It’s good to be back at Chatham House.
Two and a half years ago Pauline Neville-Jones and I were here to launch the report from the Conservative Party policy group on national security. Today we’re here to explain how we would apply those ideas in government. It’s our plan for a world where there’s no neat split between domestic and foreign policy.
A world where droughts in the Arabian Gulf peninsula can spark terrorism and civil war where an outbreak of flu in Mexico can trigger a pandemic which races across the whole world and where cyber attacks aren’t just threatening companies but whole countries too. This is the world we are in today.
But here in Britain we still look at this changed world through the lens of institutions which fundamentally haven’t changed since the end of the Cold War. So we’ve got a defence department which isn’t equipped to deliver homeland security, a development department which has been giving more money to the world’s fastest growing economy than to war-torn, poverty-stricken, drought-hit Yemen and a Foreign Office which, despite our historic links with the region and the threads which run through our present problems, has simply not paid enough attention to the Gulf states. We can’t go on like this.
So today we’re setting out in detail our plans for a proper national security approach. Let me be clear. This isn’t some re-branding exercise, a nod towards new thinking, an attempt to paper over the cracks while time slips away.
I’m talking about one of the most radical departures in security policy we’ve seen in decades, doing away with the disconnected policies of the present and putting in place a new, connected approach for the future.
Part of that is about new machinery of government. We were the first Party to call for a National Security Council. We were the first Party to suggest a Security Minister. And we’re the only Party that’s said we need a full-time National Security Adviser.
Over the past few years, there’s been some movement towards a more joined-up system. But it’s not gone anything like far or fast enough. So with these plans, we will set up a new, streamlined and decisive National Security Council, which will meet from day one of a Conservative Government and serve as a de facto War Cabinet for the duration of our Afghanistan campaign.
The Council will have its own staff, its own subcommittees, a full-time national security adviser, and the power to develop cross-departmental budgets for national security. It will be responsible for all decisions on national security, oversee a long-overdue Strategic Defence and Security Review and plan ahead for the future problems we might face.
But this isn’t just about machinery – or even mainly about machinery. This is about a method, a way of doing things.
Take the way we handle threats from abroad. For a start, we need to do much better at stopping wars from ever starting and that means really focussing on the causes of conflicts and then joining all that together to make sure that DfID and the Foreign Office deliver a really tight, tied-up, progressive approach.
We’ve also got to think through much more carefully whether Britain should get involved in a foreign conflict, and if so, how to cope with the consequences. And then if we do intervene and send troops to fight in a foreign country, there should be a proper reconstruction force ready and waiting to deliver a stabilisation strategy as soon as the fighting stops.
The same thinking also applies to the way we handle threats here in Britain. So there’s not much point having tougher laws to deport people who are a threat to Britain if at the same time we don’t have a proper border police force to stop unwanted people from coming in.
There’s not much point saying that the military need to be more closely involved in emergency planning if the police and fire services don’t know exactly how many soldiers they can count on when the time comes. And, as Pauline and Sayeeda Warsi have argued so powerfully throughout the past few years, if we’re serious about stopping extremism, we’ve got to make sure that our anti-terrorism legislation doesn’t clamp down on those freedoms we’re trying to defend.
But it’s not just about the people and the places which are a threat to us. It’s also about thinking about the kinds of things that could go wrong. We need to plan for pandemics, energy crises and water stoppages. And in particular for what I believe is a growing cyber threat.
We know that there are hundreds of thousands of cyber-attacks and crimes against British businesses every year. Against government and the public sector, there may be many more. As technology and computers and the internet become bigger and bigger parts of our lives, the effect of cyber warfare will become more pronounced.
You only have to look at the so-called “Clickskrieg” against Estonia in 2007 – which crippled the government and the banking sector and almost brought the entire country to a halt – for a sign of how serious a major attack could be.
I want Britain to be prepared and proactive and ready to deal with all kinds of cyber attacks. So today we’re announcing plans for a new Cyber Threat and Assessment Centre to provide exactly that.
New machinery, new methods, a new way of thinking about national security. But there’s also another key ingredient of a successful national security strategy. Trust.
We have to take people with us and make sure that people trust the system. But over the last few years, this has gone badly wrong. It’s hard to overestimate the damage that second dossier did to our political system. It’s made people suspicious of something they should frankly always be able to rely on:
Let me be clear: The Prime Minister will determine whether intelligence assessments should or should not be published. Political advisers will not be permitted to change intelligence assessments, and any publication of an assessment should only be done by the Joint Intelligence Committee, with the express clearance and approval of the JIC. And we will end the culture of spin by making sure that decisions about national security are taken formally, not on the sofa but round a table, and with all the right people sitting round the table
In the end though, there’s only so much you can do to create a water-tight system. So ultimately, the important thing is about the people you hire. And if you hire responsible people, people you really trust who want to lift politics up not stoop down to its lowest level, then you have your best guarantee against dodgy dossiers.
So the changes I have set out today will fix a lot of the problems we have seen in recent years.
A failure to weigh carefully the consequences of intervention and to plan for the aftermath. A failure to equip our forces properly when we send them into harm’s way. A failure to harness all the disparate resources of the government so they pull together rather than pull against each other. Above all, a failure to tackle domestic and foreign security issues in the round.
It’s a big cultural change, and it will start on the first day of a Conservative government.