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


Military and defence co-operation

49. There is widespread agreement that the defence relationship between the UK and the US is a central plank of the wider bilateral relationship.[86] Since the end of the Cold War, the UK has provided the largest and, according to Professor William Wallace and Christopher Phillips, the "most effective" non-American contingent in three US-led extra-European conflicts[87]: the two Iraq wars in 1991 and 2003 respectively, where British support for the US-led coalition was important both domestically in the US and internationally; and the intervention in Afghanistan since 2001, where UK support has been described as "instrumental to US policy" and where a UK withdrawal would have a significant impact on the US.[88]

50. At a practical level, military liaison arrangements, individual secondments between American and British officers, planning at Central Command (CENTCOM) Headquarters in Tampa, Florida and information-sharing in general remain, according to Professor Clarke, "vigorous and intense". He believed that the closest military relationships existed between the two navies and air forces, though ground forces less so.[89] Within the realm of Special Forces operations, Professor Clarke added that there was "good co-operation and unconfirmed evidence that in Iraq UK intelligence and Special Forces played key roles in the neutralisation of Al Qaeda-Iraq after 2006".[90] British military and civilian officials have also had privileged access to US defence planning. Officials from the Ministry of Defence were embedded in the Pentagon team that conducted the 2005 US Quadrennial Defense Review, for the first time in such a process. Others are seconded to US naval headquarters in Norfolk, Virginia and to a number of research and development programmes across the United States.[91]

51. In the UK, the 1998 Strategic Defence Review acknowledged the importance and indeed centrality of the US to UK defence efforts. The subsequent 2003 Defence White Paper did likewise.[92] The FCO too, told us that the UK's national security depended on a uniquely close partnership with the US, both in NATO and bilaterally. Its submission continued: "at its heart, the relationship relies on sharing the burdens of nuclear deterrence, the benefits of intelligence and technology, and the risks of military operations. As a result, we have maintained an exceptional level of trust and understanding".[93] One other consequence of note, as Professor Chalmers wrote in his written evidence, is that UK's current military capabilities are now "primarily designed to be used as contributions to collective operations, rather than in defence of uniquely national interests".[94] This was reaffirmed in the Government's Green Paper on the Strategic Defence Review, published on 3 February 2010, which stated that "no nation can hope to protect all aspects of national security by acting alone", and that "international partnerships will remain essential to our security, both membership of multilateral organisations—like NATO, the EU and the UN—and bilateral relationships, especially with the US".[95]


52. According to the FCO, there are few areas of contemporary foreign policy in which the UK and US co-operate as closely as in Afghanistan and Pakistan, whether in diplomatic, military or development terms. President Obama's re-calibrated strategy on Afghanistan showed "a high degree of convergence with the UK strategy presented to the House of Commons in December 2007".[96] Seventeen British personnel were embedded in US Central Command in late 2008 while it conducted a review of the coalition's strategy in Afghanistan.

53. On the ground, there is close co-ordination of UK and US resources through a wide range of structures. The FCO highlighted the existence of "UK and US military forces and civilian experts, including development and rule of law specialists, working with Afghan counterparts and other international partners to deliver our comprehensive approach on the ground in the Provincial Reconstruction Team in Lashkar Gah".[97] The FCO has also been working with the US as they develop their civilian plans, sharing UK experiences in Helmand and helping with national level development programmes, whilst also encouraging the US to align their assistance behind Afghan development priorities and strengthen the capacity of Afghan government institutions.

54. Military co-operation increased in 2009 as the UK and US conducted simultaneous and joint military operations in Helmand with a view to clearing the insurgency from major population centres to improve long-term security and create a safe environment for voters during the Presidential election in late August 2009.[98] As Professor Clarke's written submission made clear, UK forces in Afghanistan have been given status "by the appointment of a British 3-star general as Deputy Commander ISAF, and the new military constellation that sees Sir David Richards as Chief of the General Staff, General Nick Parker as the new DCOMISAF, the US General Stanley McChrystal as Commander ISAF, and General David Petraeus as CENTCOM commander".[99] In January 2010, the UK's then Ambassador to Kabul, Mark Sedwill, was appointed as NATO's new Senior Civilian Representative in Afghanistan, adding another senior British voice to NATO's machinery in Afghanistan. Professor Clarke added that "this promises a new effort to run the operation more genuinely from Kabul rather than from national capitals, with a greater focus on genuine counter-insurgency operations, and a clear mission in Helmand for British forces to deepen their hold on the central areas - Lashkar Gah, Babaji, Gereshk - to make the 'inkspot strategy' of counter-insurgency irreversible".[100] Below at paragraph 59, we discuss some of the challenges that the UK faces in respect of its military co-operation with the US in Afghanistan.

55. 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.


56. The defence trade between the US and UK is worth approximately $2.8 billion per year.[101] Although the US sources a relatively small proportion of its defence equipment from overseas, the UK is the biggest offshore supplier to the US military and indeed the US is the second largest importer of UK defence goods, after Saudi Arabia.[102] The US is also the Ministry of Defence's biggest supplier and a number of US companies now have a presence in the UK including Boeing, Honeywell, Lockheed Martin, Raytheon, ITT, General Dynamics, Harris, Rockwell and Northrop Grumman. In the US, British companies such as BAE Systems, QinetiQ, Rolls-Royce, Cobham, Ultra and Martin Baker contribute in various ways to the US defence industrial base. UKTI argued that they have been "highly successful in meeting niche requirements in avionics, vehicle communications, military bridging, howitzers, and Chemical, Biological, Radiological and Nuclear (CBRN) defence equipment".[103] In total, British companies employ around 117,000 people in virtually all of the 50 US states.[104] According to Professor Wallace and Christopher Phillips, "given the dominant size of the US defence market, and its technological lead, this is an immense advantage to British companies—and to the British Government, so long as the UK is committed to maintaining a substantial defence".[105]

57. The UK and US are also partners in 22 collaborative equipment programmes, the most significant of which is the Joint Strike Fighter (JSF) programme. This involves some 100 British companies, within which the UK is considered to be a 'Level One' privileged partner.


58. Professor Chalmers argued that the Government's commitment to maintaining a position as the US's leading ally (previously in Iraq and now in Afghanistan) has been a driving force in recent decisions to commit forces to major operations. He added that this desire has also been a key driver in debates on how geographical responsibilities in theatres of operations have been shared, and on the extent to which the UK armed forces have been given operational autonomy over their area of responsibility.[106] The practical consequences of this were highlighted by Lord Walker, the Chief of the General Staff during the Iraq war, when he gave evidence to the Iraq Inquiry. He said that the MoD had several options available in terms of the contribution the UK could make to the military effort, but that ultimately the largest package, involving a large land force option, was chosen because the military felt this was important to their relations with the US military, and also because it would help army morale.[107] Professor Chalmers also argued that each of the UK's armed services have sought to maintain a high level of interoperability, as well as something close to what he describes as "qualitative parity", with their US counterparts, a task which has been made all the more difficult by rapid technological change.[108] As Professor Chalmers stated, "none of this is cheap".[109] We consider issues relating to defence spending in more detail below at paragraph 80.

US military perceptions of the British armed forces

59. Since we last reported on UK-US relations in 2001, the vast bulk of British military deployment in combat operations has been undertaken in support of US-led interventions, most notably in Iraq and Afghanistan. Given the desire of the UK to use its position as the US's leading military ally to allow it to exercise influence at an operational level and to punch above its weight internationally, US perceptions of the British armed forces are important.

