A few days ago, I did a post on the UK government’s current horizon scanning exercise – part of the process leading up to its second National Security Strategy – in which I suggested that “the really stand-out risk that barely got a mention in the events I attended was the possibility that serious erosion of states’ capacity and legitimacy [will undermine] their ability to respond to all the global trends that we were discussing”.
As regular readers will know, that observation comes straight out of the writings of ‘fourth generation warfare’ theorists like William Lind, Martin van Creveld and John Robb. But what may come as more of a surprise is the interesting revelation that Kaiser Wilhelm II made a similar point yesterday in his birthday conversation with Lind*:
“My generation of kings and emperors were fixated on the age-old contest between dynasties. Would the houses of Hapsburg and Hohenzollern defeat those of Romanoff and Savoy or the other way around? We could not see the paradigm shift welling up all around us, the onward rush of democracy and equality and socialism and all the rest of that garbage. What we needed was an alliance of all monarchies against democracy. Instead we wiped each other out, putting the levellers in charge everywhere, to the world’s ruin.”
“Does that hold any lessons for our time?”, I asked.
“From Olympus, the picture could not be more clear,” His Majesty replied. “As we were mesmerized by dynastic quarrels, so your politicians cannot see beyond the state. They think only of states in conflict. Will America be threatened by China? Should India go to war with Pakistan? Is Iran a danger to Israel? They cannot see that states are now all in the same, sinking boat, just as all the dynasties were in 1914.”
“What should states then do?”, I enquired.
“Form an alliance of all states against non-state forces, what you call the Fourth Generation,” the Kaiser answered. “The hour is late, and the state system itself has grown fragile. That is the lesson of America’s quixotic war in Iraq. You destroyed the state there, and now no one can recreate it. That is what will happen almost everywhere when states fight other states. But none of your leaders can see it, because they, too, are time-blinded. It is the human condition.”
* Since you ask: in addition to being one of the top experts around on counter-insurgency and fourth generation warfare, William Lind is also an ardent Prussian monarchist. Consequently, he marks the birthday of Kaiser Wilhelm II (“my reporting senior and lawful sovereign”) with a column each year in which he records a conversation with that leader’s ghost. Previous editions are highly recommended – e.g. here and here.
National Security Strategies, it seems, are like London Buses: You wait for ages for one and then three turn up at once. In March of this year the UK Government published Security in an Interdependent World. A few months later, the French President Nicolas Sarkozy unveiled the snappily titled French White Paper on defence and national security (pdf). This week it was the turn of the Australian Prime Minister, Kevin Rudd, to outline his Government’s national security strategy.
While each of the three strategies are important in their own right; reflecting the approach, culture and system of the British, French and Australian governments, it is the commonality of approach and their shared awareness of the security environment that is far more significant.
When the British Government published the UKNSS, politicians and officials were quick to remark that the strategy was a ‘first iteration’, and would be updated annually (led by the new National Security Secretariat in the Cabinet Office). Whereas the UKNSS adopted a very conceptual approach, the French document went into more detail, reflecting both the scale of work necessary to make the French Government more joined-up but also a desire to identify what capabilities and resources were necessary to achieve this. In doing the docuement identified five basic strategic functions that would, in combination, allow them to achieve our overall national security:
– knowledge and anticipation
While the British Government might claim that they too had identified these functions the difference was in the level of detail that matters – an indication perhaps that, for the British Government, that power and resources would remain within departments and not in the Cabinet Office. Not to be beaten Kevin Rudd has gone several steps further. Not content with grandiose statements and meaningless rhetoric Rudd wants action. The Australian National Security Strategy:
‘Provides context for the Defence White Paper, which will detail the way forward for our defence over the next twenty years. It will inform a regular Foreign Policy Statement to the Parliament. It will shape the upcoming Counter-Terrorism White Paper. As well as guide the development of the Government’s first National Energy Security Assessment. It incorporates the recommendations of the Homeland and Border Security Review commissioned by the Government early this year.’
Furthermore, in his statement to Parliament Rudd outlined what the strategy would lead to:
- Duncan Lewis is to become National Security Adviser
- A National Security Statement to Parliament
- A coordinated budget process for national security
- An evaluation mechanism, coordinated by the National Security Adviser. It will consider performance against whole-of-government outcomes in light of the priorities set out in the National Security Statement and help inform future resource allocation.
- A Secretaries Committee on National Security, known as SCNS
- A Crisis Coordination Centre (similar to UK COBRA)
Over on The Interpreter, the Lowy Institute’s excellent blog, the AusNSS has been met with a mixture of consternation, disappointment and just a whiff of optimism.
