Global Security: UK-US Relations - Foreign Affairs Committee Contents


The basis and nature of the UK-US relationship
1.We conclude that recent minor disagreements between the UK and US do not in any way threaten the underlying strength of the bilateral relationship. However, they do highlight the need for better understanding between the UK and US governments if the strength of the relationship is not to be eroded over the longer term. (Paragraph 30)
2.We conclude that in some cases the British media performs a valuable role in informing the public about the state of UK-US relations, but frequently it indulges in speculation about relations between the Prime Minister and the President. Important though personal relations at the highest level may be, they form only one aspect of the transatlantic relationship. (Paragraph 34)
3.We conclude that under the Obama administration there is a significantly greater degree of alignment with the UK on a number of key policy areas. However, as is perhaps inevitable, there remain some key areas of British interest where policies continue to diverge. In these areas the UK may work more effectively in harness with other countries, including its European partners. (Paragraph 38)
4.We conclude that the UK has an extremely close and valuable relationship with the US in specific areas of co-operation, for instance in the fields of intelligence and security; that the historic, trading and cultural links between the two countries are profound; and that the two countries share common values in their commitment to freedom, democracy and the rule of law. However, the use of the phrase 'the special relationship' in its historical sense, to describe the totality of the ever-evolving UK-US relationship, is potentially misleading, and we recommend that its use should be avoided. The overuse of the phrase by some politicians and many in the media serves simultaneously to de-value its meaning and to raise unrealistic expectations about the benefits the relationship can deliver to the UK. We further conclude that there is nothing wrong in acknowledging the undoubted truth that the UK has a special relationship with the US, as long as it is recognised that other countries do so also, including the regional neighbours of the US and its other key strategic allies and partners. (Paragraph 48)
UK-US military and defence co-operation
5.We conclude that stabilisation in Afghanistan does require provision of security, good governance, and a belief within the local population that international forces will outlast the insurgents. We further conclude, as we stated in our Report, Global Security: Afghanistan and Pakistan, that there can be no question of the international community abandoning Afghanistan, and that the need for the international community to convey publicly that it intends to outlast the insurgency and remain in Afghanistan until the Afghan authorities are able to take control of their own security, must be a primary objective. (Paragraph 55)
6.We conclude that reports of dissatisfaction with the capabilities of the British military amongst some middle-ranking and senior US officers must give cause for concern. However, we further conclude that, on the basis of the evidence we have received, these reports appears to be exaggerated in their substance. Notwithstanding this, the fact that these perceptions appear to exist at all remains disturbing, given the considerable effort that has been expended and the sacrifices that have been made by British armed forces in Iraq and Afghanistan. (Paragraph 69)
7.We are disappointed that despite promises to do so, the US Senate has not yet ratified the UK-US Defence Trade Cooperation Treaty. We conclude that its swift ratification is imperative and would bring a range of benefits to both countries, including the enhanced ability of British forces to work with their US counterparts in current and future joint operations. We recommend that the FCO should continue to press strongly its contacts in the Administration and Congress to make rapid progress with this matter. (Paragraph 73)
8.We conclude that the issues relating to rendition through Diego Garcia to which we have previously drawn attention raise disturbing questions about the uses to which US bases on British territory are put. We greatly regret the fact that there are considerable constraints upon the abilities of both the UK Government and Parliament to scrutinise and oversee many of the longstanding agreements which govern US use of British territory. We recommend that the Government should establish a comprehensive review of the current arrangements governing US military use of facilities within the UK and in British Overseas Territories, with a view to identifying shortcomings in the current system of scrutiny and oversight by the UK Government and Parliament, and report to Parliament on proposals to remedy these whilst having regard to the value of these facilities to the security of the UK. (Paragraph 79)
9.We conclude that the current financial climate has implications for the UK's future defence posture and its ability to sustain the level of military commitment in support of the US that it has demonstrated in recent years. We further conclude that it is likely that the extent of political influence which the UK has exercised on US decision-making as a consequence of its military commitments is likely also to diminish. (Paragraph 91)
10.We conclude that, in the short-term, the UK should continue to do all it can to assist the US in the areas where it is also in the UK's security interests to do so, most notably in relation to Afghanistan and Pakistan and in respect of reform of NATO. We further conclude that, in the longer term, the Government's foreign and security policy needs to be driven by the UK's national security obligations including those towards Britain's Overseas Territories, its NATO commitments and its security partnership with the US. (Paragraph 96)
11.We conclude that it is imperative that the forthcoming Strategic Defence Review should be foreign policy and defence commitments led and be preceded by an honest and frank debate about the UK's role in the world based on a realistic assessment of what the UK can, and should, offer and deliver. Only once these fundamental questions have been addressed can the long-term scope and nature of the UK's defence relationship with the US be determined. (Paragraph 101)
UK-US intelligence co-operation
12.We conclude that, despite some recent frictions, the field of intelligence co-operation is one of the areas where the UK-US relationship can rightly be described as 'special'. We further conclude that there can be no doubt that both the UK and US derive considerable benefits from this co-operation, especially in relation to counter-terrorism. (Paragraph 114)
13.We conclude that the decisions of the High Court to uphold the principle that intelligence material provided by one country to another remains confidential to the country which provided it, are to be welcomed. We further conclude that the Government should, in its response to our Report, set out its understanding of the implications of the recent Court of Appeal judgment for future UK-US intelligence co-operation. (Paragraph 125)
