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The National Security Strategy is the first step in opening a dialogue between the UK Government, its international security partners and the public. It forms a framework into which all subsequent strategy and policy must fit.
19 March 2008 - The publication of the UK’s first ever single National Security Strategy (NSS) not only brings together the disparate Government departments on which twenty-first century security depends but also opens a dialogue between the Government and the British public that is just as unprecedented. It is an open and honest assessment of the threats that face the UK and those that might emerge in the future. It is also a ‘hands up’ from the Government that the UK cannot challenge these threats alone. It needs your help, and it needs the rest of the world’s help, possibly in equal measure.
This new transparency – one might even say honesty – is particularly significant as it comes at a time when the ‘national’ security strategy set out in the document is more global in its outlook and more international in its interdependencies than security has ever been before. It states clearly the need for a multilateral approach in which our own security can only be achieved through collective action, working closely with the United Nations, the European Union, NATO and others to combat threats such as terrorism, weapons of mass destruction, trans-national organised crime, and failed and fragile states that operate not only across borders but also across cyber as well as physical space.
The four threats named above are those identified as most pressing in the NSS. We can tackle none of them alone but in order to engage with the international partners whose help we require, we have to engage as a united front. It is this united front that the NSS has created, and which it represents. It is not in itself the tactical plan for ‘beating’ these enemies, nor it is the operational plan we will use to engage them. It is instead a clear statement that we know what they are and that we can – and will – work together to challenge them.
In setting this out, the NSS looks in both directions. It looks outward to the horizon, to far and distant lands where in future, deploying civilian reconstruction teams, international aid and political support may be as important to our security as deploying our Army and it encourages a civil and military nexus to work together on this. Simultaneously, it looks inward, though more subtlety. In the new security environment, the public may be as close to the front line as the Army in Afghanistan, but in order to stop the suicide bomber in London, we need to stop the international jihad network that radicalised him, trained him, financed and supported him. It may take time, it will cost money and the Government departments involved may need you to bear with them while they get there, but to ensure that you do, they are offering to tell you as much as they can about what they’re doing and certainly more than they’ve ever told you before.
This will be achieved through the publication of a National Risk Register, the national equivalent of the publicly available Community Risk Registers that set out regional risk assessments and the emergency plans in place to deal with them. Along with an annual update of the Security Strategy itself and information on its implementation, this represents a new level transparency and accountability. It represents a Government that is not afraid to be held to account.
As a strategy, it is a subtle one. The NSS document itself contains little in the way of plans of action, little in the way of an operational or tactical approach. It may seem, as David Cameron accused it of being, ‘little more than a list’. But it is a list that did not exist in one place before. It forms a framework against which departments as diverse as the MoD, Defra and DfID are able to measure their policies. Even if it appears to be nothing else, it is a starting point from which we can move forward and that in itself should be cause for celebration.
The views expressed above are the author's own, and do not necessarily reflect those of RUSI.