UK defence policy: from aspiration to reality? Contents

Chapter 3: The UK in the world: allies and adversaries

69.The IR, which defined the UK as a “European country with global interests”, included a summary of how the Government sees its relationships with other countries, both allies and adversaries.88 The DCP developed this further, setting out the key threats to UK security and the importance of cooperating with the UK’s allies and partners to tackle them.89

70.This chapter sets out the evidence the Committee received on state threats to the UK’s security, particularly from Russia and China; on the UK’s security and defence relationships with key allies, particularly within NATO; the relationship between these alliances and UK defence capabilities; and on the relative significance of different regions to UK security and defence, particularly the Euro-Atlantic, the Indo-Pacific, and the Middle East. It assesses the extent to which the IR and the DCP were correct in their characterisation of these relationships, particularly in the changing global context since their publication.


The level of threat from Russia

71.The IR identified Russia as “the most acute direct threat to the UK”,90 and the DCP stated that Russia “continues to pose the greatest nuclear, conventional military and sub-threshold threat to European security”.91

72.Several witnesses said that the subsequent invasion of Ukraine had vindicated this characterisation of Russia. Professor Sir Lawrence Freedman of King’s College London commented: “You cannot say that the Integrated Review did not prepare us potentially for something like this”.92 The Defence Secretary, Ben Wallace MP, also emphasised this point: “Ukraine has proved that we were on the right track, insofar as we identified the threat.”93

73.Professor Tracey German, Professor in Conflict and Security at King’s College London, agreed that “Everything that has happened subsequently, including its invasion of Ukraine … really validates that description of Russia as the most acute direct threat.” She added, however, that the IR had focused on the hybrid threat from Russia, and may have underestimated the conventional challenge it poses.94

74.We also received evidence on Russia’s ongoing threat outside Ukraine, particularly the overseas operations of the Wagner Group,95 as well as the maritime and geopolitical challenge posed by Russia in the Arctic.96

Russian strengths and weaknesses

75.Some witnesses saw Russia’s struggles in Ukraine as evidence of its military weaknesses. Air Marshal Edward Stringer, former Director-General of the Defence Academy, said: “Russia has now demonstrated it was nowhere near being a military superpower, or even a peer of NATO except in nuclear weapons.”97 Dr Simona Soare, Research Fellow for Defence and Military Analysis at the International Institute for Strategic Studies (IISS), argued that the West had “overestimated the amount of military modernisation” in Russia, though her overall view was that “Russia is never as weak or as strong as it seems”.98 We also heard that Russia has faced military equipment shortages, in which is why it has resorted to, for example, purchases of drones from Iran.99

76.However, other witnesses warned against complacency in this regard. Professor Jamie Gaskarth of the Open University said: “if Russia’s threat has been downgraded and it is having significant losses in Ukraine, it will learn from that and, therefore, it will be a more serious threat in a decade’s time.”100

77.The Chief of the Defence Staff, Admiral Sir Tony Radakin, also highlighted that the Ukraine war had predominantly been fought on land, and warned against “focusing on just one domain” when evaluating Russia’s threat. He stressed: “If you see through the Ukraine war, Russia will still have its full cyber, space and nuclear capabilities and many of its long-range missile capabilities.”101

The nuclear threat from Russia

78.The Ukraine conflict has featured aggressive rhetoric from Russia around the possible use of nuclear weapons, either within Ukraine or against NATO countries, including the UK.102 The Chief of the Defence Staff said that as a result, the nuclear threat was now “far more tangible… than when the Integrated Review was published”, adding, “The importance of being a nuclear nation and a responsible nuclear power, and of offering up our nuclear weapons as part of our partnership with NATO, feels very strong”.103 Prof German said that the UK’s strong support for Ukraine “feeds into the credibility of our nuclear deterrent”.104

79.The Defence Secretary also argued: “Our deterrent has kept us safe for decades, and right now, with President Putin invoking nuclear one way or the other… I am pleased that we sit here with a deterrent that has a quality and capability that, in my belief, will deter our adversaries.”105 We discuss the UK’s nuclear capabilities in further detail in Chapter 4.



80.The IR placed a strong emphasis on the importance of NATO to UK defence policy, describing it as “the foundation of collective security in the Euro-Atlantic area”.106 The DCP emphasised that the UK “has an unwavering commitment to NATO”.107

81.Reinforcing this point, Professor Mark Webber of the University of Birmingham stated that “NATO is vital to the UK, and the UK is vital to NATO”.108 The MoD told us that Russia’s invasion of Ukraine had “reaffirmed that NATO remains the cornerstone of UK and Euro-Atlantic security”.109

82.On the impact of the Ukraine conflict on NATO, the Chief of the Defence Staff said, “I think we are seeing a significant shift in NATO with a new strategic concept, the biggest shift in NATO since 1967; the extraordinary increase in NATO defence spending; and, potentially, the accession of Finland and Sweden.”110 Similarly, the Defence Secretary said that NATO had “woken up” in the wake of the Ukraine war.111

