Friday, March 6, 2009

The work of the IPPR's Commission on National Security in the 21st Century

The Deputy Chair of the Institute for Public Policy Research's Commission on National Security in the 21st Century, Ian Kearns, has written a comment on LibDem Voice here (this was under the article by James Graham entitled "Opinion: Is Lord Ashdown IT industry's patsy?"), which I repeat below:

James, Paul, other contributors, I’d like to add a few points to the discussion you’ve all been having, from my perspective as the Deputy Chair of ippr’s Commission on National Security in the 21st Century. I know the issues raised are important,and what to try to clarify a few things.

First, whatever else you might feel there is ambiguity over, there can be no ambiguity over this statement inside the paper by David Omand:

‘The views in this paper are those of the author alone and are being published here in the hope of advancing public debate. They do not represent the views of the Commission panel or the views of any sponsoring organisation.’

It’s hard to know how we could be clearer about who’s views are being published here and it does seem unfair to assume that Paddy Ashdown necessarily agrees with it. I don’t agree with all of it myself and it would have been nice if this explicit delimitation of who’s views were being expressed had been acknowledged in the initial post by you James.

Second, the Commission itself, as a Commission, has only released one paper, its interim report, (Shared Destinies: Security in A Globalised World, available at This interim report was signed off by the entire Commission panel, and it is therefore fair to assume that all members of the Commmission panel can be held accountable for what it says. We’d obviously be very pleased if people would read it!

Third, just to clarify, the report that stimulated this debate, by David Omand, was not published in the week leading up to the Convention on Liberty. It was published on the 9th February. The reason the report received media coverage in the week that it did is that Alan Travis of the Guardian read it in his own time, then published a piece based on it, on a timeline of his and the Guardian’s choosing. His piece was then read and picked up by other journalists, including Andrew Gilligan in the Evening Standard, who also drew the same inaccurate conclusion about when the report had been published and why.

Fourth, how the Commission is paid for has been made clear by Paddy and by Paul Walters (sic) above. Amnesty International come into the picture as sponsors of an upcoming speech on human rights, the details of which, in terms of speaker and timing, are just being ironed out.

All details will be on our web-site just as soon as arrangements are finalised.This speech forms part of a wider series of security lectures which run alongside and feed thinking into the Commission. Nick Clegg delivered a speech in this series on October 13th 2008 (again, see

Fifth, I would argue that there is a distinction to be made, (and it is an important one in an open society that needs more informed and civilised debate, not less) between questioning the integrity or naivety of individual commission members and engaging in a legitimate debate about whether this Commission is genuinely independent. Paddy has rightly set out the contractual position the ippr takes with funders in this regard but in the end, it seems to me that the only way to demonstrate independence of view is through what debates this Commission starts and what policies it recommends.

In this regard, and in addition to the piece by David Omand, I would just ask people to consider the following:

The recent demolition of torture practices as illegal and dumb, by Commission panel member Charles Guthrie in The Times;

Our ongoing efforts as a Commission to develop a final report that says something meaningful not just about counter-terrorism but also about what the United Kingdom should do to better promote human rights around the world and more effectively prevent the recurring tragedy of genocide, war crimes and crimes against humanity;

The call, in our interim report, for the global eradication of nuclear weapons, and the setting out of a series of steps to help get us there;

The call, in the same document, for the UK to fully meet its responsibiilty to prevent violent conflict in order to save thousands of innocent lives in some of the poorest countries on earth;

Our policy proposals on improving global readiness to meet the challenges posed by pandemic disease, and issues raised by 21st century advances in bio-technology which bring huge potential advances for humanity, but also new security concerns.

I’m not sure which, if any of these activities and proposals serve the interests of the IT industry. But I’d suggest these ideas, and the ideas we publish in our final report later this year are what you should judge us on. We’re all in favour of open debate, hope you’ll read our interim and final reports, and engage us in a lively debate about our final report when we publish. In the end, we’re trying to advance solutions to a range of pressing security challenges and to leave something better for the next generation. While we’re trying and in the interim, if anyone wants to know more about the work of the Commission, or has any great ideas about what we should be recommending, please just get in touch with us at the ippr.

Best Wishes

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