60. In recent joint operations the UK has typically sought to send forces at least 15% the size of the US contingent,[110] and, as we noted above at paragraph 54, has tried to ensure that British officers are appointed to second-in-command positions, as is currently the case in Afghanistan, thus ensuring British influence at an operational level.[111] As an example of the linkage between the scale of forces committed and the degree of influence exercised over decision-making, Professor Chalmers noted that the UK was the leading ISAF power on the ground in Helmand between 2006 and 2008, and as such had a commensurate share in shaping policy in that province. However, he added that "once the US began to deploy large forces to the province in 2009, the UK's ability to set the ISAF agenda in Helmand, and indeed in southern Afghanistan as a whole, began to decline".[112]

61. During the course of our inquiry, reports of apparent US military dissatisfaction with British tactics and equipment came to our attention.[113] This issue was also raised in some of the written submissions we received. For instance, Heather Conley and Reginald Dale stated that defence co-operation has been "endangered by what Americans (and many British officers) see as the British Army's poor performance in Basra, in Iraq, and by the Army's lack of appropriate counter-insurgency equipment to fight in Afghanistan—due to the Brown Government's decision not to provide additional resources".[114] Dr Dunn stated that "without an expansion of the Army and proper equipment including more helicopters, the UK will be continue to be viewed as a failing force of diminishing value to Washington".[115] Like many other commentators, he argued that British armed forces have been increasingly asked to do more and more with consistently fewer resources,[116] and that this has had an impact on UK-US relations in a number of ways. He stated that in respect of Afghanistan, a view exists in the US that the British Army has been deployed in such a way and on such a scale that "it stands on the verge of strategic defeat, and that only with the surge of US combat troops to fight in Helmand and elsewhere will the situation be saved". He added that "American criticism of this nature is not of the fighting skills of the British Army but of the way that they have been deployed, the resources they have had to do the job with and the subsequent limitations of role that this has implied".[117]

62. We asked Professor Chalmers whether he attached any importance to the negative views that allegedly exist within the US defence establishment. He responded that he would attach importance to them and that they should be regarded "with due concern". The UK has tried to follow recent developments in the US approach despite the fact that its resources were much more constrained. He added that in future the UK ought to be more wary about "taking on tasks that basically involve having the main responsibility for entire areas", such as Basra or Helmand, and that "one of the implications for us when thinking about the future of our defence forces and future defence operations is whether we might be better taking on tasks that we are sure we can do or are more confident about in order to show the Americans that we will do what we promise".[118]

63. Professor Chalmers told us that although the UK military remains one of the most powerful in Europe, "the resources in the country are such that we found ourselves very quickly overstretched in Helmand. Fortunately, the Americans are now there in great strength and are supporting us. We left ourselves vulnerable to that possibility by being prepared in the first place to say that we would take on such a difficult area by ourselves".[119]

64. Professor Clarke argued that UK military contributions to the Afghan operation "have to overcome some legacy issues in the minds of many US military analysts and American politicians".[120] He told us that the British Operation in Basra between 2003 and 2009 is regarded as "a disappointment; successful in the early phase but unable to cope fully when the operation became something different." He pointed to the fact that:

    US military professionals well understand that UK forces have borne the overwhelming brunt of the fighting since 2006, but also understand that the UK's contributions in Helmand, still less in Kandahar and Kabul, are too small to be left to do the job alone, now that 'support for nation-building' has turned into a small regional war.[121]

65. Professor Clarke believed it was vital for UK forces to overcome these "legacy issues" and re-establish their credibility in the minds of US military planners and politicians by prosecuting a successful counter-insurgency campaign in Helmand. The Coalition could not win the Afghan war only in Helmand, "but it can certainly lose it there if the present strategy is seen by the world not to prevail".[122]

66. In our August 2009 Report on Global Security: Afghanistan and Pakistan, we set out our assessment that British operations were beginning to produce dividends in Helmand. Subsequent testimony supports this,[123] and informally we have been told that the tremendous work which has been undertaken by British forces recently has gone a considerable way to overcoming the Basra legacy issues described by some of our witnesses. It is also worth noting that in his August 2009 Strategic Assessment of the situation in Afghanistan, the US Commander of ISAF, General Stanley McChrystal, stated that changes were required if the international mission in Afghanistan is to be successful. We note that many of the suggestions he made have been practised by the British task force in Helmand for over eighteen months and that the US is now co-operating with UK forces on this basis.[124] All of this information suggests that the view of US troops on the ground in Afghanistan is broadly supportive of the British armed forces. However, it remains unclear as to whether this view is replicated more widely in the US defence establishment.

67. Many of the senior interlocutors from the US Administration that we met during our visit to the US were adamant that senior officials in the Administration and the military were entirely supportive of the UK's contribution in Afghanistan. Giving a military perspective, General Petraeus, the head of US Central Command, has also stated publicly that he has "always been impressed by the courage, capacity for independent action, skill and exceptional will of [British] soldiers".[125] Regarding the UK forces deployed to Afghanistan he said: "British troops have been in a very tough place and they have done exceedingly well".[126]

68. We asked Ivan Lewis, Minister of State at the FCO, for his views on this issue. He responded by saying that, "I think that the General Petraeuses of this world are rather respected figures, and maybe we should listen to them rather than to some unnamed, anonymous individuals—without being too disrespectful".[127]

69. 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.

Defence trade co-operation and collaboration

70. In 2000, the US promised to grant the UK a waiver from its International Traffic in Arms Regulations (ITAR). The waiver would have allowed the UK to acquire and make use of certain US military technologies without going through a long approval process for a licence. However, this waiver was not in the event granted, in part due to Congressional concerns that the UK had not strengthened its laws governing exports to third countries such as China.[128]

71. In June 2007, President Bush and Prime Minister Blair signed a treaty that would end the need for a separate US export licence for each item of defence equipment and technology sent to the UK. The objectives of the UK-US Defence Trade Cooperation Treaty are to improve interoperability between the UK and US armed forces, support combined military or counter-terrorism operations, and reduce the current barriers to the exchange of defence goods, services, technical data and the sharing of classified information in support of co-operative defence research, development and production and in certain defence and security projects where the UK or the US is the end-user.[129] The Treaty has been the subject of ongoing inquiry by the Defence Committee.[130]

72. Although the Treaty was ratified by the UK in early 2008, it has not yet entered into force because it remains subject to ratification by the US Senate. The FCO's written submission stated that "the UK continues to work closely with the US Administration to prepare for ratification and subsequent implementation".[131] We raised our concerns about the delay in ratification in a number of meetings with relevant US interlocutors during our visit in October 2009. We were told that the Administration understood the importance of making progress in the Senate and remained fully committed to pushing ahead with ratification. However, despite strong expectations that the matter would be resolved in October 2009, this has not yet happened.

73. 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.

74. Other problems in the field of defence trade co-operation have been the subject of extensive comment by the Defence Committee and others.[132] A frequent difficulty is that with regard to defence procurement in the American system, the Administration may propose but Congress, as keeper of the purse-strings, disposes. As Professor Clarke commented to us, "presidential favour only goes so far in day to day US politics".[133] By way of example he cited the fact that despite support in the White House for the UK's request to have full access to all software codes on the US Joint Strike Fighter Project, a project in which the UK has invested heavily in both financial and opportunity costs, there has been "little evidence of more than a strictly commercial approach on the part of the US Congress, still less the manufacturers". He stated that when it comes to commercial defence interests "there is evidence of sympathy for UK positions but little practical effect".[134]

Accountability of US bases on British territory

75. The UK acts as the host for US military facilities within Britain and elsewhere. These include two major air bases at RAF Lakenheath and RAF Mildenhall in East Anglia, a forward operating base at RAF Fairford in Glouscestershire, a US intercept and intelligence analysis station at RAF Menwith Hill in North Yorkshire, an intelligence analysis centre at RAF Molesworth in Cambridgeshire, and eight other small bases.[135] The US also has significant military installations in two British Overseas Territories, with communications and landing facilities at Ascension Island and a major naval base at Diego Garcia in the British Indian Ocean Territory (BIOT). According to Professor William Wallace and Christopher Phillips, "the United States benefits very considerably from the provision of these bases", while "Britain benefits from this power projection to the extent that it shares US objectives". Professor Wallace added that the countervailing costs to the UK are largely intangible but may be summarised as "the cession of sovereignty over British territory, within a framework where executive agreements largely beyond public or parliamentary accountability rest upon mutual trust between the British and American administrations".[136] Referring to the arrangements in place for British oversight of US military bases in the UK, Professor Wallace stated that:

    […] when the Americans upgraded the Fylingdales radar system, Her Majesty's Chief Scientific Adviser went to Washington to ask about the technical specifications of the upgraded radar, and he was not allowed to see classified material. That seems to me rather odd for a major installation on the sovereign territory of the United Kingdom.[137]

