The UK's national security machinery Contents


1.The primary function of the Joint Committee on the National Security Strategy (JCNSS) is “to consider the National Security Strategy”.1 During our eleven-year history, fulfilling this purpose has involved scrutinising: the cross-government national security strategies, the process by which they were created, and the resources allocated to their delivery; discrete policy areas within those strategies; and the structures for Government decision-making on national security—particularly the role of the National Security Council (NSC), the National Security Adviser (NSA) and the National Security Secretariat in the Cabinet Office.

2.Our first inquiry of this Parliament took the covid-19 outbreak and biosecurity as a ‘test case’ to assess the UK’s systems of national security oversight, since a pandemic was identified as one of the Tier 1 (highest-priority) national security risks.2 The shortcomings exposed by that inquiry led us to conclude that more detailed scrutiny of the machinery of government for national security was required. Such an inquiry would also offer a timely opportunity to assess the effectiveness of the NSC and its supporting structures a decade after they were established in their current form.

3.The rapid and chaotic fall of Afghanistan to the Taliban as we drafted our report underscores our inquiry’s timeliness. The trajectory of events in that country over the past two decades, and particularly within the past 18 months, demonstrates why we need a strong and purposeful NSC that sets and oversees the implementation of the UK’s national security strategy in a way that is both rigorous and realistic, and that is attentive to a wide range of possible contingencies that might affect our national interest. Such contingencies are highly diverse in nature, ranging—for example—from the evacuation
of civilians from a conflict zone, to the emergence of a new infectious disease, a
prolonged, wide-area electricity outage, a major global financial crisis and the invocation of Article V by a NATO Ally.

4.We launched our inquiry into the UK’s national security machinery in January 2021, with an additional call for evidence in March,3 following the publication of the Government’s most recent national security strategy—the Integrated Review of Security, Defence, Development and Foreign Policy (Integrated Review)—and its accompanying Defence Command Paper.4 The Integrated Review also set in train an internal review of “national security systems and processes”, led by the NSA, Sir Stephen Lovegrove.5 High-level outcomes of this review were shared with us after we had finished taking oral evidence in July.6

5.During our inquiry, we received a substantial number of very helpful written submissions and held six oral evidence sessions. Our witnesses included:

We also received valuable input from our four Specialist Advisers, Professor Malcolm Chalmers, Professor Michael Clarke, Paddy McGuinness and Professor Sir Hew Strachan.7 We are grateful to all who contributed to our inquiry.

2 Joint Committee on National Security Strategy (JCNSS), First Report of Session 2019–21, Biosecurity and national security, HL 195, HC 611

3 The terms of reference and call for evidence published in January and March 2021 can be found on the Committee website. We did not examine the Government’s merger of the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) and the Department for International Development (DFID) in September 2020, before the completion of the Integrated Review. Other Select Committees have considered this matter. See International Development Committee, Fourth Report of Session 2019–21, Effectiveness of UK aid: potential impact of FCO/DFID merger, HC 596; Foreign Affairs Committee, Second Report of Session 2019–21, Merging Success: Bringing Together the FCO and DFID, HC 525

4 HM Government, Global Britain in a Competitive Age: The Integrated Review of Security, Defence, Development and Foreign Policy, CP 403, March 2021; Ministry of Defence (MoD), Defence in a Competitive Age, CP 411, March 2021. Other Select Committees have launched inquiries dedicated to the Integrated Review and the Defence Command Paper. See, for example, Foreign Affairs Committee, Fourth Report of Session 2019–21, A brave new Britain? The future of the UK’s international policy, HC 380, and Defence Committee inquiries on The Integrated Review—Threats, Capabilities and Concepts and Defending Global Britain in a Competitive Age.

5 HM Government, Global Britain in a Competitive Age: The Integrated Review of Security, Defence, Development and Foreign Policy, CP 403, March 2021, p. 97

6 Sir Stephen Lovegrove (National Security Adviser at Cabinet Office) (NSM0036)

7 Specialist advisers declared the following interests. Professor Malcolm Chalmers: Deputy Director-General, Royal United Services Institute. Professor Michael Clarke: Consultant to SCS Strategy Ltd; Consultant to Annington Housing Ltd; Adviser to Gemini-i Analytics Ltd; founding partner of Riskology Global Ltd; Trustee, the FAROS foundation; Visiting Professor at King’s College London; Visiting Professor at University of Exeter and Associate Director of the Strategy and Security Institute; Distinguished Fellow, Royal United Services Institute; Fellow, Royal College of Defence Studies. Paddy McGuinness: Director and Founder of Hudhud Associates Limited; founder of Oxford Digital Healthcare; chair of trustees, St Joseph’s Hospice Hackney; member of the Oxford Board of the Oxford & Cambridge Catholic Education Board; senior advisor, Brunswick Group LLC; strategic partner, C5 Capital; advisory board, Glasswall Solutions; advisory board, KAZUAR Advanced Technologies Ltd; advisory board, Pool Reinsurance. Professor Sir Hew Strachan: Emeritus Fellow at All Souls College, University of Oxford; Life Fellow at Corpus Christi College, University of Cambridge; Professor of International Relations at the University of St Andrews; Comité scientifique, Laboratoire de Recherche sur la Défense, IFRI, Paris; Ambassador for the HALO Trust; consultant for the Global Strategic Partnership (a consortium led by RAND Europe), commissioned by the Development, Concepts and Doctrine Centre, Ministry of Defence; a member of the Armed Forces Covenant group (until July 2021); patron, British Pugwash Group; HM Lord Lieutenant, Tweeddale.

Published: 19 September 2021 Site information    Accessibility statement