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Government publishes National Security Strategy and Strategic Defence and Security Review 2015

  • United Kingdom
  • Competition, EU and Trade - Export controls and sanctions


On 23 November 2015, following a period of public consultation, the UK Government released its new five-year National Security Strategy and Strategic Defence Review (the “Review”). The Review sets out the Government’s key security objectives and its plans for new policy measures in areas such as export control, arms control and counter-terrorism.

Focus Areas

The Government’s strategy is aimed at meeting three primary Security Objectives: (i) protecting our people; (ii) projecting our global influence; and (iii) promoting our prosperity. The Review also identifies key, short-term security risks including terrorism, military conflict and cyber-attack, as well as a range of medium to long term risks, such as proliferation and organised crime. The Review sets out a range of measures and commitments aimed at meeting the Objectives and mitigating the risks.

Strategy Implementation and Reform

In order to achieve its Security Objectives the Government intends to continue its support for UK defence and security exports, champion an open and rules-based international trading environment, promote innovation in security solutions and expand the UK’s economic relationships with growing powers such as India and China.

In addition to these general aims, the Review sets out specific commitments and initiatives in areas such as procurement and export control and sanctions.


The Government has pledged to spend £178 billion over the next decade on defence procurement, including equipment and equipment support for the Armed Forces. It has also announced its intention to refresh the defence industrial policy and help the UK’s security industries to grow and compete. The Government aims to facilitate such growth, in part, by setting up a Defence and Cyber Innovation Fund and an Emerging Technology and Innovation Analysis Cell.

The Review states that national security procurement processes will be simplified, made shorter and more open to a broader range of suppliers. The Government does not, however, give detail of the exact changes it will make.

Export Control and Sanctions

In 2016, the Government will create a number of cross-government policy-making units dealing with key strategic issues. These will include an Exports Control Unit, hosted by the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills, to provide coordinated operation of export controls.[1] It is not yet clear how this new unit will interact with the existing Export Control Organisation. 

The Government will also review its sanctions governance, establish an Office of Financial Sanctions Implementation and introduce legislation to increase penalties for financial sanctions evasion. These reforms will take place alongside continued commitment to supporting the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action with Iran.


At the time of writing, it remains to be seen to what extent the initiatives set out in the Review will be implemented or how they will operate in practice. In the past, defence reviews have been quickly surpassed by events and have lost much of their relevance.

However, the Government has committed to regularly reviewing the new structures and is obliged to provide Parliament with an Annual Report on the implementation of the National Security Strategy. The impact and practicalities of the proposed reforms will become clearer as we move into 2016 and a further update will follow then.

[1] Other new joint units announced in the Review are: (i) a joint unit for International Counter-Terrorism Strategy, hosted by the Home Office, consolidating existing expertise within the Home Office and Foreign and Commonwealth Office (“FCO”); (ii) an Arms Control and Counter-Proliferation Centre, hosted by the Ministry of Defence (“MoD”, which will co-locate expertise within the MoD, FCO, and Department of Energy and Climate Change; (iii) a Gulf Strategy Unit, hosted by the Cabinet Office, to coordinate UK engagement with the Gulf in order to deliver the National Security Council’s long-term strategy and maximise benefits to the UK; (iv) a UN Peacekeeping Unit, hosted by the FCO, consolidating existing MoD and FCO expertise to formulate UK policy on UN peacekeeping missions; and (v) single provider of government National Security Vetting Services, based on the model currently used by the MoD.