recent more “aggressive intent” and willingness to take significant risks, despite the likelihood of attribution—as demonstrated by its annexation of Crimea in 2014 and use of social media to achieve influence in Western democracies.63 64

23.Nevertheless, Sir Adam Thomson warned against “slipping into both the dynamics and the rhetoric and institutionalisation of a second Cold War”.65 Sir John Sawers also sought to put the Russian threat into context. He pointed to Russia’s limitations as an international power—saying “They are not 10 feet tall”—and attributed Russia’s advances in Ukraine, at least in part, to the Obama Administration’s mishandling of the situation.66 Notably, Sir John, Sir Adam and Lord Ricketts agreed with the Government that ‘engage but beware’ is the best approach to dealing with Russia, on the basis that it is a major player in the new security order, and that engagement is also essential for “having tough conversations”.67 Such an approach may to some extent have been overtaken by events. In response to the poisoning of Sergei Skripal, the Prime Minister listed a series of measures intended to send a “clear message” to Russia. These included: the expulsion of 23 Russian diplomats who have been identified as “undeclared intelligence officers”; the suspension of all high-level bilateral contacts between the UK and Russia; and plans to consider new laws to harden the UK’s defences against all forms of hostile state activity.68

24.Sir Adam Thomson also said that there are risks involved in focusing too much on Russia “as the top state-based threat”, to the exclusion of the full consideration of other threats.69 For example, he noted in relation to NATO and the UK’s armed forces that the “pendulum […] may be swinging too far [from expeditionary warfare] to deal with a Russia-type threat rather than other kinds of threat”.70 Indeed, witnesses pointed to other state-based threats to the UK, including: North Korea’s nuclear and cyber capabilities; the instability in the Middle East caused in part by the rivalry between Saudi Arabia and Iran; and China’s strategic ambitions in the South China Sea.71 72 Lord Ricketts commented that all these were addressed in some way by the 2015 NSS & SDSR, but “With hindsight, the documents could no doubt have given more prominence to the specific threats.” In particular, he noted that:

[…] the national security risks posed by certain of China’s policies do not figure in the documents […] To be fair to the drafters, the evidence of assertive Chinese behaviour in the South China Sea, and scale of their military build-up, has probably become clearer in the last 2 years. However, this point illustrates one of the perennial weaknesses of National Security Strategies. Inevitably, with hindsight, they tend to underestimate the speed at which threats and risks can develop.73

A structural hole in the defence budget

25.The Government has committed to meeting the NATO target of spending at least 2% of GDP on defence,74 and has guaranteed a 0.5% real-terms increase in the defence budget each year until financial year (FY) 2020/21. As a result, the current defence budget of £36 billion a year is set to rise to £39.6 billion by FY2020/21.75 But we have heard that defence is now in a “parlous state”.76 General (Rtd.) Sir Richard Barrons, former Commander, Joint Forces Command, told us that an additional £1.5 billion a year is needed just to fund the force structure and capabilities set out in the 2015 NSS & SDSR, known as Joint Force 2025 (JF2025).77 78 According to a January 2018 report by the National Audit Office, there is a gap of at least £4.9 billion, and possibly up to £20.8 billion, between commitments made in the Ministry of Defence (MOD) Equipment Plan and planned funding over the next decade.79

26.From both our evidence and other sources, we understand that the principal reasons for this budget deficit include:

27.This situation, combined with the intensification of threats faced by the UK, has prompted calls for more money for defence by current and former Ministers and senior military personnel, parliamentarians and policy analysts alike.87 During the Defence Estimates Debate in February, Defence Minister the Rt Hon Tobias Ellwood MP said that “Two per cent [of GDP] is just not enough”.88 Notably, in January the former Secretary of State for Defence, the Rt Hon Sir Michael Fallon MP, called for 2.5% of GDP to be spent on defence.89 Since publishing its 2016 report on the subject, the Defence Committee has repeatedly called for a return to the 3% of GDP level which had been maintained until the mid-1990s.90 James Rogers, Director of the Global Britain Programme at the Henry Jackson Society think tank, also suggests spending 3% of GDP on defence as a “starting point” if the UK’s armed forces are to play a global role once the UK has left the EU. Anything less, he says, will leave the UK capable only of regional defence or with a disjointed military “lacking either the mass or superiority to dissuade, deter and ultimately defeat a growing number of opponents.”91 92

28.We also heard during our inquiry that concerns about defence spending go beyond how much money is spent, to what it is being spent on. The NSA told us in December that the force structure set out under the 2015 NSS & SDSR, JF2025, “is a very impressive set of military capabilities that will be available to this country in the mid-2020s, and that remains our target capability baseline.”93

29.But there are questions relating to whether this force structure will equip the UK to meet current and likely future threats in Europe and beyond. Professor Paul Rogers, of Bradford University, states in his written evidence that the emphasis on a “limited but very expensive [aircraft] carrier-based global expeditionary capability and a strategic nuclear force” is “irrelevant” to irregular warfare, such as that experienced in Iraq and Afghanistan.94 Meanwhile, Oxford Research Group says that the emphasis evident in JF2025 on projecting power ‘out of area’ leaves the UK poorly positioned to meet threats closer to home in Europe.95

30.Furthermore, current and retired military personnel have also stated that the UK’s armed forces would struggle against peer military forces, such as those of Russia and China.96 General Sir Richard Barrons told us that advances in technology have rendered the UK’s post-Cold War approach to defence, and that of its NATO allies, “outmoded”.97 He cited the Queen Elizabeth aircraft carriers as an example of a ‘legacy’ capability outstripped by advances in missile technology in the two decades since they were commissioned.98 He concluded that the UK should look to digital-age technology to “underpin the profound transformation of our military capability”, restoring its competitive edge at a more affordable price.99 However, taking better advantage of technological progress would require more flexible procurement processes on the part of the MOD and possibly even a different way of measuring military ‘power’.100 There is clearly a need to maintain as much flexibility in military capabilities as possible, to avoid becoming focused solely on either state-based threats or counter-insurgency, especially as such threats invariably arise with no warning.

