” Feeding the expansion of NATO and rehashing the outdated “great power” bipolar politics of the 20th Century suits only the interests of a US-based ruling elite wishing to stall their relative decline.”Sam Browse
The Government will publish its integrated security, defence and foreign review this month. John Healey recently spoke to the Royal United Service Institute to spell out the fundamentals of Labour’s defence policy. His speech set out the core principles of the Party’s new approach and attracted headline criticisms by many for its ‘non-negotiable’ commitment to nuclear weapons.
The criticisms are well-made. Healey’s remarks indicate a troubling departure from the Party’s previous commitment to multilateral disarmament (even if some of us would have preferred a more robust unilateralism). The speech also signals a worrying shift in Labour’s strategic foreign policy orientation. The Shadow Secretary of Defence strongly implied support for a US-led “cold war” with China and Russia, and expressed overt support for the arms industry and the militarisation of the economy.
It’s also striking that the speech turned on the remarkable claim that espionage and military threats to the UK have been understated. In fact, one of the reasons the British Government was so under-prepared for the global pandemic was that it failed to take the risk seriously, instead behaving as though the chief security threats emanated from military, terrorist and spy activity.
Labour needs a different, internationalist approach to defence and foreign policy led by an alternative strategic understanding of the security threats we face today.
First and most basically, any policy which sees arms manufacturing as a sustainable source of economic growth cannot with a straight-face call itself “internationalist”. The jobs created by the manufacture of weapons in the UK are eclipsed by the death and destruction those weapons inflict on workers abroad. There are no jobs in places torn apart by machine gun fire or the explosion of bombs.
Instead of building the machines used to kill people in far-away countries, Labour should pursue an economic policy that tackles the real security challenges of our time – including the climate emergency and the threat of global pandemics.
Far from support for the arms industry, that means an industrial strategy for developing sectors such as renewable energy, and investing in retrofit, green housing and transport infrastructure. And it means halting the privatisation of the NHS, guaranteeing access to quality health and social care, and ensuring that we have public services and a social security system capable of supporting all those who need it.
Second, we face the rise of new economic powers – most obvious amongst those, China – and the prospect of a far more multipolar world because of that. In that shifting and tumultuous geopolitical landscape, the foreign and defence policies of the Labour Party should not be subordinated to a new US-led cold war on China and Russia.
If the disastrous experience of the last three decades – in Iraq, Afghanistan, Libya, Syria – has taught us anything, the US – whether that’s under Bush, Obama, Trump or Biden – it is that US interventions and militarism can only play a reactionary role on world stage. Those wars have resulted in the deaths of hundreds of thousands of people, and embroiled the UK in military operations serving only the economic and political interests of large corporations.
After a year in which thousands took to the streets, rightly protesting our colonial heritage and the violence and misery it visited on half the globe, now is the time to consign that past to the history books. Labour’s task is not to provoke new wars, but make the world a more peaceful, just place.
We cannot do that by becoming an American guard dog in Europe as the US pivots to confront China. Feeding the expansion of NATO and rehashing the outdated “great power” bipolar politics of the 20th Century suits only the interests of a US-based ruling elite wishing to stall their relative decline.
Instead, we should embrace the new multipolarity and seek to find ways to engage constructively with those developments. Rather than support the interests of the “few”, we need independent foreign and defence policies that embrace conflict prevention and resolution, peace and global justice.
Our policy should commit to addressing the real cross-border challenges faced by the “many” – tackling the climate emergency, vaccinating the globe against this pandemic and those of the future, and extending support to the millions of refugees, fleeing from war, persecution, and the damage caused to their homes and livelihoods by catastrophic global heating.
And third, part of that embrace of multipolarity and a new international settlement must also involve a commitment to nuclear disarmament and non-proliferation. The climate crisis and the risk of a new global pandemic constitute two existential threats for the human race. As international tensions increase, it makes little sense to add a third threat of nuclear annihilation – or spend billions of pounds on an outdated “defence” system that would wipe out humanity were it ever used. Labour should lead the way by backing Britain joining 100s of countries backing the global nuclear ban treaty and saying it’s time to scrap Trident.
We cannot hitch our wagon to US economic elites and allow them to drag us into a new cold war. Labour needs a truly internationalist policy which defends the interests of “the many” against “the few” on the world stage. To do that, we should aspire to peace and reach out to the rest of the world to co-operate to contend with the multiple international crises we face. The alternative will only make us less safe, less secure and less able to meet – together – the real existential threats of our time.
As socialists we must make a totally different alliance to the one proposed with the US, which is an alliance for NATO enlargement, nuclear weapons and never-ending wars and airstrikes. Our alliance is with those around the world resisting the ruling elite’s offensive in this crisis, and working together for a socialist future – free from the horrors of war and weapons of mass destruction..