Marking the 75th anniversar y of its foundation, Graham Goodlad examines Britain’s role in forging the North Atlantic alliance

The 1957 NATO ‘family portrait’: the alliance's heads of government attending a top-level meeting at the Palais de Chaillot, Paris BETTMANN/GETTY

Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has shone a spotlight on the United Kingdom’s defence capacity and its broader role within the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO). Although Britain has been a prominent supporter of Volodymyr Zelenskyy’s embattled country, there are broader concerns about its long-term ability to play a full part in the pact.

Early in 2023, a senior US general was reported to have warned privately that the British army is no longer regarded as a top-level fighting force. In a crushing assessment, the unnamed figure stated that Britain was not a ‘Tier one’ state – on a par with the US, Russia and China – and was barely qualified for ‘Tier two’, alongside Germany and Italy. Critics of current defence policy argue that plans, unveiled since then to increase investment in the armed forces, do not go far enough to reverse Britain’s long-term decline in status.

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