31.Of course, in relation to defence and deterrence in Europe especially, the UK’s military capabilities should be seen within the context of its allies’ capabilities, too.101 Providing oral evidence in December, the NSA described the UK’s alliances as a “strength”. He said that “we need to ensure that we integrate and interoperate our capabilities as best we can” within NATO—something which NATO’s modernisation programme is intended to address.102 General Sir Richard Barrons also told us that cooperation within NATO is essential as it seeks to renew itself, and especially in developing capabilities such as ballistic missile defence, cyber defence and air defence against conventional cruise missiles.103

Was it necessary to revisit the 2015 NSS & SDSR?

32.There were good reasons for revisiting the 2015 National Security Strategy and Strategic Defence and Security Review less than two years after it was published. These included: major changes to the wider security environment, including the prospect of a significant shift in the UK’s relationship with the EU and the election of the Trump Administration; intensifying and diversifying threats to the UK; and a significant, structural hole in the defence budget. The flaws in the 2015 NSS & SDSR, which have in part necessitated the National Security Capability Review, demonstrate the importance of a robust and coherent process in setting national security strategy.

33.There are growing pressures across the national security budget, including in relation to the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, cyber security and the security and intelligence agencies. The defence budget is also now under extreme strain.

34.In relation to defence, the 2015 NSS & SDSR perpetuated a longstanding failure to match ambition with capabilities and funding, relying instead on unrealistic promises of efficiencies and reduced contingency funding. It has been strongly argued that spending 2% of GDP on defence is not sufficient to meet today’s threats, or to meet the Government’s current ambitions for defence capabilities. But spending more on defence is only part of the answer. An honest conversation is needed about what is affordable, how the armed forces should best be structured to meet future threats, and how they might be enabled to take better advantage of technological innovation. This should also include how UK capabilities are designed to fit with and supplement those of our allies. The Government must get a grip on these issues.

35.While the Committee accepts that the decision to hold a further review of national security capabilities only two years after the 2015 NSS & SDSR was justified in this instance, we are concerned that the Government might use frequent, more limited reviews as a substitute for the strategically-informed decisions needed to put defence and security on a sustainable footing.

Is the National Security Capability Review the right format?

Reviewing capabilities only

36.Providing oral evidence to the Committee in December, the NSA described the NSCR as a “quick refresh” of national security capabilities. He said that the NSC had chosen to pursue this limited exercise primarily on the basis of the preliminary work conducted during the election period, which had concluded that “broadly speaking, the structure and conclusions of the 2015 NSS & SDSR were [still] correct”. As such, it was intended that the NSCR would focus on those areas of capabilities where a “course correction” was required. But Sir Mark also said:

[...] there will be some changes to the first part—the strategy part—of the document when the process is concluded […] We are looking at a mixture—it is not purely capability—across strategy, policy and capability.104

In addition, the NSA told us that a review of the National Security Risk Assessment, which underpins the National Security Strategy and the subsequent choice of capabilities, has not formed part of the NSCR process. Instead, a “full refresh” of the risk assessment will be conducted separately this year.105

37.There was some disagreement among our witnesses about whether this was the right approach, in light of the changes to the security environment.106 Lord Ricketts said:

Both the change of President of the US and Brexit are very major changes in the strategic landscape within which British national security policy is being made, and neither, for perfectly understandable reasons, really figured in the 2015 SDSR. It seems to me odd that we should continue our grand strategy as set in 2015 through to beyond 2017–18 without pausing to decide how that affects Britain’s role in the world.

Britain leaving the European Union is an enormous change in the way Britain will deal with the world from now on. That seems to me to be enough of an argument at least to have another look at the national security risk assessment.107

38.Sir John Sawers added that the acceleration towards “great power politics” under President Trump had also called into question one of the “core elements” of the 2015 NSS & SDSR “more than we would have liked”: the emphasis on the international rules-based order and multilateralism. He said that “These are important factors that need to be worked into our own approach”.108 Providing a military perspective, General Sir Richard Barrons told us that the NSCR offers an opportunity “to stop and think” about “new forms of harm that we have to deal with in the grey space and in cyberspace”. But he did not think this would happen under the NSCR given its parameters and “the way in which politics are conditioning it.”109

39.In contrast, Sir Adam Thomson thought that “a smaller exercise in 2017 was a reasonable call” only two years after the last full review, so long as it is only the pace of threats that is changing, rather than the Government’s priorities contained within the National Security Strategy.110

40.The decision to limit the current exercise to a review of capabilities does not do justice to the changes to the wider security environment. Moreover, we are concerned that the Government’s focus on capabilities in the National Security Capability Review runs the risk of the ‘tail wagging the dog’, with decisions on capabilities driving strategy and policy without due and deliberate consideration. When the Government reports the outcomes of the NSCR and Modernising Defence Programme, it must set out precisely what changes, if any, have been made to the 2015 National Security Strategy and related policy. It should also highlight and explain any changes to the 89 commitments made in the 2015 National Security Strategy and Strategic Defence and Security Review.

A cost-neutral review

41.The NSA told us that the scope of the NSCR was also limited by the Government’s decision not to hold a full Spending Review immediately after the 2017 general election.111 As a result, when the NSCR was launched in the summer of 2017, it was intended to be “fiscally neutral”—that is, conducted within the approximately £56 billion spent on national security each year in total.112 113 The NSA told us in December that while he had the freedom to advise the NSC that more funding was required for national security, he did not expect the NSCR to come to this conclusion.114 Instead, he said, “there is a great deal that one can do to allocate resources within a pool that size to ensure that they are being allocated correctly and that the prioritisation is correct.”115 He also noted that, under the settlement provided by the 2015 Spending Review, the total amount of money spent on national security will grow by 2020.116

42.Lord Ricketts and Sir Adam Thomson differed on the wisdom of holding a “fiscally neutral” review. Lord Ricketts called this decision “odd”, although he later said that “Strategic reviews have to be informed by the amount of money that is roughly available, otherwise you are in a void”.117 And he highlighted the difficulty of altering departmental budgets outside a formal Spending Review because Ministers would protect them “fiercely”.118 But Sir Adam said that in principle, it makes “perfectly good sense to look at a set of national security capabilities without doing a full spending review”. He continued:

There is no perfect way of coming up with the size and shape of a pie. However, you can choose to decide that your pie is of a certain size and focus quite meaningfully on what the ingredients are and how you are going to mix them together.119

43.However, the Government’s decision in January to commission the MDP suggests that the limited approach taken in the NSCR was unable to accommodate what Sir Adam called the “very big spending challenges” in defence (see paragraphs 25–31).120 The Defence Secretary, the Rt Hon Gavin Williamson MP, has publicly said that the MDP will not be “fiscally neutral”.121 He also repeatedly referred to the NSCR as a “straitjacket”—in relation to its timeline and budgetary constraints—when he appeared before the Defence Committee in February. He said that there was “a danger” that the “wrong decisions would be made” had the defence strand remained within the NSCR—and that these decisions would not be easily or quickly reversed if they involved cutting capability.122 On the other hand, Sir John Sawers observed that “you would not want to fill that hole in the defence budget by robbing from intelligence, development or diplomacy”.123 The decision to establish the MDP means that the Government no longer faces this particular choice.

