Monday, 17 June 2013
Dear Prime Minister,
We are students participating in the University of Exeter’s Grand Challenges programme. Our inquiry group, titled ‘Resetting the UK National Security Agenda’, is charged with assessing Britain’s National Security Strategy and considering how those aspects labelled “Tier One” might better serve the nation’s security agenda.
We believe that this is the area of the NSS with the most expansive potential. Malicious activity in cyberspace is a transnational issue and, indeed, we contend that it should also be considered a human security issue.
We therefore agree that cyber threats do qualify for Tier 1 status. As it currently exists, however, the cyber section of the NSS also demonstrates significant misunderstanding of the issue. We believe that a clearer definition of what constitutes a cyber threat is needed; currently there is not enough technical articulation of the threat with which to educate the British public.
Cyberspace is an arena of both state-perpetrated attacks and of widespread criminal activity. While GCHQ focuses primarily on the former, it is in fact the latter which has the greatest effect on British nationals and companies. We must also remember that cyber attacks are perpetrated by real world actors; where legislation can impact the problem we must ensure that such provisions are in place, both internationally and domestically.
We fundamentally dispute the idea that Britain’s primary objective should be to secure the country for business purposes, as is stipulated in the Cyber Security Strategy. We believe instead that the importance of educating citizens and developing computer talent should be the primary objective in Britain’s cyber efforts. The objective should be for the British population to become the most secure, educated, and aware users of cyberspace in the world, which would in turn enhance online business security. Education forms part of our proactive defence, as does the recruiting of the most skilled British individuals to work toward solutions.
We unanimously agree that terrorism represents a Tier 1 threat. We believe, however, that it overly dominates our foreign security policy. While our relationships with international partners are important, the NSS is, in the end, a national security document. Terrorism should thus hold priority only to the extent that it poses a threat to Britain and its interests. Foreign policy should react to terrorism, not be dictated by it.
To present an effective strategy, the NSS should reflect the ways in which our international political and military actions can not only catalyse, but also precipitate, domestic tensions. It should thus put more focus on non-militaristic, soft-power approaches and encourage more holistic policies. Prior to military solutions, we must use all of our available assets such as NGOs, foreign aid bodies, and avenues of economic integration to address the underlying causes of terrorism.
The almost exclusive focus on Al-Qaeda, while politically expedient, contributes to a public misunderstanding of the nature of this complex threat. Rhetoric such as that within the PREVENT strategy has the unintended effect of marking huge societal groups as outsiders and actively contributes to factionalism within our society. The terminology used to describe terrorist actions must be consistently applied, whatever the identities or affiliations of the perpetrators. Using the lessons learned from Northern Ireland, we should differentiate between terrorist actors and the populations that they claim to represent in order to diminish the societal divides exemplified and exploited by the terrorist groups.
Conversely, the term ‘Lone Terrorists’ also implies a misinterpretation of the threat. The NSS should differentiate between true independent actors, whose motives lie in the psychology of the individual, and members of connected groups. We bestow upon terror groups undue power when we label lone criminals with the same moniker as internationally linked domestic terrorists. We should tackle such incidents for what they are – acts of criminality.
Interstate military crisis
This was the most divisive issue in our inquiry because we believe there is a tension in the ambiguous wording of the NSS document. It is not clear what ‘drawing in the UK’ actually means; there is a clear divide in our inquiry for the need to either specify this phrase or retain its inherent ambiguity. Many of us see the existing ambiguity as a potential problem, while others also view it as potentially advantageous in the event of an unforeseen crisis.
For our NSS to more accurately reflect the nature of our options, we recommend that direct threats to the nation be differentiated from crises that pose threats to our national values. Thus, we propose the current Tier 1 threat should be split into two different threats, one to be kept in Tier 1 and one to be moved to Tier 2.
Tier 1: Conflicts in which Britain would be de jure implicated from their outset: attacks on us or our allies by foreign powers, imminent issues of international security, large threats to international stability.
Tier 2: Conflicts in which our involvement would be a matter of real choice, however difficult that choice might be: humanitarian crises, combatting arms proliferation, foreign internal peacekeeping efforts. These decisions should be directed both by a commitment to the values in which our country believes and a realistic assessment of their potential economic and international impact and, indeed, of our available military resources.
Our proposed change to the tier system would, we hope, reflect the real limits on the finite nature of our economic and military resources, the allocation of which is a fundamental purpose of the NSS.
Britain’s role in the world
We believe that the NSS is based upon an underlying assumption – that Britain should exercise an influential global role. This assumption appears to be entrenched in the attitude and policy making of the British Government.
It has therefore been expressed as a concern in our inquiry group that such an important assumption remains unchallenged; while it is clear that in the short-term Britain will exercise an influential global role, in the long-term it would be beneficial for Britain to institute a regular debate seeking to define Britain’s expected role in global affairs.
While we do not dispute the notion of Britain playing a global role at this time, it is our contention that Britain must not take decisions based on an assumption that such a global role is there by default. Instead, the British Government should take active, open, and public measures to regularly define exactly what our role in the world should be.