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JCNSS launches inquiry into national security machinery

4 January 2021

The Joint Committee on National Security Strategy (JCNSS) has launched an inquiry into how well the national security machinery operates. This inquiry launched following concerns highlighted in the Committee's recent Biosecurity and national security report and the urgent need to establish effective national security structures to prepare for future emergencies.

Scope of the inquiry

The Committee intends to examine:

  • how well the National Security Council (NSC) and Cabinet Office ensures that preparedness plans are resourced and exercised, and how their lessons are learned and implemented
  • how the NSC maintains its centrality in the policy-making process, sets ministerial direction and oversees implementation of national security decisions
  • the appropriate role and remit of the National Security Adviser (NSA), including the NSA’s required interaction with the NSC, COBR and ministers
  • the interaction of the NSC and COBR systems
  • the role of key Government departments and agencies in national security policy-making
  • the collection, use and analysis of data across national security relevant departments and the mechanism for the NSC collecting evidence to aid its decision-making
  • the coherence of the NSC committee structures as reshaped in this Parliament and further revised to address covid-19
  • how well funding and resources are linked to national security decisions 
  • how well the ‘Fusion Doctrine’ is embedded, learning the lessons from covid-19

The Committee also intends to examine the involvement of the NSC and NSA in shaping the Government's upcoming Integrated Review of Security, Defence, Development & Foreign Policy. Once it is published, the Committee will examine the machinery-of-government changes and their role in matching the provisional findings of the Integrated Review with Spending Review priorities.

Integrated Review of Security, Defence, Development & Foreign Policy

The machinery of national security is being examined in the Government’s Integrated Review of Security, Defence, Development & Foreign Policy.

When it launched the Integrated Review, it indicated that it would consider reforms to Whitehall that could facilitate “integrated policy-making and operational planning across departments and agencies. 

In its subsequent call for evidence in August 2020, it asked: “how should the UK change its governance of international policy and national security” and “how should UK systems and capabilities be reformed to improve the development and delivery of national strategy.”

In the same month, Lord Maude was asked to review the efficiency and effectiveness of the Cabinet Office and its centre of government functions.

Biosecurity and national security inquiry

In October 2020, the Committee wrote to the Prime Minister with provisional lessons from their Biosecurity inquiry, urging the Government to set out how the central national security machinery will be reformed and improved.

The Committee also urged the Government to explain how the organisational lessons of the covid-19 pandemic have been learned for the UK’s crisis and resilience management structures.

In our recent Biosecurity and national security report, the Committee saw a need for a stronger direction from the centre of Government.

In November 2020, the Government announced a multi-year financial settlement for the MoD, single-year spending plans for other departments, and some new initiatives on space, cyber and AI, all of which were presumably informed by broader security policy priorities. The Integrated Review itself remains unpublished.

Call for written evidence

The Committee is inviting written submissions by 31 March on these issues and intend to call for further submissions once the Integrated Review is published.

Further information

Image: CC, Matthew Hartley