66.Sir Adam Thomson estimated that the UK provides 12–14% of total NATO capability. The UK contributes £138 million to NATO a year (with an additional £96 million for providing 971 UK personnel to work in NATO). According to NATO, in 2018 the UK will provide 10% of the NATO common funded budgets and programmes (the fourth highest after the US, Germany and France). The UK hosts two NATO headquarters (MARCOM, the Maritime Command and ARRC, the Allied Rapid Reaction Corps), and also hosts NATO exercises. The UK commands one of the Enhanced Forward Presence battlegroups (in Estonia), providing roughly 800 personnel and contributes a squadron to the US-led battlegroup in Poland. Furthermore the UK also contributes assets and personnel for NATO missions and operations, including Resolute Support in Afghanistan, Enhanced Air Policing in Romania and the Standing Maritime Group in the Mediterranean. Both Franklin Kramer and Dr Martin Zapfe highlighted the importance of UK cyber capabilities, and the Secretary of State told us that the UK is taking a major leadership role in cyber-warfare in NATO.
67.Evidence suggested that the UK provides a degree of credibility to, and therefore increases the deterrent effect of, the NATO Alliance. Elisabeth Braw told us that the UK had amongst the highest number of deployable and deployed soldiers in NATO. Dr Martin Zapfe told us that, whilst “resolve is hard to quantify or measure”, the fact that the UK is considered to be a “hard and credible ally” is particularly valuable in times of crisis. The UK is also one of three members of the Alliance to have nuclear capability, and is the only European member of the Alliance which commits its nuclear deterrent to the defence of NATO. Mr Miller told us that the UK’s nuclear deterrent plays a “unique and critical role”. Congressman Turner felt that the UK’s nuclear capability would be of increasing importance in the future:
On the nuclear mission, and the importance of your at-sea continuous deterrent, you represent what is probably the most important function in military security as we look to the next decade: a return to deterrence. We looked before to how we could project forces, but we did not necessarily look to forward-placing of forces, stability, protection of the European area, and deterrence of Russia and Russian aggression. Together, we are essential in that. Certainly, the UK plays a huge role in NATO itself.
68.Both James Black and Professor John Bew suggested that UK had taken a leadership role both on interoperability and burden-sharing. Congressman Turner also felt that the UK performed an important function in terms of its ability to influence its partners and allies. However, both Mr Black and Professor Bew argued that UK influence could wane if the UK failed to demonstrate its commitment to the defence of Europe, either through a security partnership with the EU or through an increase in its defence budget post-Brexit. Sir Adam Thomson felt that the UK could demonstrate its commitment to European security by increasing our military contributions to NATO. He listed strategic airlift, intelligence and provision of military planners to NATO Supreme Headquarters Allied Powers Europe (SHAPE) in Belgium and Allied Command Transformation in Norfolk, Virginia, as areas in which the UK had capabilities that NATO required.
69.It is clear that the UK is a major contributor to NATO. However, given the geopolitical changes which have taken place since 2014, maintaining current levels of support is not enough. The UK must demonstrate an enhanced commitment to the Alliance if we wish to retain a leadership role within NATO.
70.The US role in NATO has been questioned several times in the Alliance’s history. Professor Freedman cited the arguments between the Clinton Administration and the British and the French during the Bosnia crisis which he described as “quite vicious”. Professor Porter suggested that the US did not welcome the help of the alliance after 9/11 as it did not want to be “fettered” by it. However, Dr Dana Allin identified a difference between those instances and the current strategic environment:
Having the first President in American post war history who seems like he might mean it—that he might leave Europe in the lurch if the Europeans do not pay more for defence or build up more effective defence forces—was something new and a matter of considerable concern. … On balance, I would say that the American commitment to the defence of Europe has not been deeply called into question. On the other hand when you have statements like you have had from candidate and then President Trump, countries are bound to hedge or to think about other arrangements.
71.One of the key questions for this inquiry is whether NATO could exist, in practical terms, without the support of the United States. Overwhelmingly, the evidence indicates that without US support the Alliance would be neither credible nor effective. Professor Freedman and Professor Phillips O’Brien agreed that if European NATO states all spent at least 2% of their GDP on defence, then Europe might be able to defend itself against attack on its territory; but they noted that such an adjustment would take considerable time. Professor Bew believed that the US political and military power gave NATO credibility, and Alex Hall suggested that, whilst NATO states might be able to undertake discretionary operations, an Article 5 response without the US would leave NATO “much diminished”. Dr Martin Zapfe told us that, no matter how much Europe spent on defence in the next 10–15 years, the US would be indispensable given its capabilities, forces, manpower and nuclear deterrent. It was the only member of NATO whose resolve and credibility was essential. Elisabeth Braw and Dr Nile Gardiner believed that if the US did not engage in a NATO response in the event of an Article 5 attack, the danger would be not only in the loss of capabilities but in the negative message sent.