44.Although it is necessary to inject some fiscal discipline into such processes, the decision to hold a cost-neutral review of national security capabilities was ill-advised given the significant deficit in the defence budget and the intensifying threat picture. Until the Modernising Defence Programme was announced, this approach left the Government facing an unwelcome choice between making significant cuts to defence capabilities, to other security capabilities, or to both, to stay within budget.

From ‘quick refresh’ to ‘halfway house’

45.Despite being described as a “quick refresh” of national security capabilities by the NSA, the NSCR and MDP processes are now on track to last at least a year in total.124 125 This timetable is longer than the two previous, full reviews of national security strategy and capabilities. The 2010 review ran for five months before its publication in November 2010, although the Green Paper process which laid the foundation lasted for seven months and there was a further three-month exercise in 2011. And the 2015 NSS & SDSR process lasted six months, with preparation taking six months before the 2015 election.126 If the extended duration of the NSCR were the result of a more sustained and thoughtful process it would be welcome, but it appears that the opposite may have been the case. According to Professor Malcolm Chalmers, of the defence think tank RUSI, there is a cost to this delay to the NSCR and MDP, undermining the UK’s reputation and influence as a reliable security actor, with allies and potential adversaries alike.127

46.The announcement of the MDP also means that a major strand of the NSCR—defence—has expanded significantly beyond the original scope. As well as defence capabilities, the MDP will also consider improvements to the MOD’s internal processes, covering:

The MDP will run on a different timeline to the rest of the NSCR and will be led by the MOD, rather than the Cabinet Office. The suggestion that it will not be “fiscally neutral” also opens up the possibility that more funding will be made available for defence but not for the other 11 strands of the NSCR.129

47.The MOD also recently announced a public consultation on the MDP—another point of divergence from the NSCR, the consultation for which was limited to academia, industry and the NGO sector, according to the NSA.130 Our predecessor Committee, in its 2014 report published in the lead-up to the 2015 NSS & SDSR, concluded that it should be a more thorough process than in 2010. It suggested that preparation for the 2015 NSS & SDSR should be conducted over a longer timeframe, allowing for a wider debate involving not only experts and parliamentarians, but also the general public.131 The Government also said it would consult specifically with our predecessor Committee in preparation for the 2015 NSS & SDSR.132 It did not ultimately consult with the public or our predecessor Committee. In addition, while our predecessor Committee welcomed the Government’s increased engagement with external experts during the 2015 process, it concluded that such engagement must be “more than a tick-box exercise”.133

48.The National Security Capability Review was commissioned as a “quick refresh” of capabilities but nine months since it began—and with defence now being considered separately and over a longer timeframe—it is apparent that the NSCR has inadvertently become an uncomfortable ‘halfway house’ between a refresh and a full review.

49.The process is not as important as the content and the outcome of such reviews. However, the nation’s security capabilities are too important to be allowed to evolve without clear thought and direction. There are costs to such confusion, including to the UK’s reputation as a reliable security actor. Even if the NSCR and MDP ultimately prove effective in terms of their conclusions, it appears that the process has been far from smooth, and there will be lessons for Ministers and officials alike, especially if the next full NSS & SDSR is to avoid perpetuating the flaws of the 2015 exercise.

Separating defence from security capabilities: a backwards step?

50.Since the publication of the first National Security Strategy in 2008, successive Governments have sought to integrate defence and security capabilities more coherently in making and delivering national security policy.134 It was primarily for this reason that the NSC was established in 2010, while the 2010 national security review considered defence and security capabilities together for the first time ever, a practice that was continued in 2015.135 The NSC’s decision to establish the MDP, and to publish it at a significantly later date than the NSCR, marks a departure from this trend towards integration, raising questions for the current review of capabilities and for the future approach to national security policy-making.

The current challenge: maintaining the coherence of the NSCR and MDP

51.Some of our witnesses thought that the particular circumstances justified the decision to separate defence from the rest of the NSCR. Sir Adam Thomson took the view that more time was needed to deal with the spending challenges facing defence, while Professor Sir Lawrence Freedman said that “the mismatch between commitments and resources” for defence had to be addressed “at some point”.136 This did not, he added, have to be “bound up with everything else when you do.”137 General Sir Richard Barrons told us he hoped that the NSC’s decision to establish the MDP reflected a “desire” to take more time to address the “broken” nature of defence, rather than an attempt to delay or avoid difficult decisions.138

52.In addition, Lord Ricketts concluded that “the politics” surrounding defence capabilities were the reason for this decision, given that it was made at a late stage in the NSCR process. He told us that he does not understand “how you can set priorities and make choices across the spectrum if you are doing it in two separate boxes”.139 140 Robert Hannigan also questioned the extent to which defence can be separated cleanly from the other strands in the NSCR. He gave cyber as an example of one of the other strands in the NSCR that “cuts right across public safety, security, intelligence, through to defence”. And he stated that “it is quite hard to see how you break it up.”141

53.Lord Ricketts expressed his hope that the “NSC will continue to look at the entire picture […] so that the different inputs that it will get from the different stages of the review can be meshed together into a strategy that makes good sense.” He added:

[…] it is more important than ever to have that joining-up, co-ordinating function of the NSC, given the political pressures that have already been evident in this conversation, for different amounts of funding for different parts of the national security spectrum.142

54.In correspondence with the NSA following the announcement of the MDP, we asked whether the defence elements can be separated cleanly from the NSCR, and what role the NSC will have in the ongoing review of defence capabilities.143 In his response, the NSA did not address these questions directly; instead, he said that the MDP will “build on the detailed work of the NSCR” and that the “National Security Secretariat would be involved throughout”.144

55.Defence is only one part of the UK’s wider national security strategy and it should be considered firmly within this context. As such, the Government’s decision to separate the defence strand from the rest of the National Security Capability Review runs the risk of undermining the purpose and coherence of the wider review. However, it is at least in part a consequence of the argument that the defence budget cannot fund the range of military capabilities prescribed by the 2015 NSS & SDSR. The Government should use its report on the National Security Capability Review to:

a) provide reassurance that the Cabinet Office will remain closely involved in the Modernising Defence Programme; and

b)set out in detail the steps it is taking to ensure coherence between the NSCR and the MDP—for example, in relation to domestic security, cyber and modern deterrence.

