Wednesday, March 19, 2008

The New UK Security Strategy: Thin, Somewhat Timid

The text is finally out, here. It is fairly brief, and structured this way:
This strategy (...) sets out the guiding principles of our approach (Chapter Two); our assessment of the major security challenges and drivers of insecurity (Chapter Three); our responses to them (Chapter Four); and how we will work together in taking the strategy forward (Chapter Five).
Chapter One: Introduction
Chapter Two: Guiding principles
Chapter Three: Security challenges
Chapter Four: The United Kingdom’s response
Chapter Five: Working together
It was expected that the strategy would emphasize interagency capability. It does. The initiative is sound: in principle, this would enable the UK government to combine and converge the three D's - diplomacy, development and defense. As such this makes for more effective counterinsurgency - or statebuilding within conflict - campaigns. As development and security converges in and around failing states the most cost-effective form of development in the long run is contested statebuilding.
5.8 This National Security Strategy shows that the Government is committed to working with the whole of society, to build confidence in our core values, our shared approach, and our strong security capabilities. It sets out a new and clearer understanding of what security means and how we need to work together in an integrated and coherent national and international effort. That will enable us to work together to manage risks, harness the opportunities of globalisation, and achieve the single overarching national security objective set out at the beginning of this strategy: protecting the United Kingdom and its interests, enabling its people to go about their daily lives freely and with confidence, in a more secure, stable, just and prosperous world.
The contextual process to the UK National Security Strategy involves a yearly report on progress on challenges and solutions. But the strategy does not - as I suggested should be the case in the previous post - contain inside its concomitant process a systematic role of overview for Parliament. Such a role is being merely being looked into:
5.7 We will publish an annual update on the challenges we face and progress on implementing this strategy. We will consult all Parties and the Parliamentary authorities about how Parliament can play a stronger role in overseeing the development and implementation of this strategy. We have recently concluded a consultation to consider the ways in which Parliament should be involved in decisions relating to the deployment of the Armed Forces into conflict.
The process as envisaged is at least a credible wish list:
Priorities include:
• consulting on a joint Parliamentary National Security Committee to help monitor the implementation and development of this strategy;
• strengthening the work of horizonscanning and forward planning;
• strengthening the capability to offer a strategic perspective on security priorities and improve connections between defence, development, foreign and domestic security strategies;
• creating a national security forum, including representatives from government, politics, academia and others, to discuss strategy and exchange ideas; and
• publishing the National Risk Register (as set out in Chapter Four) and an annual update on the security challenges facing the United Kingdom and progress on implementing the strategy.
That is disappointing. Since the process is not yet formalized at the launch the ship risks being taken over by bureaucratic pirates of e.g. the Foreign Office. Consulting (viz. the 'joint Parliamentary National Security Committee') can mean anything and nothing. And neither that committee nor the 'national security forum' are really given any role that would constitute checks and/or balances. Who will bang together the heads of DfID, Foreign Office and Whitehall?

Finally, the strategic vision itself seems pretty thin. Not much text compared to the number of themes.

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