Parliamentary Committees and Public Enquiries
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National Security Council risks losing focus on long-term strategy, says Committee

In a report released today, Thursday 28 February, Parliament’s Joint Committee on the National Security Strategy says the National Security Council (NSC) has not maintained its strategic focus since completing the National Security Strategy (NSS) and Strategic Defence and Security Review (SDSR) in 2010.

The Committee reviews its work over the past year and calls on the Government to address five key areas of concern:

  • The NSC appears to have focused on operational matters and short-term imperatives, rather than long-term strategy.
  • The Committee is not convinced that the NSC is making the contribution it should and questions how much extra value is derived from having the NSC as opposed to the preceding systems of Cabinet Committees.
  • Major strategic policy changes appear to have been made by individual Government Departments without discussion at the NSC: most notably, the big policy decisions made by the MoD last year in Future Reserves and Army 2020.
  • The NSC appears to have neglected, or only recently discussed, some very central questions: the strategic and security impact of the Eurozone crisis and of efforts to save the Euro; the planned referendums on Scottish independence and EU membership; and the significance of the US pivot to Asia-Pacific.
  • The Committee has not yet seen evidence of the Government pressing ahead with planning for the next NSS or giving serious consideration to engaging outside experts, politicians across the political parties and the public in its development.

The Committee says that in the next stage of its work it will focus on the big strategic questions which the next NSS must address, and to take evidence from outside Government. It plans to hold a series of evidence sessions on: the UK’s relationship with NATO; national security and the EU; the nature of our alliance with the United States; energy security; and food security.

The Chair of the Committee, Rt Hon Margaret Beckett MP, said:

“The Government seems to see the National Security Council primarily as a forum for discussing foreign policy and operations overseas, squeezing in a few other topics if there is time.

We see the role of the NSC as twofold. First it should make sure that that the Government thinking is joined up and includes all aspects of national security, domestic as well as foreign policy, and cross cutting issues such as energy security, food security and climate change. It must also consider the national security implications of developments such as the Eurozone crisis and the possibility of Scottish Independence. The fact that these are not primarily national security issues makes it all the more important that the national security implications are not overlooked.

Secondly, the NSC should think strategically, keeping its eye on the longer term and assessing the effect of Departments’ policy proposals. We were stunned that the NSC had not discussed the implications of the major policy changes made last year by the MOD. How it can be strategic if it has not considered the impact of restructuring the Army? We cannot expect government policy to stand still for five years until the next review of the National Security Strategy, but the Government needs to take care that cumulative changes don’t undermine its overall security aims.”

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