It should also use its later report on the MDP to show how it was moulded by the NSCR, by directly demonstrating the links between the two processes and their findings.

Looking ahead: implications for an integrated approach to national security

56.Joined-up thinking is essential in meeting today’s security challenges—whether, for example, that is tackling terrorism in the UK by countering those seeking to inspire attacks from overseas, or deterring conflict through a combination of diplomacy and military power. However, the NSC’s decision to establish the MDP also raises more fundamental questions about the Government’s ability to bring defence and security together in setting, funding and delivering national security strategy.

57.Providing oral evidence to the Committee, former National Security Adviser Lord Ricketts called the move a “backwards step” that went against efforts over the previous 10–15 years to “ensure a really joined-up approach across government to crisis management and conflict”145—a view similar to those expressed by Robert Hannigan and the international affairs think tank Oxford Research Group.146 By contrast, James de Waal, Senior Fellow in International Security at Chatham House and former MOD official, told us that he was “sanguine” about the decision to split the reviews as, in his experience, previous reviews had not been fully integrated and, in any case, defence had always dominated those processes.147 Our predecessor Committee, in its 2013 report, expressed concern that in 2012 the MOD had apparently made significant decisions about the size of the Army and the size and purpose of the Reserves without guidance from the NSC, and without the NSC’s consideration of the wider implications for the national security strategy.148 149 Five years later, the recent decision to separate defence from the NSCR suggests that although a fully integrated approach to national security directed by the NSC is a laudable ambition, it is still work in progress.

58.We also note the strong views recently expressed by the Defence Secretary that the MOD, rather than the Cabinet Office, should take the lead on reviews concerning defence. Providing oral evidence to the Defence Committee in February, the Rt Hon Gavin Williamson MP said:

This is quite an important point, which is easy to ignore: since 2010, we have not had a defence review or a programme like this that has actually been led by the Ministry of Defence. It has been something that has been led by the Cabinet Office. When we are talking about defence, it is very important for that to be led by Defence. That is something that was really important for me when we were discussing doing this—that this [the MDP] is a Defence-led programme.150

In late January, we raised this issue with the NSA in a letter sent by the Committee Chair.151 His response did not address this question.152

59.We understand that the challenges posed by the hole in the defence budget—and the inability of the MOD to address these on the timetable set for the National Security Capability Review—made it necessary on this occasion to separate defence from the wider review. Nevertheless, we are concerned that such financial constraints are distorting the UK’s national security. We are further concerned 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. We reiterate our view that all such reviews of national security strategy and capabilities should be a joined-up process led by the Cabinet Office.

How does the NSCR fit into the five-yearly reviews of national security?

60.Since 2010 there has been the expectation that a new National Security Strategy and Strategic Defence and Security Review would be published every five years,153 coinciding with cross-government Spending Reviews. The Fixed-term Parliaments Act 2011 subsequently put parliamentary elections on the same timetable as the NSS, SDSR and Spending Review. As such, it was expected that the next NSS & SDSR would be published in 2020. But the general election of 2017 has left these processes out of sync, raising questions about when the next NSS & SDSR, and the next Spending Review, will be held. The decision in 2017 to hold a review of national security capabilities, but not the underlying strategy, within two years of the previous full NSS & SDSR process has added to this uncertainty.

61.The Secretary of State for Defence has recently said that he expects the five-year cycle of national security reviews to “continue to stand”, although he does not envisage “going into a full SDSR straightaway within a year” of the conclusion of the MDP.154 But this will only be achievable if:

i)the MDP is completed, in its entirety, in July 2018 as intended; and

ii)preparation for the 2020 NSS & SDSR starts in autumn 2019, only a year before the final report is due. This would follow the same timetable as in 2015, which was four months shorter than the 2010 process.

62.Two other factors may influence the timing of the next NSS & SDSR:

i)the timing of the next Spending Review. Under the 2015 Spending Review, the budgets for the FCO, Department for International Development (DFID) and Home Office were only set up to FY2019/20.155 This raises the possibility that the next Spending Review will be held in 2019;156 and

ii)the outcomes of negotiations with the EU in relation to defence and foreign policy cooperation, and a potential security treaty. The wider economic consequences of Brexit will also have consequences for spending on defence and security, and may also prompt the Government to hold a Spending Review.

Either of these factors could render the NSCR’s findings out-of-date by late 2019.157

63.Since 2010, reviews of the UK’s national security strategy and capabilities have been held alongside Spending Reviews at the start of a new Parliament. The 2017 general election has thrown this regular, five-year pattern into doubt. The decision to commission the National Security Capability Review two years after the 2015 NSS & SDSR has only added to this uncertainty. Without knowing when the next NSS & SDSR and Spending Review will be held, it will be impossible for us, and for others, to assess the outcomes of the NSCR and MDP within their intended context. It is also unclear to what extent these outcomes will be provisional, pending the next Spending Review and the completion of negotiations with the EU.

64.When the Government publishes its report on the National Security Capability Review, it must clarify what the current review means for the expectation that an NSS & SDSR will be held every five years, alongside a Spending Review. Specifically, the Government should set out:

Political oversight and parliamentary scrutiny of the NSCR

65.We expected that Ministers and the NSC would have a clear role in commissioning and providing political leadership to the NSCR. However, Oxford Research Group told us that “Further steps should be taken to clarify the political (i.e. ministerial) ownership and control of the process”.158 Sir Mark Sedwill provided some insight on ministerial oversight when he told us that he and the Prime Minister had an “initial discussion” about the “quick refresh of the 2015 strategy and SDSR” in April 2017. He continued:

Essentially, that morphed into preparatory work during the election campaign for incoming Governments, because, of course, we need to be able to present the incoming Government with a range of options on how they might proceed. So we presented that to the [NSC] after the election, and as a result of that discussion the council commissioned the capability review, which in effect is a refresh of the 2015 SDSR.159

However, the persistent uncertainty for the first six months about whether, when and how the outcomes of the review would be reported is an indication that the NSCR has lacked a strong sense of direction and political leadership.

