Planning for the next National Security Strategy: comments on the Government response to the Committee's First Report of Session 2010-12 - Joint Committee on the National Security Strategy Contents


Report



Government Response to the Committee's First Report

1. We published our First Report of Session 2010-12, First review of the National Security Strategy 2010 (HL Paper 265, HC 1385), on 8 March 2012. The Government response was received in the form of a memorandum on 12 June 2012: it is published as an appendix to this report.

2. We welcome some elements of the Government response, and we particularly welcome the Government's commitment to provide us with a confidential briefing on the new National Security Risk Assessment, expected this Autumn. However, we feel that the Government has failed to engage with many of our arguments, and has sought to justify the Government's current position rather than taking the opportunity to look at how it could do things differently.

3. We are concerned in particular by the Government's failure to respond adequately to our concerns about the implications of the new US strategy document Sustaining US Global Leadership, where the Government sought to downplay what appears to be a long-term strategic shift by the USA towards the Pacific, rather than recognise and engage with the challenges presented. The Government's response to our concerns about the National Security Council's failure to address the potential national security impact of Scottish independence focused on the Government's policy stance on a referendum, reinforcing our belief that the possibility that independence might actually happen is being neglected in strategic planning. Nothing in the Government's response to our concerns about the security implications of the Eurozone crisis acknowledged that the NSS should have recognised the risk in that area, or reassured us that the Government is thinking sufficiently broadly about what threatens our national security. We understand why the Government felt unable to comment publicly on the UK's ability to act alone militarily, but regret that it did not instead offer to supply this information to us in confidence. We shall pursue these concerns in our continuing dialogue with Government, and in our current series of evidence sessions with Secretaries of State, and shall report our further conclusions to the two Houses in due course.

4. There is, however, one point which we wish to draw to the attention of both Houses immediately: our concern that the Government should press ahead with planning for the next National Security Strategy (NSS). This is the focus of this short report.

Planning for the next National Security Strategy

5. In our March 2012 report, First review of the National Security Strategy 2010, we highlighted the need for the Government to plan for a much longer lead time for producing the next NSS in 2015 than was possible in 2010.

6. There were several reasons for this conclusion. First, it was important that the NSS, the Strategic Defence and Security Review (SDSR) and Comprehensive Spending Review (CSR) were able to influence each other. The process of reviewing the NSS needs to begin in plenty of time to allow this to happen.

7. Secondly, we called for a much broader involvement of the public, as well as academics and experts external to Government, than was possible in the relatively short timeframe of the last NSS. We said that if (as we had suggested) the next NSS addressed more fundamental questions about the UK's role in the world, and its relationship with the USA, then these were questions with which the wider public would engage. We also called for the next NSS to be the product of much wider public debate and attempt at a political consensus. This will take time.

8. Thirdly, we called for the next NSS to be a very different document, more candid, more explicit and addressing the difficult questions. We do not underestimate the difficulty of producing such a document, and the time it will take to reach agreement on it across Government.

9. The Government's response accepts the need for advance planning and recognises that it will be necessary to start thinking about the work plan for the 2015 review well in advance of 2015. However there is nothing in the response to indicate that the Government has begun even to think about a work plan or the resources which would be required. It may not be necessary to begin work on the NSS immediately, but forward planning must begin now and a timetable should be drawn up showing how the Government will deliver what it says it wants to deliver. The previous National Security Adviser envisaged that the production of the next NSS would require a two year timescale. But, if the Government is to hold a genuinely extensive public debate on the UK's future NSS before political attention turns to the next General Election, it needs to get on with it.

10. The Government must start to map out its programme for the next NSS immediately if it wishes to carry out a wide public consultation, consult with academics and experts, and build a political consensus in advance of the next General Election. We recommend that, in response to this report, the Government supply us with an indicative programme for the production of the next NSS with details of the staffing and other resources it will make available for this purpose. The programme should set out what form of public involvement is planned, and at what stage(s) in the process that consultation will take place. It should also explain how the NSS process will interact with the next SDSR and the CSR process.


 
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Prepared 11 July 2012