A collaborative blog for Current Affairs and Policy Debate

The National Security Council of the UK

In Uncategorized on March 4, 2010 at 8:57 pm

By Stephen Wan

Perhaps its just my fervent imagination, but for some reason I feel the UK’s political system is falling closer and closer to the USA’s; the growth of presidentialism, the creation of the Supreme Court, the creation of the quasi-federal state, and now a “National Security Council” is to be created in the UK.

I’m not going to pretend this is new news – Brown made a big deal about creating it in late 2007/early 2008. However, it seems to have disappeared from Labour’s agenda, as either the body hasn’t come into being, or its so secret that I can’t find any record of it. The Conservatives, on the other hand, seem a bit more keen on it, as Cameron releases plans for the NSC to ‘bring together the work of different government departments“. I’d recommand taking a quick look at page 8 onwards of the Conservative Green Paper on National Security.

I’m not going to claim to be an expert on what the NSC will become, or how government departments interact, or the impacts it will have etc. However, I’m going to make some educated guesses at the impacts and effects of a NSC, and try to draw some general conclusions from it. I’m therefore going to focus on what the Conservative’s proposal is, since they’re the only party really talking about it.

Firstly, the NSC is essentially a spruced up “Joint Intellignce Committee”, which is responsible for directing intelligence services in the UK for the cabinet, as well as advising them about security, defence and foregin affairs. That’s not to say the NSC will replace the JIC; I’m not sure anyone’s said anything like that. However, considering the NSC will include the Heads of Security and intellignce services, as well as permanent secretaries, it seems highly likely that the JIC will be made redundent. As the NSC will be responsibly for developing a long-term strategy for the UK’s security, it will have oversight on foreign affairs, the military, and sometimes economic issues – the Chancellor of the Exechequer will be a member as well.

However, the Conservatives are making some sneaky noises around the NSC, in regards to overseas development aid. They have promised to keep international aid at 0.7% of British GDP – now they’re saying what the army spends in overseas development should also be counted as well. The NSC is a pretty convenient way, by combining a fund for the home office and the foreign office, for that kind of money shifting to be done.

Secondly, I think the creation of a NSC, if the USA’s NSC is anything to go by, will be one of the most important creations of a new Conservative government. The powerful link between foreign policy and national security, perhaps obvious in our eyes but much harder to coordinate in practise, will forge a unignorable forum that will create recommendations that will be difficult to refuse. The Prime Minister as well will head the forum – it could be seen as an extension of the office’s powers.

I point to the NSC in the USA for an example, who’s National Security Reports have dircted US policy constantly; NSC-68 for example has been called the ‘blueprint’ for the Cold War, shaping US foreign policy for 20 years since its issue in 1950. The same could well happen here, as foreign policy in the UK is shaped by a powerful but small group of cabinet ministers, civil servants and intellignce and army chiefs.

There’s not much else to conclude without going into even more speculation; it may be that the Tories do not win the General Election, and Labour forget about the idea. Cameron wants to do it all-party appointments style, but senior Conservatives are fairly opposed to this. Perhaps in the end, this will be just another minor committee lost in Whitehall, relatively insignificant. However, I’d watch out for this; if you’re interested in our security, foreign policy, economic development, government plans to deal with climate change etc., you could well find the NSC of the UK calling the shots in the near future.


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