66.Providing oral evidence to the Defence Committee, the Defence Secretary said that the decision to commission the MDP was made between certain Ministers in December 2017:

When the Prime Minister, the Chancellor and I met before Christmas to discuss the way forward with the national security capability review and the idea of the Modernising Defence programme, what was clear, and agreed by all three of us, was that we cannot make changes to our capability until we have had the opportunity to conclude the Modernising Defence programme. That was something that all three of us were absolutely clear and insistent on.160

In contrast, Sir Mark Sedwill described the decision as one made by the NSC in January 2018.161 This raises concerns about the extent to which the NSC is providing the cross-government forum for making collective decisions about the NSCR, rather than acting as a rubber-stamping body for decisions already made. The JCNSS has for several years been provided with the agendas of NSC meetings on a confidential basis, in order to facilitate parliamentary scrutiny. These agendas do not provide a full picture of the NSC meetings, but our examination of the topics of the NSC agendas over the last year have not reassured us on this front.

67.We consider there to be insufficient parliamentary oversight of the work of the National Security Adviser, and the Ministers to whom he reports—in marked contrast to the scrutiny which Parliament can and does give to departmental officials and Ministers. The Government should provide the Committee with evidence of the National Security Council’s oversight of the National Security Capability Review and the Modernising Defence Programme, including by providing details and papers of relevant NSC meetings, in confidence.

Facilitating parliamentary scrutiny

68.There was no statement to the House of Commons on the announcement of the NSCR. Instead, it was launched in a press release on 20 July 2017, on the day the House rose for its summer recess. The press release contained few details of the purpose, scope and timeline of the review, instead using what one witness described as “only the vaguest terms”,162 stating that:

The national security capability review will include examination of the policy and plans which support implementation of the national security strategy, and help to ensure that the UK’s investment in national security capabilities is as joined-up, effective and efficient as possible, to address current national security challenges. The review will also be informed by work which has already been commissioned in response to recent national security-related incidents.163

The Committee therefore considered it a priority when it was re-formed to scrutinise the work of the NSCR. We found there were few details in the public domain, and a great reliance on leaks and press reports to establish the progress made under the NSCR.

69.In December 2017, Sir Mark Sedwill made himself available to provide oral evidence and provided an account of the threats, environment and background to the inquiry. This was most welcome, as was the release of the 12 ‘strands’ of the NSCR, in response to our request for more information. However, these strands were defined in very general terms (such as ‘Global Britain’). The Government did not submit formal written evidence to the inquiry, instead providing a letter from the NSA in February 2018 that did not fully address either the terms of reference of the inquiry, or specific questions that we had put to him in writing.164

70.The only statement that has been made to the House on this issue was on the announcement of the MDP, in January 2018.165 This was over six months after the NSCR began, and was in response to pressure from MPs after the announcement had initially been made to defence media representatives.166 When we asked the Government to commit to providing the Committee with any announcements relating to the NSCR as soon as they were made, the Government declined to do so. This has reinforced the perception of “opacity” of the process,167 which was at odds with the open and engaging approach by the NSA when he appeared before us in December.

71.While some details of the National Security Capability Review may be confidential, it is not clear to us why the process of the review has been shrouded in such secrecy, and this has added to concerns and frustration about it. The Government should commit to making any announcements about the NSCR to Parliament and the Committee before they are made public or, at the very least, at the same time.


8 HM Government, National Security Strategy and Strategic Defence and Security Review 2015: A Secure and Prosperous United Kingdom, Cm 9161, November 2015

9 Q8 [Sir John Sawers]

10 Q21 [Dr Andrew Rathmell]

11 Q15 [Sir John Sawers]; “What is China’s belt and road initiative?”, The Economist, 15 May 2017; “The $900bn question: What is the Belt and Road initiative?”, The Guardian, 12 May 2017

12 According to a study by consultancy firm McKinsey, China’s Belt and Road Initiative will involve about 65% of the world’s population, about one-third of the world’s GDP, and about a quarter of all the goods and services traded globally. “China’s One Belt, One Road: Will it reshape global trade?”, McKinsey podcast, May 2017

13 Q9 [Sir John Sawers]

14 Q9 [Sir John Sawers]

15 The extent to which, and how, the Trump Administration’s foreign policy approach differs from predecessors’ is a matter of debate. In written evidence, Professor Patrick Porter and Dr David Blagden agree that Trump’s Administration threatens to increase international disorder. But they argue that it does so not because the new president represents “a departure from American primacy, but an aggressive reassertion of it.” As such, they conclude that “The problem he poses is not of abandonment. Rather, it is the problem of overstretch”. Patrick Porter (CSE0001) para 1.1

16 Q37

17 Oral evidence taken on 18 December 2017, HC (2017–19) 625, Q5

18 The National Security Council is a Cabinet Committee chaired by the Prime Minister and attended by: the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster and Minister for the Cabinet Office; Chancellor of the Exchequer; Home Secretary; Foreign Secretary; Defence Secretary; Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy; Secretary of State for International Development; and the Attorney General. See “List of Cabinet Committees and their members as at 1 February 2018”, GOV.UK, accessed 12 March 2018

19 Oral evidence taken on 18 December 2017, HC (2017–19) 625, Qq24–26

21 Q10 [Sir Adam Thomson]

22 Q10 [Lord Ricketts]

23 Q10 [Sir John Sawers and Robert Hannigan]

24 Q9 [Sir John Sawers]

26 Oral evidence taken on 18 December 2017, HC (2017–19) 625, Q4

27 HM Government, National Security Strategy and Strategic Defence and Security Review 2015: A Secure and Prosperous United Kingdom, Cm 9161, November 2015, para 3.3

