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Ten insights on the UK’s National Security Capability Review

The UK Government’s National Security Capability Review has been published, shifting the emphasis from defence to the wider national security ecosystem. Below are our experts' predictions for what the review would find. The below article was published January 2018.

The National Security Capability Review (NSCR) will help ensure the UK’s investment in national security is coherent, cost-effective and affordable. It will also address the breadth of security challenges the UK faces.

We expect the NSCR (commissioned to examine the implementation plans for the 2015 National Security Strategy and Strategic Defence and Security Review) to address budget pressures and a fast-changing strategic environment by taking a ‘whole system’ approach to national security. This should include deterrence, diplomacy, strategic intelligence, hard military power, domestic terrorism, counter-radicalisation, serious and organised crime, and policing. The contributions of industry and civil society organisations will also become increasingly important.

Meanwhile, the Ministry of Defence wants to see a dedicated defence review to ensure the continuation of equipment purchases, military training and capability development. But we believe the NSCR will focus on a realignment, redesign and reallocation of capabilities and resources throughout the national security spectrum to best meet modern challenges.

Using our unique position working across all these sectors, we’ve put together ten insights on the expected scope of the review:

1.      Deterrence

Deterrence is the cornerstone of UK Defence policy, providing the ultimate safeguard in an increasingly unstable world. The deterrence programme rests on a long escalation path, starting with conventional force and ending with the nuclear option. The NSCR presents an important opportunity to ensure the UK’s armed forces can sustain the full spectrum response necessary for a modern deterrence posture, based on conventional escalation, offensive cyber capabilities and an independent, continuous at sea nuclear deterrent.

2.      International Diplomacy

Brexit and increasing global competition will pose significant new challenges as the UK’s role in the world changes. The NSCR lets the Government reassess how the UK exploits the full spectrum of available tools to promote security, stable political environments and economic growth. This will require the UK’s international diplomacy to be driven by shared, cross-Government objectives to ensure all international interventions are coordinated, from aid to trade.

3.      Strategic Intelligence

The ways of sourcing the necessary intelligence to address strategic threats remains under constant review. Cross-border security cooperation will continue post-Brexit, although this will need to take account of differences in legislation that will emerge, particularly in areas like Human Rights. The NSCR must balance the need to empower security services to respond to the broad range of threats, while ensuring the depth of their reach into society and individuals’ privacy remains proportionate and transparent.

4.      Military Power: Whole Force Approach

The NSCR comes as the concept of a ‘Whole Force Approach’ (between Whitehall, the regular armed forces, reservists, and private industry) evolves into ‘Whole Force by Design’. The review offers a timely opportunity to explore how the UK’s defence industry can be used as a lever to supply the optimal mix of military and civilian resource; and to increase capability effectiveness and efficiency. Unlocking industry’s capacity and approach to innovation will be critical in shaping an affordable Defence Enterprise for the future. 

5.      Military Power: Information Age Warfare

The importance of securing an information advantage to penetrate the ‘fog of war’ is not a new challenge. Yet, because the modern battlespace contains so much data and information, it’s increasingly difficult for commanders to determine which information is most important, get the right data, and check its veracity. This is especially true with our adversaries’ increasingly sophisticated use of deception and misinformation. The UK’s armed forces need to be ‘information resilient’, operating effectively despite constrained or corrupted information. Technology should not be seen as the sole solution, but as an enabler to maintain the military’s information advantage alongside changes in people skills and ways of working.

6.      Counter-Terrorism

After five terror attacks in the UK, plus a further nine foiled attacks in the 12 months to December 2017, the Security Services and counter-terrorism police units face a growing challenge. ‘Joining the dots’ between fragments of information and intelligence gleaned from investigations led by different teams (and corroborating linked information from different investigations) isn’t easy. The NSCR should prioritise investment targeted at helping these organisations join up their operational and technical infrastructure to improve their ability to exploit the growing volumes of digital intelligence.

7.      Serious and Organised Crime

Emerging reports on the scale of the cybercrime threat, from malicious attacks on our critical national infrastructure to online fraud activities, indicate an annual economic cost of £100bn. The vital importance of improving the nation’s prosperity, post Brexit, highlights the need for a cross-cutting, system-wide response to fighting serious and organised crime.

8.      Policing

The need to share intelligence rapidly and systematically has become imperative, as has spotting and acting on the risks of radicalisation in the community. Policing will have a crucial role in maintaining national security by building stronger collaboration with government partners and action groups. This will ensure a link between operations at the national level while maintaining a visible presence in local communities.

9.      Role of Industry

For industry, the NSCR offers both challenge and opportunity. Pressure on the defence budget means there is an expected reduction in traditional defence-related spending. This will incentivise companies to increase innovation and to seek new opportunities in adjacent markets. The key opportunities come from understanding the implications of new technologies and how best to develop, access and exploit these to support national security goals.

10.   Role of Civil Society Organisations: Counter-Radicalisation

The Government’s PREVENT strategy, which stops people becoming terrorists or supporting terrorism, has increased the reliance on Civil Society Organisations (CSO) with great success. The NSCR should emphasise the opportunities to work more closely with CSOs, both to align national security goals and to help them scale their operations efficiently, without disrupting the vital work they do.

A once in a generation opportunity

In a world where the threat is evolving fast, there are clear opportunities to radically rethink how to build, share and enable capabilities to keep the nation and its citizens safe. From PA’s unique experience working across the areas covered by the NSCR, we see common challenges that can be addressed centrally to improve efficiency and reduce costs. 

But today, the organisational landscape inhibits shared capability development. Different operating structures, varied technology maturity and a universal shortage of digital and cyber skills are shared challenges to capability growth. These challenges are magnified by the operational imperative to compartmentalise intelligence based on business need, proportionality, and ethics. 

The NSCR offers a once in a generation opportunity to extend trusted operational partnerships to capability delivery. This will share the burden of investment in developing more collaborative ways of working, rationalising investment in innovation and technology, and developing and upskilling operational and support staff to counter emerging threats.

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