UK intelligence architecture needs further reform
Posted on 27/07/2012
The UK’s national security framework, in particular the COBRA system, requires further reform, according to a report published today by think tank, the Bow Group. The report says attempts by the Coalition Government to change the status quo have not yet had the desired effect and further reforms are urgently needed.
Dr James Boys, report author and Visiting Senior Research Fellow in the Department of Middle East and Mediterranean Studies at King’s, says that the ad-hoc nature of COBRA, the cabinet committee that deals with major crises such as terrorism or natural disasters, should be replaced with a new National Security Operation Centre, designed as a hub for operational command and control of missions and crisis management.
Dr Boys said: ‘COBRA is simply a room in the Cabinet Office. As such it is indicative of an ad hoc approach to national security that has endured for far too long. The UK needs a US style situation room designed to meet the requirements of the 21st century, especially as the UK plays host to a range of international events including the Olympic Games.
In Intelligence Design: UK National Security in a Changing World Dr Boys examines the considerable developments that have occurred under the Coalition Government and applauds efforts to reform a system that has previously relied on a chaotic, ad-hoc approach, but he calls for further adjustments to be made as a matter of urgency to ensure adherence to manifesto commitments and to maintain a rigorous national security capability.
In a series of recommendations, Dr Boys urges the Government to reconsider the national security infrastructure. He says the National Security Secretariat, which supports the National Security Council, should be recalibrated to bring in recognised experts from the private sector: ‘Only consulting with civil servants bypasses outside elements that could bring fresh insight and reduce the politicisation of foreign policy decision-making.’
Dr Boys recommends that the preparation of the National Security Strategy, produced each term, should be institutionalised and be seen as a priority for every future, incoming Government, requiring a dedicated National Security Secretariat that is tasked with horizon scanning and the requisite long-term analysis.
In his report, Dr Boys says that the considerable Americanisation of the country’s security infrastructure seen in recent years is positive but says the Government must go the extra mile to ensure that these changes are not just surface-level but firmly structured and integrated.
He said: ‘The Joint Strategy Board - a US-UK transatlantic council intended as a forum for the UK and US to exchange issues, concerns and strategies around national security and initiated when President Obama visited the UK last year - is a good example of this. It should be retained, strengthened and institutionalised. Meetings should take place on a regular basis which will promote unity and increase the flow of intelligence and communication. It should be extended beyond its initial mandate and be incorporated more fully into strategic decision-making on both sides of the Atlantic.’
In the report, Dr Boys says the National Security Secretariat must dramatically improve the approach it takes to the Joint Committee on the National Security Strategy. Materials should be produced on time and the Committee shown more respect by members of the National Security Secretariat who on occasion have been very slow in producing requested materials. It is currently a ‘woefully under-utilised resource’, he says.
Dr Boys highlights the appointment of successive establishment figures, rather than a strategist, to the role of National Security Adviser as unsurprising but disappointing. He said: ‘The role will struggle to develop if it remains a mere secretary to the National Security Council. The challenge will be to incorporate original thinking into a role that also necessitates a bureaucratic mindset and an appreciation of how politics operates across the Cabinet Office, Whitehall and the National Security Secretariat.’
Former Defence Secretary, Rt. Hon. Dr. Liam Fox MP, who wrote the foreword, welcomed the report saying it provided a meaningful analysis of the current status of the UK’s intelligence architecture. He said: ‘As the report stresses, the changes introduced by the Coalition Government are a welcome step in the right direction, but further changes are required to ensure that our intelligence community remains fit for purpose in the 21st century. It is in the long-term interest of the country for the Coalition Government to urgently address the current system and I hope that it notes the recommendations made in this paper.’
Dr Boys concludes: ‘The initial efforts by Her Majesty’s Government to implement changes to the national security architecture demonstrate a willingness to challenge the status quo and to initiate reform. The reforms implemented to date have been necessary but not sufficient. Having commenced the process, the Government should continue these reforms to ensure the safety and well-being of the nation and the stability of its foreign relations.’
Further media information
Dr Boys is available for interview. Please contact Anna Mitchell, PR Manager on firstname.lastname@example.org or 0207 848 3092.
View the full report: Intelligence Design: UK National Security in a Changing World.
The Bow Group
The Bow Group, currently in its 60th year, is a leading Conservative think tank based in London. Michael Howard, Norman Lamont and Peter Lilley have all held the Bow Group chairmanship, and in the 2010 General Election five recent members of the Bow Group Council were elected to the House of Commons.
To hear more about the UK's national security infrastructure and whether it's fit for purpose, listen to our podcast with Dr James D. Boys from the Department of Middle East & Mediterranean Studies.