28 Q4 [Robert Hannigan]; Q8 [Sir Adam Thomson]

29 Qq13–22, 27, 29; Aerospace, Defence, Security and Space (CSE0010) para 1.5; Professor Paul Rogers (CSE0008); Mr James Rogers (CSE0009); British American Security Information Council (CSE0007); United Nations Association – UK (CSE0006); Manchester Metropolitan University (CSE0005); Saferworld (CSE0011); Protection Approaches (CSE0017)

30 Q35 [James de Waal]

31 Oral evidence taken on 18 December 2017, HC (2017–19) 625, Q6

32 Oral evidence taken on 18 December 2017, HC (2017–19) 625, Q22

34 These were: the Westminster attack, March 2017; the Manchester attack, May 2017; the London Bridge attack, June 2017; the Finsbury Park attack, June 2017; and the Parsons Green attack, September 2017. This “upshift” is also reflected in the latest statistics released by the Home Office, in March 2018, which reveal a 58% increase in the number of terrorism-related arrests in 2017 compared with the previous year. Home Office, “Statistical News Release: Operation of police powers under the Terrorism Act 2000 and subsequent legislation: Arrests, outcomes, and stop and search, Great Britain, quarterly update to 31 December 2017”, 8 March 2018

35 Q16 [Sir John Sawers]; “Beyond the Caliphate: Foreign Fighters and the Threat of Returnees”, The Soufan Center, October 2017, p. 13

36 Q16 [Robert Hannigan]. Mr Hannigan added that it will be important for the Government to predict more accurately the next iteration of Sunni extremism in the Middle East, with both the UK and the US having failed to foresee the rise of ISIL.

37 Oral evidence taken on 18 December 2017, HC (2017–19) 625, Qq15, 16 and 18

38 Oral evidence taken on 18 December 2017, HC (2017–19) 625, Qq15, 16 and 18

39 Before the 2017 general election, the Government had been on the verge of publishing an updated version of the UK’s counter-terrorism strategy, CONTEST, which had been delayed from December 2016. That version was never published, overtaken by events during and immediately after the election. In mid-June, following the London Bridge attack, the Prime Minister announced a review of the UK’s counter-terrorism strategy, which was later incorporated into the NSCR. Under this strand of the NSCR, the Government has been preparing a third version of CONTEST, drawing on the operational reviews completed after the 2017 attacks. The NSA told us it will draw in particular on the December 2017 report by David Anderson QC, the former independent reviewer of terrorism legislation, who had been tasked with independently assessing the Government’s internal operational reviews. Oral evidence taken on 18 December 2017, HC (2017–19) 625, Qq5, 16

40 Oral evidence taken on 18 December 2017, HC (2017–19) 625, Q16

41 HM Government, National Security Strategy and Strategic Defence and Security Review 2015: A Secure and Prosperous United Kingdom, Cm 9161, November 2015, paras 3.28–3.30

42 Qq8, 17 [Robert Hannigan]

43 In its written evidence, the British American Security Information Council draws attention to other emerging technologies, such as autonomous vehicles and artificial intelligence, that may have implications for risk assessment and the speed of decision-making processes. British American Security Information Council (CSE0007) para 2.5

44 Q17. Mr Hannigan drew the Committee’s attention to the NotPetya ransomware attack of June 2017 as an example of a major attack whose global impact was unintentional.

45 Q17

46 Oral evidence taken on 18 December 2017, HC (2017–19) 625, Q11

47 Oral evidence taken on 18 December 2017, HC (2017–19) 625, Q13. A recent Policy Exchange report by Rishi Sunak MP highlighted the vulnerabilities to undersea cables, which carry 97% of the world’s communications and financial transactions totalling approximately $10 trillion every day. “Undersea Cables: Indispensable, insecure”, Policy Exchange, December 2017

48 Concerns of this nature led the Committee to launch its inquiry ‘Cyber Security: Critical National Infrastructure’ in December 2017. The terms of reference are available on the Committee’s website.

50 Q15 [Sir John Sawers]

51 Qq3, 15 [Sir John Sawers]

52 Patrick Porter (CSE0001) para 8.1

53 Q15 [Sir John Sawers]

54 Q15 [Lord Ricketts]

55 Foreign Affairs Committee, Second Report of Session 2017–19, “The future of UK diplomacy in Europe”, HC 514; Foreign Affairs Committee, Sixth Report of Session 2017–19, “Global Britain”, HC 780

56 HM Government, A Strong Britain in an Age of Uncertainty: The National Security Strategy, Cm 7953, paras 1.11–1.12

57 HM Government, National Security Strategy and Strategic Defence and Security Review 2015: A Secure and Prosperous United Kingdom, Cm 9161, November 2015, paras 3.19–3.22

58 “PM speech to the Lord Mayor’s Banquet 2017”, GOV.UK, delivered on 13 November 2017

61 HC Deb, 14 March 2018, c855

62 Q19 [Lord Ricketts]

63 Q19 [Robert Hannigan, Lord Ricketts]

64 Providing oral evidence to the Defence Committee in February, the Defence Secretary also said that the “world got caught napping” in relation to state-based threats. Oral evidence taken before the Defence Committee on 21 February 2018, HC (2017–19) 814, Q7

65 Q19 [Sir Adam Thomson]

66 Q20 [Sir John Sawers]

67 Oral evidence taken on 18 December 2017, HC (2017–19) 625, Q23; Q19 [Lord Ricketts, Sir Adam Thomson]; Q20 [Sir John Sawers]

68 HC Deb, 14 March 2018, c855

69 Q5 [Sir Adam Thomson]

70 Q19 [Sir Adam Thomson]

71 Lord Peter Ricketts (CSE0015) para 2; Robert Hannigan (CSE0014) para 2; Q27 [General Sir Richard Barrons]

72 James Rogers, Director of the Global Britain programme at the Henry Jackson Society, says in written evidence that “China’s rapid and sizeable military modernisation programmes—allied to the expansion of its geopolitical footprint with the construction of ports, railways, roads and even artificial islands […]—have undermined the security system in East and South-East Asia”. Mr James Rogers (CSE0009) para 1.4.2.