83.Lieutenant General Ben Hodges, former Commanding General of the United States Army Europe, said that the accession of Finland and Sweden to NATO would significantly strengthen the alliance, with their geographic position and strong militaries meaning they would be “security contributors not consumers.”112

The UK’s contribution to NATO

84.The DCP states that the UK “will design our warfighting forces to be integrated with allies, first and foremost through NATO”.113

85.Witnesses emphasised the significance of the UK’s contribution to NATO. Prof Webber described it as “probably the most important European contribution in terms of command structure, contribution to the leadership of the Alliance, defence expenditure and contribution to operations”.114 Professor Jamie Shea, former NATO Deputy Assistant Secretary-General for Emerging Security Challenges, said that the UK had “always been a big player in NATO”, adding, “NATO is an alliance where influence is directly proportionate to contribution.”115

86.Prof Shea characterised the UK’s proposed contribution to NATO under the IR as to “have a small army that was super well equipped, with cyber, artificial intelligence … dealing with disinformation and so on. It would fill vital niche capabilities, because of its specialised role in the NATO command structure”.116 The MoD, meanwhile, highlighted in particular the UK’s maritime contribution to NATO, as well as the UK’s “active role in shaping NATO’s strategies”.117

87.Former senior UK military leaders placed a particular emphasis on the UK’s contribution to NATO leadership and command. General Sir Nick Carter, former Chief of the Defence Staff, said that “We get a massive amount of respect at the moment in NATO for our thought leadership”, though he added, “that respect comes with having hard power behind it”. General Sir Adrian Bradshaw, former Commander of the UK Land Forces and NATO Deputy Supreme Commander Europe said, “We have been able to operate at a scale that gives us a degree of influence, which is why in so many cases we provide the second in command to an American commander of a force”.118

88.Questions were raised over the appropriate division of labour within NATO, particularly in the context of NATO’s post-Ukraine rearmament. Noting Germany’s commitment to increase the size of its army, Prof Shea asked: “Does the UK follow that trend …[Or] does the UK say, ‘No, we’ll leave that to the Germans’?” He went on:

“The problem for the UK is that it wants to play in every area. It is not a specialised country … in a financially constrained environment, does the UK still see itself up with the United States or France with at least the aspiration of playing in every league or does the UK see itself as a more medium-sized power and decide that it has to specialise in one particular area, maybe maritime, and therefore reduce its role in certain other areas?”119

89.Other witnesses highlighted the importance of interoperability between UK capabilities and those of NATO. Professor John Louth, former Director of the Defence, Industries and Society research programme at RUSI, said: “our ability to manoeuvre is critical, but so is the ability for our Polish or German colleagues to operate the equipment that we provide, because a lot of our men and women will be dead, of course, if we fight”.120

The United States

90.The UK-US defence relationship was described in the DCP as “the broadest, deepest and most advanced of any two countries in the world”, and the DCP pledged to “deepen” the partnership further over the coming years.121

91.However, we heard some concerns about the current state of American leadership within the western alliance. Prof Freedman said that American leadership had been “damaged first by President Trump’s indifference to alliances and then, although President Biden was more in favour of them, he did not really handle the withdrawal from Afghanistan particularly well.” He added, however, that President Biden had since “stepped up with this [Ukraine] crisis”.122

92.Asked about the possible impact of US domestic political developments on NATO, Lt Gen Hodges sought to reassure: “support for the alliance [in Congress] has been very strong and bipartisan … most people realise that American prosperity depends on European prosperity, which depends on stability and security in Europe”.123 Similarly, the Defence Secretary told us that bipartisan support for Ukraine had been strong during his recent visit to Washington DC.124

93.The US mid-term elections, which saw the Democrats retain control of the Senate but narrowly lose control of the House of Representatives to the Republicans, took place shortly after our inquiry finished taking evidence.

94.Members of the Committee had the opportunity to visit the US military compound at the Al Udeid Air base in Qatar, to see at first-hand close cooperation between the 379th Air Expeditionary Wing of the United States Air Force, and the No. 83 Expeditionary Air Group RAF, and to discuss the important network of alliances and partnerships operating in the region and in which the US, UK and a number of other nations participate.

European partners

The EU

95.Our inquiry took place against the backdrop of post-Brexit tensions between the UK and the EU, particularly in relation to the Protocol on Northern Ireland/Ireland. A detailed analysis of the UK-EU relationship on foreign policy and defence is beyond the scope of this inquiry (and is part of a separate, ongoing inquiry by the European Affairs Committee).125 However, in this section we make a few brief background comments.

