Indispensable allies: US, NATO and UK Defence relations Contents

3The UK-US relationship

48.The UK-US relationship remains robust.81 We have heard that it is a relationship which benefits the UK, with very close co-operation in the military and intelligence fields. Indeed, Franklin Miller of the Scowcroft Group told us that the breadth and depth of this interaction is unique.82 Wyn Rees, Professor of International Security at the University of Nottingham, agreed that the UK had benefited from our nuclear relationship with the US, our intelligence relationship, our ability to purchase US weaponry below development cost and our UK military’s inter-operability with their US counterparts. On the other hand, he believed that UK-US security co-operation had adversely affected UK and US relationships with the EU.83 James Rogers, director of the Global Britain Programme at the Henry Jackson Society, thought the UK-US relationship was based on geostrategic reality and that the two countries would become more inter-dependent as the strategic environment worsened. However, he suggested that this would depend on the UK being willing to sustain the relationship through continued development of strategic capabilities and acceptance of political necessities.84

Political relationship

49.Witnesses nevertheless believed it would be difficult to use the UK-US relationship to influence US policy significantly, at present. Professor John Bew told us that President Trump did not regard achieving consensus and coming to an agreed strategy as part of his role as Commander-in-Chief.85 Dr Dana Allin said that the divergence of views within the US Administration made it hard for the UK to contribute to US foreign policy debates.86 This division in views was especially sharp on Europe and multilateralism, according to Dr Tom Wright, director of the Center on the United States and Europe at the Brookings Institution. He told us that official policy, as articulated through the US National Security and the US Defense Strategies, was in line with UK priorities but that the President’s policy, particularly on Europe and NATO, ought to concern the UK.87

50.Some witnesses believed that divergence between official US policy and the President’s policy had resulted in an increased bipartisan effort in Congress: Ambassador Victoria Nuland, Chief Executive Officer at the Center for a New American Security, told us that both the House and the Senate were playing an “outsize role” in foreign policy and that one option for influencing US foreign policy would be to invest in creating bipartisan solutions that the House and Senate could support.88 In evidence last year, both Professor Sir Lawrence Freedman and Franklin Miller raised concerns about the reduction in dialogue between UK and US parliamentarians. Dr Miller cited the British American Parliamentary Group as one area where effort could be focused.89 The Group had been funded by HM Treasury, but from 2008–09 onwards, it has been funded mainly by a grant from the House of Commons Commission and the House of Lords Commission.90 Between 2010 and 2015 there was no inflationary uplift to the grant, meaning a real cash cut to the group’s funding at a time of rising programme costs. In its last annual report, the Group expressed concern that without an increase in funding there would be “an adverse effect on the BAPG’s activities and consequently its ability to further good relations and mutual understanding with the US Congress”.91

51.The Ministry of Defence told us that UK Embassy in Washington had very effective defence staff who regularly engaged with the Administration and the Congress.92 Following our visit, we are in complete agreement with this assessment. However, Congressman Turner suggested that while he engaged regularly with UK politicians and officials, partly through his role in the NATO Parliamentary Assembly, “we could certainly do better”.93 Many of our interlocutors in Washington D.C. similarly underlined the importance of regular engagement.

52.The UK Government needs to ensure that, in addition to its primary focus on engagement with the US Administration, it is also engaging with the US Congress, State Administrations and US civil society. The Government should consider how it can better engage with Congress, including by inviting relevant Congressional groups to visit the UK.

53.The House of Commons Commission and the House of Lords Commission, as well as the FCO and MoD, should consider how they can further support UK Parliamentarians to engage with their Congressional counterparts.