73 Lord Peter Ricketts (CSE0015) para 2

74 According to NATO figures, the UK spent at least 2.18% of GDP on defence in 2016 and 2.14% in 2017. On current plans and GDP projects, this is due to grow to 2.16% in 2018 and 2019, and 2.18% in 2020. NATO, “Defence Expenditure of NATO Countries (2010–2017)”, Table 6b; Malcolm Chalmers, “Decision Time: The National Security Capability Review 2017–2018 and Defence, RUSI Whitehall Report 1-18 (February 2018), p. 19. Using a different methodology, the International Institute for Strategic Studies (IISS) recently reported that the UK fell below the 2% target for defence expenditure in 2017. “UK missed 2% defence spending target, report claims”, Financial Times, 13 February 2018. Our predecessor Committee, and the previous Defence Committee, also concluded that the Government continued to meet the 2% target only by changing its accounting practices to include new items of spending, albeit within guidelines set by NATO. Joint Committee on the National Security Strategy, First Report of Session 2016–17, “National Security Strategy and Strategic Defence and Security Review 2015, HL Paper 18, HC 153, July 2016, para 68; Defence Committee, Second Report of Session 2015–16, “Shifting the goalposts? Defence expenditure and the 2% pledge”, HC 494, April 2016, para 11

75 National Audit Office, “A Short Guide to the Ministry of Defence”, September 2017

76 Q25

77 Q25

78 Our predecessor Committee, in its 2016 report on the 2015 NSS & SDSR, expressed concern that the armed forces “will not be able to fulfil the wide-ranging tasks described in the NSS & SDSR 2015 by 2025 with the capabilities, manpower and funding set out in the same document.” Joint Committee on the National Security Strategy, First Report of Session 2016–17, “National Security Strategy and Strategic Defence and Security Review 2015, HL Paper 18, HC 153, July 2016, para 72

79 National Audit Office, “The Equipment Plan 2017 to 2027”, Session 2017–19, HC 717, 31 January 2018, p. 4

81 Q2 [Sir John Sawers]; National Audit Office, “A Short Guide to the Ministry of Defence”, September 2017, p. 10

82 Speaking at the Royal United Services Institute (RUSI) in March, the Permanent Under Secretary of the Ministry of Defence, Stephen Lovegrove, said: “At least four different efficiency programmes have been adopted by the department in the last eight years and the dangers of double counting and confusion are apparent on a daily basis.” “Saving plans at UK defence ministry ‘cause daily confusion’”, Financial Times, 5 March 2018

83 Q2 [Sir John Sawers]. According to Professor Malcolm Chalmers, the equipment approved under the 2015 NSS & SDSR included £18.6 billion in dollars and £2.6 billion in euros, amounting to 12% of total ten-year equipment spending. “Decision Time: The National Security Capability Review 2017–2018 and Defence”, RUSI Whitehall Report 1-18 (February 2018), p. 11; National Audit Office, “The Equipment Plan 2017 to 2027”, Session 2017–19, HC 717, 31 January 2018, p. 17

84 Q7 [Robert Hannigan]

85 This has reduced the ability of the MOD to absorb unanticipated programme costs, including those due to the devaluation of sterling, or to respond to the changing environment through additional procurement.

86 Public Accounts Committee, Fifty-sixth Report of 2016–17, “The Defence Equipment Plan, HC 957, April 2017, para 13; Oxford Research Group (CSE0003) para 3.1

87 For example, see HC Deb, 26 February 2018, c567; “In full: interview with General Sir Gordon Messenger, vice-chief of the defence staff”, The Times, 1 March 2018; “UK military credibility ‘at risk’ over cuts”, BBC News, 12 March 2018

88 HC Deb, 26 February 2018, c624

90 Defence Committee, Second Report of Session 2015–16, “Shifting the goalposts? Defence expenditure and the 2% pledge”, HC 494

91 Mr James Rogers (CSE0009) paras 2.2–2.4

92 This view was supported by Professor Patrick Porter and Dr David Blagden of Exeter University, who state in their written evidence that: “While there will continue to be political pressure for the UK to assert a Global Britain posture, maintaining a presence in breadth can only come at the expense of presence in depth”. Patrick Porter (CSE0001) para 5.2

93 Oral evidence taken on 18 December 2017, HC (2017–19) 625, Q10

94 Professor Paul Rogers (CSE0008) para 3.3

95 Oxford Research Group (CSE0003) para 1.3

96 For example, in a speech to the defence think tank, RUSI, in January, the Chief of the General Staff, General Sir Nick Carter, set out the range of improvements needed to NATO military capabilities and the UK’s armed forces to match Russia’s “eye-watering capabilities”. He concluded: “Our challenge now is to leap forward to what we need, given the threats […] described”. Speech given by General Sir Nick Carter, “Dynamic Security Threats and the British Army”, Royal United Services Institute, London, 22 January 2018, transcript available at: https://rusi.org/event/dynamic-security-threats-and-british-army, accessed 18 February 2018

97 Q25

98 Q25

99 Q25

100 Oral evidence taken before the Defence Committee on 21 February 2018, HC (2017–19) 814, Q11; speech by Stephen Lovegrove, Permanent Under Secretary at the MOD, at the Royal United Services Institute, London, 5 March 2018. A transcript is available at: https://rusi.org/event/stephen-lovegrove-managing-uk-ministry-defence, accessed 9 March 2018. Mr Lovegrove was citing a recent report by Professor Malcolm Chalmers: “Decision Time: The National Security Capability Review 2017–2018 and Defence”, RUSI Whitehall Report 1-18 (February 2018), p. 10

101 The 2015 NSS & SDSR states: “While our Armed Forces can and will whenever necessary deploy on their own, we would normally expect them to deploy with allies such as the US and France; through NATO; or as part of a broader coalition.” HM Government, National Security Strategy and Strategic Defence and Security Review 2015: A Secure and Prosperous United Kingdom, Cm 9161, November 2015, para 4.39

102 Oral evidence taken on 18 December 2017, HC (2017–19) 625, Q8

103 Q26

104 Oral evidence taken on 18 December 2017, HC (2017–19) 625, Q4

105 Oral evidence taken on 18 December 2017, HC (2017–19) 625, Q5

106 Q1; Q2 [Sir John Sawers]; Q3 [Sir John Sawers]

107 Qq1, 3 [Lord Ricketts]

108 Q3 [Sir John Sawers]

109 Q31 [General Sir Richard Barrons]

110 Q2 [Sir Adam Thomson]

111 Oral evidence taken on 18 December 2017, HC (2017–19) 625, Q4

112 The National Security Adviser provided oral evidence to the Committee in December 2017, before the NSC decided to establish the Modernising Defence Programme in January 2018. The MDP will not be “fiscally neutral”, making it possible that more funding will be allocated to the MOD as a result of this process.