96.The UK-EU Trade and Cooperation Agreement, signed in December 2020, does not include provisions for structured cooperation on foreign policy, defence or external security. The UK Government’s position was that, while cooperation on these matters was desirable, it did not require an institutionalised relationship.126

97.The IR contains some brief mentions of the UK-EU relationship, but places more emphasis on NATO and on bilateral relationships with specific European countries.127 The DCP similarly focuses on NATO and bilateral relationships, and does not mention the EU itself at all.128

98.Prof Gaskarth was of the view that, in terms of the UK’s alliances, “we have to sort out our relationship with the European Union”, adding that “It was a bit of a surprise to everybody how distanced we have become on the foreign and defence angle.”129

99.2022 also saw developments in terms of EU-NATO cooperation. The EU’s Strategic Compass, which was agreed on 21 March 2022, emphasises the importance of cooperation between the EU and NATO.130 Similarly, the 2022 NATO Strategic Concept, adopted at the NATO summit in Madrid on 29 June, pledged to deepen the “strategic partnership” between NATO and the EU.131

100.Professor Christoph Meyer, Professor of European and International Politics at King’s College London, said that there was “a real agenda of making EU-NATO co-operation work”, which could be an “entry door for the UK”.132


101.The UK and France have a long-standing security and defence partnership, underpinned in particular by the Lancaster House treaties.133 The DCP describes the UK and France as “natural partners.”134

102.However, the UK-France relationship has faced challenges in recent years, with disputes over issues including post-Brexit fishing rights, migrant crossings in the English Channel, and the impact on France of the AUKUS agreement between the UK, the US, and Australia.135 Dr Nicholas Joad, Director of Defence Science and Technology in the MoD, admitted that in terms of the UK’s bilateral relationships in Europe over the last five years, “France is the one nation we have seen a [negative] difference in”.136

103.Georgina Wright, Senior Fellow and Director of the Europe Programme at the Institut Montaigne, described the impact of Brexit tensions on the UK-France defence relationship as follows:

“At the start of Brexit talks, there was a real willingness in Paris to try to separate as much as possible this special, strong security and defence co-operation between the UK and France from Brexit negotiations. But the toxicity of talks, and particularly the tone, bled into the defence relationship”.137

She added that the AUKUS agreement had further “dented the relationship”, with “a tangible impact on Franco-British defence co-operation”.138

104.Several witnesses expressed concern at the state of UK-France relations. Dr Ben Wilkinson of RAND Europe said, “the UK, France and Germany are the cornerstone of European security. That the relationship between at least two of those is pretty thin is worrying”.139 Prof Gaskarth drew a contrast between the current difficulties and his view that “there are so few differences in security and defence priorities between France and Britain.”140

105.However, Georgina Wright saw recent signs of improvement: “You have certainly seen a rapprochement of France and the UK working together to address the war in Ukraine”.141

Other European partners

106.The UK leads the Joint Expeditionary Force (JEF), an initiative established in 2014 which also includes nine other Northern European countries.142 Professor Michael Clarke, former Director-General of RUSI, told us that this was a “very good example of the framework nation concept and the leadership that the UK can provide”.143

107.The DCP also highlights other important European bilateral partners for the UK, in particular Germany, “a crucial member of NATO with whom we share a wide range of defence interests”, as well as Italy, which “is becoming a more significant partner for the UK”.144

108.Prof Meyer told the Committee that the UK-German defence relationship is sometimes dubbed the “silent alliance”, adding, “On the one hand, both countries have a lot in common … That is contrasted with the less visible co-operation at the political level. It is certainly not very developed institutionally if you compare it with the Lancaster House Treaties, or indeed Germany’s Aachen Treaty with France.”145

The relationship between alliances and capabilities

109.It was also highlighted to us that the UK’s own defence capabilities must be considered in the context of its alliances, particularly its membership of NATO. From the evidence we received, there were broadly two themes that emerged: the expectations that UK Defence must meet if it is to maintain credibility with allies; and the extent to which the UK can achieve military mass through alliances and coalitions.

Expectations and credibility

110.Witnesses commented on what capabilities the UK’s allies would expect the UK to provide. Prof Shea said that NATO would look to the UK to provide maritime capability.146 Similarly, Lt Gen Hodges said that sea power was something which “the United States, for a variety of reasons, expects our British allies to contribute to.”147

111.Professor Malcolm Chalmers of RUSI emphasised that the UK needed “an army that can make a relevant contribution to NATO… in a timely fashion, and that means, because of our geography, our army has to be expeditionary. It has to get somewhere.”148

112.We heard that a key US expectation is the UK’s ability to deploy an armoured combat division. Gen Carter said that as long as the British Army can provide this, it is “providing what we should be delivering as a premier power within NATO.” The Chief of the Defence Staff, however, admitted that there were currently limitations to the UK’s ability to meet this expectation: “the division that we want to put out [will be] a much better one in five to 10 years’ time … we can throw out a division now but it is not the division that we would want, and I do not think it would be of the quality that the US would expect alongside it”.149 From a US perspective, Lt Gen Hodges said he was “very worried that there is inadequate British land power.”150

113.When we asked the Defence Secretary about this shortfall, his assessment was frank:

“We have not had an armoured division that could really deploy since 1991. Even when we went to the first Gulf War, we did not deploy a full armoured division. We had two armoured brigades and an air assault brigade. For many decades, we have not really delivered what we said on the tin … If I look on paper at the current armoured division we have, it is lacking in all sorts of areas. It is lacking in deep fires, in medium-range air defence, in its electronic warfare and signals intelligence capability, in its modern digital and sensor-to-shooter capability. On top of that, it is probably lacking in weapons stocks.”151

