Wetherby MP Alec Shelbrooke has returned from NATO talks in Canada where he learned much of the US election.
During the parliamentary recess I travelled to Ottawa, Canada, and New England in the USA as part of my role on the NATO Parliamentary Assembly, writes MP Alec Shelbrooke in his column for the Wetherby News.
This coincided with the first Presidential Debate in the USA. Afterwards it was clear that Hilary Clinton had won the political debate and had answers for the world stage. In contrast, Donald Trump (despite his distinct populist, protectionist domestic policies) had no concern for global stability.
On watching the news, it was clear that the policies of the candidates are not going to be important. It is purely going to be about personalities and which candidate American voters dislike the least.
Should it be of any concern to us who wins the American election? In the words of former Deputy Prime Minister Willy Whitelaw, “we should cross bridges when we come to them”, but the consequences of a Trump victory would have a real impact on the people of Wetherby, in terms of the Government’s spending priorities and the inflationary pressures that could result from potential world instability.
Trump’s inward-focused policies and his suggestion that he will withdraw the USA from NATO is a strategic disaster for the West. Our defence policy has been developed over the last 70 years around the NATO strategic alliance that can counter the weight and impact of a country the size of Russia.
Over the past decade Putin’s Russia has modernised and constructed a new military. Its upgraded nuclear and submarine capability is now some of the most advanced in the world, and we should all take heed of the recent news that Putin has withdrawn from the agreement for joint decommissioning of Russian and American plutonium stocks. There are now more Russian submarines operating in the North Atlantic than since the early 1980s. The NATO alliance is able to counterbalance this - for now.
The strategic situation across Europe is already changing, with European leaders continuing to push for the creation of an EU army. Many Congressman have said to me in the past that an EU Army would make it very difficult for the Americans to stay in NATO. They worry about command and control duplication, and loss of influence over the alliance while still having to foot the bill to assist continental European nations unwilling to pay for their own defence.
Russian modernisation, potential US strategic withdrawal, and increasing EU assertiveness therefore makes it imperative that the post-Brexit British Government looks to build new alliances across the world, while continuing to act as the glue that holds the alliance of western nations together. There is a very strong appetite to keep the naval command of NATO together, under the joint leadership of Britain, France, and the United States of America.
As we take on a greater role on the world stage, it is important that we look to our allies for guidance on how to invest in and upgrade our military to counter the threat of an assertive Russia and other potential threats to us that will undoubtedly arise in the decades to come.
In Ottawa, we discussed in much detail how successive Canadian Governments have kicked the issue of naval procurement into the long grass, with their “latest vessels” now almost 30 years old and problems mounting. By contrast, the United States has continued to build new ships, but at a colossal cost due to procurement issues. We in Britain must observe closely the problems our friends have had, to ensure we do whatever we can to avoid repeating avoidable mistakes.
The Conservative Government has already committed to increase defence spending, but the potentially disastrous implications of a Trump presidency on NATO, as well as the slower burning problems of the emergence of an EU army, could leave us with no choice but to commit to hugely increased military budgets. These will mean less to spend at home on the biggest budget departments such as the NHS and pensions.
Although we have no influence on the results of the US election and the great strategic changes emerging across the Northern hemisphere, they could have a huge influence on our standard of living here in Wetherby – something that is always in my mind as I sit with NATO colleagues.