Indispensable allies: US, NATO and UK Defence relations Contents

4The US and UK in NATO

The UK’s current contribution to NATO

66.Sir Adam Thomson estimated that the UK provides 12–14% of total NATO capability.116 The UK contributes £138 million to NATO a year (with an additional £96 million for providing 971 UK personnel to work in NATO).117 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).118 The UK hosts two NATO headquarters (MARCOM, the Maritime Command and ARRC, the Allied Rapid Reaction Corps),119 and also hosts NATO exercises.120 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.121 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.122 Both Franklin Kramer123 and Dr Martin Zapfe124 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.125

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.126 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.127 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.128 Mr Miller told us that the UK’s nuclear deterrent plays a “unique and critical role”.129 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.130

68.Both James Black and Professor John Bew suggested that UK had taken a leadership role both on interoperability and burden-sharing.131 Congressman Turner also felt that the UK performed an important function in terms of its ability to influence its partners and allies.132 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.133 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.134

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.

The importance of the US role in 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”.135 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.136 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.137

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.138 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”.139 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.140 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.141

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.142 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.143 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,144 US taxpayers needed to be shown that Europe was playing its part.145

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.

The impact of NATO and the UK-US relationship

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”.146 Others believed that the UK would be more valuable to the US by playing an increased role in NATO,147 that the UK’s interoperability and reliance on the US bound the US more tightly to NATO than it otherwise would be,148 and that the UK’s independence and ability to influence partners within NATO were among the most important assets of the UK-US relationship.149

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.150

NATO-EU co-operation

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.151

77.Both Ambassador Nuland and Congressman Turner were hopeful that the UK would continue to push for close NATO-EU co-operation.152 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.153

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.

79.We recommend that the Government should demonstrate, both in the Modernising Defence Programme and in its response to this Report how it is increasing UK support to NATO.

Strategic engagement

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.154 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.155 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.156

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.157 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.158 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.159

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.160

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.161 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.162 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 billion163 but UK defence spending was reported to NATO as being £42.2 billion, amounting to 2.18% of UK GDP.164 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 1995.165

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 Q65, Session 2017–19, HC 387

117 Q150, Q142, Session 2017–19, HC 387

118 NATO, Funding NATO, accessed 8 June 2018; Written evidence from the Ministry of Defence (INA0012)

119 Written evidence from the Ministry of Defence (INA0012)

121 Written evidence from the Ministry of Defence (INA0012)

122 Ministry of Defence, UK Defence in Numbers, September 2017, p 8

123 Q109, Session 2016–17, HC 992

124 Q166, Session 2016–17, HC 992

125 Q148, Session 2017–19, HC 387

126 Q65, Session 2017–19, HC 387

127 Q171, Session 2016–17, HC 992

128 Q64, Session 2016–17, HC 992

129 Written evidence from Franklin Miller (INA00013)

130 Q91, Session 2017–19, HC 387

131 Q109, Session 2016–17, HC 992

132 Q96, Session 2017–19, HC 387

133 Q109, Session 2016–17, HC 992

134 Q77, Session 2017–19, HC 387

135 Q25, Session 2016–17, HC 992

136 Q161, Session 2016–17, HC 992

137 Q27, Session 2017–19, HC 387

138 Q37–40, Session 2016–17, HC 992

139 Q103, Session 2017–19, HC 387

140 Q161, Session 2016–17, HC 992

141 Q38, Q130, Session 2017–19, HC 387

142 Q8, Session 2017–19, HC 387

143 Q130–1, Session 2017–19, HC 387

144 Also referred to as the European Deterrence Initiative

145 Q106, Session 2017–19, HC 387

146 Q160, Session 2016–17, HC 992

147 Written evidence from James Rogers (TIA0004)

148 Q9, Session 2017–19, HC 387

149 Q96, Q94, Session 2017–19, HC 387

150 Q224, Session 2017–19, HC 387

151 Oral evidence taken on 19 July 2016, HC (2016 –17) 579, Q17

152 Q114, Session 2017–19, HC 387

153 Q230, Session 2017–19, HC 387

154 Q91, Session 2017–19, HC 387

155 Q117, Session 2017–19, HC 387

156 Q206–7, Session 2017–19, HC 387

157 Q16, Session 2016–17, HC 992

158 Q8, Session 2017–19, HC 387

159 Q106, Session 2017–19, HC 387

160 Q106, Session 2017–19, HC 387

161 US Department of Defence Transcript, Remarks by Secretary Mattis on the National Defense Strategy, 19 January 2018

163 Ibid.

164 NATO press release, Defence Expenditure of NATO Countries (2010–2017) , 29 June 2017

165 Defence Committee, Second Report of Session 2015–16, Shifting the goalposts? Defence expenditure and the 2% pledge, HC 494, p 40

Published: 26 June 2018