Roundtable: Addressing national security challenges through the Fusion Doctrine

Written by Geoffrey Lyons on 16 April 2019 in Feature
Feature

One year on from the launch of the Fusion Doctrine, there are still obstacles to achieving this ‘whole-system’ approach towards national security objectives. CSW, in partnership with PA Consulting, hosted a roundtable to discuss the barriers to collaboration, and how government and industry can better work together. Geoffrey Lyons reports

Sub-Saharan Africa’s fast-growing youth population is just one of the many issues preoccupying the cabinet secretary. Sir Mark Sedwill ranks global demographic pressures high among the national security challenges the UK will have to grapple with if it has a shot at “punching its weight.” Other issues include new developments in AI, cybersecurity, and climate change – a fairly standard, if daunting, set of concerns for someone who also holds the role of national security adviser. 

What sets Sedwill apart, however, is how he approaches these challenges. He believes that if a blend of social, economic, and security issues defines a problem, then a similar blend of capabilities should inform its solution. It’s what he’s dubbed the “Fusion Doctrine” and it has become the centrepiece of the government’s national security agenda.

To mark one year since the doctrine was launched as part of 2018’s National Security and Capability Review, Civil Service World, in partnership with innovation and transformation consultancy PA Consulting, hosted Sedwill and other senior leaders from government and industry for a discussion on national security challenges and how better collaboration might solve them.

“One part of Fusion is to try and bring, in a more strategic way, the objectives and priorities that we have in the short term and develop them in the long term,” Sedwill tells the group. “As we go through Brexit and have a more independent position in the world, that makes us more open to both new opportunities and areas where we know we will have to work harder than we have done before, so it’s critically important that we’re using all of our national capabilities in the most coherent and effective way possible.” 

If anyone is well-positioned to think strategically about the nexus of economic and foreign policy, it’s Antonia Romeo. The Department for International Trade permanent secretary has been working tirelessly with other departments since DIT was set up in 2016. One of the ways she encourages strategic thinking is by reconceptualising traditional policy aims. 

“When you look at defence, for example, it’s an export, but it’s also a mechanism,” she says. “It’s a training, it’s a talent, it’s a technique we can offer.” Romeo argues that applying a bit of nuance and sophistication to a problem can open the door to new opportunities. “Sometimes you need to deploy security or political intervention to support you economically, and sometimes you need to deploy economic interventions to support you on the other side,” she says.

Romeo agrees with Sedwill that a good example and potential prototype for this approach is the UK’s recent engagement with Japan. Talks in January between the two prime ministers resulted in both sides reiterating that the EU-Japan Economic Partnership Agreement will form the basis for the countries’ future trade relationship.  

“If we allowed discussions to focus purely on the trade relationship, our positions might have become entrenched and overall progress more challenging,” Sedwill says. “Instead, we talked of deepening our overall relationship, collaborating on technology challenges, strengthening our maritime security cooperation, and so on.” A shift in political perspective away from the UK’s most immediate trade interests and towards a more strategic relationship with Japan is what enabled this progress – a textbook example of applied Fusion.

Air Vice Marshal Andrew Turner, assistant chief of the defence staff at the Ministry of Defence, says the Fusion approach could be used to catalyse other relationships. “We’re very interested in using defence as a part of foreign policy to enable other activity.”  

Even so, some around the table argue that the UK should guard against becoming overly ambitious. Richard Dingley, managing director of government and applied intelligence at BAE Systems, fears overshooting the mark and thereby weakening existing advantages. “The UK has some fantastic capabilities,” he says. “But we are fundamentally a small island state with massive reach. We need to pick our battles, and we need to pick them where we can be most successful.” 

“Need” is the operative word. Sedwill says Brexit will open a roughly five-year window that will present the UK with “forced choices” about which trade deals and markets to pursue. “We’re going to have to make some choices and they’re going to have to be well-informed,” he says. “You can’t do everything everywhere. We’re not going to be able to have totally frictionless trade with everybody, so we’re going to have to make some choices as we go through that process.” 

This need to prioritise extends to the sort of technology the UK wants to excel in. Dingley cites the BMW Mini as an example of where the UK does well by sticking to what it knows best. “Everyone wants them, they’re all over the world,” he says. Peter Ruddock, chief executive of Lockheed Martin, adds that national security leaders need to decide collectively what they want the country to be good at. “Where do we want to be genuinely world class?” he says. “We often say ‘world class’ when we’re really five or six or 10 years behind China and America. We can’t be a mini-US and do absolutely everything.” Ruddock’s counterexample to the Mini is hypersonic weapons. The UK is so far behind on hypersonics, he argues, that it’s not even worth getting involved. “We need to be quite selective and focused,” he says. “We need to have strategic approaches.” 

