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CONTEST demands coordinated collaboration for national security

Update 4 June 2018: The UK Government has published its counter-terrorism strategy (CONTEST) 2018. Earlier this year, Ed Arnold, PA defence and security expert, predicted four areas the strategy would focus on. His analysis of those four areas below gives context to the published CONTEST paper.

Update 29 March 2018: The National Security Capability Review (NSCR) has recommitted to CONTEST, the UK’s counter-terrorism strategy, saying it’s a “well-organised and comprehensive response to terrorism”. It also confirms a new counter-terrorism strategy is on its way. Below, we’ve outlined what we expect CONTEST 2018 to cover.

This analysis was originally published 28 March 2018.

The UK's fourth revised counter terrorism strategy (CONTEST) is expected to be published soon, following a rise in terror attacks in the UK and Europe since 2015.

The strategy will likely keep the '4Ps' approach – Prevent, Pursue, Protect and Prepare – and evolve the involvement of civil society, industry, faith leaders, academics, and communities in reducing the terrorism risk. But building a more inclusive system that maintains coherence will be problematic as federating responsibility often dilutes ownership.

So, how do you keep coherence while implementing CONTEST?

For CONTEST to be effective, it needs to detail how the UK government will ensure long-term counter terrorism investments, a coordinated strategy and a counter terrorism culture throughout government and society. At PA Consulting Group, we believe there are four key actions to achieve this:

  1. Create strategic coherence between CONTEST and other national security priorities.

    The National Security Council (NSC) is established as a Whitehall co-ordination function, and it's increasing in stature. While counter terrorism is prominent, it's not the only task of national security. CONTEST needs to be integrated into existing strategy, alongside the implementation of the Strategic Defence and Security Review 2015, the National Security Strategy and National Security Capability Review. A whole of government approach requires greater strategic coherence and the effective management of competing requirements, resources and budgets.

    To do this, strategic coherence at the top should cascade down to the operational and tactical levels, creating stronger partnerships and fostering deeper collaboration in the joint delivery of the counter terrorism mission. The task of further integrating civil society and industry will then also be more coherent and effective. Successfully achieving this will depend on overcoming a particularly difficult blocker – culture.

  2. Learn from the past to foster a non-invasive counter terrorism culture

    At the macro-level, cultural frictions impede true collaboration between defence and security communities, which can be particularly parochial when budgetary reviews are held. This continues at the micro-level, between organisations, departments and even teams – and is often mirrored in the private sector where aggressive competition is the norm. All these entities are expected to help reduce the risk posed by terrorism, so these barriers need to be broken down to foster a collective counter terrorism culture.

    In the 1980s, the UK had a stronger counter terrorism culture. However, as the Irish threat reduced, so did the culture and some societal and institutional memory has been forgotten

    In recent years, initiatives such as Action Counters Terrorism and Run-Hide-Tell have been proactive in building a 'we are all responsible' culture. However, when action is reactive – quickly-built concrete blocks on London's bridges, as opposed to the subtle protective security measures in Canary Wharf – it becomes intrusive and an unwelcome reminder of attacks.

    The counter terrorism mission is a long fight, and fostering this culture now will have long-term benefit. For example, it will unlock further opportunities for collaboration and different ways of thinking about countering terrorism in the future.

  3. Increase opportunities for collaboration to deepen cultural ties

    Increasing the awareness of other organisations and counter terrorism practitioners will be important for understanding culture. Existing secondments and liaison posts are too few and far between to enable this. Changes to workforce planning and incentive structures, coordinated between departments, could increase these opportunities and would cross-skill the counter terrorism workforce. Making it easier to move around would also allow a deeper understanding of cultural and procedural differences that can then be returned to the parent organisation. Building a culture of closer collaboration could be the catalyst for deeper information and intelligence sharing.

    For example, military intelligence practitioners are currently experiencing a relative operational lull as homeland security institutions have experienced a spike in demand. A whole of government approach would allow resources to be sent where they're needed. This would create stronger ties and effectively cross-skill a wider variety of counter terrorism practitioners while investing in the greatest resource - people.

  4. Encourage and motivate industry participation where it will benefit most

    Less sophisticated attacks that are put together quickly have validated the assumption that it's not a matter of if but when an attack will occur. Accepting this uncomfortable assumption, and getting society as a whole to accept it, will allow a freedom in thinking and some rebalancing of effort between Prevent and Prepare, making recovery more efficient and the impacts less severe.

    The impacts of attacks on staff, business operations and prosperity mean most companies invest heavily in business continuity and crisis management. But they do so individually. Incentivising business to develop joint approaches that integrate with police and emergency services will improve the overall response and minimise impact.

    Modern businesses have the ability to collect, process and analyse large amounts of data, which can add great value to the police response. Sharing real-time threat analysis and sharing practical advice will help companies create a more collective approach.

    By increasing public-private collaboration in areas such as technology, people, skills and innovation, businesses can protect their staff and recover quickly, improving security for all.

Strategy and culture will build a whole of government approach supported by the private sector and society

Creating coherence is a real challenge. However, there are practical steps that can be taken. By focussing on strategic coherence, supported by a collective counter terrorism culture, a whole of government approach will be able to draw on the private sector and society to reduce the risk, threat and impact of terrorism in the UK.

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