As the UK faces increasingly complex global threats, our defence and security organisations must work more collaboratively than ever. Here, CSW hears from Madeleine Alessandri, the prime minister's adviser on national resilience and security, and Dr Christian Turner, the prime minister's adviser on international affairs, about the challenges and opportunities ahead
What has been the biggest challenge facing your organisation in the past 12 months?
The response to Salisbury. The incident tested every element of the national security community. It required a whole-of-system approach, from communications to the scientific, from diplomacy to intelligence, from police to those on the health front line.
In the National Security Secretariat we had to join up all the elements of recovery for the community in Salisbury, investigation of who was responsible and then our national and international response.
Through an agile and fast response across the UK’s global network, we brought together an international coalition of countries, and domestically we instigated robust measures to crack down on other illicit activity such as money laundering and tightened some of our legislative powers. The immediate result was 28 countries expelling 153 Russian intelligence officers. This reduced Russian capability for hostile intelligence activity, took the Kremlin by surprise, and showed that the UK would act robustly to protect its core interests when under threat.
The longer term outcome has been to raise international awareness of the threat and the importance of a considered response.
How is your organisation adapting to reflect Britain’s changing place in the the world?
The Fusion Doctrine is a new name for a familiar concept: joining up the various elements (security, economic, influence) of our national security to ensure we can have best outcomes and effect on the hardest challenges we face. This is all the more important in a world of increasing great power rivalry, of hybrid state threats using cyber and disinformation, and at a time of economic uncertainty and movement of populations. Irrespective of Brexit, the UK will need to adapt to face those challenges. We are building a genuinely all-of-government approach as we try to do that.
What opportunities or innovations are you excited about in the coming years that will help you improve public outcomes?
Data is a massive opportunity to make national security capabilities both more targeted and at the same time more transparent. We have to adapt to blend open source material with intelligence to ensure we have the best analysis for the threats that face the UK.
At the same time the UK’s core strengths – 2% of GDP on defence, 0.7% ODA, world beating intelligence agencies and diplomatic service, and a P5 member [of the UN Security Council] – give us unrivalled soft and hard power and will mean that we are well placed to build the coalitions necessary to defend our interests in a multi-polar world.
What do you think your roles will look like in 20 years’ time?
That depends on what the world looks like. But the core need – to ensure the PM has the best advice and that our national security is greater than the sum of the parts – will not go away.
How do you unwind at the end of a long day?
Christian sings and walks the dog in the woods (though not at the same time).
Madeleine walks a different dog and tends to her busy bees.