THIS weekend the Defence & Security Committee of the Nato Assembly, on which I sit as a UK representative, will gather in Washington DC for a meeting set to coincide with the US presidential inauguration.
There is no getting around the fact that the outcome of a Donald Trump presidency remains unknown, yet even before his term of office has begun there is global trepidation.
I’m no fan of Mr Trump. I certainly don’t agree with many of his policies, or indeed his style of politics, but the businessman turned reality TV star will be Commander-in-Chief of our oldest and most powerful ally and there is now an urgent need for hard-headedness among Nato member states.
Recently, Mr Trump called the Nato alliance obsolete as it ‘hasn’t taken care of terror’. In the election campaign, he made a number of statements that puts a question mark over the United States’ continued support and membership of Nato, with particular focus on Article 5 which outlines that an armed attack against one or more member states in Europe or North America shall be considered an attack against all.
But now the dust of the election campaign has settled there seems to be some significant backtracking, which will allow Nato chiefs to breathe a sigh of relief. Mr Trump has nominated General James Mattis as his Defence Secretary, a man who served as Nato’s Supreme Allied Commander from 2007 to 2009 and who has since described Nato as central to US defence, whilst also accusing Russia’s Vladimir Putin of wanting to break the military alliance.
Russian activity across the world has been an issue high on the agenda of the Nato Parliamentary Assembly for some time. Recent meetings have debated threats to our eastern allies, threats to partner countries such as Georgia that have Russian troops occupying regions of its country, and threats to allies who have boarders in the high North around Russia where attempts to militarise the Arctic have occurred.
Similarly, the Russian build-up of troops and military hardware along the borders of the Baltic States has led to a huge increase in Nato personnel to act as a counterbalance to conspicuous threats. In this new Cold War era, we must remember the self-evident truth of the last cold war: a military counter-balance can prevent wars becoming hot.
If the borders of European Union countries are breached by a Russian incursion, then the instability that would subsequently sweep through world markets will affect us all. The ability for newer states to work collaboratively and prevent terrorist attacks would be severely diminished if countries struggle to keep their economies afloat whilst the world markets take flight.
So, when Mr Trump comments that Nato is not taking care of terror, he misunderstands the fundamental role of Nato, being to bring about military stability across the North Atlantic and thereby allowing member states to focus on internal threats to security. Nato provides a counterbalance through a reinforcement policy that negates the ability for a hostile country to take advantage of smaller members of the alliance.
After the inauguration, as President Trump enters the White House for the first time later today, those of us on the Nato Assembly will be meeting US Congressmen to reiterate the importance and collective strength of the Nato alliance. With one eye on diplomatic relations, it will also be important to recognise where agreement with Mr Trump can be reached.
He recently observed that it is unfair that only five of the 28 member states of Nato fulfil their commitment to invest an agreed two per cent of GDP on their defence budgets. Alongside the United States, Poland, Estonia and Greece, the United Kingdom stands proud as a nation that does meets its commitment. It will now be vital for remaining nations to do the same as we face increasing threats from Russia.
It is noteworthy that there are now more modern and highly advanced Russian submarines in the North Atlantic than since the early 1980s and a strong at-sea presence is vital from Nato to meet this Russian maritime build-up. Britain’s role in this maritime movement is significant, our Navy is one of the most advanced of all allies and our forward looking procurement programme for ship building will make the Royal Navy the leading technological maritime force of the alliance.
Our meeting of the Defence & Security Committee with US Congressmen on Capitol Hill this weekend provides a well-timed opportunity to ensure that world leaders are clear on the priorities – and agenda –of the Nato alliance.
Yes, the United States has a new Commander-in-Chief and we do not yet know what America under Trump will look like, but there is a well-established Congress in situ and experienced Senators in place to reaffirm to the new President just how important the Nato alliance is to our global security.
Alec Shelbrooke is Conservative MP for Elmet and Rothwell. He is the UK representative on the Defence & Security Committee of the Nato Assembly.