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Dr James D Boys: National Security - The Government has made a good start, but there's a lot more to do

Dr Boys is a Senior Visiting Research Fellow at King’s College London and a Transatlantic Research Fellow at the Bow Group. The report on which this article is based, Intelligence Design, can be accesed HERE.

Protecting its citizens at times of crisis should be a top priority for any government.  In order to protect citizens effectively, decision-making structures in the executive must be both efficient and robust. However, as the twenty-first century continues to evolve in ways few could have forecast, many Western powers appear to be struggling to adequately project their military power as they face a host of global challenges, not least of which is a restrictive economic environment that has curtailed defence expenditure and costly overseas initiatives.

In an effort to address contemporary challenges the Coalition Government has initiated a series of changes to the UK national security architecture. In May 2010 it configured a National Security Council, and a year later President Obama and Prime Minister David Cameron announced the establishment of a Joint Strategy Board to formalise the longstanding security and intelligence links between the United Kingdom and the United States. The Government has also published a National Security Strategy (NSS) in an effort to ensure that policies and procedures are adequate for today’s security, military and intelligence-led requirements.

Of all the responsibilities of Her Majesty’s Government, none are more pressing or more challenging than those surrounding national security. With the accompanying challenges of political violence, debates surrounding the role of the state and the rights of citizens, budgetary decisions and the difficulties of long-term planning in a short-term political environment, the decisions that are made in this sphere go to the very core of a government’s responsibility to protect the nation and its citizens.

The role of UK intelligence has a direct bearing on every man, woman and child, for it is the unseen first line of defence and offence, in a continuing struggle with those forces who would inflict harm on our people, our nation and its institutions.  It is, alas, a regular casualty of budgetary cuts and short-term political manipulation. Matters of such national importance require long-term, cross party collaboration to ensure that national security is not compromised as a result of party political machinations.

The Government has recognised the need to update the national security architecture following the ad hoc approach taken by too many administrations over too many years. Through a Cold War and a War on Terror the decision-making process in Downing Street was far too lax and gave rise to justifiable criticism relating to issues of accountability and transparency. With the implications for potential miscalculation already high enough in this area, it should be logical that any steps that can be taken to aid policymakers would be welcomed. As President John F. Kennedy observed, “Domestic policy can only defeat us, foreign policy can kill us.” Whilst the threats that confront the United Kingdom, her citizens and allies are very different in magnitude and scope than from the days of the Cold War, the implications of failure in the field’s of foreign, military and security policy are nonetheless just as serious.

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. The Coalition Government has done a great deal to implement change in a system that is notoriously change-averse. However, whilst this is to be welcomed, these reforms should be seen as the first in a series of steps taken to make sure that the U.K. intelligence architecture can cope with the demands placed upon it in a constantly changing and challenging geopolitical environment.


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