114.Witnesses emphasised that meeting the expectations of allies was vital for maintaining the UK’s military credibility. Prof Clarke talked about a “threshold of strategic significance”, adding:

“We may have forces that … may be welcomed when they turn up to a coalition operation, but they are too small to make a significant difference. It is a perceptual threshold, but it is a threshold that our allies will always make a judgment on … our capabilities have to be credible in the eyes of our allies”.152

Gen Carter also talked about what the “minimum hard power capabilities are that each service needs to bring to NATO, so that we have that credibility with our allies.”153

Achieving mass through alliances

115.The DCP states that “integration with allies will be fundamental to retaining our global strategic advantage.”154 In his assessment of the DCP, Prof Porter said “there is a bet that mass can be substituted by essentially two things—technological transformation155 and a reliance upon, or an assumption of, alliances and coalitions”.156

116.Expressing agreement with this view that “mass is provided by alliance”, Prof Chalmers said: “We do not have the mass, as the UK, to confront Russia or China by ourselves at a large-scale war-fighting level … Neither does any other European country. The only country that has that capability is the United States”.157

117.Prof Chalmers therefore stressed the need, when asking what defence forces the UK requires, to distinguish between “situations in which we are likely to be largely on our own, which include all the domestic roles of the Armed Forces”, and those in which the UK will be operating alongside allies.158

118.For the Government, the Defence Secretary reinforced this argument:

“our force size has always been generated, over the last 50, 60, 70 or maybe 100 years, through coalitions. We are in NATO. That is how we generate our force size. We can debate whether we should have an extra division or an extra brigade, but fundamentally that is still not big enough to do what we need to do globally in a unilateral way. We have to belong to alliances.”159

This argument was also emphasised to us by Director of SONAC Dr Rob Johnson, and by the MoD’s written evidence.160

119.As well as generating mass on the battlefield, the Defence Secretary also emphasised that working with allies could generate industrial volume for the defence sector: “Having a consortium with international partners means that you may not make 100 per cent of everything, but you are probably making enough volume to sustain it”. He gave examples such as the Eurofighter Typhoon consortium of the UK, France, Germany, Italy and Spain, which produces the Typhoon fighter aircraft, and the MBDA Systems consortium of the UK, France, Germany and Italy, under which “we are all making missiles for each other.”161

120.Some witnesses, however, warned that NATO was itself too reliant on the US in particular for generating mass, and that this came with risks. Prof Freedman said: “If the Americans are not interested in something, whether in America or Europe, there is not a lot that we can do.”162 Justin Bronk, Senior Research Fellow for Airpower and Technology at RUSI, highlighted that most of NATO relies on the US for munitions and resupply, meaning that “when a crisis happens, as we saw in Libya as well, it is not just you who screams for rapid resupply from the US; it is everybody”.163


China as a “systemic competitor”

121.Unlike Russia, China was characterised in the IR as a “systemic competitor”, rather than a “threat”. The IR highlights China’s authoritarianism and increasing international assertiveness, but also refers to it as “an increasingly important partner in tackling global challenges”.164

122.This Committee has previously examined the UK-China relationship at length. In a report published in September 2021, we concluded that there was a “strategic void” at the heart of the UK’s China policy, and that the “ambiguous” phrase “systemic competitor” creates “uncertainty about the Government’s strategy towards China”.165

123.Some of our witnesses to this inquiry expressed support for the description of China as a “systemic competitor”. Mia Nouwens, Senior Fellow for Chinese Defence Policy and Military Modernisation at the IISS, said the label “is still very much accurate today, as it was a year ago”, as it encompasses both China’s “trajectory of illiberalism” and its “rise as an economic, political and military power”.166 The Chief of the Defence Staff said that the IR was “correct in having very different language to describe China from the language it used to describe Russia”.167

124.As Prime Minister, Liz Truss referred to China as a “strategic threat”, and there were media reports that the updated IR would formally designate China as a “threat” rather than a “competitor”.168 Following the change of Prime Minister, the Defence Secretary did not confirm whether this was still the Government’s intention, describing it as “a matter for the new IR”.169

125.Prime Minister Sunak’s foreign policy speech on 28 November 2022 used the phrase “systemic challenge” to refer to China. The speech stated that for UK-China relations, “the so-called ‘golden era’ is over”, but also warned against “simplistic Cold War rhetoric”.170


126.Our China report also highlighted the particular threat of conflict over Taiwan (which is not mentioned at all in the IR or the DCP).171 Although tensions over Taiwan have continued and, arguably, increased since the publication of the IR,172 Meia Nouwens did not see an invasion as “imminent or likely”.173 Lt Gen Hodges told us that “The Chinese are probably four years away from being ready to actually invade Taiwan”.174

127.China often refers to a goal of “reunification” with regards to Taiwan,175 though the latter has never been controlled by the People’s Republic of China. The Defence Secretary told us that China’s plan to incorporate Taiwan into its jurisdiction was “not a secret”, adding that “Britain wants a peaceful process towards that.”176

