Cablegate: A Collective Yawn Greets Hmg's First National Security Strategy
RR RUEHFL RUEHKW RUEHLA RUEHROV RUEHSR
DE RUEHLO #1001/01 0991205
ZNY CCCCC ZZH
R 081205Z APR 08
FM AMEMBASSY LONDON
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC 8185
INFO RUEHZL/EUROPEAN POLITICAL COLLECTIVE
C O N F I D E N T I A L SECTION 01 OF 03 LONDON 001001
STATE FOR EUR/WE
EO 12958 DECL: 03/25/2018
TAGS PREL, PGOV, PTER, EAID, ECON, UK
SUBJECT: A COLLECTIVE YAWN GREETS HMG’S FIRST NATIONAL SECURITY STRATEGY
REF: A. LONDON 825 B. EMBASSY LONDON DAILY REPORT - APRIL 3 (NOTAL) C. EMBASSY LONDON DAILY REPORT- MARCH 20 (NOTAL) D. STATE 33008 (NOTAL)
Classified By: Political Minister-Counselor Maura Connelly for reasons 1.4 (b) and (d)
1. (C/NF) Summary. Criticism and indifference from British political leaders, foreign policy analysts, and media greeted the publication of HMG’s first National Security Strategy (NSS), an initial reaction echoed in many of the Whitehall ministries to which the NSS was directed. UK opposition leaders and most of the UK media criticized the NSS as an undifferentiated “laundry list” of possible security and natural disaster threats that provided no strategic guidance on how to address these challenges or how to prioritize resources among them. The NSS’ publication was little more than a 24-hour news cycle story for the UK media and produced surprisingly little op-ed comment. An FCO contact tells us the NSS is at the moment “collecting dust” in drawers. In two recent high-profile speeches on UK foreign policy priorities (ref A and B), Foreign Secretary Miliband made no explicit reference to the NSS. Several Whitehall officials noted that their suggestions for the NSS were ignored by the Cabinet Office drafters and so there is little “buy-in” from Whitehall ministries. So far, there has been no movement on implementing the NSS’ recommendation to create a “National Security Forum.” The other major NSS recommendation for government action -- creation of 1000-strong civilian reconstruction corps -- was dismissed by the head of HMG’s existing Stabilization Unit as simply a pulling together of existing programs under a new name undertaken without consultation with him. In the end, whatever the future of the NSS’ specific recommendations, what is disappointing, and troubling, about the NSS’ indifferent reception is that the Brown Government -- and UK political establishment writ large -- may have missed the opportunity for a national discussion on the evolving security threats that do face the country. Full NSS text is available at . End Summary.
Released with Fanfare
2. (SBU) Given a high profile launch on the floor of the House of Commons March 19 by Prime Minister Brown himself, the NSS, subtitled “Security in an Interdependent World,” was the product of a six-month effort by a specifically tasked Cabinet office team to draft HMG’s first comprehensive national security strategy. Members of the Brown Cabinet were dispatched immediately following the release of the NSS to discuss the document with British media; copies of the NSS were made available on government websites. Although members of the drafting team cited the USG’s own National Security Strategy document as a model, the NSS they produced has little in common with its U.S. counterpart. The NSS is a 60-page document that declares up front that national security has “broadened beyond protection of the state and its vital interests from attacks by other states” to “include threats to individual citizens and to our way of life.” For that reason the NSS deals with issues such as trans-national crime, global poverty, pandemics, and flooding, as well as addressing traditional national security threats like terrorism and hostile states. Instead of stating a half dozen broad principles and tactics to guide the approach to countering current threats, as the U.S. security strategy does, the NSS lists with great specificity the range of threats facing the UK and details all the various resources -- domestic and international -- to be used to counter them.
But Greeted with Disdain
3. (SBU) Although one media commentator speculated that the inclusion of issues like preventing a repeat of the floods that struck the UK last summer and avian flu outbreaks was meant to make the NSS “more relevant and interesting to the broader British public,” the result in reality was to spark a round of criticism of the NSS as nothing more than committee-drafted laundry list of the issues du jour: The Times, in an editorial, summed up this vein of attack when it called the NSS “a maypole dance of warnings woven together with none dominant.” The Daily Telegraph agreed and said that the result was a “damp squib” that gave no guidance or sense of priority on how to counter the “Chinese menu” of threats it listed.
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4. (U) Opposition political leaders were willing to praise the Brown Government’s effort to develop a security strategy, but echoed the charge the NSS failed to outline a real strategy. Conservative Party leader David Cameron, in his response in the Commons, said a NSS was necessary and offered the Labour Government praise for taking on the “challenge of providing strategic direction,” singling out the NSS’ discussions of the threats from global terrorism and nuclear proliferation as useful. But Cameron went on to charge that the NSS failed to provide meaningful long-term strategic thinking on how to address the list of threats it outlined. Cameron was critical that the NSS proposal to create a “National Security Forum” -- an organization to bring together representatives from local and central governments, joined by experts from parliament, academia and the private sector, to discuss emerging threats and how to address them -- merely set up “another talk shop.” Cameron instead called for the creation of a UK body modeled on the National Security Council in the United States to better coordinate HMG and other governments’ work on security issues. Liberal Democratic Leader Nick Clegg echoed Cameron’s remarks when he said the NSS was valuable, but “failed to provide useful guidance on how to prepare long-term” to address the UK’s security threats.