UK-US security co-operation
14.We conclude that the new US approach to Pakistan is to be welcomed and marks an important and long overdue recalibration of its relationship in an area which is of significant importance to both the UK and US. (Paragraph 130)
UK-US nuclear co-operation
15.We conclude that the goal of a nuclear weapons-free world is gathering more serious international political support than at any time since the end of the Cold War. We conclude that the Government's leadership on multilateral nuclear disarmament is to be commended. (Paragraph 146)
The FCO's US network
16.We conclude that the FCO's high reputation in the US is well-merited and that the FCO's diplomatic staff undertake valuable work in the UK's national interest through the US Network of Posts. Staff necessarily cover a wide remit in their attempts to exercise influence, and cover it well. (Paragraph 167)
17.We commend the FCO for its US public diplomacy work and conclude that the societal and educational links that it promotes add significantly to the overall effectiveness of the Department's operations in the US. (Paragraph 174)
18.As we concluded in our Report on the Foreign and Commonwealth Office Annual Report 2008-09, the FCO as a whole, like so many other public and private sector organisations, is facing very difficult decisions due to current budgetary constraints. We commend the FCO for the considerable resourcefulness it has shown in making required budgetary savings for this financial year following successive waves of real-term cuts to the FCO's budget by the Treasury. We further conclude that the severity of the spending cuts already being imposed, as evidenced by those being experienced by the US Network, let alone those which are still in the pipeline, gives us grounds for serious concern about the impact they will have on the FCO's future effectiveness in the US. (Paragraph 182)
19.We conclude that the FCO's US Network is facing unacceptable financial pressure due to a double whammy of Treasury imposed budget cuts and a depreciation in Sterling. Having previously shed fat and muscle, the FCO's US network is now being forced to cut into bone. We further conclude that additional cuts will diminish the FCO's ability to exercise influence in the US and have a knock-on effect on the UK's global standing. We recommend that in its response to this Report, the FCO provide us with an update on the current situation in relation to the US Network and its future plans with particular reference to the specific areas of concern we have raised in the Report and the minimum funding it considers necessary to effectively discharge its functions and obligations in the US. (Paragraph 183)
The British political approach to UK-US relations
20.We conclude that there are many lessons to be learned from the UK's political approach towards the US in respect of the Iraq War. We await with interest the conclusions of the Iraq Inquiry which has been investigating these issues in some detail. We conclude that the perception that the British Government was a subservient "poodle" to the US Administration leading up to the period of the invasion of Iraq and its aftermath is widespread both among the British public and overseas and that this perception, whatever its relation to reality, is deeply damaging to the reputation and interests of the UK. (Paragraph 192)
21.We note the evidence from our witnesses that British and European politicians have been over-optimistic about the extent of influence they have over the US. We recommend that the Government continues its informed and measured approach to the US whilst remaining mindful that the US is, and will continue to be, Britain's most important ally. (Paragraph 201)
22.We conclude that the Prime Minister/President relationship is an important aspect of the UK-US relationship. However, it is equally important to ensure that the UK does not conduct foreign policy on the basis of this relationship alone and that strong and enduring links are nurtured at wider Ministerial level and between Parliament and Congress. (Paragraph 207)
23.We conclude that there is cause for concern as to whether the apparent lack of focus on the US at the level of Minister of State in the FCO - which arises simply because of the sheer breadth of the relevant Minister of State's current portfolio - is appropriate given the importance of the UK-US bilateral relationship. This reinforces our view, which we have expressed in our recent Report on the FCO's last annual report, that the size of the FCO Ministerial team in the House of Commons should be increased. (Paragraph 209)
The future of the relationship
24. We conclude that the UK should not regard the US's more pragmatic approach to the UK as a threat to the relationship but rather as a timely opportunity both to re-assess its own approach to the US and to reflect current and future challenges. (Paragraph 215)
25.We conclude that the effects of globalisation, structural changes and shifts in geopolitical power will inevitably affect the UK-US relationship and that it is entirely logical for the US to pursue relationships with other partners who can provide support that the UK cannot. We further conclude that the UK has limited options in terms of how it can influence these structural changes other than to ensure that it has an appropriate foreign policy strategy in place which recognises both the challenges and opportunities created by this developing situation. (Paragraph 222)
26.We conclude that over the longer-term the UK is unlikely to be able to influence the US to the extent it has in the past. We further conclude, however, that in the short term the UK must capitalise upon the opportunities for influence which have arisen as a result of the greater alignment between the UK and US on a range of key policies. (Paragraph 230)
27.We conclude that the UK's relationship should be principally driven by the UK's national interests within individual policy areas. It needs to be characterised by a hard-headed political approach to the relationship and a realistic sense of the UK's limits. In a sense, the foreign policy approach we are advocating is in many ways similar to the more pragmatic tone which President Obama has adopted towards the UK. We believe that this is an issue that would be deserving of scrutiny by our successor Committee in the next Parliament. (Paragraph 240)
28. We conclude that the UK must continue to position itself closely alongside the US in the future, recognising the many mutual benefits which flow from close co-operation in particular areas. We further conclude that the UK needs to be less deferential and more willing to say no to the US on those issues where the two countries' interests and values diverge. (Paragraph 241)

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Prepared 28 March 2010