Defence and security put ‘at risk’ by ignoring parliamentary government

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An independent analysis published in this month's Journal argues that defence and security need to be overseen in parallel by Government and Parliament. 

Writing in the Journal of the Royal United Services Institute (RUSI), published on 15 February 2007, Professor Gwyn Prins and Lord Salisbury have suggested that 'flabby and bogus strategic thinking' is a fundamental source of danger to the security of the United Kingdom. Their article expresses the consensus of an influential group of former military chiefs, diplomats, analysts and academics.

The authors' views are their own and do not necessarily reflect those of the Institute. 

To address strategic risks and threats coherently, consistently and effectively, the paper calls for radical constitutional innovation in the form of new twin Whitehall and parliamentary committees, that would have a similar effect to the Monetary Policy Committee at the Bank of England, which removed control of interest rates from the political arena. The twin committees would draw together all the threads of government relating to defence and security to meet the global risks and threats of today.

The article, which expresses the consensus view of former military chiefs, diplomats, analysts and academics*, claims the proposed committee structure could help to repair the 'severe erosion of confidence' and support between the British people, their government and Britain’s security and defence forces.

The shifting complex of risks now facing Britain has left the country in a 'confused and vulnerable condition', write Professor Prins and Lord Salisbury, and there are 'uneasy similarities' today with the years before the First World War.

Arguing for the new structure of committees with 'an important symbolic function, as well as a practical one', the paper suggests they would 'demonstrate to the public that the widest view of defence and security was taken within government, and within Parliament. It would show and ensure that the whole range of risks and threats was being managed.'

'It would reduce the appearance of short-term political advantage in the deployment of our defence forces and promote acceptance of necessary provision for defence and security. Most importantly, it would preserve and safeguard the authority of Parliament.'

Echoing concerns from the five former Chiefs of Defence Staff, who complained about the mismatch between military commitments and funding on 22 November 2007 in the House of Lords, the paper claims such a mismatch leaves the United Kingdom 'open to ambush'.

Co-author Professor Prins, an expert on international security at the London School of Economics (LSE), said:

'The United Kingdom can only take the risk of a bare-bones defence and security establishment if we are sure of the shape of the threat. Today we are not, and cannot be. Britain’s defence forces have been reduced during a decade of over-use, under-funding and general under-provision relative to that use. Defence and security must be restored as the first duty of government.'

'The radical constitutional proposals in the article express the consensus of a private seminar series which met at intervals between May 2006 and January 2008. They go far beyond the horizons of party politics because they respond to a progressive and recently accelerated marginalisation of Parliament. The remedy is forceful and draws on our powerful constitutional inheritance. It demands that Parliament be taken more – not less – seriously. Only by vigorous exercise will its flaccid muscles regain their proper strength.'

The RUSI Journal article also explains how current and future risks can turn into threats to the United Kingdom. It identifies six groups of such risks ranging from international terrorism, climate change, and the 'simultaneous weakening' of supranational institutions - the UN, EU and NATO - to a re-emerging Russia buoyed by the 'ferocity of a new nationalism'.

Those participating in the formulation of this article included Sir Mark Allen, Vice Admiral Sir Jeremy Blackham, Chris Donnelly, Field Marshal the Lord Inge, Tom Kremer, Lord Leach, Baroness Park of Monmouth, Douglas Slater, General Sir Rupert Smith and Professor Hew Strachan.

Notes for Editors

  1. The Journal is the leading publication of the Royal United Services Institute (RUSI). Published six times a year by the Taylor & Francis Group, it is an internationally recognised authority on defence and security issues.
  2. RUSI is an independent think-tank for defence and security. RUSI is a unique institution; founded in 1831 by the Duke of Wellington, it embodies nearly two centuries of forward thinking, free discussion and careful reflection on defence and security matters.
  3. An embargoed copy of the article is attached and can also be viewed online here
  4. For all media enquiries please contact Daniel Sherman
  5. Gwyn Prins is a Professor at the London School of Economics. Robert Salisbury is the Marquess of Salisbury and a Privy Councillor. Sir Mark Allen is a retired member of HM Diplomatic Service; Vice Admiral Sir Jeremy Blackham is a former Deputy Chief of the Defence Staff; Chris Donnelly a Director of the Institute of State & Governance, Oxford and Senior Fellow of the Defence Academy; Field Marshal the Lord Inge is a former Chief of Defence Staff; Tom Kremer is author of ‘The Missing Heart of Europe’; Lord Leach is an international banker; Baroness Park of Monmouth is a former member of SIS and diplomat; Douglas Slater is a former Clerk of the House of Lords; General Sir Rupert Smith is a former Deputy Supreme Allied Commander Europe and author of The Utility of Force: The Art of War in the Modern World; and Professor Hew Strachan is Chichele Professor of the History of War at All Souls College, Oxford.
  6. Professor Gwyn Prins will be available for interview Thursday afternoon and Friday. All bids to come through Daniel Sherman,

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