5. (SBU) A March 20 roundtable discussion on the NSS, hosted by King’s College London, captured well the reaction of UK foreign policy commentators. Dr. John Gearson, a professor of international relations at King,s College, welcomed the effort to draft a security strategy and said the NSS offered a “good description of the 21st century threats” the UK faces, but, he told the audience, “unfortunately, it is not a strategy” and called the NSS as drafted “a lost opportunity.” John Reid, former Labour Home and Defense Secretary, while admitting that the NSS “did not do itself
SIPDIS justice,” argued that it was possible to “extract some strategic guidelines” from the text. Reid welcomed the NSS as an attempt to think long-term and praised it for recognizing that, because of the nature of the threat of terrorism, the UK needs more national effort in crafting its response. Reid acknowledged, however, that while all of these points are mentioned in the NSS, it was “a pity” that they are not more clearly enunciated. Echoing these comments, Sir David Ormond, a former Security and Intelligence Coordinator within HMG, called the NSS a “necessary step,” but added that “given its length and detail” it will take time for many to understand the big concepts that he found in the document -- the need to strengthen the ability to respond to threats from cyber attacks and national disasters, building healthy communities to resist radicalization, and developing guidelines for the responsible use of power overseas. Ormond praised the NSS for posing these challenges as part of government thinking and the national debate on what security means in the 21st century, but added that the NSS lacked “long-term strategic thinking on how to actually move these concepts forward.”
Off the National Front Page Quickly
6. (SBU) The NSS gained little media traction and was off the front pages within a day of its release. It has thus far produced little op-ed or political commentary in mainstream UK media or journals. Neither of the two leading general political magazines of the left and right in the UK -- The New Statesman or The Specator -- gave the NSS editorial coverage. The opposition parties, after providing the initial responses discussed above, gave it no more public attention and it was not taken up by any of the political parties for further parliamentary discussion or debate.
7. (C/NF) The indifferent political and media reaction was matched by that of the Whitehall ministries at which the NSS was directed. An FCO contact in the North America Office told us the NSS already “is collecting dust in drawers” and would have no effect on his office’s work or its long-term planning. Post found this reaction in a range of FCO offices and at the MOD when the NSS was raised (Embassy comment. We caution, however, that Post has not had an opportunity to raise the NSS with the domestic security ministries -- Home Office or intelligence agencies -- so cannot speculate on whether the document had more effect at these offices. End comment.) Several HMG contacts described how their input to
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the Cabinet Office drafters of the NSS was ignored or rejected, which accordingly produced little sense of buy-in for the document from Whitehall ministries. Others noted that they were not consulted regarding the NSS’ specific recommendations for action that affected their direct responsibilities. Richard Teutten, head of HMG’s existing Stabilization Unit for post-conflict reconstruction (please protect), for example, told his USG counterpart, Ambassador John Herbst, the U.S. Coordinator for Reconstruction and Stabilization, during a March 20 meeting in London, that the NSS’ language on stabilization activities was not cleared by him. Teutten also said that the 1000-strong Civilian Stabilization Corps announced in the NSS was a re-hatting of existing programs. The Corps would be military reservists, not civilians, Teutten claimed, and the 269 million pounds (approx. 540 million USD) identified in the NSS for post-conflict stabilization work was “somewhat misleading” -- the figure was for three years and was already budgeted, including through the UN.
8. (C/NF) Shortly after the NSS’ public release, a senior staffer in the Foreign Secretary’s office told Poloff that the ideas and themes in the NSS were intended to be worked into the long-term planning and thinking at the Foreign Office and that the Foreign Secretary’s office would be responsible for “incorporating” the NSS into the Foreign Office’s work. The FCO staffer, however, could not identify any specific steps being taken to reflect the NSS findings in the Foreign Office’s work. It may be indicative of a disconnect that the Foreign Secretary himself has given two major speeches on UK foreign policy priorities -- one shortly before the release of the NSS and one two weeks later -- that contained no explicit mention of the NSS (refs A and B).
No Action Yet on Specific Recommendations
9. (C/NF) According to a member of the Cabinet Office unit responsible for drafting the NSS no action has been taken yet on the NSS’ specific recommendations for government action. No steps have been taken, for example, to identify participants in the National Security Forum. According to the NSS, HMG will publish an annual update of security threats and the progress made in implementing the NSS strategy. HMG was also to begin consultations with the political parties and Parliamentary authorities about how Parliament can play a role in implementation of the NSS strategies, but so far there has been no publicly announced action to move these plans forward.
10. (C/NF) The NSS was a major initiative of the Brown Government, which established a specific unit in the Cabinet office to oversee the drafting and coordination of the document, and gave the finished product a high-profile launch by Brown himself. The document’s unenthusiastic reception is as surprising as it must be frustrating to Downing Street. It is tempting to read the NSS as a reflection of the Brown approach to governing -- lots of detail, ensuring all possible policy factors are identified before decisions are reached, focused on improving Government process over articulating broad new strategies, and designed to be relevant to middle Britain at the risk of blurring its focus. It is a document that reflects the substantive strengths and communication failings of the Brown Government and may have little influence in or out of government. Wherever the blame is placed for the NSS’ indifferent reception, what is troubling is that the Brown Government -- and UK political establishment more largely -- may have missed an opportunity for a necessary national discussion on the evolving security threats that do face the UK.
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