The ‘golden thread’ of the National Security Strategy stems from the theme of ‘interconnectivity’, be that between security threats, their risks and drivers, the relationship between domestic and foreign policy, the state and the citizen or between the security agendas of the different departments that comprise the governance engine of the UK.
19 March 2008 - The much maligned and delayed National Security Strategy was at last presented to Parliament by the Prime Minister. It marks the end of a process that began in 2006 when Gordon Brown, the then-Chancellor, spoke of the need for a ‘seamless, integrated and politically overseen approach to national security’. Through his tenure as Prime Minister it has been evident that this has remained a key element of his thinking, and the eventual appearance of the National Security Strategy (NSS) is the culmination of months of drawing together the disparate facets of security thinking across government. The ‘golden thread’ of the document stems from the theme of ‘interconnectivity’, be that between security threats, their risks and drivers, the relationship between domestic and foreign policy, the state and the citizen or between the security agendas of the different departments that comprise the governance engine of the UK.
The empowerment of individuals through globalisation, and the technological advances that have been made in the last two decades, are seen as key drivers in creating a more complex, interconnected global environment. Security issues within this environment become far reaching in their impact and consequence, inviting the government to think more closely about the impact of foreign policy decisions upon the domestic security situation. The NSS reconceptualises the idea that threats to security should be viewed through those that are applicable to the ‘state’, broadening out its notion of national security to threats that impact upon the individual, e.g. natural disaster and pandemics. This is significant as it sets the tone for a more comprehensive and, for some, confusing examination of national security threats.
Indeed, the range of threats and risks to the UK examined are disparate and the NSS could be criticised for being too broad and lacking in depth on the issues covered. However, this would be missing the point. Once viewed as the genesis of pan-governmental, joined-up thinking on security, it becomes a more valuable piece of documentation. For government, this document provides a basis upon which it can centre its thinking and actions to the security dilemmas of the day. For the public, the NSS is a window into the multi-layered security issues that government is considering, as well as the mechanisms that government has put in place to address these threats. Interestingly, the government has chosen to reveal the content of the National Risk Register compiled by the Civil Contingencies Secretariat, which will give the discerning individual a window into what the greatest risks to their security could be.
This could surprise some, as while there is a perception that terrorism poses the greatest threat to individual security, the National Risk Register may well paint a different picture. However, this should not pre-empt society to panic about impending doom, as Dan Gardner states: ‘We are the healthiest, wealthiest and longest-lived people in history. And we are increasingly afraid. This is one of the greatest paradoxes of our time’. Yet it is encouraging that the doors are being opened to the public so that they can make a value judgement themselves on the threats that they and the UK face both here and abroad.
The NSS marks a useful progression in the Government’s approach to security. It lays the foundations for a more informed decision-making process within government, which if guided properly could lead to increasingly reasoned and effective security decisions being made. A note of caution needs to be raised, though: to be truly effective, the NSS will rely a great deal on the mechanisms for implementation that will be revealed over the coming months, otherwise it could loose traction within the departments that agreed it and become a useful idea that is left behind due to its obvious complexities.
 Cracknell, D. and Leppard, D. (2006) – ‘Brown: I’ll be Terror Overlord”, The Sunday Times, 12 November. Available online: http://www.timesonline.co.uk/tol/news/uk/article634497.ece
 10 Downing Street (2007) – ‘Gordon Brown outlines his security strategy’ 25 July. Available online: http://www.number-10.gov.uk/output/Page12678.asp
 Gardner, D. (2008) – Risk – The Science and Politics of Fear, Virgin Books, London.
The views expressed above are the author's own, and do not necessarily reflect those of RUSI