Strategic Horizons Unit

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This article is part of the Counter-Terrorism Portal project of Spinwatch.

The Strategic Horizons Unit is based in the Cabinet Office. It appears to be part of the Joint Intelligence Organisation.[1][2] It was established 'in accordance with the Prime Minister's written ministerial statement of 22 July 2008 on the National Security Strategy'[3]:

"Alongside (the National Security Secretariat) a horizon scanning unit will be established which will co-ordinate the security-related horizon scanning currently undertaken in a number of Government Departments, with the intention of giving it an overarching framework and a more coherent output."[4]

The unit began operations on 23 September 2008. According to Tessa Jowell in a Written Answer 'Four full-time equivalent staff work in the Cabinet Office's strategic horizons unit, and the unit is in the process of hiring one further member of staff. The functions of the vacant post are currently being performed by a member of the Intelligence Corps (Volunteers). There is no other Cabinet Office division for which horizon scanning is its main mission.'[5]


The Unit appears to have been set up with input from the DIUS Forsesight programme:

The Horizon Scanning Centre has worked with departments across a wide range of issues, for example on International Futures scenarios (for DFID, MOD, BERR, FCO and HMT), on UK Futures 2030 to inform DIUS's own strategy, and to help update the National Security Strategy. It has updated its horizon scans, and plans soon to publish a report on its engagement work on the wider implications of science and technology. It has helped establish a new Strategic Horizons Unit within the Cabinet Office, to address national security issues.[6]

The Unit works closely with the Horizon Scanning Forum:

Mr. Hague: To ask the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster when the Horizon Scanning Forum led by his Department was established; what its role and composition is; how often it meets; and what the role of the Foreign and Commonwealth Office is in the forum. [246279]
Mr. Watson: The first meeting of the Horizon Scanning Forum (HSF) was held in September 2008. The HSF works closely with the new Cabinet Office Strategic Horizons Unit to meet the National Security Strategy commitment to
“strengthen the Government’s capacity for horizon-scanning, forward planning and early warning.”
The HSF acts as the main commissioning and co-ordinating body for national security-related horizon scanning work. The HSF will sit quarterly at working level, improving cross-government co-ordination between those involved in horizon scanning, identifying emerging themes and building an effective community that can share products, expertise and experience. For security reasons, it would not be appropriate to make public the precise composition of the HSF, but the Foreign and Commonwealth Office is represented.[7]

Futures Symposium

The Strategic Horizons Unit held a 'Futures Symposium' at the Defence Academy in Shrivenham on 30 November and 1 December 2009. It collaborated with DfiD, DEFRA, DECC, MoD, the Department of Health and the Home Office 'plus contributors from the academic and private Sectors', to present 'a technological "tapestry" of the next few decades'in order to 'grapple with the national security issues of the future'.[8] As background the Unit noted:

The accelerating nature of progress in scientific and technological innovation and its impact upon our national security is increasingly evident. We need to be aware of the scientific capabilities within our grasp right now, planning for the threats and opportunities already with us, and the challenges which will come our way from technological developments in the imminent future. The proximity of some of these challenges, and the subtle nature of their approach, means that we may encounter some of them sooner than we may think. For instance, security issues arise from developments in genetic research, information and communications technology (including artificial intelligence), technical enhancement of human beings, and the exploitation of space.[8]

Insufficiently integrated into the policy process

According to one account, in the context of arguing that the UK should echo the US in having a National Intelligence Council in addition to the newly created UK National Security Council:

Britain’s new National Security Council is built along much the same lines as its counterpart on the other side of the Atlantic – but if we’re copying the American model, how come we didn’t create a National Intelligence Council to go with it?
...Unlike the JIC, the NIC uses both secret and open source data in drawing together this composite assessment – rather than falling into the Cold War trap of assuming that all the important information will come from covertly obtained data. And while the UK has experimented with a Strategic Horizons Unit in the Cabinet Office, it has suffered from being divorced from actual policymaking – unlike the NIC, which is firmly embedded in all levels of the NSC process.[9]

One other contrast is noted, namely the need for government to make use of think tanks for the generation of ideas:

...Finally, the NIC plays a crucial role in bringing external thinking in to government on foreign policy issues by trawling the academic and think tank communities for ideas, including through its NIC Associates program. The UK, by contrast, tends to find this a lot more difficult. While the Strategic Horizons Unit undertook extensive outreach for the update of the NSS, it was badly linked to actual policymaking as noted above; and while FCO’s Policy Planning Staff is theoretically charged with maintaining close links with think tanks, in practice it has not done so for several years.[9]


Staffing in the Strategic Horizons Unit. Screen shot from Cabinet Office FoI response FOI309865, dated 9 February 2011


  • 2008-2010: Lynette Nusbacher Head of the Strategic Horizons Unit at The Cabinet Office, December 2008 — March 2010[10] |
  • Circa October 2009 Philip Bower, Deputy Head of the Strategic Horizons Unit, Cabinet Office, UK[11] |
  • Circa 2009 Cdr Steve Tatham[12]
  • Circa June 2009 'The functions of the vacant post are currently being performed by a member of the Intelligence Corps (Volunteers).'[13]





  1. Netherlands Infrared Consulting and Modelling lists one of its 'recent' speaking engagements as: 'Challenge 13 Workshop Strategic Horizons Unit, Joint Intelligence Organisation UK Cabinet Office': NIRCM Publications, accessed 25 February 2010
  2. Lynette Nusbacher is listed as Head, Strategic Horizons Unit, Joint Intelligence Organisation, Cabinet Office, UK in Eden Intelligence ITI 2009 – Washington DC INTERNATIONAL TERRORISM AND INTELLIGENCE, accessed 6 March 2010
  3. Francis Maude to Tessa Jowell Strategic Horizons Unit: Manpower Cabinet Office Written answers and statements, 26 June 2009
  4. Francis Maude to Tessa Jowell Strategic Horizons Unit: Manpower Cabinet Office Written answers and statements, 26 June 2009
  5. Francis Maude to Tessa Jowell Strategic Horizons Unit: Manpower Cabinet Office Written answers and statements, 26 June 2009
  6. DIUS Supplementary submission from the Department for Innovation, Universities and Skills: SCIENTIFIC ADVICE, RISK AND EVIDENCE BASED POLICY MAKING, Putting Science and Engineering at the Heart of Government Policy - Innovation, Universities, Science and Skills Committee, Memorandum 86, February 2009, accessed 6 March 2010
  7. William Hague to Tom Watson, Horizon Scanning Forum [246279] Daily Hansard - Written Answers, 9 Feb 2009 : Column 1587W,1588W
  8. 8.0 8.1 Cabinet Office Strategic Horizons Unit Futures Symposium 30 Nov & 1 Dec. ‘Future Security Challenges: Opportunities, Risks and Policy Implications of Technological Innovation
  9. 9.0 9.1 Alex Evans Why Britain needs a National Intelligence Council, Global Dashboard, July 19, 2010
  10. Linked In Lynette Nusbacher, accessed 6 September 2010
  11. CASIS / ACERS 2009 CASIS INTERNATIONAL CONFERENCE Terrorism, Cyberspies and a New ‘Cold’ War: Emerging Challenges for Security and Intelligence October 29-31, 2009 Crowne Plaza Hotel Ottawa, Canada
  12. Cabinet Office FoI response FOI275654, dated 1 October 2010
  13. Francis Maude to Tessa Jowell Strategic Horizons Unit: Manpower Cabinet Office Written answers and statements, 26 June 2009
  14. Brunel University Kristian Gustafson, accessed 6 March 2010