China and Russia

128.In light of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, which China has neither condemned nor fully supported, several of our witnesses commented on the relationship between Russia and China.177 Professor Caroline Kennedy-Pipe, Professor of International Relations and International Security at the University of Loughborough, was critical of the IR for “not articulating well enough the joint threat from Russia and China”.178

The Indo-Pacific

The viability of the Indo-Pacific “tilt”

129.A major theme of the IR was the Government’s ambition to “tilt” its international strategy towards the Indo-Pacific region, including by strengthening defence and security cooperation with regional partners.179 The DCP announced the deployment of the UK’s new Carrier Strike Group to the Indo-Pacific in 2021 and expressed an ambition to increase the UK’s maritime presence in the region.180 The Defence Secretary highlighted to us that, given the Indo-Pacific tilt, “We will also want to design our forces so that … they are interoperable with Australia and the United States”.

130.In light of the invasion of Ukraine and the renewed focus on the Euro-Atlantic area and NATO, we asked witnesses whether the UK’s ambition to “tilt” to the Indo-Pacific was still viable. Professor Patrick Porter of the University of Birmingham told us that while the IR was not an “absolute all-out Indo-Pacific tilt manifesto”, there was a risk of UK resources being spread too thinly: “Britain could easily be drawn into a crisis there while facing the deterioration of its own region. You end up having a two-hemisphere strategy with a one-hemisphere navy”.181

131.However, most of our witnesses stressed that the “tilt” was primarily conceived, in the words of Prof Chalmers, as “an economic and diplomatic concept”, which “has a military dimension, but it is not primarily a military concept.” Prof Chalmers added: “The Integrated Review makes clear that the authors believed then—and they have been proven right in the last month—that the most acute military threat that the UK faces comes from Russia and that NATO is at the heart of UK defence.”182

132.The IR does indeed state that “the bulk of the UK’s security focus will remain” on the Euro-Atlantic region. 183 Government and senior military figures sought to reinforce this point. The Chief of the Defence Staff was unequivocal that “the Integrated Review is anchored in the Euro-Atlantic, and the foundation for that is NATO and collective defence.”184 The Defence Secretary also described defence as “the lower part of the tilt”, adding, “our White Paper said that the cornerstone of our security is NATO and Europe, and that will remain so.” He admitted, however, that “at one level insecurity in Europe will force us to make some new choices”.185

133.Nevertheless, there were some who urged the Government not to neglect the Indo-Pacific. Dr Alessio Patalano, Professor of War and Strategy in East Asia, King’s College London said: “We may not be interested in the Indo-Pacific because there is a war in eastern Europe, but that does not mean that the Indo-Pacific is not going to be interested in us”.186


134.The AUKUS agreement between the UK, the US and Australia, which took place after the IR, was highlighted as a tangible example of the Indo-Pacific “tilt” in action. Dr Wilkinson said: “the Indo-Pacific tilt works at its best when it creates partnerships in the Indo-Pacific that we can then utilise. AUKUS is a very good example of this”.187 The Chief of the Defence Staff also said that the “tilt” had been strengthened by AUKUS.188

The Middle East

UK commitments and partners in the Middle East

135.The UK retains military commitments across the Middle East, including:

136.During this inquiry, Members of the Committee visited Bahrain and Qatar, where they met with senior officials and visited UKMCC in Bahrain and Al Udeid in Qatar. We are grateful to all who made this visit possible.

137.In terms of the UK’s key partners in the Middle East, the IR emphasises the UK’s “historic bilateral ties” with Oman and Jordan as well as its “close security partnerships” with Israel and Saudi Arabia.189 The DCP also emphasises Turkey as “a crucial NATO ally” and highlights the UK’s commitments in Oman, Qatar and Iraq.190

138.Michael Stephens, Associate Fellow at RUSI, gave the Committee a detailed account of his view of the UK’s relationships in the Middle East. He described Turkey as the UK’s “one explicit ally” in the region, but added that Jordan and Oman, “our two emotionally closest friends”, should also be classed as allies. He described the UK’s relationship with Israel as “utilitarian … [they are] the only country in the region that we buy technology from”. He expressed more caution, however, in terms of Gulf States such as Saudi Arabia: “to be global Britain you have to have a moral component. You cannot just be utilitarian and act as though $700 billion-worth of economic performance in Saudi Arabia immediately means that it is your most important ally. It does not.”191

The Middle East in the IR: underemphasised?