72.However, many other witnesses argued that, while US rhetoric might be critical of NATO members, the Administration’s policies towards Europe and NATO had actually been highly supportive. Dr Dana Allin suggested that the crisis over NATO had passed, proving that the credibility of the American commitment remained strong. Dr Gardiner cited the Administration’s policies on Ukraine and the 40% increase in the funding of the European Deterrence Initiative in the last US budget. Congressman Turner suggested that President Putin’s behaviour had reinvigorated the NATO Alliance and the US commitment to it. However, he warned that although the US had increased its investment and presence in Europe, through its European Reassurance Initiative, US taxpayers needed to be shown that Europe was playing its part.
73.The US role in NATO is vital to the defence of Europe and US priorities for the forthcoming NATO summit are closely aligned to UK priorities. The Government ought to demonstrate its commitment to joint priorities by increasing the interoperability, readiness and mobility of UK Armed Forces. The Government also ought to set out how it intends to play a key role in the US-led Atlantic Command and how that Command will work together with the UK-led Maritime Command.
74.Professor Porter and Dr Blagden believed that the UK-US relationship was fundamental for the functioning of NATO, describing it as vital to the operation of NATO and the only thing that “lends anything to the façade that this is an alliance of equals”. Others believed that the UK would be more valuable to the US by playing an increased role in NATO, that the UK’s interoperability and reliance on the US bound the US more tightly to NATO than it otherwise would be, and that the UK’s independence and ability to influence partners within NATO were among the most important assets of the UK-US relationship.
75.The importance of the UK’s role in NATO to the wider UK-US relationship was underlined by the Secretary of State . He described how the US relied on the UK to perform vital functions in NATO, listing the different areas where the UK is supporting NATO:
He told us that:
The US would face challenges in being able to fill that hole because, again, the US don’t just have commitments in Europe and the north Atlantic; they have commitments right around the globe. It is right that we play that role, because it is about our defence. It can’t be right for us to always expect others to pick up the tab for our defence. We have got to be showing that we are engaged and we are willing to invest in our security, willing to put the resources in and willing to have the men, the women and the equipment ready to deploy—and to deploy, as we have touched upon, potentially in various areas such as Estonia, Poland and Romania—and we will continue to do that.
76.After the 2016 NATO summit in Warsaw, the then Secretary of State for Defence told us that following the UK’s departure from the European Union, the UK had an increased interest in seeing NATO and the EU co-operate on security. He said that:
It has been a long-standing British preoccupation that these two organisations should work better together, should avoid duplicating each other wherever possible and should complement each other’s strengths. Finally, there are a number of interlocking missions in Europe, so far as migration in the Mediterranean is concerned. There is a NATO mission in the Aegean and a European Union mission in the central Mediterranean. They are both, in essence, doing the same thing: trying to break the people smuggling models and to rescue those at sea whose lives are at risk. We are contributing Royal Navy ships to both operations.
77.Both Ambassador Nuland and Congressman Turner were hopeful that the UK would continue to push for close NATO-EU co-operation. The current Secretary of State for Defence believed that the UK would always strengthen complementary organisations, citing the Dutch-led PESCO project on military mobility as an excellent example which went to the core of how the UK would want PESCO to support NATO. He told us that UK support for such a project was valuable and that other European countries had consulted the UK before signing up to take part in it.
78.Although secondary to the bilateral UK-US relationship, the UK’s role in NATO is important to the UK’s wider defence relations with the US and to the UK’s relationships with our other close allies and partners. We expect the Government to fulfil its promises to increase support to NATO after leaving the European Union. We also expect to see the UK encouraging appropriate further co-operation between NATO and the EU.
