Comment Blog 28 February, 2024

The pursuit of joint working: Comparing the UK and Germany

Abi Watson
Research Fellow, GPPi
Philipp Rotmann
Director, GPPi

“Whole of government”, “integrated” or “comprehensive” working have all become buzz words in European capitals (and elsewhere) as governments attempt to improve the way different departments work together to deliver against foreign, security, development or economic priorities abroad. Germany and the UK are no exception.

As both countries reflected on hard lessons learned from their (albeit very different) contributions to interventions in Iraq and Afghanistan, they emerged with renewed pushes to change systems for delivering peace and stability abroad. In doing so, they attempted to improve in three key areas:

  • building shared analysis;
  • facilitating more shared strategy making; and
  • creating shared pots of funding.

Comparing relative success, but also enduring limitations, of these efforts in both countries provide important insights into how systems can be improved, but also why problems remain.

 

Shared analysis

Recognising the need for “integrated assessment … to deliver more effective stabilisation operations”, the UK Government created the Post-Conflict Reconstruction Unit at the end of 2004. This was a tri-departments unit of the Ministry of Defence, the Department for International Development and the Foreign and Commonwealth Office. In 2007 it was renamed the Stabilisation Unit (SU) and doubled in size to become a “one stop shop” for stabilisation planning and analysis.

Germany was at least a decade behind. Limited to crisis early warning, they installed a working level process for coordinating horizon scanning and warning analysis. This brought together the Foreign Office, the Ministry of Defence and the Ministry of Economic Cooperation and Development. In 2019, following a Spending Review, the Foreign Office and Development Ministry also agreed to pilot a “common analysis and coordinated planning” process (GAAP).

None of these systems were able to build truly cross-governmental analysis.

In both cases, there was less (or no in the Germany case) engagement from MoD officials. The stove-piped nature of the German system meant that these efforts were more information sharing than integrated. In the UK, the SU also lacked truly cross-governmental buy-in. Following the merger of the FCO and DFID many DFID conflict advisors left, thus creating a huge gap in expertise, and the SU’s capacity was dramatically reduced when it was combined with other DFID and FCO research teams in the new Office for Conflict, Stabilisation and Mediation.

 

Shared strategy-making

In 2010, the UK created the National Security Council (NSC) which provided a regular forum for key departments to come together to agree priorities and allocate funding in national security. The National Security Secretariat was also created to coordinate “foreign and defence policy across government”. In 2018, with the introduction of Fusion Doctrine, for each NSC priority there would now be a Senior Responsible Officer (SRO) and a National Security Strategy and Implementation Group (NSSIG) tasked with “building a culture of common purpose across departments”.

Despite plenty of calls,  Germany does not have an integrated strategy-making mechanism. The high level of autonomy held by individual ministers is a cornerstone of governing by coalition, a corollary of the proportional voting system. As a result, the chancellery effectively takes over some portfolios such as US, China or Russia policy while leaving the rest to the stove-piped efforts of individual ministries. On security issues, there are several rather informal high-level formats where State Secretaries meet, always as equals, so joint decisions are only negotiated if absolutely unavoidable.

Despite these systems, coordination still tends to be decided by the alignment of political priorities and the investment of political will.

In the UK, already in 2019, there was evidence that the most effective NSSIGs were those focused on priority issues like Russia, while some of the NSSIGs focussed on Africa had not even met. In Germany, support to Ukraine post-February 2022, despite all the noise from public disagreements within the cabinet about the speed and scale of arms deliveries to Kyiv, is a rare positive example enabled by reasonably limited turf issues between the Foreign Office, Defence and Development ministries. Similarly, at the working level, there were some country or regional files – such as Afghanistan or the Sahel – that were more tightly connected among the ministries via permanent liaison officers or more regular meetings but this was only in a limited number of cases.

 

Shared funding

Launched in 2015, the UK’s Conflict Stability and Security Fund (CSSF) is a cross-government fund which brings together 17 government departments and agencies (and is managed by the Joint Funds Unit, which sits within the Cabinet Office). The fund spent over £870 million in around 85 countries and territories in the financial year 2021 to 2022. In Germany, after the short-lived (but promising) experiment of the tri-ministerial “provincial development funds” in Afghanistan, the only general funding line that is jointly controlled is the security assistance budget. It is split into three separate funding lines all of which are jointly operated by the Foreign Office, two with the MoD (for military equipment, training and advisory assistance) and one with the Ministry of Interior (for police and border police projects).

The return of large-scale mechanised warfare to Europe has improved joint action in Ukraine but has tended to suck resources for coordinated action elsewhere. The UK’s decision to reduce the aid budget from 0.7% to 0.5% of gross national income forced UK programmes in Sudan, Morocco, Ethiopia and elsewhere to close. Now CSSF is set to merge with other funds to form the new Integrated Security Fund (ISF) which has a slightly larger budget and a wider remit (covering, for instance, domestic and international security issues). The new fund could improve coordination but is also at risk adding to coordination “wins” in Ukraine with further resources then doing little to address disconnected policy elsewhere.

Germany’s security assistance budget has dramatically increased from €200 million per year in the years before the Russian full-scale invasion, to €4 billion in 2024 but  much of this is expected to be spent for the defence of Ukraine, including some replacement procurement for the German military.

 

Conclusion

In both the UK and Germany there have been improvements, but the success of coordination tends to be decided by political will: if political leaders decide that the only way to succeed is jointly and they agree that success really matters then joint working is successful.

If this is not the case, there is not the same guarantee of success. For instance, in the UK proponents for Fusion Doctrine often used the UK’s coordinated response to the Salisbury attacks as an example of how the system could work. However, current systems have been unable to maintain this sort of level of coordination in areas which are not seen as existential to UK national security. And most progress in building coordination has been undermined with the British government’s de-prioritisation of stabilisation and peacebuilding.

In Germany, there is a similar dynamic at work: a slow series of improvements driven by and implemented exclusively on Afghanistan during the first decade or so following 9/11, followed by slow regression and the inability to mainstream or expand on that progress effectively – except for Ukraine since 2022.

In both countries, the return of large-scale warfare to Europe has brought better joint working in some areas deemed a high priority for national security but has arguably taken resources for joint working elsewhere. It also risks feeding a return to complacency and a stove-piped operating model in which the idea of employing various instruments of national power jointly rather than separately is no longer even understood as necessary, let alone being implemented effectively.

 

Abi Watson is a research fellow at the Global Public Policy Institute (GPPi) in Berlin, where she contributes to the work on peace and security. She previously worked at Saferworld and the Oxford Research Group, where she wrote on long-term planning and decision making processes.  

Philipp Rotmann is a director of the Global Public Policy Institute (GPPi) in Berlin, where he leads the work on peace and security. He is a member of the German Federal Foreign Office’s independent evaluation panel.