Military relationship

54.Evidence to this inquiry has emphasised the close security (conventional, nuclear and intelligence) relationship which has existed between the UK and the US since the Second World War.94 Professor Freedman suggested that the relationship is based on shared values and a shared perception of threat.95 Professor Bew thought that the relationship was a product of historical circumstance, brought about by “similar underlying strategic assumptions about how foreign policy and national security should work”.96 Our witnesses agree that a large part of the success of the UK-US relationship is due to UK-US military interoperability.97

55.Several witnesses cited the UK’s nuclear deterrent as foremost among the UK capabilities valued by the US.98 Other areas where witnesses felt the UK provided a unique or complementary capability include:


56.Interoperability is an important part of the military-to-military relationship. Franklin Miller suggested interoperability applied to more than the ability to embed UK forces in American units (and vice versa), extending to similar operating concepts, doctrines, weapons, and representation in each other’s headquarters—both operational and political.100 Franklin Kramer believed that interoperability was based on the ability to “trust and rely on one another”, a point also emphasised by Alex Hall, director of RAND Europe’s Defence, Security and Infrastructure Research Group, who noted that shared history and endeavours had resulted in shared “psyches, doctrines, tactics and procedures”.101 Franklin Miller told us that this interoperability would increase as new capabilities, such as the Carriers and P-8 Poseidon MPA, came online.102

57.The Ministry of Defence set out the flagship capability programmes on which the UK and US co-operate:

58.On Carrier Strike, a joint Statement of Intent to enhance co-operation on carrier operations and Carrier Enabled Power Projection, signed in 2012, has allowed UK and US personnel to work closely, and enabled the US Marine Corps to fly the F-35B from HMS Queen Elizabeth in her first operational deployment. The Defence Secretary told us that many UK Service personnel were able to continue training on US carriers following the decommissioning of UK carriers, which had allowed them to be fully trained for the Queen Elizabeth-class carriers. He suggested that the UK benefited “to the tune of probably a minimum of £3 billion” a year from the UK-US relationship, based on assumptions about capabilities that the UK purchases from, or is developing collaboratively with, the US.104

Over-reliance on the US

59.This level of interoperability has led to suggestions that the UK is over-reliant on the US as a military partner. Dr David Blagden thought that this had resulted in both intellectual and capability dependencies, noting that the UK operated a ballistic missile submarine force, carrying a UK nuclear deterrent so as not to be reliant on the US nuclear guarantee, but did not currently have its own Maritime Patrol Aircraft to protect that deterrent, instead relying on the US to provide security through its “command of the global maritime commons”.105 Alex Hall was more cautious, suggesting that, although the UK had specific capability shortfalls which it looked to the US to backfill, dependent on the operational context and given the close UK-US relationship, it was unlikely that UK would be in a position where it could not act.106 Professor Porter thought that the degree of over-reliance could be measured by the UK’s ability to act independently in pursuit of its own national interest, without US support.107

60.Concerns have been raised that the UK Equipment Plan is also too dependent upon the purchase of US capabilities, with the current depreciation in sterling clearly showing the cost increase risk from exchange rate movements. In its analysis of the Equipment Plan 2017–2027, the National Audit Office noted that the Ministry of Defence had estimated that within the £179.7 billion Equipment Plan, there would be a dollar spend of $35.6 billion. This was an increase of 24% upon the estimate provided for the 2016–2026 Equipment Plan. The NAO has warned that the costs in the plan, based on an exchange rate of $1.55 to £1, are unrealistic and could be understated by up to £4.6 billion.108 The biggest pressure (i.e. the period in which most dollars are due to be spent) will occur between 2020 and 2022.

What does the US value from the UK?

61.The UK’s capabilities and engagement in joint programmes are listed above. However, we found that some perceived UK assets were less tangible. For instance, a number of witnesses mentioned UK ‘thought leadership’, suggesting that the UK had an ability to influence the actions of the US, citing the second UN resolution in the run-up to the invasion of Iraq and the 2013 Parliamentary vote on Syria.109 Professor Porter suggested that that influence was sustained because it was rare that US and UK interests diverged.110 Congressman Turner told us that:

Unlike any other ally, we have conversations with the UK on what we should do—not just “we” as a bilateral relationship, but “we” the United States. That aspect of looking to the UK first on the analysis of what threats there are, how they should be addressed and what our common values are is probably the most important aspect.111