76. Professor Wallace argued that there ought to be a form of parliamentary scrutiny of these bases beyond current arrangements which permit visits by the Intelligence and Security Committee, as well as full Government disclosure of the status and currency of lease arrangements entered into with the US.[138]

77. In respect of Diego Garcia, Professor Wallace argued that the claim that the territory is under British command "is completely offset by the relatively junior nature of the attached squadron leader who is usually the only person there".[139] In previous Reports we have discussed issues relating to the US presence on Diego Garcia.[140] In the most recent of these, our 2009 review of the FCO's responsibilities for human rights, we expressed serious concern about the island's use by the US for the purposes of extraordinary rendition. We concluded that it was unacceptable that the Government had not taken steps to obtain the full details of the two individuals who were rendered through Diego Garcia and that the use of Diego Garcia for US rendition flights without the knowledge or consent of the British Government raised disquieting questions about the effectiveness of the Government's exercise of its responsibilities in relation to this territory. We further concluded that it was a matter of concern that many allegations continue to be made that the two acknowledged instances of rendition through BIOT do not represent the limit of the territory's use for this purpose, and we added that "it is extremely difficult for the British Government to assess the veracity of these allegations without active and candid co-operation from the US Administration". The Government did not accept our conclusions.[141]

78. Professor Chalmers told us:

    The UK itself, as well as bases in Diego Garcia, Ascension Island and Cyprus, is very important to the United States. When we have discussions that are framed around the proposition that unless we do A, B or C we will threaten our relationship with the United States, we have to remember that those bases are really quite an important card for us, which we do not have to remind the Americans of. They know they are important to their interests, but it does mean that we can be a little more self-confident that the Americans are not going to take steps that are fundamentally against our interests, without there being consequences.[142]

79. 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.


80. The ability to fight alongside US forces is, in the view of many of our witnesses, one of the most important practical and tangible assets that the UK can offer the US in support of the UK-US bilateral relationship. In her written evidence, Frances Burwell considered that "across a broad spectrum of US opinion, from the military to policymakers to the public at large, Britain is seen as a country that has joined the United States in some very difficult and dangerous tasks".[143] In return for providing the US with this assistance, the UK has harboured what Professor Wallace described as "expectations of influence".[144] According to Nick Witney,

    [In] the last major Defence White Paper [in] 2003, we are saying that the job of the British armed forces is to be sized and shaped so that we can make a chunky contribution to an American-led operation. That will get us to the table, so that we can be there when the decisions are taken (with the suppressed premise that they will therefore be better decisions).[145]

81. This approach has had tactical consequences for the military as well as strategic implications for defence and foreign policy. Professor Chalmers noted that in respect of more challenging operations, the UK only envisaged committing its armed forces if the US is also doing so. Referring to British involvement in Afghanistan, he stated:

    Despite claims that the operations were vital to the UK's national interests, there was never any question of it being involved […] without US military commitment. Nor, despite the government's insistence on the threat that a Taliban-led Afghanistan would pose to the UK, is there now any realistic possibility that the UK would retain its armed forces in that country were the US to leave.[146]

82. Many of our witnesses also highlighted what they perceived to be the cost to the UK of this 'hug them close' approach. Professor Wallace and Christopher Phillips argued that, "the costs over the preceding ten years of maintaining Britain's position as America's most loyal and effective ally, with a contribution to make in all major dimensions of conflict, have been high". They added that the US drive towards network-enabled warfare and a steep rise in US defence procurement has left the UK "with a heavily overcommitted future procurement programme".[147] In support of this argument, they referred to a study by RUSI, which estimated the British contribution to operations in Afghanistan in 2008 at 80% of the American effort in relation to population size and 110% in relation to GDP before concluding that "the parallel commitment to intervention and post-conflict occupation in Iraq has left British forces severely overstretched".[148]

83. There are many who question whether the UK can and should continue with this level of commitment and investment. Frances Burwell argued that the concurrent wars in Afghanistan and Iraq had revealed "the limitations of British military forces, as well as those of everyone else", and she stated that "the stress of frequent deployments and the loss of lives and matériel in such operations has exacted a high price". In her view, the increase in US military personnel in Afghanistan meant that US forces would increasingly dominate operations and as a consequence, "allies and partners may wonder whether their contributions […] are making a real difference, beyond the immensely valuable political demonstration of allied unity". She concluded that these pressures were likely to make the UK "less capable and less willing to be a significant partner in future military operations".[149]

84. Professor Clarke told us that under the present circumstances the UK could no longer maintain its existing force structure alongside open-ended military commitments.[150] Professor Chalmers argued that, simply because of the two countries' respective sizes, the US was more important to the UK than the UK to the US, and that whether the UK was important in particular circumstances "often depends on what we bring to the table, whether it is the symbolic importance of being there […], military capabilities or basing or whatever it might be".[151] Professor Wallace believed that as the US shifted its strategic focus away from Europe towards the projection of power in the Middle East and perhaps the Asia Pacific region, it would be more difficult for the UK to make corresponding military commitments unless "we have long-range transport and Oceanic naval deployment, and those things cost a lot of money".[152]

85. Many of our witnesses argued that cuts to the defence budget could lead to a decline in Britain's international role and influence, and thus its ultimate utility to the United States. Dr Dunn told us that it was difficult to predict accurately the impact of defence spending cuts but warned that "they are likely to diminish British influence in Washington bilaterally".[153]

86. For those who believe that defence spending must be maintained in order for the UK to retain its influence over the US, the financial prognosis for the Ministry of Defence is not encouraging. In a statement to the House on 3 February 2010, the Secretary of State for Defence said that "the forward defence programme faces real financial pressure. We will need to rebalance what we do in order to meet our priorities".[154] A report by RUSI, published in January 2010, stated that "the growing costs of UK defence capabilities, combined with cuts in the Ministry of Defence (MoD) budget as a result of the nation's fiscal crisis, will make it impossible to preserve current numbers of service personnel and front-line capabilities". The report projected a fall in trained UK service personnel of around 20%: from 175,000 in 2010 to around 142,000 in 2016, arguing that this would be the probable result of an expected cut in the defence budget of around 10-15% in real terms, together with continuing real annual unit cost growth of between 1% and 2% for UK defence capabilities.[155] Dr Dunn believed that, "the result will be that something has to give. Whichever cuts are made will likely amount to a dramatic reduction in Britain's traditional defence role, with wider foreign policy implications".[156]

Access and influence

87. Even if it were to be financially affordable, there are those who question whether the UK should continue to try to retain its status as the United States' leading military ally, in the light of what they perceive to be questionable returns by way of increased access and influence. Nick Witney told us that the assumptions which he considered had underpinned recent UK defence and foreign policy, that the UK's defence investment and commitment would result in an ability to influence the US, had been "tested to destruction, first through Iraq and now through Afghanistan. We cannot afford it. Even if we could, the Americans are not that interested, because they are so big and have so much power to bring to the table".[157] He argued that the UK had to rid itself of "the illusion that we can act as a loyal first lieutenant" which will be "admitted to the inner councils of the American defence establishment and will be able to guide and steer them, because the experience of recent years has demonstrated that we can't do that".[158]

88. Professor Wallace's view was that although the UK might have had access, this had not necessarily equated to influence. He commented:

    I was quite struck by those who told me that we have had people embedded in the analytical stage of the discussion of US policy towards Afghanistan, but that the Americans insisted on taking the embedded British officers out when they moved on to the strategy stage. That is access without influence. It is clearly going to be a question for anyone's security review: where are our interests in this and how much are we going to spend in order to buy privileged access?[159]

According to him, "The sentiment of a lot of people in and around the Ministry of Defence is that we need either to spend more on buying influence or accept that we have less than we would like.[160]

89. Some of our witnesses advocated a major re-think of the nature and extent of the UK's defence links to the US. Professor Chalmers commented that as the time for a new UK Defence Review approached, "there is bound to be renewed scrutiny of whether the UK is getting an adequate return (in terms of influence on the US) in return for its defence efforts, and what this means for future defence priorities".[161] He argued that the UK should recognise that it could exert greatest influence over the US either when decisions to take military action were about to be taken, or when commitments to provide forces (or reinforcements) were being made. If the UK had reservations about how military operations may be conducted, or whether they should be conducted at all, it should be willing to make any military commitment dependent upon a satisfactory resolution of its concerns. Sometimes, he argued, the UK should be "willing to say no".[162]

90. Professor Chalmers said the UK needed to recognise that "when the US is fully engaged and determined to take military action, the views of allies are unlikely to count for much in its decision-making calculus". The UK could often be more influential if it pursued an approach that was complementary to that of the US, rather than simply mirroring whatever current US priorities might be. In the cases of both Sierra Leone and Kosovo, "it was the UK's willingness to take a lead in military action, or to plan for unilateral action, that was the key to its ability to help shape the strategic environment".[163]

91. 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.