139.Although the UK’s Middle Eastern commitments and partnerships are mentioned in the IR and the DCP, there was a perception that the region was rather under-emphasised, particularly when compared to the strategic emphasis placed on the Euro-Atlantic and the Indo-Pacific. Michael Stephens observed: “In the section in the Integrated Review on the UK as ‘a European country with global interests’, there are five pages of allies and the Middle East starts at the bottom of the fourth page, just above Latin America.”192 Similarly, Prof Porter highlighted “the relative invisibility of the Middle East in a lot of the discussion”.193

140.The same witnesses were of the view that neglecting the Middle East would be a mistake. For Michael Stephens, the DCP should have made clear that “there are explicit commitments that we need to make to allied countries [in the Middle East] to build our capacity emotionally, strategically and logistically for the next 50 years”, adding that the Russian invasion of Ukraine had reinforced the importance of the Gulf States in energy policy terms.194 It has also reinforced the role of Iran, as admitted by the Foreign Secretary.195 Prof Porter warned against thinking the UK could “quietly draw back and hope for the best” in the Middle East.196

141.The Defence Secretary, however, strongly rejected these criticisms of the IR: “We have not neglected the Middle East at all … The Middle East is incredibly important to me.” He highlighted the UK’s commitments to Iraq and Qatar, the latter of which he said had been stepped up during the 2022 FIFA World Cup, as well as with Oman, where he said that the UK’s commitments had been increased since the IR.197

Military education and soft power

142.When asked about the importance of British military education, the Defence Secretary said that military education, such as at Sandhurst or at Dartmouth, plays an important role in the UK’s soft power and its influence over other countries. He referred to the example of the Emir of Qatar and his brothers as graduates of Sandhurst.198 199

143.The Committee met similar voices of appreciation towards Sandhurst during its visit to Bahrain and Qatar, where several senior figures in both countries were proud to identify themselves as former Sandhurst students.

Conclusions and recommendations

144.The Integrated Review’s identification of Russia as a major threat has been thoroughly vindicated by the latter’s reckless and illegal invasion of Ukraine. However, as it updates the Integrated Review, the Government should consider carefully whether there is sufficient emphasis on the conventional military threat from Russia as well as its sub-threshold capabilities.

145.Russia’s military failures in Ukraine have highlighted some of its weaknesses. But Russia also has many enduring strengths, including cyber, nuclear, space, maritime, and underwater capabilities. Some of these have not featured strongly in the war in Ukraine. There is no room for complacency, and the Government must remain vigilant in the face of the multifaceted threat from Russia. In its response to this report, the Government should set out its assessment of current Russian strengths and weaknesses in the light of events in Ukraine.

146.The aggressive nuclear rhetoric from Russia in recent months has been deeply concerning, and reinforces the importance of the UK’s own nuclear deterrent. In light of the threat from Russia, the British nuclear deterrent must remain credible.

147.We call on the Government to continue its support for NATO allies bordering Russia—the Baltic States and Poland—and possible future members, Finland and Sweden.

148.As the Government recognises, the Ukraine conflict has reinforced the central importance of the Western alliance, particularly NATO, to the UK’s security and defence policy. The UK makes an important contribution to NATO, which gives it a degree of influence within the alliance. Within the Western alliance, the United States remains by far the most capable military and defence partner.

149.The Integrated Review rightly recognises the importance of cooperating with the UK’s European partners. However, we are concerned that this could be undermined by the poor quality of UK-EU relations in recent years. We also note that current UK-EU arrangements do not provide for structured cooperation on foreign policy, security or defence. We believe that improved relations between the UK and the EU would be beneficial for the western alliance as a whole.

150.We have been particularly concerned by the deterioration in the bilateral relationship with France, which has bled into defence cooperation despite the two countries’ historic ties and shared interests. We urge the Government to seek to improve this vital bilateral relationship as a matter of priority.

151.We note the increasing momentum towards greater defence cooperation between the EU and NATO. In their response to this report, the Government should set out its view on the implications of increased EU-NATO cooperation for the UK, given the UK’s status as a non-EU member of NATO.

152.Given that the UK fights as part of alliances and coalitions, it is vital that its Armed Forces continue to be fully integrated with those of its NATO allies. Careful thought should also be given to the appropriate division of labour within NATO, which may require the UK to prioritise and specialise in certain military capabilities over others.

153.The UK’s defence capabilities must be credible in the eyes of its allies, and their expectations must be met. To that end, we are concerned that the UK is currently not capable of deploying an armoured division of the quality that the United States, in particular, expects. Although we welcome the frankness of the Defence Secretary in admitting this problem, we request that the Government sets out whether deploying an armoured division to fight alongside the US is still an objective.

154.Like many other European countries, the UK’s force size has long been generated through alliance and coalitions, particularly NATO, rather than unilaterally. The question of whether the UK’s Armed Forces have sufficient mass must be considered in this context.

155.In our previous report on the UK-China relationship, we concluded that the Integrated Review’s characterisation of China as both a “systemic competitor” and an “important partner” was ambiguous and added to the uncertainty over the Government’s China strategy. This remains our view.

156.The question of whether the updated Integrated Review will re-designate China as a “threat” to the UK has been the source of considerable speculation. We note that the Prime Minister’s recent foreign policy speech referred to China as a “systemic challenge”. As the Government updates the Integrated Review, it must consider carefully whether the “competitor” framing is still appropriate, particularly in the light of China’s increasingly aggressive posture towards Taiwan and its partnership with Russia.

157.The Defence Secretary told us that the UK “wants a peaceful process” towards China’s “reunification” with Taiwan. We request further clarification from the Defence Secretary on his words and what he meant by them.

