James Forsyth

Fighting terror with the National Security Council

Fighting terror with the National Security Council
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Since September 11, Britain has lost one war and is not winning another. But the question of why this is the case remains depressingly low down the agenda. There is remarkably little interest in why the “British army was defeated in the field in southern Iraq”, to quote Gordon Brown's and David Miliband’s favourite counter-insurgency expert, David Kilcullen.

Today, the Tories launched their green paper on national security with speeches by Pauline Neville-Jones and David Cameron. The document is a mixed bag. But the Tories deserve credit for squarely facing up to the fact that Britain is now an “incubator of extremism and an exporter of terrorism”. They are also right that the principal cause of this is a “lack of integration and social cohesion in the UK” and that a focus on preventing violent extremism, as opposed to extremism per se, can only “be a containment policy which fails to achieve solutions”.

The details of the National Security Council are very dry but also significant. As The Spectator reported in November, the Prime Minister will chair it with the Foreign Secretary stepping in, in his absence. But crucially the National Security Adviser, who is expected to be Pauline Neville-Jones, will chair the deputies meeting. Given Neville-Jones’ skills as a bureaucratic in-fighter, this will give her a huge amount of influence on what makes it onto the agenda and what options are presented to the NSC. (Update: An eagle-eyed friend points out that this national security adviser will be an official not a politician which rules out Pauline Neville-Jones).

There is a significant intellectual division in the Tory party between realists and the more interventionist element. Obama’s limited foreign policy agenda means that this split will probably never come into the open. But this Green Paper reflects it. Democracy promotion is not listed as part of the British national interest but the document does say that “the illegitimacy of states in which elites fail to democratise wealth and power” is one of the main recruiting sergeant for terrorism.