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Smart muddling through: rethinking UK national strategy beyond Afghanistan*

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One of the first steps taken by the newly elected Conservative–Liberal Democrat coalition government was to initiate a review of the national strategy of the United Kingdom. The review culminated in October 2010 in the publication of a revised National Security Strategy as well as a new Strategic Defence and Security Review. With the benefit of over twelve months of hindsight, this article is concerned with the formulation, the implementation and the longer‐term implications of the 2010 strategy review. The first part of the article assesses the review as a national strategic plan. What were the strategic challenges addressed by the review, what decisions, judgements and misjudgements were made, and what was overlooked? In part two the authors turn to operational matters: how far was the UK's post‐review strategic experience (i.e. in Afghanistan and Libya) consistent with the decisions and promises made in 2010? Part three discusses the review as a public statement of national policy, gauging the impression it has made on the national strategic narrative since 2010: how was the review received, what reputation has it acquired and what was/is the quality of the debate surrounding it? Finally, in part four the article asks what the 2010 review and its aftermath reveal of the formulation and implementation of national strategy in the United Kingdom. Was the 2010 review simply the latest in a long series of attempts by government to find a convincing and durable compromise between security challenges and national resources? Or was the review the beginning of something different altogether? Could UK national strategy henceforth be more of an adaptive, iterative process than a compressed period of analysis and reflection followed by the publication of a policy statement with an inevitably brief shelf‐life?
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Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: 1: Professor of International Security at the University of Bath. 2: Professor of International Security at King's College London (Joint Services Command and Staff College) and is an Associate Fellow at the Royal Institute of International Affairs, Chatham House.

Publication date: March 1, 2012

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