As President Elect Obama and his new foreign policy team contemplate how to deal with the growing number of security challenges that will confront them on Inauguration Day, a bi-partisan group of experts has tabled a series of thought-provoking ideas for how to reform the U.S government.
The report from the Project on National Security Reform (PNSR) shows the U.S national security establishment at its finest – willing to think far into the future, push creative ideas and suggest the reorganization of vast swathes of government. (Full disclosure: I served pro bono as an adviser to the team). It stands in sharp contrast to Gordon Brown’s timid reforms, outlined a few months ago in the now-forgotten National Security Strategy. In fact, the report is veritable smorgasbord of ideas that any up-and-coming Tory security specialist should pick from.
The first recommendation, which a Conservative Party ought to consider when they take office – and legislate to repeat with every new Parliament — a National Security Review, which should prioritize objectives, establish risk management criteria, specify roles and responsibilities for priority missions, assess required capabilities, and identify capability gaps. This would go well beyond both the traditional Defence Reviews, as it would take in all of governments, and leave the National Security Strategy to elaborate on strategy and policies rather than being the hotchpotch of policies and reform proposals that it currently is.
To implement this, the U.S report suggests National Security Planning Guidance, to be issued annually, in order to provide guidance to departments based on the results of the National Security Review. This, too, would make sense in Britain where the National Security Strategy has not been able to force any change in the way departments operate because it never moved into specific requirements.
In Britain, such a document would have to be tied to the Budget and preferably the Comprehensive Spending Review. But with a National Security Planning Guidance, the Treasury and other Departments will be able to draft multi-year resource plans for each department and ensure consistency with the National Security Review. Perhaps a part of a future Comprehensive Spending Review would by a National Security Resource Document, which could contain which presents the government integrated, rolling six-year national security resource strategy proposals.
The report suggests that a Presidential Security Council replace the National Security Council and Homeland Security Council, thus removing an artificial divide. In many ways, the Brown government foresaw this development with the creation of a Cabinet Committee on National Security, International Relations and Development. But the establishment of a cross-government committee was not accompanied by reforms of the Cabinet Office and so did not create anything resembling the U.S set-up. In fact, the last couple of years have seen a well-reported hallowing out of the Cabinet Office.
Adapting from the U.S report, the Conservative Party should look at ways to adapt the idea of a Director for National Security, who would work to the National Security Adviser and manage the Whitehall decision-making process. This would allow the Prime Minister to appoint a political National Security Adviser –- like Pauline Neville-Jones -– but have a Civil Servant manage the bureaucratic work. The Cabinet Office would have to be considerably expanded with permanent staff covering key countries and issues. Decision-making would still have to lie with Ministers and Cabinet, but the fact that modern policy-making require a stronger center is recognized by everyone except the current officials in the Cabinet Office.
I would add the idea of having Prime Ministerial Regional Envoys or in the cases where Britain has a large-scale, multi-departmental commitment, like Afghanistan, Resident Ministers, such as Harold Macmillan’s role in Austria, Duff Coooper’s in Singapore and Oliver Lyttelton’s in Cairo during World War II. These individuals would have the clout to manage all departmental interests, have a direct link to Parliament (and so could keep the arguments for interventions alive) and ensure the necessary delegation of authority. Their constituency duties could be dealt with like the Speaker’s. Now that I’m thinking about the subject, I’d add the previously-floated ideas of upgrading the UK military representative in the U.S to a Deputy Chief of the Defence Staff akin to John Dill’s role during WW II.
To get the right kind of people supporting missions, the report recommends a National Security Professional Corps and a National Security Strategic Human Capital Plan to identify and secure the human capital capabilities necessary. Here too the Conservative Party should take note. Though there are Arabists in the Foreign Office and micros-finance specialists in DfiD, Britain does not really have a cadre of national security professionals. And why not? National security work is, after all, the most imrpotant kind of work and now cuts across all departments so it makes sense to create a career-path and incentives for people.
As changes cannot only happen in the Executive branch. The report therefore recommends the establishment of Select Committees on National Security in the Senate and House of Representatives. This, too, makes sense in Britain where the various Select Committees tread on each others toes, and fail to provide oversight of cross-department issues. A Lords/House Select Committee on National Security seems like a good idea.
The next election will not be fought on defence policy and few have been won on the strength of bureaucratic reforms. But the Tories will need to have serious ideas ready if they hope to change the country’s foreign and security policy. This U.S report shows how it can be done.