113 This overall figure conflated the £36 billion defence budget with all other sums allocated to different dimensions of security. This raised the possibility of reductions in, or deletion of, military capabilities deemed necessary only two years previously, to meet increased security threats which would not normally be borne by the defence budget.

114 The NSA said: “If we concluded that the total set of capabilities, optimised across that £56 billion, was insufficient to meet the threats, of course we would say that to Ministers. That is not a conclusion I expect to reach, but of course I always have the freedom to give Ministers candid advice.” We found this response surprising in the light of the widely leaked expectation of major cuts in defence capabilities to fund greater efforts to counter the new and intensified threats that led to the NSCR in the first place. Oral evidence taken on 18 December 2017, HC (2017–19) 625, Q10

115 Oral evidence taken on 18 December 2017, HC (2017–19) 625, Q4

116 Oral evidence taken on 18 December 2017, HC (2017–19) 625, Q10

117 Qq3, 6 [Lord Ricketts]

118 Q10 [Lord Ricketts]

119 Q2 [Sir Adam Thomson]

120 Q2 [Sir Adam Thomson]; National Audit Office, “The Equipment Plan 2017 to 2027”, Session 2017–19, HC 717, 31 January 2018, p. 4

121 Oral evidence taken before the Defence Committee on 21 February 2018, HC (2017–19) 814, Q11

122 Oral evidence taken before the Defence Committee on 21 February 2018, HC (2017–19) 814, Qq4, 11, 13–14

123 Q2 [Sir John Sawers]

124 Preparation for the review was also undertaken over the election period, during which the 2015 National Security Strategy was assessed against changes to the security environment and threats since 2015. Oral evidence taken on 18 December 2017, HC (2017–19) 625, Q4

125 Notably, when the Defence Secretary appeared before the Defence Committee in February, he committed only to reporting the “direction of travel” for the MDP in July this year, although he previously announced his intention to publish the entire review before summer recess in July. Oral evidence taken before the Defence Committee on 21 February 2018, HC (2017–19) 814, Q11; HC Deb, 25 January 2018, c426

128 HC Deb, 25 January 2018, c424

129 The Government has said nothing to suggest that the rest of the NSCR will no longer be “fiscally neutral”.

130 Sir Mark Sedwill, National Security Adviser (CSE0018)

131 Joint Committee on the National Security Strategy, First Report of Session 2013–14, “The work of the Joint Committee on the National Security Strategy in 2013–14”, HL Paper 169, HC 1257, para 48

132 Joint Committee on the National Security Strategy, First Report of Session 2014–15, “The next National Security Strategy”, HL Paper 114, HC 749, para 23

133 Joint Committee on the National Security Strategy, First Report of Session 2016–17, “National Security Strategy and Strategic Defence and Security Review 2015”, HL Paper 18, HC 153, para 6

134 Q2 [Robert Hannigan]

135 HM Government, Security Britain in an Age of Uncertainty: The Strategic Defence and Security Review, Cm 7948, October 2015; HM Government, National Security Strategy and Strategic Defence and Security Review 2015: A Secure and Prosperous United Kingdom, Cm 9161, November 2015

136 Q2 [Sir Adam Thomson]; Q38 [Professor Sir Lawrence Freedman]

137 Q38 [Professor Sir Lawrence Freedman]

138 Q24 [General Sir Richard Barrons]

139 Qq1–2 [Lord Ricketts]

140 In written evidence submitted to the Committee before the NSC decided to separate defence from the rest of the NSCR, Campaign Against Arms Trade said that: “The Cabinet Office lead on the NSCR was welcome, indicating that perhaps, at last, there was an understanding within Government that ‘security’ was not the same as ‘defence’ and that security is a cross-departmental matter.” Campaign Against Arms Trade (CSE0004) para 2

141 Q2 [Robert Hannigan]

142 Q7 [Lord Ricketts]

143 Letter of 31 January 2018, from the Chair of the Joint Committee on the National Security Strategy to Sir Mark Sedwill, National Security Adviser, on the NSCR and MDP

144 Sir Mark Sedwill, National Security Adviser (CSE0018)

145 Q1

146 Q2 [Robert Hannigan]; Oxford Research Group (CSE0003) para 1.1

147 Q38 [James de Waal]

148 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, para 11

149 On Army 2020, see HC Deb, 5 July 2012, c1085; on Future Reserves 2020, see Ministry of Defence, “Future Reserves 2020: Delivering the Nation’s Security Together”, Cm 8475, November 2012

150 Oral evidence taken before the Defence Committee on 21 February 2018, HC (2017–19) 814, Q13

151 Letter of 31 January 2018, from the Chair of the Joint Committee on the National Security Strategy to Sir Mark Sedwill, National Security Adviser, on the NSCR and MDP

152 Sir Mark Sedwill, National Security Adviser (CSE0018)

153 HM Government, A Strong Britain in an Age of Uncertainty: The National Security Strategy, Cm 7953, p. 7

154 Oral evidence taken before the Defence Committee on 21 February 2018, HC (2017–19) 814, Qq30–31; HC Deb, 25 January 2018, c426

156 The NSA told us the Government has not yet decided when it will hold the next Spending Review. Oral evidence taken on 18 December 2017, HC (2017–19) 625, Q4

157 See paragraphs 10–12 for further discussion in relation to the UK’s departure from the EU. Oral evidence taken on 18 December 2017, HC (2017–19) 625, Q26; Qq9–10

158 Oxford Research Group (CSE0003) para 1.1

159 Oral evidence taken on 18 December 2017, HC (2017–19) 625, Q4

160 Oral evidence taken before the Defence Committee on 21 February 2018, HC (2017–19) 814, Q23

161 Sir Mark Sedwill, National Security Adviser (CSE0018)

162 Oxford Research Group (CSE0003) para 2.1

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

164 Sir Mark Sedwill, National Security Adviser (CSE0018)

165 HC Deb, 25 January 2018, c424

167 Oxford Research Group (CSE0003) para 1.1




Published: 23 March 2018