158.The “tilt” to the Indo-Pacific region was a key theme of the Integrated Review. However, it was primarily conceived as an economic and diplomatic concept, with a secondary defence and security component.

159.As such, the Indo-Pacific “tilt” need not be incompatible with prioritising NATO and the Euro-Atlantic region as the cornerstone of UK defence policy, the importance of which was highlighted in the Integrated Review and has been reinforced by the Russian invasion of Ukraine. Nevertheless, the Government should remain wary of the risk of over-committing resources to the Indo-Pacific given the deterioration in the European security environment.

160.The Middle East is home to several ongoing UK military commitments, as well as several key partners. It remains an important region for UK engagement.

161.Some of our witnesses felt that the Middle East was neglected in the Integrated Review, a criticism the Defence Secretary strongly rejected. But, whether intentionally or not, the Middle East was not given the same prominence as other regions in the Integrated Review’s discussion of the UK’s strategic priorities; simply mentioning the UK’s commitments and partnerships there does not change this. We hope that the Government revisits the emphasis placed on the Middle East as it updates the Integrated Review.

162.The Committee acknowledges that the military soft power of the United Kingdom in general, and of Military Academies in particular, should be recognised and praised. The Royal Military Academy Sandhurst, the Britannia Royal Naval College Dartmouth, the Royal Air Force College, and the Defence Academy are important educational institutions and critical tools of British soft power.

92 Q 15 (Prof Sir Lawrence Freedman); see also Q 152 (General Sir Christopher Deverell).

93 Q 173 (Ben Wallace MP)

94 Q 32 (Prof Tracey German)

95 The Wagner Group, a Russian paramilitary organisation, has been active in countries including Mali and the Central African Republic, as well as Ukraine. The Defence Secretary said that this threat was best tackled by helping vulnerable governments in such countries to “be more resilient”. Q 177 (Ben Wallace MP); see also written evidence from Prof Malcolm Chalmers (DCC0001) and Saferworld (DCC0007).

96 Written evidence from Dr Basil Germond (DCC0006)

97 Written evidence from Air Marshal (Rtd) Edward Stringer (DCC0011)

98 Q 136 (Dr Simona Soare)

99 Q 181 (Ben Wallace MP). In his speech on 9 December 2022, the Secretary of State for Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Affairs, the Rt Hon James Cleverly MP, stated that the ‘sordid deals’ between Iran and Russia ‘threaten global security’. See more: Foreign, Commonwealth & Development Office, Press Release, ‘Iran and Russia’s ‘sordid deals’ threaten global security: Foreign Secretary’s statement’ (9 December 2022): [accessed 21 December 2022]

100 Q 20 (Prof Jamie Gaskarth)

101 Q 78 (Admiral Sir Tony Radakin CDS)

102 See, for example: ‘Ukraine war: US says it takes Putin nuclear threat seriously’, BBC News (22 September 2022): [accessed 21 December 2022] and ‘Russian state media airs lawmaker’s threat to nuke Britain and Germany’, Insider (20 September 2022): [accessed 21 December 2022].

103 Q 78 (Admiral Sir Tony Radakin CDS)

104 Q 38 (Prof Tracey German)

105 Q 179 (Ben Wallace MP)

108 Q 100 (Prof Mark Webber)

109 Written evidence from the Ministry of Defence, (DCC0012); see also Q 76 (Admiral Sir Tony Radakin CDS).

110 Q 80 (Admiral Sir Tony Radakin CDS)

111 Q 182 (Ben Wallace MP)

112 Q 128 (Lt General (Rtd) Ben Hodges); see also Q 38 (Prof German).

114 100 (Prof Mark Webber)

115 Q 100 (Prof Jamie Shea)

116 Q 101 (Prof Jamie Shea)

117 Written evidence by the Ministry of Defence, (DCC0012)

118 Q 49 (General Sir Nick Carter); Q 68 (General Sir Adrian Bradshaw)

119 Q 104 (Prof Jamie Shea)

120 Q 117 (Prof John Louth)

122 Q 15 (Prof Sir Lawrence Freedman); see also Q 8 (Prof Michael Clarke).

123 Q 128 (Lt Gen (Rtd) Ben Hodges)

124 181 (Ben Wallace MP)

125 European Affairs Committee, The future UK-EU relationship’ :

126 HM Government, The Future Relationship with the EU: The UK’s Approach to Negotiations, CP 211 (February 2020), p 4: [accessed 21 December 2022]

129 Q 21 (Prof Jamie Gaskarth)

130 Council of the European Union, A Strategic Compass for Security and Defence - For a European Union that protects its citizens, values and interests and contributes to international peace and security (21 March 2022), p 39:–2022-INIT/en/pdf [accessed 21 December 2022]

131 NATO, NATO 2022 Strategic Concept (29–30 June 2022) p 10: [accessed 21 December 2022]

132 Q 111 (Prof Christoph Meyer); see also Q102 (Prof Jamie Shea).

135 ‘‘Total loss of confidence’: Franco-British relations plumb new depths’ The Guardian (8 October 2021): [accessed 21 December 2022]

