16 November 2018

Oxford Research Group’s Remote Warfare Programme recently submitted evidence to the Joint Committee on the National Security Strategy’s (JCNSS) inquiry into the “opaque” Conflict, Stability and Security Fund (CSSF). The submission written by RWP covers two areas of interest set by the inquiry’s terms of reference, detailed below:

1. The balance between crisis and long-term responses to conflict.

In response, we raise several key issues:

  • The National Security Council (NSC) has provided a valuable addition to the machinery of government. However, there remain barriers to external input from parliamentary committees and subject experts to NSC-level decision-making, owing to present and past governments’ apprehension about providing information about priorities set at the NSC.
  • While there are good reasons for some aspects of the NSC’s deliberations to remain secret, there is evidence from contemporary military campaigns that initial efforts to implement a broader, post-conflict strategy in countries like Iraq, Syria and Libya, have become over-shadowed by narrow counter-terrorism objectives. This has had the effect of potentially contributing to future challenges at the political level—for example, by arming the Iraqi Peshmerga.
  • Having a better understanding of how priorities set at the NSC-level are implemented across Whitehall would help improve understanding of how governments plan for and manage these scenarios.
  • The ‘new’ Fusion Doctrine will simply be a rehash of past efforts to implement a ‘whole-of-government’ approach on matters of national security if it does not include a broader cultural shift.

2. The effectiveness of democratic oversight over the day-to-day coordination of the CSSF.

In response, we raise these key issues from our analysis:

  • British governments have become increasingly reliant on Defence Engagement (DE), designated as a ‘non-combat’ task, to counter threats posed by international terrorism by building partner capacity in an era post-Iraq & Afghanistan where governments have felt constrained by an environment of low political risk.
  • Not all projects supported by the CSSF are classified as DE, however, there are no guidelines on where DE ends and other activities begin. Furthermore, little information is released to the public detailing the type of engagements marked DE; how effective these engagements are; or how much they cost.
  • The inconsistent presentation of projects, as well as programme summaries that often do little to demonstrate stringent review processes, are among the greatest concerns we have for the oversight mechanisms in place to hold CSSF-funded projects to account.
  • While it is a welcome development that the CSSF has recognised the value of providing performance reviews, this will remain meaningless if the reporting simply becomes a mere ‘box-ticking’ The review process should instead represent critical analysis of progress on the ground in a way that contributes to future improvements in CSSF projects, as well as potentially increasing the likelihood of securing broader political aims.

You can read the full submission here.

Image credit: UK Parliament/Flickr