Niche and specialist capabilities

92. For some of our witnesses, one possible way of adjusting to decreased resources and providing "added value" in the UK-US defence relationship would be to focus the UK's defence spend increasingly on more affordable "niche" capabilities[164] which, in turn, could result in greater political leverage. Professor Clarke argued that:

    rather than try to maintain a force structure that looks essentially like US forces on a smaller scale—in effect a beauty contest to encourage US policy-makers and public to take the UK more seriously—the objective might instead be for the UK to be capable of taking on a particular role in a joint operation and doing it independently, reliably and without recourse to significant US help.[165]

There were military niche and specialist capabilities which the UK possessed and which the US did not. These would help UK forces to "fit in" to a US battle plan for instance in the fields of maritime mine counter-measures, air-to-air refuelling, special forces reconnaissance and human intelligence assets. He noted that, in the past, the ability of UK forces to begin a battle alongside the Americans 'on day one' with roughly comparable equipment of all categories had been a matter of pride for British leaders. However, he cautioned that "the outcomes have not always been happy or rewarding for the British". Professor Clarke's conclusions are worth citing at length:

    Better to be capable of doing a job in a US-led coalition, even if it is less prestigious and does not begin on day one, but be trusted to accomplish it well. This implies a more radical approach in reviewing UK defence to produce forces that might be significantly smaller but more genuinely transformative […]. Genuinely transformative armed forces would also provide a model for other European allies and partners facing similar pressures. This would help reinforce a more assertive political leadership role for the UK in the transatlantic arena and provide a practical link between smaller European powers with limited but useful military forces, and a US that is likely to continue, even in austerity, to spend 10 times more than the UK on defence, 3 times the combined spending of EU countries on defence equipment and 6 times their combined spending on military research and development. The UK can gain more influence by pursuing flexible complementarity with a US force structure of this magnitude than being a pale imitation of it.[166]

93. Professor Chalmers, likewise, argued that the Government should focus defence investment in "areas of national comparative advantage, where the gap in capabilities between the UK and US is less than that in overall military capability, and where a second centre of operational capability can accordingly bring greater influence". Capabilities in which the UK could still claim to be relatively well-placed included special forces and intelligence services. However, comparative advantages "could often vanish remarkably quickly, given the US's ability to innovate and its massively greater resources". He added:

    With the recent surge of doctrinal innovation in the US military, for example, the UK has now largely lost the comparative advantage in counter-insurgency that it had developed in Northern Ireland. In the coming period of defence austerity, it will be particularly important to be able to prioritise those areas where comparative advantage can be sustained, where necessary at the expense of those areas where this is not feasible.[167]

94. We asked Ivan Lewis, Minister of State at the FCO, about areas where the UK was at a comparative advantage. In response, he pointed to the UK's experience in engagement with local communities, arguing that, "Our troops have a tremendous track record in that kind of local, community-based work. That does not suggest that the Americans don't or can't do that, but I know that our troops and forces are particularly respected internationally for that kind of work. I would argue that that is one example of where we add value. It is not just about military might".[168]

95. Our witnesses identified other ways in which the UK could, at least in the short term, continue to be of assistance to the US. For instance, Professor Clarke proposed that the UK should continue to champion "drastic institutional reform" in NATO and in relation to the EU's machinery for European Security and Defence Policy. In his view, "The UK and US have a powerful mutual interest in addressing these problems; the Europeans have an equally powerful imperative to ensure that the US remains genuinely engaged with European security structures. Institutional sclerosis will only increase the long-term trend towards US engagement in European Security".[169] Others such as Robert Hunter argued that the UK should focus on close, bilateral co-ordination on security issues, including for NATO, and co-operation in trying to break down barriers between NATO and the EU.[170]

96. 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.

Strategic Defence Review

97. The last major Strategic Defence Review was conducted in 1998. On 3 February 2010, the Government published a Green Paper entitled Adaptability and Partnership: Issues for the Strategic Defence Review. It points to a number of the key questions that the Government believes the next Strategic Defence Review (due to take place in 2010) should address, some of which we have already discussed above. Many of the points raised in the Paper are relevant to our present inquiry into UK-US relations, including the crucial question of whether the UK's current international defence and security relationships should be re-balanced in the longer term and whether the UK should move towards greater integration of its forces with those of key allies and partners.

98. Gary Schmitt, from the US think-tank, Project for the New American Century, stated that there is a consensus that "the UK Government is facing a fundamental choice: should it build a military that can handle today's unconventional wars or attempt to sustain an increasingly thin semblance of a "do-everything" force?"[171] He adds: "if those are the alternatives and a choice must be made, we should be clear: the 'special relationship' that binds Washington and London will not remain the same". He asks, "will the US be as interested in hearing from Whitehall if British forces are only capable of working side-by-side with Americans in a narrower defence arena? And, in turn, will Whitehall continue to share a common strategic vision with Washington if its own interests are constrained by increasingly limited military capabilities?"[172]

99. As Professor Chalmers told us, in light of recent UK experience in Iraq and Afghanistan, "there is a strong case for a thorough review of how the UK can maximise the national political and security benefits that it obtains from its defence investments":

    There is still a common tendency to articulate the need for the UK to spend more on defence in terms of national honour and a generic need to maintain a strong role in the world. This is often underpinned by an assumption that the UK must accept the burden imposed by the altruistic and internationalist nature of its foreign policy, which (it is argued) contrasts with the more self-interested policies of other major powers. Considerations of honour and responsibility indeed do have a place in foreign policy. Yet there is a danger that, if not anchored in a clear calculus of national benefits and interests, these sentiments can lead to policy approaches of doubtful utility and unacceptable costs.[173]

100. Summing up much of the evidence presented to us, Mr Witney stated that the UK must now "think about our position in the world and what sort of operations we think we'll be taking part in".[174]

101. 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.

From hard power to soft?

102. We asked our witnesses whether, in light of future defence spending cuts, it might be prudent to spend more on projecting the UK's soft power through, for instance, the FCO where there may be better value for money in terms of influence gained. Some of our witnesses argued that the answer depended on the nature of the threat; clearly in response to a conventional military threat the US would require military assistance. However, as Professor Wallace told us, on the basis of a broader security agenda involving problems of immigration, climate change and counter-terrorism, any investment would not only be in the interests of the US, but in those of the UK too.[175] Professor Chalmers agreed that the Foreign Office offers "relatively good value for the amount of money spent" and that it may be prudent to give that "a relatively higher priority at the margins".[176]

103. We asked Ivan Lewis, Minister of State at the FCO, whether, in the future, the UK could be a more effective ally by focusing resources in the areas where the UK can provide added value, for instance, in the diplomatic, intelligence and foreign policy fields. Mr Lewis conceded that we are all "increasingly aware of the link between security, governance and development, and therefore we need to look at that in terms of how we have a more strategic approach".[177]

Intelligence co-operation

104. Exchange of intelligence information between the US and UK agencies was greatly expanded during the Second World War as part of the wartime partnership between Britain's Special Operations Executive and Secret Intelligence Service (SOE and SIS) and equivalent US agencies, which rapidly outgrew their British counterparts as they subsequently expanded to counter the perceived Soviet threat. Partly as a result of the Suez crisis—when London concealed intelligence from Washington and Washington retaliated by cutting co-operation—the UK was relegated to the role of junior partner that it has played ever since.[178]

105. Under a 1947 agreement on signals intelligence (SIGINT), the UK has monitored Europe and the Middle East through its two bases in Cyprus and at GCHQ in Cheltenham and passes SIGINT to the US National Security Agency (NSA). Through its participation in the UKUSA Echelon network the UK has access to projects it could not afford alone, although the degree of integration of the SIGINT network with the NSA has raised questions about the operational independence of GCHQ from NSA.[179] The US collates much of its own European intelligence data from its UK-based SIGINT station at RAF Menwith Hill.[180] The situation in relation to human intelligence (HUMINT) gathered by the Security Service (MI5) and the Secret Intelligence Service (MI6) is somewhat different, with both agencies retaining operational independence, despite close co-operation with their US counterparts.