62.For Ambassador Victoria Nuland, the UK had an ability and a willingness to deploy globally which made it an extremely valuable ally. She also noted that the UK, and to a lesser extent the French, were the only allies who could relieve the burden on the US, citing supersonic flying and Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance (ISR) as two areas where the UK helped to shoulder the load.112 Dr Conley cited the North Atlantic as an area where the UK had the capability to relieve the burden on the US Navy.113 Both James Rogers and Professor Porter believed that by playing an increasing role in Europe and the Gulf, the UK could release US resources.114 The Secretary of State underlined the importance of the UK being a credible ally to the US:

The key thing that came through in all the discussions I had was the value that they put on us as an indispensable ally and the fact that we are consistently there. We are a nation that has always been willing to do a lot of heavy lifting in terms of the relationship—look at the Gulf, the Mediterranean, the North Atlantic and NATO in general. They put a true value on that.115

63.Military-to-military engagement between the UK and the US is one of the linchpins of the bilateral relationship. The UK’s interoperability with and alleged over-reliance on the US are clearly linked and there is a balance to be struck. The Secretary of State has said that the UK benefits to the tune of £3 billion a year from the UK-US defence relationship. This implies that both the UK Armed Forces and HM Treasury benefit from our close relationship with the US. However, that will continue to be true only while the UK military retains both the capacity and capability to maintain interoperability with the US military and to relieve US burdens. For this to be the case the UK Armed Forces must be funded appropriately.

64.The Government should ensure that US views are carefully and seriously considered during the Modernising Defence Programme (MDP) process and are given due weight when making decisions, particularly around sustainment of capabilities, requirements for new capabilities and overall support for defence.

65.The Government should give due consideration to the dollar dependency highlighted in the National Audit Office Equipment Plan report and the subsequent impact on the financial resourcing of the Equipment Plan over the period of its implementation.

81 Q2, Session 2017–19, HC 387

82 Written evidence from Franklin Miller (INA00013)

83 Written evidence from Professor Wyn Rees (TIA0005)

84 Written evidence from James Rogers (TIA0004)

85 Q97, Session 2016–17, HC 992

86 Q10, Session 2017–19, HC 387

87 Q130, Session 2017–19, HC 387

88 Q103, Session 2017–19, HC 387

89 Q18, Session 2016–17, HC 992

90 Referred to in the annual report by its previous name, the House of Lords House Committee

91 British American Parliamentary Group, Annual Report & Accounts 2016–17, (June 2017), p 11

92 Q221, Session 2017–19, HC 387

93 Q106, Session 2017–19, HC 387

94 Written evidence from Professor Wyn Rees (TIA0005), Franklin Miller (INA00013), Dr Andrew Mumford (TIA0001)

95 Q3, Session 2016–17, HC 992

96 Q91, Session 2016–17, HC 992

97 Q3, Q87, Q139 [Dr David Blagden], Session 2016–17, HC 992

98 Q3, Session 2016–17, HC992, Q95, Session 2017–19, HC 387, Written evidence provided by BASIC (INA0017)

99 Q92, Q109, Session 2016–17, HC 992, Q95–6, Q118 HC 387, Written evidence from DefenceSynergia (INA0015)

100 Q3, Session 2016–17, HC 992

101 Q88–90, Session 2016–17, HC 992

102 Q5, Session 2016–17, HC 992

103 Written evidence from the Ministry of Defence (INA0012)

104 Q216, Session 2017–19, HC 387; Written evidence from the Ministry of Defence (TIA0006)

105 Q139, Session 2016–17, HC 992

106 Q90, Session 2017–19, HC 387

107 Q138, HC Session 2016–17, 992

108 National Audit Office, Ministry of Defence: The Equipment Plan 2017 to 2027, January 2018, p17–18

109 Q93, Session 2016–17, HC 992

110 Q143, Session 2016–17, HC 992

111 Q96, Session 2017–19, HC 387

112 Q95–97, Session 2017–19, HC 387

113 Q120, Q124, Session 2017–19, HC 387

114 Q138, Q151, Session 2016–17, HC 992, Written evidence from James Rogers (TIA0004)

115 Q219, Session 2017–19, HC 387

Published: 26 June 2018