Special Relationships? US, UK and NATO – Report Summary

This is a House of Commons Committee report, with recommendations to government. The Government has two months to respond.

Author: Defence Committee

Related inquiry: US, UK and NATO

Date Published: 7 March 2023

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The UK-US relationship in defence, security and intelligence is strong and enduring. Our Armed Forces have fought alongside in many campaigns post-1945 and continue to work together on development of both equipment and doctrine. Both countries benefit from the relationship: the UK benefits from US resources and economies of scale; the US from British niche capabilities, the UK’s global reach and its willingness to defend its values. However, defence industrial co-operation is often limited as a result of US defence export controls. Any failure to consult Allies before taking action can also have negative consequences, as was demonstrated by the Afghanistan withdrawal. Nevertheless, the joint approach in response to Russian actions in February 2022 demonstrates the value of the UK-US relationship.

The UK commits most of its military capability to NATO. It takes a leadership role in the Alliance—placing many senior officials and officers in NATO roles—and has been at the forefront of support to eastern Allies and Ukraine. Despite this, whilst its maritime and air capabilities commitments are fulfilled, the failure to modernise land forces raises questions about the ability of the British Army to deploy an effective force in continental Europe, should it be required. However, the UK’s focus on the High North and its leadership within the Joint Expeditionary Force are to be commended.

NATO has been preparing for an increase in the scale of Russian hostilities in Europe since 2014. Strategies and plans produced in the past few years have helped develop thinking and processes in NATO, and NATO was able to respond credibly to the Russian full-scale invasion of Ukraine. With his unprovoked aggression, President Putin has managed to unite Europe, re-engage the US in Europe and encourage Finland and Sweden to join NATO. However, NATO still suffers from capability shortfalls, particularly amongst its European Allies. As the US invests in the development of military equipment based on new technologies, it may cause further interoperability issues within the Alliance. NATO and the EU are investing in research and development but those investments and EU capability development programmes will need to be complementary to counter the interoperability issues.

The Russian full-scale invasion of Ukraine has seen Western military equipment and weaponry sent east to the front line. The Ukrainians have fought bravely and effectively, driving back Russian advances. However, it is clear that Western warehouses and stockpiles are not being replenished at the same rate at which stocks are being shipped. Western industrial capacity does not appear to be able to match demand and it is clear that Government intervention is required. The current global situation shows that there is an ongoing need to deter aggressive actions which undermine the rules-based international order. The failure of Western Governments to deter Russia leads to questions about the effectiveness of the current deterrence posture.