106. The intelligence relationship between the UK and US was described to us by Dr Dunn as "second to none".[181] The FCO stated:

    The UK has a long established and very close intelligence relationship with the US, which owes much to our historical and cultural links. The continuing high value of this relationship has been demonstrated on many occasions in recent years and on a wide variety of issues. We share many common objectives, including countering terrorism, drugs and serious crime. The closeness of this intelligence relationship allows us to extend our own national capabilities in ways that would not otherwise be possible and is invaluable.[182]

107. Although the default UK position appears to be set to allow the automatic relay of human intelligence to the US, more selective reporting based on political considerations is not uncommon. This was the case in relation to Northern Ireland in previous years, and in 2007 the Intelligence and Security Committee (ISC) reported that the US approach to human rights and rendition since 9/11 had led to the UK agencies exercising "greater caution in working with the US, including withdrawing from some planned operations".[183] In a chapter of its 2007 report headed Implications for the Special Relationship, the ISC commented: "The rendition programme has revealed aspects of the usually close UK/US relationship that are surprising and concerning. It has highlighted that the UK and US work under very different legal guidelines and ethical approaches." The ISC concluded that, "it is to the credit of our Agencies that they have now managed to adapt their procedures to work round these problems and maintain the exchange of intelligence that is so critical to UK security".[184] Professor Wallace commented that "few in the UK agencies today question the value of the intelligence relationship with the United States, even if they have reservations about some US methods".[185]

108. The US is said to benefit from the fact that the UK has sources in places that it does not and that some "foreign assets are more willing to talk to British intelligence rather than to the Americans for a variety of historical or other reasons".[186] Dr Dunn highlighted British intelligence operations in relation to Libya's programme of weapons of mass destruction and Iranian nuclear facilities near Qum,[187] suggesting that there was "added benefit in non-Americans bringing intelligence to the world's attention". He continued:

    As well as intelligence collection there is also mutual benefit in shared analysis. The UK role here is prized second to none by the US. […] Like the diplomatic service the very high quality of the intelligence services together with the world view that underpins their global role ensure that they have a disproportionate role with the US (and elsewhere) to both their size and budget, and to their counterpart operations.[188]

109. Nevertheless, Professor Wallace told us that global patterns of information sharing, particularly in relation to signals intelligence were evolving and "a number of British personnel were talking about how much they now value the sharing of analysis with […] European partners". He added that likewise, "the Americans […] when they are talking about the Middle East or East Asia, obviously find it more valuable to share with others who have more resources in those regions than we do".[189]

110. Since 2001, intelligence co-operation between the two countries has focused on counter-terrorism, as expressed in the US Homeland Defense Strategy and the UK's CONTEST documents.[190] The FCO's written submission stated that the US is the UK's most important partner in protecting UK interests at home and that strategic and operational co-operation is close in a bid to deny Al-Qaeda and other extremists safe haven in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Somalia, Yemen and elsewhere and to help these countries build their capacity to deal with terrorism.[191]

111. The FCO also stated that intelligence sharing and collaboration between the two countries on law enforcement takes place at every level and that the extent of this "far outstrips the level of interaction and co-operation with other nations".[192] Such collaboration is claimed to have led to the disruption of terrorist attacks in the UK and overseas, for example in Operation Overt.[193] Professor Clarke agreed that the relationship has been pursued in a "generally co-operative framework", but told us that "this is not to say that mutual police co-operation has been particularly good, or that successive spy scandals in the UK have not damaged the credibility of the security services in the eyes of the US".[194]

112. Lord Hurd noted that "the Anglo-American intelligence partnership has proved durable in all weathers".[195] Certainly, levels of trust are reported to be higher than those which exist in other allied relationships, but, according to Professor Clarke this does not mean that the relationship cannot be susceptible to damage. By way of example, he recalled that "in 2006 the British Prime Minister kept the US President fully briefed on the development of the 'Bojinka II' airline plot as it was developing, only to have the surveillance operation blown early, according to reliable accounts, from the top of the US hierarchy who saw the development of the emerging plot differently".[196] There was also much publicity over remarks made by the former head of the UK Security Service, Dame Eliza Manningham-Buller, during a lecture in the House of Lords on 10 March 2010. She is reported to have said that it was only upon her retirement in 2007 that she discovered that the US had 'waterboarded' Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, who is alleged to have organised the 9/11 attacks on the US. She stated that the US had been "very keen to conceal from us what was happening".[197]

113. More recently, UK-US intelligence co-operation came under scrutiny following the attempted suicide bomb attack allegedly by Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab on a plane bound for the US on 26 December 2009. There were allegations in the US media that the UK might not have acted sufficiently swiftly in passing on information to the US.[198] (It was also reported in the American press that "senior policymakers in the United States said the attempted suicide bomb […] was further evidence that one of the biggest threats to US security came from Britain, where the capital has been dubbed "Londonistan" by critics".[199]) In a statement to the House on 5 January 2010, the Home Secretary asserted that no information had been either held by the UK or shared by the UK with the US that had indicated that Abdulmutallab was about to attempt a terrorist attack against the US. President Obama subsequently stated publicly that responsibility for intelligence failings in this instance lay within the US security establishment.

114. 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.


115. There has been considerable public debate over whether a recent judicial decision may affect the UK-US intelligence relationship. In May 2008 the US charged Binyam Mohamed with terrorist offences. Mr Mohamed is an Ethiopian national who was arrested in Pakistan in 2002 and transferred to Guantánamo Bay in 2004 having spent time in detention in Morocco and Afghanistan. He alleges that he was tortured and that British officials were aware of and complicit in his treatment.

116. There has been much controversy over whether 42 US documents previously disclosed to Mr Mohamed's counsel should be made public. The Foreign Secretary told the House on 5 February 2009 that:

    the disclosure of the intelligence documents at issue by order of our Courts against the wishes of the US authorities would indeed cause real and significant damage to the national security and international relations of this country. For the record, the United States authorities did not threaten to "break off" intelligence co-operation with the UK. What the United States said, and it appears in the open, public documents of this case, is that the disclosure of these documents by order of our Courts would be 'likely to result in serious damage to US national security and could harm existing intelligence information-sharing between our two governments'[200]

117. In May 2009 the Government continued to argue that the memoranda should not be disclosed, providing a letter from the Obama Administration that stated:

    if it is determined that Her Majesty's Government is unable to protect information we provide to it, even if that inability is caused by your judicial system, we will necessarily have to review with the greatest care the sensitivity of information we can provide in future.[201]

118. On 16 October 2009, the High Court ruled that some of the US intelligence documents containing details of the alleged torture of Binyam Mohamed could be released. The key document was a summary of abuse allegations that US intelligence officers shared with their counterparts in London. Lord Justice Thomas and Mr Justice Lloyd Jones ruled that the risk to national security was "not a serious one" and there was "overwhelming" public interest in disclosing the material.[202]

119. The Foreign Secretary subsequently announced that the Government would appeal against the judgment. He stated: "We have no objection to this material being published by the appropriate authorities, in this case the United States […] What I do have a very deep objection to is the idea that a British court should publish American secrets - in the same way that I would have a deep objection if an American court started publishing British secrets".[203] A spokesperson for the US State Department said the US government was "not pleased" by the court's decision.[204] During our visit to the US in October 2009, several interlocutors expressed concern about the recent judicial developments and implied it might restrict the flow of intelligence from the US to the UK.

