From ‘soft touch’ to ‘out of touch’

Two days, two very similar broadsheet leaders. Yesterday The Times called for a national security strategy that narrowly defined ‘security’ (read defence), today the FT calls for strategic thinking on national security (read defence). Without some background knowledge both these pieces seem sensible enough but you wouldn’t expect us at Global Dashboard to give you the news without some insightful analysis…

To understand why these two pieces are so important one must turn our attention away from Pennington Street and Southwark Bridge and instead look to Whitehall and 10 Downing St, for it is here that the battle over the national security strategy is taking place.

The development of a UK NSS has been a very bruising affair with ownership of the document passed between senior mandarins on a regular basis. The first draft, I am told, was too focused on defence and traditional threats to the UK, while later drafts added new challenges and risks. Still no one could agree – let alone the Prime Minister who sat on the document and continues to do so.

So some bright spark thought of the idea of writing a second, alternative national security strategy. And so that is what has been done. So Cabinet Ministers now have not one, but two national security strategies on their desks. One (let’s call it NSS Alpha) is a traditional, 1990s security/defence focused strategy (big concerns: terrorism, proliferation, and rogue states) the alternative (NSS Bravo) also includes those threats but plkaces them in context with other global risks, the threat from organised crime, cyber warfare, migration, climate change and also focuses on ‘human security’ and the individual citizen (because as Kissinger, I mean Alex, has pointed out before the nation state is on the wane).

It can’t be easy for Cabinet Ministers to decide which National Security Strategy to go for (especially if they are focused on an area like Transport) so my guess is senior officials and/or No.10 advisers have begun to brief the papers on their preferred option (watch out for the Guardian and Sun soon).

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About Charlie Edwards

Charlie Edwards is Director of National Security and Resilience Studies at the Royal United Services Institute. Prior to RUSI he was a Research Leader at the RAND Corporation focusing on Defence and Security where he conducted research and analysis on a broad range of subject areas including: the evaluation and implementation of counter-violent extremism programmes in Europe and Africa, UK cyber strategy, European emergency management, and the role of the internet in the process of radicalisation. He has undertaken fieldwork in Iraq, Somalia, and the wider Horn of Africa region.