136 Q 166 (Dr Nicholas Joad)

137 Q 108 (Georgina Wright)

138 Q 110 (Georgina Wright)

139 Q 21 (Dr Ben Wilkinson)

140 21 (Prof Jamie Gaskarth)

141 Q 106 (Georgina Wright)

142 Denmark, Finland, Estonia, Iceland, Latvia, Lithuania, the Netherlands, Sweden and Norway. See Ministry of Defence, Press Release, ‘Joint statement by Ministers of the Joint Expeditionary Force’ (3 October 2022): [accessed 21 December 2022]

143 Q 4 (Prof Michael Clarke)

145 Q 106 (Prof Christoph Meyer)

146 Q 103 (Prof Jamie Shea)

147 Q 124 (Lt Gen (Rtd) Ben Hodges)

148 Q 3 (Prof Malcolm Chalmers); see also Q 104 (Prof Jamie Shea).

149 Q 82 (Admiral Sir Tony Radakin CDS)

150 Q 124 (Lt Gen (Rtd) Ben Hodges)

151 Q 183 (Ben Wallace MP)

152 Q 4 (Prof Michael Clarke)

153 Q 50 (General Sir Nick Carter)

155 This aspect of the ‘bet’ is discussed further in Chapter Five.

156 Q 10 (Prof Patrick Porter)

157 Q 2 (Prof Malcolm Chalmers)

158 Ibid.

159 Q 178 (Ben Wallace MP)

160 Q 161 (Dr Rob Johnson) and written evidence from the Ministry of Defence (DCC0012)

161 176 (Ben Wallace MP)

162 Q 15 (Prof Sir Lawrence Freedman)

163 Q 74 (Justin Bronk)

165 International Relations and Defence Committee, The UK and China’s security and trade relationship: A strategic void (1st Report, Session 2021–22, HL Paper 62) para 218

166 Q 32 (Meia Nouwens)

167 Q 81 (Admiral Sir Tony Radakin)

168 ‘UK to designate China a ‘threat’ in hawkish foreign policy shift’ The Guardian (11 October 20220: [accessed 21 December 2022] and Prime Minister’s Office, Press Release, ‘PM meeting with Prime Minister Fumio Kishida’ (20 September 2022): [accessed 21 December 2022]

169 Q 187 (Ben Wallace MP)

170 Prime Minister Rishi Sunak, ‘PM speech to the Lord Mayor’s Banquet’ (28 November 2022: [accessed 21 December 2022]

171 International Relations and Defence Committee, The UK and China’s security and trade relationship: A strategic void (1st Report, Session 2021–22, HL Paper 62) paras 149–150

172 See Box 1.

173 Q 33 (Meia Nouwens)

174 Q 130 (Lt Gen (Rtd) Ben Hodges)

175 For example, President Xi Jinping’s CCP Conference Speech referred to “reunification”. ‘China-Taiwan: Beijing speeding up plans for unification, Blinken says’, BBC News (18 October 2022): [accessed 21 December 2022].

176 Q 179 (Ben Wallace MP)

177 See Q 33 (Meia Nouwens) and Q 94 (Dr Alessio Patalano).

178 Q 41 (Prof Caroline Kennedy-Pipe)

181 Q 11 (Prof Patrick Porter)

182 Q 2 (Prof Malcolm Chalmers); see also Q 103 (Prof Mark Webber)

184 Q 76 (Admiral Sir Tony Radakin CDS)

185 Q 174 (Ben Wallace MP)

186 Q 93 (Prof Alessio Patalano); see also Q 113 (Prof John Louth).

187 Q 18 (Dr Ben Wilkinson)

188 Q 76 (Admiral Sir Tony Radakin). In addition, the Government announced the Global Combat Air Programme (GCAP), a coalition of the UK, Italy and Japan aimed at developing, by 2035, new airpower capability. See more: Prime Minister’s Office, Press Release, ‘PM announces new international coalition to develop the next generation of combat aircraft’ (9 December 2022): [accessed 21 December 2022].

191 QQ 97–98 (Michael Stephens)

192 Q 97 (Michael Stephens)

193 Q 11 (Prof Patrick Porter)

194 QQ 97–98 (Michael Stephens)

195 Foreign, Commonwealth & Development Office, Press Release, ‘Iran and Russia’s ‘sordid deals’ threaten global security: Foreign Secretary’s statement’ (9 December 2022): [accessed 21 December 2022]

196 Q 11 (Prof Patrick Porter)

197 Q 174 (Ben Wallace MP)

198 Q 186 (Ben Wallace MP)

199 The House of Lords former Special Inquiry Committee on Soft Power and the UK’s Influence previously received evidence which also highlighted the role of Sandhurst and other officer training academies in building “connections with specific individuals overseas” and developing an understanding of British military culture among foreign military leaders. Select Committee on Soft Power and the UK’s Influence, Persuasion and Power in the Modern World (Report, Session 2013–14, HL Paper 150), para 110

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