NSS/SDSR 2015: The Missing Link


After many leaks, the full report of the National Security Strategy and Strategy and Defence Security Review 2015 (NSS/SDSR 2015) has been launched and released by the Government. In many ways, NSS/SDSR 2015 is a marked improvement on the NSS and SDSR of 2010 and is a demonstration of a procedural advance the first steps of which were taken in 2010. What I find most encouraging about this latest rendition is a fuller recognition that Britain’s security can only be provided by a wide range of government departments, and not simply defence. This ‘integrated approach’ to dealing with wide-ranging security threats is, of course, not completely new, but NSS/SDSR 2015 puts it more firmly at the heart of Britain’s national security strategy.

However, it is far easier to proclaim an ‘integrated approach’ to security than it is to deliver this, and this leads me to what I see as an important missing link in NSS/SDSR 2015 – How the UK security community can leverage existing knowledge within its various elements in order to work together effectively and efficiently to address Britain’s security challenges. In other words, how Britain’ security community can learn from each other, from allies, and ultimately innovate and generate new ways of working.

The importance of ‘innovation’ has been recognized for many years by one of the UK’s main allies, the United States. Through much of the 2000s, ‘transformation’ was the touchstone of US defence policy, and the traumatic experiences of Iraq and Afghanistan put ‘knowledge management’ and the timely identification of lessons front and center in US defence practice. Indeed, even the Quadrennial Defense Review of 2014 made ‘innovation’ a key aspect of US defence policy, stating:

Across the three pillars of the defense strategy, the Department is committed to finding creative, effective, and efficient ways to achieve our goals and in making hard strategic choices. Innovation – within our own Department and in our interagency and international partnerships – is a central line of effort. Infusing a culture of innovation and adaptability that yields tangible results into an organization as large as the Department of Defense is by necessity a long-term, incremental undertaking. We will actively seek innovative approaches to how we fight, how we posture our force, and how we leverage our asymmetric strengths and technological advantages. Innovation is paramount given the increasingly complex warfighting environment we expect to encounter.

So where is the recognition in NSS/SDSR 2015 that ‘innovation’ and learning are essential elements to realising its objectives? NSS/SDSR 2015 does mention innovation. It states: ‘Innovation – generating ideas and putting them into practice to overcome challenges and exploit opportunities – drives the UK’s economic strength, productivity and competiveness.’ Now, of course, technological innovation has been at the heart of revolutions throughout the history of conflict – the invention of aircraft, of tanks, of nuclear weapons all led to massive changes in how wars were conducted. Without corresponding development in the ideas about how to uses these technologies, however, they would be nothing.

And this is the problem with NSS/SDSR 2015. While it correctly identifies that new ways must be found of dealing with the myriad security threats facing the United Kingdom, it does not go far enough in developing how the UK security community is to work together to solve these problems. It envisions ‘innovation’ as something that happens purely in the economic and scientific realms. It does not identify the necessity for innovation and adaptation to bind together the often disparate elements of the UK security community. It does not create the aspiration, let alone the mechanisms, for sharing and utilizing the vast pools of knowledge that exist within the different elements of the UK security community. This is a shame, as I do not see how the United Kingdom can have a truly integrated approach to security challenges without a solid understand of the importance of innovation and learning as the link that ties its strategy together.

Image: Troops from the 3rd Battalion of the Parachute Regiment take part in riot control exercises. Photo courtesy of Defence Images.

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