The image above is the motion adopted by Young Labour over the weekend, committing Jeremy Corbyn’s youth wing to supporting the UK’s withdrawal from NATO.
Impressively, it is stuffed to the brim with ahistorical nonsense – basing its pitch on what appears at best to be a total misunderstanding of British and world history. At its worst, it even misrepresents past Labour administrations, including the Attlee government’s reasons for joining NATO and the Wilson government’s stance on Vietnam.
How wrong about everything is it? Let me count the ways:
‘Since at least the mid-nineteenth century, the relationship between ‘the West’ and the rest of the world has been one defined by imperialism’
‘At least the mid-nineteenth century’? If you’re going to cast yourself as an anti-imperialist, at least appreciate the true length of the history of imperialism.
‘…the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation was formed, in order to enshrine the dominance of American interests.’
Or to protect the free, democratic nations of Western Europe from a very real threat of invasion or destruction by the Soviet Union. The Young Labour version of these events is straight out of Stalin’s lines-to-take – and a huge, shameful misrepresentation of the decision of the Attlee Labour Government to join NATO in the first place.
‘Between 1945 and 2000, American imperialism bombed at least 27 countries, assassinated or attempted to assassinate thirty world leaders and tried to overthrow forty governments’
I’m not sure ‘American imperialism’ is a person or state, but assuming the author means ‘America’, which exact actions are included in this list? To reach ’27 countries’, the list would have to include: the 1995 campaign to prevent Serbian forces in Bosnia, which had just committed the Srebrenica massacre, from carrying out further atrocities; missile strikes against Al Qaeda bases in Afghanistan in 1998; and bombing Iraqi forces which had invaded Kuwait in 1991. Are Young Labour of the opinion that these actions should not have taken place?
‘Such episodes include the wars of aggression in Korea in the 1950s…’
Sorry, what? The Korean War was sparked by the North, under Kim Il-Sung, invading the South. It wasn’t a ‘war of aggression’ on the part of the US, or the wider West. Nor was it a NATO action – the defence was mounted by the United Nations. If we hadn’t defended South Korea, then the whole Korean peninsula would now be a hellhole, not just the northern half. Does Young Labour wish that South Korea did not exist as a free and sovereign nation?
‘The collapse of Communism post-1989 rendered any real logical justification for NATO moot, since the European glacial states no longer needed defence…’
Try telling that to NATO member states in Eastern Europe like Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania and Poland, who feel a very real need for defence against a certain neighbour which has carried out cyber- and real-world attacks against their institutions and citizens.
‘…the European glacial states…’
Isn’t that a peculiar phrase? In fact, a Google search reveals this motion is the only time the precise term ‘European glacial states’ has ever been used online. It seems to be an auto-correct of ‘glacis states’, ie the Eastern European states used by the Soviet Union as a defensive rampart or buffer zone. Indeed, it would be more common in English to use the words buffer zone, or Warsaw Pact countries, or former Communist countries – ‘glacis states’ is the preferred name in Trotskyist terminology.
‘In order to regain an ideological justification, NATO member-states, including the UK, pursued a policy of wars of aggression against predominantly Muslim countries, first in Afghanistan…’
Yes, that’s why we invaded Afghanistan. Nothing to do with 9/11 at all. Also, why has the author leapt from ‘the collapse of Communism post-1989’ to Afghanistan in 2001? Given the author’s apparent interest in the history of NATO operations, why has he missed off the campaign to protect Bosnian civilians from Serbian war crimes, or the campaign to protect Kosovo from similar atrocities?
‘…then in Iraq.’
Which wasn’t a NATO war. Remember Bush putting together the ‘coalition of the willing’ for that precise reason? NATO’s presence in Iraq dated from 2004, as a training mission after the invasion. Is Young Labour of the opinion that once the Iraq War had taken place, there shouldn’t have been an effort to retrain the Iraqi police and military in the hope of stabilising the situation?
‘These wars did nothing to make the citizens of Western countries safer; instead they fuelled Islamophobia at home and intense resentment abroad.’
We can argue forever about the security impact of Afghanistan and Iraq – though it seems unlikely that leaving Al Qaeda free to operate in Afghanistan unimpeded even after 9/11 would have made us any safer either. More generally, it is a fallacious argument that the reason for the Islamist threat to the West is foreign policy, when in reality it is grounded in a fundamental opposition to our existence and way of life. Furthermore, if the author is concerned about ‘intense resentment abroad’, what does he think the reaction would have been if the West had sat on its hands and done nothing to defend muslim civilians in Bosnia and Kosovo?
‘Today Donald Trump stands astride NATO…’
What does ‘stands astride NATO’ even mean? Trump is famously a sceptic and critic of NATO – placing him closer to Young Labour’s position than to that of the alliance.
‘Jeremy Corbyn is a long-time opponent of imperialism and aggressive wars.’
Unless they’re imperialist or aggressive wars prosecuted by people who dislike the West, of course. This point appears to be the actual purpose of the motion – they’d have done better not to have bothered writing the rest of it.
Guyana? Are you sure?
That’ll be the Vietnam war which didn’t involve NATO, and – contrary to the motion’s assertion – which a Labour government kept Britain out of.
‘…the Labour Party all too often been complicit in American overseas aggression…NATO has been the lynchpin and institutional expression of American imperialism.’
Again, NATO is a defensive alliance. It isn’t hard to understand.
‘Labour should commit to withdrawal from NATO on the basis that it…is headed by a man variously viewed as an authoritarian and a fascist…’
That seems a bit harsh on the head of NATO – Jens Stoltenberg is a former Labour Prime Minister of Norway, and has not to my knowledge done anything to merit description as “an authoritarian and a fascist”. Unless they mean Trump, who notably does not head NATO – and, as already discussed, doesn’t even like it very much.