“We are fundamentally a small island state with massive reach. We need to pick our battles, and we need to pick them where we can be most successful” Richard Dingley, BAE

But while the imperative to pick battles and be more strategic is clear on paper, in practice it would require some tinkering with systems of government. Participants are unanimous in believing the current setup has flaws, and indeed a key component of Fusion is to pivot away from what Dingley calls “stovepipe thinking”. Alex Chisholm, permanent secretary for the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, says there’s room for improvement in how government directs its funding. “With the state we’re in and looking ahead to the future, we’re going to have to be a lot more hands on with that,” he says. Dingley adds that government desperately needs to be more agile. “This is an industrial revolution,” he says. “Things are changing every month and every year, so if we’re going to fail we need to fail fast. We can’t rest on our laurels.” 

There are also major flaws in how government collaborates with industry to reach shared objectives. Victor Chavez, chief executive of Thales UK, says that there’s currently no framework in which he can have a joined-up conversation on topics like big data analytics and autonomy while simultaneously safeguarding his company’s research. “The digital trust architecture in my mobile phone is infinitely more sophisticated than what we see anywhere in defence or government,” he says. “The gap between the two is a light year.” Dingley says industry shouldn’t feel that it’s throwing away its intellectual property when it wants to collaborate. “We need to have a collaborative framework where we can close the door, and everyone takes off their lanyard and we all feel like we’re contributing because it will work out for everybody in the end.” 

The issue of safeguarding research opens a whole new can of worms. World-class research is the lifeblood of the defence industry and defines the limits of a country’s military preparedness. But as Professor John Aston, the Home Office’s chief scientific adviser, points out, attracting the best researchers involves an inherent dilemma. “There’s this question of how you get the global reach to attract the best science while not simply bringing people in so they can leave again, taking with them all the ideas we have,” he says. “We need to design our academic system so that it encourages both internal growth and a free exchange of ideas.” 

AVM Turner recommends an active plan to move people between industry and service. He says this will not only help to retain the brain power within the UK, but would also offer people the opportunity to serve both in a commercial and government setting. “This would need some sort of centralised vetting, but it would be a much more interesting lateral entry approach across the whole enterprise.” 

“As we go through Brexit and have a more independent position in the world, it’s critically important that we’re using all of our national capabilities in the most coherent and effective way possible” Sir Mark Sedwill, cabinet secretary

A programme like this might actually be simpler to execute than it may seem. BAE runs an academy that gives people skills to work in cyber security, which Dingley says they could easily double in size and offer to government and academia. So why don’t they? “We just don’t,” he says. “There isn’t a reason we haven’t done it, we just haven’t established that ecosystem where SMEs, academia, foreign partners and government can all come together.” Rachael Brassey, people and talent expert at PA Consulting, says something as simple as a referral scheme – in which organisations could pass on the names of people who impress them but don’t meet their current skills requirements – could push things in the right direction. “Quite a few of the organisations I’ve worked with are looking for very similar types of skills but they want slightly different shapes of it,” she says. “[The solution] doesn’t have to be a big bureaucratic thing – a referral process could be quite an easy fix.”

According to Alan Lewis, PA Consulting’s global head of defence and security, this requires a shift in mindset. Lewis argues for a more integrated approach in which separate organisations like intelligence agencies, Border Force, the Ministry of Defence, and local law enforcement are less worried about their organisational boundaries and focus more on outcomes for national security. This is likely to mean a change in behaviour where departments look for ways in which they can come together to share data and solve problems – rather than competing for scarce resources. 
This is exactly what Sedwill’s Fusion Doctrine is aiming to achieve, but the cabinet secretary acknowledges that changing the status quo isn’t always easy. “We’ve done some of that institutionally, but it’s really hard,” he says, citing security restrictions that make sharing data more challenging for intelligence agencies.

Romeo adds that when it comes to bringing people into government from the private sector, pay is a massive barrier. “Within our pay scales, we cannot afford to pay someone [at the top] what somebody mid-career working in the private sector would accept,” she says. “So, I’m totally up for doing this, and we in DIT consider ourselves a joint venture with the private sector, but it needs leadership at both ends.” 

While Fusion has had its successes, there’s a consensus that more needs to be done to bring government and industry closer together. Lockheed Martin’s Ruddock would like to see fewer initiatives from an already under-resourced government. BAE’s Dingley thinks government ought to be more transparent about the problems it faces, rather than simply sharing the solutions. And government’s view? “This event is exactly what we need to be doing more of,” BEIS’s Chisholm says. “Those of us with a common interest need to share our best view of what we see coming down the track in the next 10 years.”  

Image description
PA
Share this page
Editor's Pick
Promote as primary content
Not Promoted

Share this page

Further reading in our policy hubs

CONTRIBUTIONS FROM READERS

Please login to post a comment or register for a free account.

Contact the author

The contact details for the Civil Service World editorial team are available on our About Us page.