Corbyn is Right About NATO
It's disturbing that Jeremy Corbyn's comments on
foreign policy were in any way controversial says
By Chris Nineham
If you step
back for a moment, it is disturbing that last
night’s comments by Jeremy Corbyn on foreign policy
were in any way controversial. Corbyn made two
points, one general, the other more immediate. In
the round, he wants a foreign policy that aims to
‘achieve a world where we don’t need to go to war’.
In what kind of circles is that contentious?
Secondly, and obviously connected, he wants to avoid
war with Russia.
Asked about possible Russian interventions he
refused to say Britain would go to the aid of a NATO
member facing aggression, but instead focussed on
diplomatic and political measures designed to avoid
that scenario, explaining, ‘we can’t allow a
military build-up which is going to lead to some
calamitous, incredibly dangerous situation’.
Presumably most sane people would support active
steps to avoid war with Russia. Such a war would be
more calamitous even than those generated by
Britain’s string of foreign policy disasters in
Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya and Syria.
Corbyn’s implicit critique of NATO policy in Eastern
Europe, too, is entirely appropriate. This year’s
NATO summit in Warsaw in July decided on a policy of
brinkmanship with Russia, including the deployment
of four multinational battalions stationed on a
rotating basis in Poland and three Baltic states:
Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia. Altogether, some
4,000 troops will be deployed with around 650 coming
from Britain and 1,000 from the US.
This follows, earlier in the year, the largest
Western war game in Eastern Europe since the Cold
War, involving 31,000 troops and thousands of
vehicles from twenty four countries. Even NATO
supporters were queasy about these moves. A defence
attache at a European embassy in Warsaw is quoted as
fearing a “nightmare scenario…a mishap, a
miscalculation which the Russians construe, or
choose to construe, as an offensive action”.
After the summit, former Soviet premier Gorbachev
gave an idea of the view from Russia, “All the
rhetoric in Warsaw just yells of a desire almost to
declare war on Russia. They only talk about defence,
but actually they are preparing for offensive
Of course NATO leaders present this historically
significant escalation as reactive, but this view is
simply unsustainable. Ever since the collapse of the
Soviet Union, NATO powers have been pushing
eastward, into areas everyone knows Russia regards
as vital to its security. Since 1991 twelve
countries have joined NATO in the area. Georgia and
Ukraine were promised membership of NATO in 2008,
despite repeated warnings from the Russian
government that taking NATO to the Russian border
would cause a security crisis.
Russia’s elites, including Putin, have in fact been
looking for a security accommodation with the West
since the end of 1990s. It is NATO expansionism in
the East and unilateral western decision-making in
other areas – in particular the move to regime
change in Libya - that has ratcheted up the tension.
Corbyn’s argument about NATO are sensible and
supported by the facts. What is really controversial
in establishment circles, is that Jeremy Corbyn is
committed to a break with the aggressive British
foreign policy that has dominated since Blair. Like
the majority of British people, he opposes the kind
of unqualified commitment to Washington priorities
roundly condemned in the Chilcot report.
Rather than just expressing regret over Iraq, he has
apologized on behalf of the Labour Party for what
most people believe to have been a disastrous
decision. More than that - and this is what really
riles - he is actually prepared to draw some
conclusions from the chaos of the last fifteen years
and try and act on them.
How irrational. Better surely to continue to ignore
the past, make the same mistakes over and over
again, and plunge the world into further disorder.