120. Giving oral evidence to us, the Minister of State, Ivan Lewis MP said:

    We were given intelligence in confidence by an ally. It is very clear to us that, for whatever reason and in whatever circumstances, for us to release that into the public domain would be a breach of trust and confidence that could seriously damage our relationship not just with the United States, but with others who give us intelligence in confidence. The second issue is that, frankly, it is a responsibility of the United States if it wishes to make public its own intelligence. It is not our job to make public intelligence gained by another country.[205]

121. Witnesses were divided over this issue. Professor Wallace stated that over the past thirty years it had been commonplace that "more information is available in Washington than in London". He alleged that "quite often highly confidential or secret information that we are holding in London is published in Washington. So I am doubtful about the basis for the Foreign Secretary's case".[206] However, Professor Chalmers expressed a different view when he told us that his "instinct is that having the ability to exchange information with the United States on a confidential basis is actually rather important to the relationship. We have to take seriously the Foreign Secretary's concern that if a precedent is established and extended in this area, less information will be shared".[207] He continued:

    The issue is that, if the Americans are doing something very sensitive in, say, Afghanistan or Iran and are thinking about whether they want to discuss it with their British counterparts, they will want to know that they can discuss it frankly without it getting into the public domain through the British legal system. If there is not a reasonable degree of assurance about that, it will make them bite their tongue more than they have.[208]

122. On 10 February 2010, the Court of Appeal ruled that the seven paragraphs which had been redacted from the original judgment of the Divisional Court on 21 August 2008 should be published. It followed the disclosure by a US Court in December 2009 which included references to the treatment of Mr Mohamed covered in the seven paragraphs. In a statement to the House on 10 February 2010, the Foreign Secretary stated:

    The Court of Appeal [...] ordered the publication of the seven paragraphs because in its view their contents were placed in to the public domain by a United States District Court. Without that disclosure, it is clear that the Court of Appeal would have upheld our appeal and overturned the fifth judgement of the Divisional Court.

    The Court of Appeal was also clear that the judiciary should only overturn the view of the executive on matters of national security in the most exceptional circumstances. It states [...] that "it is integral to intelligence sharing that intelligence material provided by one country to another remains confidential to the country which provided it and that it will never be disclosed, directly or indirectly by the receiving country, without the permission of the provider of the information. This understanding is rigidly applied to the relationship between the UK and USA".[209]

123. The Foreign Secretary added:

    I am grateful for the consideration the Court of Appeal gave to the control principle. This principle, which states that intelligence belonging to another country should not be released without its agreement, underpins the flow of intelligence between the US and the UK. This unique intelligence sharing relationship is vital to national security in both our countries. [...] Crucially, [...] the Court has upheld the control principle today. The judgement describes that principle as integral to intelligence sharing.[210]

124. The Foreign Secretary also stated that the Government would work "carefully with the US in the weeks ahead to discuss the judgment and its implications in the light of our shared goals and commitments".[211]

125. 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.

Security co-operation

126. The FCO believes that both bilaterally and through partnership in international organisations, the UK-US relationship had made "an immense contribution to global security—throughout the Cold War, through our membership in NATO; and since, through our participation in international peacekeeping, stabilisation and enforcement operations in the Balkans, the Middle East, Afghanistan and elsewhere".[212] In an article written for The Times in March 2009, the Prime Minister argued that "there is no international partnership in recent history that has served the world better than the special relationship between Britain and the United States".[213] Hillary Clinton, the US Secretary of State, commented after meeting the Foreign Secretary in July 2009 that "our special relationship is a driver for greater peace, progress and prosperity, not only for our own people, but around the world".[214]

127. One example of the benefits that a joint UK-US approach can bring to a current international security concern can be seen in relation to piracy. The FCO told us that the UK and US have been "two of the key drivers behind the provision of effective counter-piracy military operations and wider efforts in the Gulf of Aden and the wider Indian Ocean" and that both have worked closely together on the political side of the counter-piracy effort, in the preparation of Security Council resolutions authorising and later renewing military counter-piracy operations, and finding ways to tackle financial flows related to piracy.[215] One other area where UK-US co-operation has been important can be seen in relation to Pakistan.


128. The arrival of President Obama in office led to the start of a markedly different approach to Pakistan and one which fell more in line with that which the UK Government has adopted in recent years. The US Administration's recognition of Pakistan's strategic importance vis-à-vis Afghanistan led to a significant step change in its engagement with Pakistan during the President's first year in office. For some time, the UK has been working to persuade the US to bring its assistance closer in line with UK practices, including channelling funding through strategic long-term partnerships to tackle terrorism. The FCO stated that both the US and UK have encouraged Pakistan to go faster and further in its efforts to counter terrorist groups operating on its soil, including those that threaten India. The UK has also been working with the US to build the capacity of the Pakistani security services and both countries were instrumental in establishing the Friends of Democratic Pakistan (FoDP) group, designed to galvanise international political support for Pakistan's long-term development and to help the Pakistani Government to tackle the, security problems it faces.[216]

129. In his written submission, Professor Clarke told us the future of Pakistan […] "is a vital shared interest between London and Washington where the UK is even more the junior partner than in Afghanistan".[217] In spite of the UK's apparently junior status, Professor Clarke stated that there are some elements of policy towards Pakistan that "play to the UK's comparative advantages". Like the FCO, he believes that the UK can contribute to "both the military and political re-orientation of Pakistan's armed forces in ways that the US cannot, and without some of the stigma that attaches inside Pakistan to association with the US". In particular he points to the benefits of "making the best of the UK's natural links with Pakistan and its advantage as a European, as opposed to an American, voice could help address the acute problems of the sub-region in a way that binds Washington and London more closely together".[218]

130. 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.

Nuclear co-operation

131. During the Cold War, the UK's nuclear co-operation with the United States was considered to be at the heart of the 'special relationship'. This included the 1958 Mutual Defence Agreement, the 1963 Polaris Sales Agreement (PSA) (subsequently amended for Trident), and the UK's use of the US nuclear test site in Nevada from 1962 to 1992. The co-operation also encompassed agreements for the United States to use bases in Britain, with the right to store nuclear weapons, and agreements for two bases in Yorkshire (Fylingdales and Menwith Hill) to be upgraded to support US missile defence plans.[219]

132. In 1958, the UK and US signed the Mutual Defence Agreement (MDA). Although some of the appendices, amendments and Memoranda of Understanding remain classified, it is known that the agreement provides for extensive co-operation on nuclear warhead and reactor technologies, in particular the exchange of classified information concerning nuclear weapons to improve design, development and fabrication capability. The agreement also provides for the transfer of nuclear warhead-related materials. The agreement was renewed in 2004 for another ten years.[220]

133. The other major UK-US agreement in this field is the 1963 Polaris Sales Agreement (PSA) which allows the UK to acquire, support and operate the US Trident missile system. Originally signed to allow the UK to acquire the Polaris Submarine Launched Ballistic Missile (SLBM) system in the 1960s, it was amended in 1980 to facilitate purchase of the Trident I (C4) missile and again in 1982 to authorise purchase of the more advanced Trident II (D5) in place of the C4. In return, the UK agreed to formally assign its nuclear forces to the defence of NATO, except in an extreme national emergency, under the terms of the 1962 Nassau Agreement reached between President John F. Kennedy and Prime Minister Harold Macmillan to facilitate negotiation of the PSA.

