Seizing the advantageMar 15, 2021
What the US can learn from the UK about strategic reviews
By Peter Watkins, Will Jessett CBE
The Biden administration has begun work on a slew of strategies—including a new National Security Strategy, National Defense Strategy, and Nuclear Posture Review—that will form the framework for its approach to security challenges. There’s a lot that it can learn from the British experience of conducting strategic reviews.
Peter Watkins CB, CBE is a nonresident senior fellow with the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security’s Transatlantic Security Initiative and Forward Defense practice. Peter worked for over three decades in government service on defense and national security issues. From April 2014 to November 2018, he was the director-general in the UK Ministry of Defence (MOD) responsible for strategic defense policy and planning, key multilateral and bilateral defense relationships (including the UK’s contributions to NATO and the defense implications of exiting the European Union) as well as defense policy on deterrence (nuclear and non-nuclear), cyber, space, and prosperity (exports and inward investment). This role was known latterly as the director-general strategy & international and before that as director-general security policy. He is now a visiting professor with King’s College London and a visiting senior fellow with the London School of Economics.
Peter joined the MOD in 1980. During his career, he worked closely with all three Services and held senior posts in security policy, acquisition, and resource management. Prior to his most recent appointments, he was director general of the Defence Academy of the United Kingdom, a world-renowned institution responsible for the education and training of UK military personnel and civil servants in command and staff, leadership, acquisition, technology, and language skills. Before this, Peter was director of operational policy from 2008 to 2011; this post was responsible for setting the policy framework for the planning and conduct of UK military operations overseas and in the UK. His two previous senior roles were closely linked with the Royal Air Force (RAF). In 2007 and 2008, he was responsible for the overall direction of the UK element of the international Eurofighter Typhoon combat aircraft program. And, from 2004 to 2006, he was command secretary and senior finance officer of RAF Strike Command, the organization which contained the RAF’s front-line aircraft, responsible for managing an annual budget of about £2 billion (Strike Command is now part of Air Command).
Peter was private secretary to the defence secretary from 2001 to 2003. Earlier assignments centered mainly on international defense cooperation. Peter led the MOD’s ‘Smart Acquisition’ acquisition change program (2000-2001); was counsellor for defense supply & aerospace in the British Embassy in Germany (1996-2000); and, before that, the senior official responsible for the policy and financial aspects of the UK’s participation in the Eurofighter Typhoon, Tornado and Joint Strike Fighter (now F-35) programs. Prior appointments included three years as private secretary to the minister of state for defense procurement (1990-1993) and a number of policy-related roles.
Peter was educated at Peterhouse, Cambridge University, where he studied History. He is an ancien of the NATO Defense College (1993-1994); and was a visiting fellow at the Weatherhead Center for International Affairs, Harvard University (2006-2007). He is a fellow of the Royal Aeronautical Society and of the Institute of Directors, and a liveryman of the Coachmakers’ Company. He was awarded a CB in the 2019 New Year’s Honours list and a CBE in 2004 for services to Defence.