Afghanistan’s rapid fall to the Taliban and the response to the Covid-19 pandemic have revealed “serious weaknesses” in the government’s approach to national security, according to a very critical multi-party report.
MPs and their peers found that the two critical events highlighted the shortcomings of the National Security Council – a cabinet committee of senior officials and senior officials designed to deal with key security concerns. The Joint Lords and Commons Committee on National Security Strategy (JCNSS) said the system had been exposed as inadequate. He warned that national risk management across government is “loose, unstructured, and lacking central oversight and accountability.”
He said when Covid-19 struck, existing structures were abandoned in favor of “ad hoc arrangements and improvisation”, which the committee denounced as “a serious mistake”. Meanwhile, the Afghan crisis suggested the government was “unable to prepare for and respond to two national security crises simultaneously.”
He also warned that a review of the government’s national security processes by Sir Stephen Lovegrove, the Prime Minister’s national security adviser, was in fact a retrograde step that had suggested a “more relaxed approach”. He warned that under the proposed new system, the prime minister would spend around 65% less time in National Security Council meetings than under the previous practice of weekly meetings.
Senior defense officials have already sharply criticized the government for being taken by surprise by the rapid fall of Kabul after the United States made it clear it was pulling out. There had been warnings that without the United States, Britain and others would be unable to do anything but withdraw.
The National Security Council was established in 2010 by then Prime Minister David Cameron. It was designed to create a body for key ministers and officials to make decisions on pressing national security issues. An earlier report from JCNSS had raised concerns about the way it was functioning. The committee urged Boris Johnson to invest his time and personal authority in the role of the national security council. He also called for a “fundamental overhaul” of the way the central government has handled major threats.
Margaret Beckett, JCNSS president, said a change was needed. “When two events – the Covid-19 pandemic and Afghanistan – once again demonstrated what a dangerous world we live in now, weaknesses in the structures of the National Security Council were revealed,” she said. declared.
“I pay tribute to the medical and military personnel and government officials who have worked so hard to respond to these two most recent crises. But their courageous efforts cannot mask the fundamental need for the center of government to master national security planning. “