27 January 2014

The House of Commons Defence Select Committee published its report on its 2013 inquiry Towards the Next Defence and Security Review (DSR) on 7 January. The report cites written evidence from ORG’s Sustainable Security programme three times and upholds our key argument: that the next DSR will be unsatisfactory unless it has time to consider and respond to the national security threats that the next National Security Strategy (NSS) review process identifies.



The House of Commons Defence Select Committee published its report on its 2013 inquiry 'Towards the Next Defence and Security Review' (DSR) on 7 January 2014. The report cites written evidence from our Sustainable Security programme three times and upholds our key argument: that the next DSR will be unsatisfactory unless it has time to consider and respond to the national security threats that the next 'National Security Strategy (NSS)' review process identifies. Paragraph 77 of the Committee’s report states:

The National Security Adviser told us that there was “no precise timetable” for the production of the NSS, and that focus was currently on implementation of the 2010 SDSR rather than on preparation for DSR 2015. The Oxford Research Group called on us to do all we could to encourage the Government to “prioritise the updating of the NSS over the period of 2013–14 so that this document can genuinely inform the 2015 SDSR and give it a strong strategic rationale”. We support this view.

The Committee report also picked up on ORG’s argument that the next DSR is “a very important opportunity to shift the balance in concrete policy terms towards the tackling of ‘threats at source’”. This reflects our position that it is crucial that UK defence and security strategy addresses the causes of global conflict, not just its symptoms, and thus that military responses should not be prioritised over other means available to reduce insecurity.

This was a major flaw of the 2010 Strategic Defence and Security Review (SDSR), conducted simultaneously with the inaugural National Security Risk Assessment.  While the resultant NSS was a welcome identification of non-military threats to UK security, such as climate change, terrorism, cyber-attack, health pandemics and organised crime, it lacked an analysis of what drives these threats. The SDSR responded as if the major threat to UK security were a major nuclear or conventional attack by another state. Yet, the NSS identifies these as second and third tier risks in UK security priorities.

The Committee also cited ORG’s evidence about the changing character of warfare, not least the development and proliferation of armed drones, and its potential to undermine accountability of states employing violence. Remotely Piloted Aerial Systems were the subject of a further Defence Committee inquiry in 2013, to which the Network for Social Change’s Remote Control project (hosted by ORG) submitted evidence. The report of that inquiry is forthcoming. Meanwhile, the Government will be required to respond to the Defence Committee’s recommendations on the next DSR, including the scheduling of the NSS review and the DSR. 

The next two years will be a pivotal time for UK defence and security policy as the 2015 elections, strategic reviews and the 2016 ‘Main Gate’ decision on renewing Trident approach. Last year’s parliamentary veto on intervention in Syria, this year’s withdrawal of UK forces from Afghanistan and referendum on Scottish independence, the prospect of a 2017 referendum on UK withdrawal from the EU, and the continuing rise of non-western powers all present a very dynamic context to rethinking UK defence. 

As the next phase of its Rethinking UK Defence and Security Policies project, the Sustainable Security programme will be working throughout this period with UK Government, Parliament, political parties, military and civil society. We aim to bring upstream conflict prevention from development to defence discourse and to encourage UK policies that promote global as well as national security.

Read the evidence on the Houses of Parliament website

Image: The House of Commons sits for the first time in the new Parliament, following State Opening. The House of Commons Chamber is full for the first sitting of the new Parliament, following the Queens' Speech and State Opening of Parliament. Source: UK Parliament on Flickr (Photographer: Catherine Bebbington).