134. Current nuclear co-operation takes the form of leasing arrangements of around 60 Trident II D5 missiles from the US for the UK's independent deterrent, and long-standing collaboration on the design of the W76 nuclear warhead carried on UK missiles.[221] In 2006 it was revealed that the US and the UK had been working jointly on a new 'Reliable Replacement Warhead' (RRW) that would modernise existing W76-style designs. In 2009 it emerged that simulation testing at Aldermaston on dual axis hydrodynamics experiments had provided the US with scientific data it did not otherwise possess on this RRW programme.[222]

135. The level of co-operation between the two countries on highly sensitive military technology is, according to the written submission from Ian Kearns, "well above the norm, even for a close alliance relationship". He quoted Admiral William Crowe, the former US Ambassador to London, who likened the UK-US nuclear relationship to that of an iceberg, "with a small tip of it sticking out, but beneath the water there is quite a bit of everyday business that goes on between our two governments in a fashion that's unprecedented in the world." Dr Kearns also commented that the personal bonds between the US/UK scientific and technical establishments were deeply rooted.[223]

136. Nick Witney told us that the UK's leasing arrangement with the US in relation to Trident missiles was "highly cost-effective [...], so that's clearly something to preserve". However, he added that there could be a downside to the relationship and that this could bring opportunity costs:

    Take the case of nuclear propulsion. Things may have changed in the six years since I was in the Ministry of Defence, but up to that point we'd actually had nothing out of the Americans of any use on nuclear propulsion since the original technical help back in the 1950s. What we had had, because of this technical debt, was an inhibition on being able to co-operate with the French in these areas.[224]

137. In its written submission the FCO reasserted the Government's position that the UK nuclear deterrent was fully operationally independent and that the decision making, use and command and control of the system remained entirely sovereign to the UK. It explained that only the Prime Minister could authorise use of the system and that the UK's nuclear warheads were designed and manufactured in the UK. Other elements of the system, such as the D5 Trident missile bodies, were procured from the US under the terms of the 1963 Polaris Sales Agreement, which was amended to cover Trident in 1982. The FCO claimed that this "procurement relationship does not undermine the independence of the deterrent, nor has the US ever sought to exploit it as a means to influence UK foreign policy".[225]

138. Other witnesses argued that in practice the "independence" of the British nuclear deterrent was purely notional. The British Pugwash Group contended that without ongoing US support the UK would "very probably cease to be a nuclear weapon state" and that this "inevitably constrains the UK's national security policies and actions insofar as they must not destabilise its relationship with the US for fear of dilution or even withdrawal of nuclear weapons co-operation".[226] The Pugwash Group added that "a more general consequence of the particularly close co-operation in these two areas has been that the UK has felt constrained to support the United States in other areas of military activity, including interventionist activities in the Middle East, and in sharing the 'burden' of the conventional and nuclear defence of NATO".[227] The Group continued:

    These 'distorting' effects of the 'special relationship' in these two key areas have meant that the UK has periodically been subject to criticism from other international players, and particularly from the European Community, for paying insufficient attention to the international policy objectives of its other partners.

139. This view was shared by the Acronym Institute which claimed that the extent of UK-US nuclear co-operation means that Britain must depend on the United States if it wishes to deploy nuclear weapons. The Institute argued that "this nuclear dependence has influenced and at times distorted UK foreign policy decisions. It has contributed to the reluctance of successive UK Governments to criticise US policy and actions, even where such actions appear to damage Britain's long-term security interests".[228]

140. We asked Professor Chalmers whether he agreed that the UK's nuclear relationship with the US had affected, and continues to affect, the UK's foreign policy choices. He acknowledged that it "constrains the exploration of other options, for example, in relation to France", but added that "there are a number of different factors preventing the UK from going in a fundamentally different direction from the US [...] After all, it wasn't long after the Nassau Agreement that Harold Wilson refused to go into Vietnam, despite American requests, and that didn't have any impact on the nuclear relationship that I know of. One can exaggerate that. Clearly there are things at the margins that Americans could do if we cut up awkward in other areas, so it does increase a degree of interdependence".[229]

141. The Obama Administration is currently undertaking a major Nuclear Posture Review, due to report in 2010.[230] The FCO told us that it was fully engaged with the review process, including through high-level consultations and visits to ensure that "the UK's equities both on nuclear deterrence and disarmament are well understood".[231] That view was not necessarily shared by all of our witnesses. For instance, Robert Hunter stated that "Britain's role in defence promotes influence in Washington", but that, by contrast, "the British nuclear deterrent is largely ignored by the US"[232]. Professor Chalmers likewise told us that the UK nuclear force was not very important for the US. While the UK would be consulted on the Nuclear Posture Review it would not have a great deal of input into it. He suggested that the UK might have more influence in discussions about the NATO Strategic Concept through a working group established by the NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen, and of which former Defence Secretary Geoff Hoon is a member. The group is chaired by former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright and is examining the role of nuclear weapons in NATO's future posture. He concluded that "the UK nuclear deterrent is at present assigned to NATO, so there we have a structural position which we can use, but in relation to the US domestic Nuclear Posture Review, much less so".[233] Changes in the nature of the most imminent international threats had resulted in a reduction in the importance to the US of the British nuclear deterrent. During the Cold War the British deterrent has drawn "all sorts of attention and interest in Washington" but "now that the United States is much more concerned about Iran, South Asia, China and other potential threats outside Europe, we play a much smaller part in all those calculations".[234] Professor Chalmers added a caveat, that "we live now in a period in which nuclear confrontation and deterrence is less relevant in Europe. If we were to return to a period in which it became more important, consideration of the UK deterrent would rise in salience".[235]


142. Strengthening the nuclear non-proliferation regime and the Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT), is a key United Kingdom foreign policy priority. The FCO stated that it had "long recognised that US leadership is essential if we are to achieve it".[236] One of the FCO's security objectives in its relationship with the US is to "harness US capabilities and influence US policy to develop a shared approach to preventing states from acquiring WMD [weapons of mass destruction], to align more closely our positions on global nuclear disarmament".[237] (We have considered the background to current non-proliferation initiatives in detail in our June 2009 Report on Global Security: Non-Proliferation.[238])

143. The Government has worked intensively in the United States and elsewhere over the last two years to make the case for an ambitious but balanced strengthening of the NPT's three pillars of non-proliferation, disarmament and peaceful uses of nuclear energy, and to advocate the long-term goal of a world free from nuclear weapons. In the FCO's view, President Obama's praise for the United Kingdom's Road to 2010 plan, published on 16 July 2009, demonstrates the complementarity of UK and US approaches.[239]

144. According to Ian Kearns, the UK has established a reputation in Washington as taking a lead on 'responsible' disarmament, as exemplified by the Arms Trade Treaty and the global nuclear disarmament agenda. He added that "now that President Obama has outlined his strategy on this, the UK will need to work hard to stay ahead of the game", and also to influence the US.[240] The UK has "a particular chance to be in the vanguard of moves towards nuclear disarmament and non-proliferation in step with the Obama agenda on this issue".[241] Although the Obama Administration has indicated it favours a return to a regime-based approach to nuclear non-proliferation, that is not necessarily a view that is shared throughout Congress or in the Washington policy community.[242] Professor Clarke argued that anything that the UK can do at the 2010 NPT Review conference "either to revitalise the grand bargain in the NPT between legal access to civil nuclear power and restrictions on nuclear weapons acquisition; or to help push strategic arms control among the nuclear weapons states, would make success more likely". He urged that both of these aspirations, which are contained in the UK's Road to 2010 policy document, should "be pushed as vigorously as possible and in as transatlantic a context as possible to obtain greatest leverage".[243]A recent report in the International Herald Tribune which focused on the likely outcome of the United States Nuclear Posture Review suggested that the US would move to permanently reduce America's arsenal by thousands of weapons but that it would reject proposals that the US declare it would never be the first to use nuclear weapons.[244]

145. The UK also has also been working closely with the US Government on Conventional Test Ban Treaty (CTBT) issues. UK experts are said to enjoy excellent working relationships with US officials on the many policy and technical aspects of the CTBT. Ian Kearns told us that it is important to consider how the UK could use the close relationship it has with the US to further the agenda promoted by President Obama in this area. He suggested that UK scientists could be encouraged to share expertise and opinion relevant to CTBT ratification concerns with colleagues and members of Congress in the United States, and the UK could fund and support a major Track II nuclear disarmament diplomacy initiative among representatives of the P-5, plus India, Israel and Pakistan. The US Administration is, he says "ambitious on this agenda but also heavily preoccupied with the recession, Afghanistan and healthcare reform; and while the President can outline his vision, his Administration is going to need all the help it can get on this agenda, particularly from America's closest allies".[245] The impression that we ourselves gathered during our October 2009 visit to the US was that there is now a greater chance than in recent years of seeing progress made on the CTBT initiative, but that if this was to be successful, there would have to be considerable movement before the US mid-term elections in November 2010.

146. 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.

