August 19th, 2016
On 18 August, the real reason why the establishment believes Jeremy Corbyn is so “dangerous” was made perfectly clear. Responding to a question about defence at a Labour leadership debate, the incumbent refused to justify military action by the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), instead vowing to make efforts to create “a world where we don’t need to go to war”.
For millions of citizens around the world, this is great news. But for those intent on maintaining the politics of power and the lucrative industries that support that, Corbyn’s vision is nothing short of a disaster.
Do you want to be in our gang?
At the debate, Corbyn and fellow candidate Owen Smith were asked a question about Russia:
How would you as Prime Minister react to a violation by Vladimir Putin of the sovereignty of a fellow Nato state?
You’d obviously try to avoid that happening in the first place. You would build up a good dialogue with Russia to ask them, support them in respecting borders. We would try to introduce a demilitarisation between Russia and Ukraine, and all the other countries down on the border between Russia and Eastern Europe.
What we cannot allow is a series of continuous buildups of troops on both sides which can only lead to great danger in the future. It’s beginning to look awfully like Cold War politics at the present time. We’ve got to engage with Russia, engage with demilitarisation in that area, in order to try and avoid that danger happening.
NATO was formed in 1949 in the wake of WWII. Initially, its primary focus was Russia, and the creation of an alliance capable of taking on the red ‘bear’ where necessary. But once the Berlin Wall fell and the Soviet Union was dissolved, tensions with Russia faded and NATO, determined to justify its continued existence, moved on to other targets.
Now, that Cold War tension has returned and, as Corbyn notes, there is a “continuous buildup of troops” along the Russian border. On 10 February, for example, NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg announced that:
Nato Defence Ministers agreed on an enhanced forward presence in the eastern part of our Alliance.
This is NATO-speak for a decision to amass a military presence in six countries bordering Russia. The UK is contributing five warships and a considerable number of troops to the military contingent. The pledge followed an announcement by US President Barack Obama to quadruple the superpower’s military spending in Europe, to the tune of $3.4bn.
Around the same time, US Secretary of Defense Ashton Carter explained that the current “security environment” is “dramatically different” to that of the last couple of decades. For the last 25 years, Carter noted, US ‘defence’ has largely focused on insurgent forces, like the Taliban and other extremist groups. But now, the US is gearing up for “a return to great-power competition” with “high-end enemies” like Russia and China.
NATO is the frontline of this “great-power competition”.
Play by the rules, or get out of the game
As most of the big players on both sides of the ‘competition’ have stockpiles of nuclear weapons, any escalation of the tensions could indeed “lead to great danger in the future”. This is a sentiment that Putin himself shared when he recently spoke to foreign journalists:
Your people in turn do not feel a sense of the impending danger – this is what worries me. How do you not understand that the world is being pulled in an irreversible direction?
Corbyn suggests that “dialogue”, “demilitarisation”, and ‘engagement’ are the appropriate actions to take to ensure no violations of sovereignty occur in the first place. He advocates prevention of hostilities rather than a cure once they’ve begun.
But such tactics do not seem to factor much in NATO’s playbook. In fact, leaked emails from recently retired NATO Supreme Commander Philip Breedlove showed he was consciously plotting ways to overcome President Obama’s reluctance to escalate military tensions with Russia over Ukraine.
And Stoltenberg, in his announcement regarding the buildup of troops on the Russian border, made pains to stress the NATO principle that “an attack against one Ally is an attack against all Allies, and that the Alliance as a whole will respond”.
It is this principle, that all members should be willing to act militarily if one member is under threat, that was the subject of the Labour leadership debate question. And Smith dutifully responded in line with NATO policy:
We would have to come to the aid of a fellow member of Nato, that’s the nature of the Nato accord. That would be the job of Britain in the event of a fellow Nato member being invaded obviously. But it would be calamitous, and we must never see that happen.
We must work diplomatically to make sure that Russian aggression, and I think that it has been nothing less than that, expansionism and militaristic aggression, by Putin in recent years is contained.
Quite how ‘diplomacy’ will be successful if only the aggression of Russia is under discussion is difficult to imagine. And if Smith truly believes “we must never see” invasions and a NATO military response, prevention must surely be the only way to achieve that.
An explosive business
Pushed further on whether he would take military action “if he had to”, Corbyn concluded:
I don’t wish to go to war, what I want to do is achieve a world where we don’t need to go to war, where there is no need for it. That can be done.
After decades of endless military interventions that have left much of the Middle East in ruins, thrust Wahhabi terrorism onto a global stage, and eroded trust in communities throughout the western hemisphere, it’s unsurprising that the audience erupted with applause at his suggestion.
But the establishment doesn’t like the idea one bit. Lord West, a former Labour security minister and Royal Navy head, said the comments were “absolutely dreadful”. Labour MP Wes Streeting, meanwhile, claimed they were “a gross betrayal of Labour’s internationalist values”.
It could of course be considered thoroughly ‘internationalist’ to advocate for diplomatic solutions to avoid all conflict – not only for one’s allies, but for the global citizens who would suffer in the event of a war. But obviously not in the circles Streeting moves in.
Some may also consider it ‘absolutely dreadful’ not to attempt to influence NATO, the only military alliance the UK has direct involvement with, to exhaust peaceful solutions before considering military action.
But today’s world is a very different place from the one in which Attlee negotiated. Following the ceaseless interventions of recent years, our military impulses have to be curtailed along with those of others if there is to be any prospect of world peace.
The real geopolitical question now is not who’s going to be in control of the world, but who’s going to save it.