80.The US has also made it clear that, whilst UK leadership in NATO is highly valued, the UK’s ability to act independently if necessary is of equal importance. Ambassador Nuland told us that the UK’s contribution to both the Alliance and European defence were essential, with only the UK and the French having the ability to operate independently and to operate at distance. Dr Nile Gardner, Dr Heather Conley and Dr Tom Wright all mentioned US perceptions of a decline in UK defence capability, partly as a result of questions about UK shortfalls and the debate about defence spending. On several occasions in Washington D.C., our interlocutors questioned the UK’s ability to operate independently. When we asked the Secretary of State about this, he stressed that the UK did have the ability to act independently, and believed that this was recognised by the US Administration. He highlighted that, in addition, the UK had the ability to act as a framework nation, co-ordinating a coalition of different states—an ability he believed the US also valued.
81.The UK-US relationship is not self-sustaining—Franklin Miller told us that it was a relationship which required care and nurture, and that the case for its continuation needed to be constantly made to both UK and US publics. He suggested that responsibility for this lay with politicians, officials, serving personnel and the intelligence agencies. Dr Dana Allin cited the Libyan campaign as a low point in the transatlantic relationship, as highlighted by former President Obama in his interview with The Atlantic. Ambassador Nuland highlighted the importance of winning back that trust, not just from the US Administration but from the US taxpayer:
I think President Trump’s trope, both during the campaign and since, that the United States has got a raw deal from all this defence of liberalism and open trade out there in the world, and that we are being taken advantage of, has had far more salience across more sectors of the American public than I would have thought.
Ambassador Nuland suggested that if “the UK can do even better, in terms of helping to defend, keep seas open and all those things” then the American people would begin to understand the role played by the UK as a valuable ally.
82.At the publication of the US National Defense Strategy, Defense Secretary Jim Mattis said that he would usually prioritise capability but that capacity had its own value. He suggested that one of the US’s allies had cut capacity to the point that it could no longer speak with strength. When we were in Washington D.C. we were told that this was directed at the United Kingdom.
83.The budget for the Ministry of Defence (MoD) in 2018–19 is £37 billion. However, not all defence spending comes from the MoD budget—in 2016 (the latest year for which confirmed figures are available) the MoD budget was £34.3 billion but UK defence spending was reported to NATO as being £42.2 billion, amounting to 2.18% of UK GDP. This suggests that, should defence spending go up, the MoD might receive only about 80% of the total increase.
84.We calculate that raising defence spending to 2.5% of GDP would result in a forecast spend of £50 billion per annum and raising it to 3% of GDP would take this to £60 billion per annum. A rise to 3% of GDP would see defence spending return to the level—in GDP percentage terms—that was last achieved in 1995.
85.As the analysis in the Annex demonstrates, for each additional 0.5% of UK GDP spent on Defence, under a range of projected growth scenarios, about £10 billion annually would accrue to Defence. Applying the 80% guideline referred to above, we conclude that the Ministry of Defence would receive an extra £8 billion annually for its budget. Thus an increase to 2.5% of GDP to be spent on Defence would comfortably fill the ‘black hole’ in the existing MoD budget. To reverse the loss of capacity referred to by Secretary Mattis, however, a higher target is needed. Accordingly, we recommend that the Government work towards an eventual goal of raising defence spending to 3% of GDP—as it was in the mid-1990s.
116 , Session 2017–19, HC 387
117 , Session 2017–19, HC 387
118 NATO, , accessed 8 June 2018; Written evidence from the Ministry of Defence ()
119 Written evidence from the Ministry of Defence ()
120 Ministry of Defence, , 20 April 2018
121 Written evidence from the Ministry of Defence ()
122 Ministry of Defence, , September 2017, p 8
123 , Session 2016–17, HC 992
124 , Session 2016–17, HC 992
125 , Session 2017–19, HC 387
126 , Session 2017–19, HC 387
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128 , Session 2016–17, HC 992
129 Written evidence from Franklin Miller ()
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141 , , Session 2017–19, HC 387
142 , Session 2017–19, HC 387
143 , Session 2017–19, HC 387
144 Also referred to as the European Deterrence Initiative
145 , Session 2017–19, HC 387
146 , Session 2016–17, HC 992
147 Written evidence from James Rogers ()
148 , Session 2017–19, HC 387
149 Q96, Q94, Session 2017–19, HC 387
150 , Session 2017–19, HC 387
151 Oral evidence taken on , HC (2016 –17) 579, Q17
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156 , Session 2017–19, HC 387
157 , Session 2016–17, HC 992
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160 , Session 2017–19, HC 387
161 US Department of Defence Transcript, , 19 January 2018
162 Ministry of Defence, , 1 April 2016
164 NATO press release, , 29 June 2017
165 Defence Committee, Second Report of Session 2015–16, , HC 494, p 40
Published: 26 June 2018