86   Ev 108 Back

87   William Wallace and Christopher Phillips, "Reassessing the special relationship", International Affairs 85: 2 (2009) 263-284, p 267 Back

88   Ev 85 Back

89   Ev 139 Back

90   Ev 139 Back

91   William Wallace and Christopher Phillips, p 268 Back

92   Ministry of Defence, "Delivering Security in a Changing World: Defence White Paper 2003", Cm 6041-I, December 2003. See also "The defence plan: including the government's expenditure plans, 2008-12", Cm 7385 2008, June 2008  Back

93   Ev 56 Back

94   Ev 108 Back

95   Ministry of Defence, "The Defence Green Paper, 'Adaptability and Partnership: Issues for a Strategic Defence Review'", Cm 7794, February 2010 Back

96   Ev 59 Back

97   Ev 60 Back

98   Ev 60 Back

99   Ev 142 Back

100   Ev 142 Back

101   Ev 111 Back

102   Ev 111 Back

103   Ev 112  Back

104   Ev 112 Back

105   William Wallace and Christopher Phillips, p 268 Back

106   Ev 108 Back

107   Ev 108 Back

108   Ev 108 Back

109   Ev 108 Back

110   Ev 129 Back

111   Ev 129 Back

112   Ev 109 Back

113   See for example, Rachel Sylvester, "Memo: don't rely on the Brits during a battle", The Times, 6 January 2009, Daniel Marston, "British Operations in Helmand Afghanistan", Small Wars Journal, 13 September 2008 Back

114   Ev 106 Back

115   Ev 133 Back

116   Ev 132 Back

117   Ev 132  Back

118   Q 29 Back

119   Q 30 Back

120   Ev 142 Back

121   Ev 142 Back

122   Ev 142 Back

123   See for example Professor Theo Farrell, "A Hope in Helmand", Guardian Unlimited, 8 November 2009; Foreign Affairs Committee, Global Security: Afghanistan and Pakistan, Oral and written evidence, 24 February 2010, HC (2009-10) 398. Back

124   COMISAF Initial Assessment (Unclassified), re-produced in Washington Post, 21 September 2009 Back

125   Ev 60 Back

126   Ev 60 Back

127   Q 193 Back

128   See for example "US likely to approve trade treaties with Australia and UK this year", Jane's Defence Weekly, 29 May 2009.  Back

129   UK-US Defence Trade Co-operation Treaty, Standard Note SN/IA/4381, House of Commons Library, 17 February 2009 Back

130   See for example Third Report of Session 2007-08, UK/US Defence Trade Cooperation Treaty , HC 107, 11 December 2007. Back

131   Ev 65 Back

132   See for example Third Report of Session 2007-08, UK/US Defence Trade Cooperation Treaty , HC 107, 11 December 2007 Back

133   Ev 139 Back

134   Ev 139 Back

135   William Wallace and Christopher Phillips, p 271 Back

136   Ibid. Back

137   Q 35 Back

138   Q 35 Back

139   Q 33 Back

140   Seventh Report of Session 2008-09, Human Rights Annual Report 2008, HC 557; Ninth Report of Session 2007-08, Human Rights Annual Report 2007, HC 533; Seventh Report of Session 2007-08, Overseas Territories, HC 147-I Back

141   Foreign and Commonwealth Office, Response of the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs to Seventh Report from the Foreign Affairs Committee, Session 2008-09, Annual Report on Human Rights 2008, Cm 7723, October 2009  Back

142   Q 35 Back

143   Ev 116 Back

144   William Wallace and Christopher Phillips, p 267 Back

145   Q 67 [Mr Witney] Back

146   Ev 108 Back

147   William Wallace and Christopher Phillips, p 268 Back

148   Michael Codner, The hard choices: twenty questions for British defence policy and national military strategy (London: Royal United Services Institute, 2008), p 1 quoted in Wallace and Phillips, "Reassessing the special relationship", International Affairs 85: 2 (2009) 263-284 Back

149   Ev 116-117 Back

150   Ev 141-142 Back

151   Q 24 Back

152   Q 26  Back

153   Ev 133 Back

154   HC Deb 3 February 2010, col 303 Back

155   Professor Malcolm Chalmers, "Capability Cost Trends: Implications for the Defence Review", Royal United Services Institute, 12 January 2010 Back

156   Ev 132 Back

157   Q 67 [Mr Witney] Back

158   Q 88 Back

159   Q 28 Back

160   Q 25 Back

161   Ev 108 Back

162   Ev 109 Back

163   Ev 109 Back

164   Ev 141 Back

165   Ev 141 Back

166   Ev 142 Back

167   Ev 109 Back

168   Q 185 Back

169   Ev 143 Back

170   Ev 86 Back

171   Gary Schmitt, "Defence cuts reduce Britain's value as an ally", Financial Times, 19 July 2009 Back

172   Gary Schmitt, "Defence cuts reduce Britain's value as an ally", Financial Times, 19 July 2009 Back

173   Ev 107  Back

174   Q 88 Back

175   Q 37 Back

176   Q 37 Back

177   Q 188 Back

178   William Wallace and Christopher Phillips, p 273 Back

179   Ibid. Back

180   Ibid. Back

181   Ev 129 Back

182   Ev 68 Back

183   Quoted in William Wallace and Christopher Phillips, p 274  Back

184   Intelligence and Security Committee, Rendition, Cm 7171, July 2007, para 156 and Recommendation Z Back

185   William Wallace and Christopher Phillips, p 273 Back

186   Ev 130 Back

187   Ev 130 Back

188   Ev 130 Back

189   Q 40 Back

190   Ev 143 Back

191   Ev 61 Back

192   Ev 61 Back

193   Ev 61 Back

194   Ev 138 Back

195   Ev 83 Back

196   Ev 138 Back

197   "Ex-MI5 head: US concealed torture", Press Association, 10 March 2010 Back

198   See "White House accuses Downing Street of making 'a mistake' over intelligence claim", Daily Telegraph, 5 January 2009. Back

199   "Americans blame Britain for rise of Islamic extremism", Daily Telegraph, 30 December 2009 Back

200   HC Deb, 5 February 2009, col 989 Back

201   "Obama intelligence threat over "torture" case", The Times, 14 May 2009 Back

202   "Ban on 'torture documents' lifted", BBC News, 16 October 2009 Back

203   Ibid. Back

204   Ibid. Back

205   Q 171 Back

206   Q 42 Back

207   Q 42 Back

208   Q 43 Back

209   HC Deb, 10 February 2010, col 914 Back

210   HC Deb, 10 February 2010, col 913 Back

211   HC Deb, 10 February 2010, col 914 Back

212   Ev 57 Back

213   "The special relationship is going global", Sunday Times, 1 March 2009  Back

214   Ev 57 Back

215   Ev 152 Back

216   Ev 60 Back

217   Ev 142 Back

218   Ev 142 Back

219   Ev 87 Back

220   Ev 87 Back

221   Ev 138 citing Michael Clarke, "Does my bomb look big in this? Britain's nuclear choices after Trident" International Affairs, 80(1), 2004, pp. 50-53. Back

222   Ev 138 Back

223   Ev 101 Back

224   Q 87 [Mr Witney]  Back

225   Ev 88 Back

226   Ev 88 Back

227   Ev 88  Back

228   Ev 123 Back

229   Q 44 Back

230   The 2009-2010 NPR will be the third formal review of U.S. nuclear strategy conducted since the end of the Cold War. The preceding reviews were conducted early in each of the Clinton and Bush administrations' first terms. Back

231   Ev 63 Back

232   Ev 84 Back

233   Q 45 Back

234   Q 40 Back

235   Q 44 Back

236   Ev 66 Back

237   Ev 59 Back

238   Foreign Affairs Committee, Fourth Report of Session 2008-09, Global Security: Non-Proliferation, HC 222, 14 June 2009 Back

239   Ev 66 Back

240   Ev 100 Back

241   Ev 100 Back

242   Ev 143 Back

243   Ev 143 Back

244   "Obama to cut U.S. nuclear arsenal; New policy will push use of other defenses but doesn't eliminate options", International Herald Tribune, 2 March 2010 Back

245   Ev 103 Back

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