Constraints on the design of security policy: Companion quantitative survey 2017

Thomson, Catarina Pamela (2018). Constraints on the design of security policy: Companion quantitative survey 2017. [Data Collection]. Colchester, Essex: UK Data Archive. 10.5255/UKDA-SN-853042

This project seeks to explain how security policy is developed in the UK, and suggest how relationships between different security and defence agencies can be improved. Security policies protect the borders of a nation-state and the security of its citizens and include military, economic, environmental and cybersecurity policies. These policies are designed and implemented by different agencies including military organizations, the intelligence community, and government departments such as the Cabinet Office and the Ministry of Defence. We live in a fast-paced world where security threats may unexpectedly emerge from state actors such as the Syrian government, or non-state actors such as terrorist organizations. In this rapidly changing security environment it is paramount that national security policies be designed with enough flexibility so as to increase the likelihood of success. Important constraints can hinder this need for flexibility. One such constraint is that members of the security and defence community might fear losing support, appearing as incompetent, or harming the reputation of their agency if they fail to implement a security policy they had previously committed to implementing. This can make them wary of significantly modifying a security policy, even in the face of important environmental changes such as budget cuts or the emergence of new information regarding the predicted effectiveness of its implementation. Such fear of domestic backlash likely played a role in American forces continuing to build up Iraqi security forces, even in the face of compelling evidence that suggested these forces were in fact fuelling sectarian conflict. The first part of this study combines theories of foreign policy decision-making with the real-life experiences of high-level practitioners developed during residencies in key government departments and military organizations. The applicant will interviews elite members of the security and defence community in the UK involved in the design and implementation of security policies. Although the interviews will be carried out with members of the security and defence communities from the UK, the theory will be pertinent to describe the development of security policy globally. In the second part of this study this theory will be tested using innovative experimental techniques to allow a detailed and empirically grounded exploration of the formation of security policy in democracies. Members of the security and defence community will be invited to participate in the online survey experiment. They will read about a hypothetical international security crisis, a policy that was initially proposed by a Whitehall agency, and whether the agency acted consistently or inconsistently regarding its implementation. They will then answer questions about their willingness to support the behaviour of the agency they read about. The answers of all participants will be analysed to determine if inconsistent behaviour is punished when it comes to the design and implementation of security policies. Knowledge will be exchanged with members of the security and defence community during the entire study. This will culminate in the third and final part of this study. Findings will be presented at agencies that design and implement security policy in the UK, so each agency can learn more about how other agencies operate and how they view each other. Also, the applicant will organize a two-day practitioner workshop. Here members of the security and defence community, members of the broader civil society such as non-governmental organizations, and representatives of the media and pressure groups will discuss how actors not directly involved security policy play a role in shaping it indirectly.

Data description (abstract)

A companion survey was conducted in April of 2017 (prior to the announcement of the 2017 General Election). The overall objective of the survey is to offer insights about the foreign policy attitudes and security policy preferences of the general UK public. Topics covered include: (1) Identifying what participants consider should be important national foreign policy goals; (2) Identifying what they identify as critical threats to the United Kingdom; (3) Understanding perceptions regarding what the UK’s role in the world should be, including militaristic attitudes and support for national defence; (4) Examining general dispositional approaches that security elites/the general public have towards foreign policy such as multilateralism, unilateralism, and isolationism. The survey was fielded by YouGov with a representative sample of 2,000 UK adults.

Data creators:
Creator Name Affiliation ORCID (as URL)
Thomson Catarina Pamela University of Exeter
Sponsors: Economic and Social Research Council
Grant reference: ES/L010879/1
Topic classification: Politics
Keywords: public opinion, defence and state security policy
Project title: Constraints on the Design of Security Policy: Insights from Audience Costs Theory and Security and Defence Elites in the United Kingdom
Grant holders: Catarina Thomson
Project dates:
1 October 201431 January 2018
Date published: 22 Oct 2018 13:01
Last modified: 22 Oct 2018 13:01

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