Last week I travelled to Washington DC for my first meeting with the Parliamentary Assembly of the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO), following my appointment as a UK representative by the Prime Minster in December.
The Assembly is institutionally separate from NATO, but serves as an essential link between NATO and the parliaments of the NATO nations.
It provides greater transparency of NATO policies and fosters better understanding of NATO’s objectives and missions among legislators and citizens of member states.
At a time when the ever-present threat of terrorism remains on all our minds the collective military alliance of NATO forces play a crucial role in protecting our security here in Elmet and Rothwell and across the UK.
During my visit last week I met with representatives from countries across the Euro-Atlantic area to discuss the threat of ISIL Da’esh and the insecurities our allies hold about recent Russian activities.
In its first 40 years NATO focussed largely on the Cold War but for the last 25 years it has focused more on defence capability and influence. Now, with a growing threat from President Putin and Russia, NATO is combining its expertise gained from these two periods.
The Russian threat cannot be taken lightly. We have already seen how Russia walked into Crimea and Ukraine, a direct infringement of the sovereign boarders of a European country, and we have seen a provocative accumulation of their military capabilities along the European border.
This isn’t simply a resurgence of the former USSR armed forces. The Russian military today is one of the most technologically advanced and converted fighting forces in the world. Only the NATO alliance can provide an effective counter-balance.
It is paramount that Britain continues to engage with our NATO colleagues, affirming our solidarity with all member states and upholding a commitment to our Eastern allies that ‘an attack on one, is an attack on all’.
It is not, however, only Europe’s eastern borders that we should be concerned about. Much discussion within NATO is currently based on the ‘High North’; the Arctic area that Russia seeks to dominate, thereby directly affecting the Commonwealth country of Canada.
For many of us the consequences of all these issues are far removed from our daily lives in Wetherby but we should not underestimate our presence in the global market place.
The impact on our trade and the cost of energy here in Yorkshire would be threatened if hostilities between Europe and Russia escalated. If European countries, who use far more Russian-sourced energy than ourselves, start to source their energy from the same global suppliers we use, then our own energy prices would rocket here at home.
That is why it is important we remain focused on potential threats of instability in the world and maintain a strong NATO counter-balance to prevent further tactical moves from Russia.
The same is true for the situation in the Middle East.
Allies such as Turkey are now witnessing large Russian military accrual on their borders, making their membership of the NATO alliance more important than ever before. Turkey is doing an outstanding job providing humanitarian aid in refugee camps within its territory, housing hundreds of thousands of refugees and reducing the pressure of migrants seeking alternative routes into EU countries.
The stability of Turkey therefore remains essential in stemming what is already a huge migration problem, but in reality those resettled in Turkish refugee camps only represent four per cent of the displaced population coming across into the European Union. NATO countries are therefore key to ensuring Turkey is not threatened by Russia as the consequence of their humanitarian contribution failing would simply overwhelm Europe.
It is also paramount that we focus on the threat causing migration from Syria. Many of our allies are already engaged in fighting back against ISIL Da’esh and it will only be once Syria is secure from this violent fascism that refugees will be able to return to their homes.
The security of all NATO member states will remain linked to the success or failure of these geo-political efforts, supported by the intelligent and credible NATO counter-balance, which is vital in defending our sovereign states.
These events are happening thousands of miles away from Wetherby, but their eventual outcomes will have a direct result on the future of our national and economic security in Yorkshire.