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


1. The Foreign Affairs Committee last inquired specifically into the topic of relations between the United Kingdom and the United States in 2001. Our predecessor Committee at that time decided that it would be appropriate to begin its work following the 2001 General Election by looking at the UK's most important bilateral relationship. The inquiry was rapidly overtaken by events. As the Committee stated in its subsequent Report, published in December 2001, "we could not have predicted in July [when we launched our inquiry] just how relevant to the UK's immediate foreign policy priorities our inquiry would become".[1] Al-Qaeda's 11 September attacks on the US were to have a profound effect on international relations and an equally significant impact on the UK's own foreign policy priorities.

2. Since 2001 the Committee has devoted much time and resources to scrutinising the many foreign policy facets of the so-called 'War against Terror' and a wide spectrum of issues relating to global security. In total, since 2001, the Committee has published thirteen reports on these themes, each of which has involved, to a greater or lesser degree, an examination of UK-US co-operation in specific areas and of the implications of US actions for UK foreign policy.[2]

3. Given the extent to which the UK's relationship with the US has influenced British foreign policy since 2001, we thought it fitting that our final major policy inquiry of the 2005-10 Parliament should be a re-assessment of the state of the UK's relationship with what the Government describes as its "most important bilateral ally",[3] not least because since January 2009 the US Administration has been headed by a President with a very different global outlook to his predecessor.

Our inquiry: scope and focus

4. In July 2009 we announced the terms of reference for our inquiry. We stated that we would inquire into "the relationship between the UK and the US, and the implications this has on foreign policy". We said that we would welcome views on the following issues:

  • the basis of the bilateral relationship between the UK and US;
  • UK and US views on the nature and value of the bilateral relationship and the contribution of the UK-US foreign policy relationship to global security;
  • the extent to which UK and US interests align in key foreign policy related areas including security, defence and intelligence co-operation;
  • the extent to which the UK is able to influence US foreign policy and UK policy is influenced by the US under the Obama Administration;
  • the extent to which 'the special relationship' still exists and the factors which determine this; and
  • the implications of any changes in the nature of the bilateral relationship for British foreign policy.

5. Our inquiry coincided in its timing with the opening of the Iraq Inquiry chaired by Sir John Chilcot. This was officially launched on 30 July 2009, with the aim of identifying lessons that can be learned from the Iraq conflict.[4] By its nature, the Iraq Inquiry inevitably touches on many aspects of the transatlantic relationship. Although our report makes reference to some of the evidence presented to that inquiry, and overlaps with it in some specific areas, it does not in any way seek to replicate the work that is being done by Sir John and his panel. We await the findings of the Iraq Inquiry with interest.

6. Given the extent of our previous scrutiny of individual policy areas and regions where the UK and US have co-operated in the field of global security, we have not inquired into each and every aspect of this co-operation. Nor is our Report intended to provide a comprehensive appraisal of US foreign policy priorities. That task has already been discharged by a range of experts and commentators on both sides of the Atlantic, and our focus must necessarily be upon US policy only insofar as it has implications for the work of the UK Government in general and the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) in particular. We have therefore chosen to concentrate in this Report on a number of key political and security-related aspects of UK-US co-operation, as a guide to how the transatlantic relationship is currently working.

Conduct of the inquiry

7. We held several oral evidence sessions during the inquiry. On 11 November 2009, we heard from Dr Robin Niblett, Chatham House, Dr Dana Allin, Institute of International Strategic Studies, Dr David Dunn, University of Birmingham, Lord William Wallace, Emeritus Professor of International Relations at the London School of Economics and Professor Malcolm Chalmers, Royal United Services Institute. Our questions focused on the political dimensions of the UK-US relationship as well as the extent of co-operation on military and intelligence matters. In our second evidence session, held on 2 December, we heard from three panels of witnesses: Nick Witney, European Council on Foreign Relations, provided evidence on the European aspects of transatlantic relations, while Stryker McGuire, Newsweek, and Justin Webb, BBC, offered testimony on the wide-ranging political and popular links between the UK and US. We gained insights into the UK's diplomatic effort in the US from Sir Jeremy Greenstock GCMG, the former British Ambassador to the UN from 1998 to 2003, and Sir David Manning GCMG, CVO, who was British Ambassador to the US from 2003 to 2007. Our final evidence session, with Ivan Lewis MP, Minister of State at the FCO, was held on 16 December. We are grateful to all our witnesses, as well as to those who submitted written evidence during the inquiry. A full list of written evidence is appended to this Report.

8. Also, in October 2009 we visited New York and Washington DC in connection with our inquiry. The visit gave us insight into how the Obama Administration was settling in, and a clearer understanding of its foreign policy priorities and perspectives. We would like to take this opportunity to thank all of our interlocutors for their time, and to thank the staff in the FCO's Posts who facilitated our visit. A full list of the meetings we conducted during the visit can be found in the Annex. The work of the Posts is discussed in Chapter 4.

9. Our Report starts by examining the extent of the links between the UK and US and the much-debated question of the 'special relationship', before considering the extent of specific co-operation in a number of key areas. We then consider the role and activities of the FCO in the US. Further sections of the Report discuss the political approach that successive British Governments have adopted in their dealings with the US and what form the relationship may take in the future.

1   Foreign Affairs Committee, British-US Relations, Second Report, Session 2001-02, HC 327, 11 December 2001, para 6 Back

2   Seventh Report of Session 2001-02, Foreign Policy Aspects of the War against Terrorism, HC 384; Second Report of Session 2003-03, Foreign Policy Aspects of the War against Terrorism, HC 196; Tenth Report of Session 2002-03, Foreign Policy Aspects of the War against Terrorism, HC 405; Second Report of Session 2003-04, Foreign Policy Aspects of the War Against Terrorism, HC 81, Seventh Report of Session 2003-04, Foreign Policy Aspects of the War Against Terrorism, HC 441; Fourth Report of Session 2005-06, Foreign Policy Aspects of the War against Terrorism, HC 573; Eighth Report of Session 2006-07,Global Security: The Middle East, HC 363; Second Report of Session 2007-08, Global Security: Russia, HC 51; Fifth Report of Session 2007-08, Global Security: Iran, HC 142; Tenth Report of Session 2007-08, Global Security: Japan and Korea, HC 449; Fourth Report of Session 2008-09, Global Security: Non-Proliferation, HC 222; Fifth Report of Session 2008-09, Global Security: Israel and the Occupied Palestinian Territories, HC 261, Eighth Report of Session 2008-09, Global Security: Afghanistan and Pakistan, HC 302 Back

3   Ev 56 Back

4   The Prime Minister announced on 15 July 2009 that an inquiry by a committee of Privy Counsellors would take place. More information on the Iraq Inquiry can be found at  Back

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