United Kingdom Report



In his book Exporting Security, Derek Reveron defined ‘interagency’ as “an adjective to describe a process of bringing together elements from across the government and not a noun to describe an organization that brings solutions” (Reveron 2010: 181). That process should be viewed as an iterative one – or, in other words, government should learn by doing.
As this report has highlighted, initial efforts at establishing a WGA in the UK were blighted by a number of fairly predictable occurrences. Different organisational cultures led to a competition over status, agendas and resources. This competition was reduced, although not completely eliminated, through the provision of clear political direction. In the first instance, ministries were forced to work together owing to the fact that their funding was pooled. The establishment of formal committee structures to determine the allocation of resources and the co-location of personnel from the FCO, the MOD, the DFID, and other ministries and agencies in overseas missions led to improvements in informal networking, which in turn led to further adjustments being made in the formal architecture.
The responsiveness and resilience of any system is only demonstrated when that system is placed under stress. UK operations in Iraq and Afghanistan certainly provided a test for the system, and elements of it were deemed to have failed. Since the publication of the Chilcot Report in 2016 (Committee of Privy Councillors 2016), all political parties and government ministries have declared their desire to learn from the mistakes of the past, which has led to the establishment of new institutions and accountability mechanisms as well as the adoption of new doctrines. Thus, one can conclude that a critical enabler for a successful WGA is to encourage an organisational culture that is reflective and capable of learning from mistakes. Another key enabler is the provision of a unified purpose. The introduction of an NSS in 2008 (Cabinet Office 2008) and its subsequent linkage to a Strategic Defence and Security Review in 2010 (HM Government 2010) have succeeded in providing a conceptual framework for security from which all relevant ministries subsequently derive their purpose.
Britain’s assessment of its strategic context has changed dramatically since 1989. In the initial post-Cold War period, there was no apparent existential threat. Operational commitments in Sierra Leone and the Balkans were relatively contained. However, 9/11 and the subsequent wars in Afghanistan and Iraq fundamentally altered how the UK viewed its security. From 2002 onwards, the risk posed by international terrorism would increasingly dominate the security debate within the UK. The London bombings in July 2005 painfully demonstrated that interventions overseas could have dire consequences for domestic security. The case for a WGA was firmly made.
As of 2019, the United Kingdom has a formal and centralised system that provides direction and coordinates activity across government. There is an established system for assessing global trends and security risks. There is a process for the regular review and revision of the National Security Strategy and associated doctrines. Internal and external accountability mechanisms are being continuously refined, and substantial funds for conflict response and development assistance have been set aside and ring-fenced.
The publication of the NSCR in 2018 (HM Government 2018) and its unveiling of the Fusion Doctrine demonstrate that WGA has now become the cultural norm. Government officials acknowledge that the promotion of a WGA has contributed to the development of a wider perspective on issues, reduced the extent of competition among ministries, improved the delivery of security, and ensured greater cost-effectiveness. It has, however, taken over 20 years to achieve that. The final lessons are that it takes time to develop a WGA, and that it will always be subject to further revision.
The 2018 ‘Global Britain’ agenda (House of Commons Foreign Affairs Committee 2018) reflects the UK’s determination to remain a global player, upholding the rules-based international system and contributing to the furtherance of global prosperity, peace and security. While the UK’s future relationship with the EU remains in question, the desire to work on a multilateral basis to resolve conflict is not. In all the pronouncements on security that have been made in the last three years, there is a consistent recognition of the value of WGA, and that if the UK is to be a force for good in the world, then its overseas operations will need to be multi-phased, multi-dimensional, multi- level and multi-lateral. Given the consistency in policy prescriptions, we should expect to see modifications to WGA, specifically with reference to institutional and financial arrangements, as the British government seeks to operationalise the Fusion Doctrine. Now more than ever, the government needs to speak with one voice on security.
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