Whitehall 'lacking' long-term strategic thinking'

THE UK's national interest is threatened by a lack of strategic thinking at the heart of government, a committee of MPs warned today.

The cross-party Public Administration Select Committee identified a tendency for Whitehall to "muddle through" and pointed to the Iraq and Afghanistan wars as examples where there has been a lack of over-arching strategy.

They called for the remit of David Cameron's National Security Council and National Security Adviser Sir Peter Ricketts to be expanded to include a central co-ordinating role on national strategy.

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The committee's report comes on the day when Sir Peter unveils the National Security Review, which is expected to identify terrorism and cyber-attacks as the two biggest threats facing the UK.

Today's PASC report welcomed Foreign Secretary William Hague's promise earlier this year that the new coalition Government would "develop a national strategy for advancing our goals in the world".

But it warned the UK's capacity to think strategically had been undermined by long-standing assumptions that national interests are best served by the special relationship with the USA and economic links within the European Union.

"Uncritical acceptance of these assumptions has led to a waning of our interests in, and ability to make, national strategy," said the committee.

"Recent events such as 9/11, climate change and the banking crisis are making us think differently about the world, but require us to find the means by which we can anticipate and understand these challenges and devise an appropriate response to them.

"If we now have a renewed need for National Strategy, we have all but lost the capacity to think strategically. We have simply fallen out of the habit, and have lost the culture of strategy making."

The report cited a warning last December from Chief of Defence Staff Sir Jock Stirrup, who said that in his view the UK had "lost an institutionalised capacity for and culture of strategic thought".

The committee called for changes to civil service career appraisal systems to reward strategic thinking and said a small budget should be committed to enabling central co-ordination of strategic thinking across Whitehall.

Committee chair Bernard Jenkin said: "We welcome the new Government's aspiration to think more strategically, but when we tried to find out who actually does UK national strategy, virtually all the evidence we took suggests the answer is 'no-one'."