Naturally I was dismayed to hear Shadow Foreign Secretary Emily Thornberry state proudly in her conference speech that Britain under Labour “will be a strong leader within NATO, committed to spend 2 per cent of our national income on defence.” When Labour is challenging so much, surely Britain’s role in the world can be rethought too, rather than merely reiterating current government policy?
These commitments cannot go unchallenged. They breed war, global injustice and inequality and these are what the peace movement campaigns against. We have marched at NATO summits, with the movements from Europe, the US and beyond, against the nuclear doctrine of NATO, against its expansionism, against its destabilising global power grabs. And we will continue to do so, and to argue for an alternative, whoever is in government, because to condone and embrace NATO is to abandon the cause of peace, the pursuit of justice, and any vision of a world that exists for the people.
This isn’t just sentiment or utopianism on my part. Because the truth is you can’t pursue the vision that Emily Thornberry claims for Labour – “to put Labour values at the heart of the world order, to be a beacon in every corner of the globe for the values we believe in here at home” – if you play a leading role in NATO’s aggressive global aggrandisement and replace the Trident nuclear weapons system. The overwhelming majority of the world wants nuclear disarmament; indeed they have just launched a nuclear weapons ban treaty at the UN. In what sense could a Britain under a pro-nuclear, pro-NATO Labour be ‘a beacon in every corner of the globe’? People may admire and aspire to a re-invested NHS but they have no respect whatsoever for our hypocritical approach to nuclear weapons possession, our enthusiasm for NATO militarism and our ruling elite’s obsession with a ‘seat at the top table’ based on the ability to kill millions at the touch of a button.
So we are getting a contradictory message from the Labour leadership. Maybe they have missed the point that was so clear at the time of the war on Iraq – that neoliberalism and war are two sides of the same coin. You cannot think that you can seriously redress the balance of economic and political power at home without challenging the fundamentals that underpin it. And this includes British neo-imperialism and all the damage that it continues to do, as the US’s most loyal ally.
This notion that you can separate these things out and do something progressive at home but continue to be a militaristic oppressor abroad is fundamentally flawed. This false premise was given alarming expression by Paul Mason with a pseudo-theoretical gloss, at a ‘World Transformed’ event during the conference, sharing a platform with shadow chancellor John McDonnell and Unite leader Len McCluskey, as well as a minister from the Syriza government in Greece.
Announcing that thirty years of neoliberalism would be over under a Labour government, Mason went on to make the case for a ‘battle of rational ideas’. He says that Labour has to reassure the ruling class with ‘a convincing story of economic competence’, and to assure them of an ‘essential continuity, that there’s going to be an army, nuclear weapons and a police force.’ Nuclear weapons are weapons of terror, of mass destruction that underpin a deeply brutal and unequal global order. They have to be opposed and the Labour leadership needs to understand that.
Mason calls nuclear weapons the ‘toys’ of the ruling class and says they should not be taken from them if you take away their economic power. Indeed, with a positive word for NATO he went on to advocate the approach of Greek Prime Minister Tsipras, who wore a flak jacket when he visited a NATO frigate. This is extraordinarily naïve. Does he really think that you can take away the elite’s economic power, and they will just accept that, if you let them have nuclear weapons? That’s a quite extraordinary conclusion. It’s not any kind of rational argument that I understand and is at odds with the historical experience of governments across the world attempting radical social programmes.
The Labour Party will devise its own policies, but I am absolutely certain that this pro-NATO, pro-nuclear road will be highly contested. We have seen hundreds of thousands of people joining the Labour party, with a progressive vision of the kind of world they want to shape, and this old style approach to ‘defence’ and global status holds no appeal. The peace movement will continue to oppose NATO and nuclear weapons, and the barbaric global order which they underpin, and we look forward to working with all those across British society who seek a truly radical redefinition of security, and Britain’s role in the world.