UK Defence Decision-Making: Still Broken

May 19, 2015

As the election approached Parliamentary Committees were clearing the decks and one of gems that you may have missed came from the Defence Committee on Decision-Making in Defence Policy. Guess what? It’s still rubbish.

The report looks at five decisions: the decision to deploy UK forces to Helmand, Afghanistan in 2005 and the decision to disperse available forces in small bases the following year; the 1998 decision to build aircraft carriers without catapults and rely on the short take off/vertical landing version of the F-35, the decision in 2010 to switch to catapults and the 2012 reversal of this.

In all of these cases there was a disturbing lack of clarity about how decisions were reached, who made the decisions and an absence of knowledge about the implications of those decisions.

The report looks at two set of reforms that were intended to improve things the 2011 Levene report on the Ministry of Defence and the creation of the National Security Council.

The Committee, consistent with previous reports, are less than convinced that these have helped that much. The Levene reforms have downgraded the role of the service chiefs of staff in strategic decision-making. NSC discussions tend to ignore prepared papers. There is a general lack of interest in strategy, decision-makers lack knowledge of strategic issues, even senior military officers lack the advanced education of their American counterparts. Civil service reforms aimed at increasing mobility across Whitehall and between the Civil Service and the outside world have had the effect of placing a premium on general management skills and have downgraded specialist expertise.

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