British alliances with other world powers have existed as long as the nation. Even before the formation of the United Kingdom, England forged alliances with France against the dominant power of Spain in the 17th century and Scotland likewise relied on France for help against its larger southern neighbour during the Middle Ages. Today, Britain is part of a number of networks of alliances, both in Europe and around the world.
Throughout its history, Britain has been part of numerous alliances, often intended to support it in its traditional rivalry with France. During the Napoleonic wars, Britain allied with a vast number of states including, at different times, Austria, Prussia, Russia, Portugal, Spain, Sweden, the Netherlands and even Algiers. Prussian military support played a decisive role in the Allied victory at the Battle of Waterloo.
The 20th century
In the late 19th and early 20th centuries, the traditional rivalry with France gave way to an increasing concern about limiting the growing military power of Germany. This rivalry culminated in the First World War, which pitted Britain, together with France, Belgium, Russia, Italy, Japan and the United States, against Germany and its allies Austria-Hungary and the Ottoman Empire.
The Second World War saw Britain allied with much of the world against the menace of Nazi Germany and the Empire of Japan. Britain's allies in the conflict included France, Poland, Denmark, Norway, the Netherlands, the United States, the Soviet Union, South Africa, Greece, Czechoslovakia, Ethiopia, Yugoslavia, China, Australia, Canada, Mexico and Brazil. This huge alliance was to form the basis for the post-war United Nations.
Britain was a founding member of the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation, or NATO, in 1949. Formed in response to the perceived threat of Soviet expansion, NATO facilitated military cooperation between the USA and its allies. It continues to exist today, with British forces actively participating in NATO operations. Other member states include Canada, France, the Netherlands, Belgium, Italy, Greece, Turkey, Luxembourg, Denmark, Norway and Iceland. West Germany became a member of the alliance in the 1950s; Germany continues to be one today, together with new members such as Hungary, Poland, the Czech Republic and more. Most European states are now members of NATO.
As a member of the European Union, Britain is allied with the other 26 member states. Since 20 of these 26 are also members of NATO, NATO plays a large part in European defence policy. Within Europe, Britain is particularly closely allied with France, the EU's only other nuclear power. A 2010 treaty provides for a high level of cooperation between Britain and France on defence matters. Britain's alliance with Portugal is one of the oldest in the world; the treaty dates back to the 14th century, prior even to the formation of the United Kingdom, and is still in force.
Around the world
Britain's alliances extend far outside Europe. The most important player in the British network of alliances is the United States; the "special relationship" between the two nations is considered fundamental to British foreign policy. Former British colonies such as Canada, Australia and New Zealand are also close allies. Other worldwide allies include Nepal, one of Britain's oldest allies in Asia.