By Jerry Alatalo
eople in the United Kingdom will vote on June 8 for either Theresa May or Jeremy Corbyn as their next Prime Minister. Labour Party leader Corbyn spoke recently on his vision of foreign policy for the nation, and international relations for the world, were he to become elected.
(Transcript and Video)
On Monday we commemorated Victory in Europe day, the anniversary of the victory over Nazi Germany in Europe. VE Day marked the defeat of fascism and the beginning of the end of a global war that had claimed 70 million lives. Just think of that figure… 70 million lives were lost in the Second World War.
General Eisenhower, Supreme Commander of the Allied forces in 1944, who was based right here in this square preparing the plan for that invasion of Operation Overlord. later went on to become Republican President of the United States, during some of the most dangerous years of the Cold War in the 1950s. His final televised address the American people as president was fascinating, and he gave a very stark warning of what he describes as the acquisition of unwarranted influence by the military-industrial complex.
And he went on to say only an alert and knowledgeable citizenry can compel the proper meshing of the huge industrial and military machine of defense with our peaceful methods and goals, so that security and liberty may prosper together.
Sadly it’s more than 70 years since he made that speech. Sadly in more than half a century I think it’s clear that Eisenhower’s warning has not been heeded. Too much of our debate about defense and security is one-dimensional – you’re either for or against what is presented as strong defense, regardless of the actual record of what it has meant in practice.
Alert citizens or political leaders who advocate other routes to security are often dismissed or treated as unreliable.
My own political views were shaped by my parent’s description of the horrors of war and the threat of nuclear holocaust. Indeed my parents met whilst organizing solidarity with the elected government of Spain against Franco’s fascists during the Spanish Civil War, which were of course supported by Hitler and the Nazis. My generation grew up under the shadow of the Cold War – our black and white televisions throughout the 50s and 60s and into the 70s was dominated by Vietnam.
As a young person I was haunted by images of civilians fleeing chemical weapons used by the United States. I didn’t imagine that nearly fifty years later we would still see chemical weapons being used against innocent civilians. What an abject failure. Indeed, I met recently a Vietnam War veteran who had been involved in using Agent Orange, and is still traumatized by that experience. How does the history keep repeating itself?
At the end of the Cold War, when the Berlin Wall came down, we were told it was the end of history. Global leaders promised a more peaceful, stable world – it didn’t quite work out like that. Today the world is more unstable than even at the height of the Cold War. The approach to international security we’ve been using since the 1990s simply has not worked.
Regime change wars in Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya, Syria and Western interventions in Afghanistan, Somalia and Yemen haven’t always succeeded in their own terms. Sometimes they’ve made the world a more dangerous place. This is the fourth general election in a row to be held while Britain is at war, and our armed forces are acting in the Middle East and beyond.
The fact is that the war on terror has which has driven these interventions has not succeeded. It has not increased our security at home, in fact many would say just the opposite. It’s caused destabilization and devastation abroad. And last September the House of Commons Foreign Affairs Select Committee published a report on the Libyan war which David Cameron as Prime Minister promoted to intervention.
They concluded the intervention led to political and economic collapse, humanitarian and migrant crises, and fueled the rise of ISIS in Africa and across the Middle East.
Is that really the way that builds the security for our people, the people in Britain? Who seriously believes that’s what real strength looks like? We need to step back and have, I think, some fresh thinking. The world faces huge problems. As well as the legacy of regime change wars, there is a dangerous cocktail of ethnic conflicts, food insecurity, water scarcity and fast-emerging effects of climate change.
And to that mix add a grotesque and growing level of inequality in which just eight billionaires – eight billionaires – owned the same wealth as 3.6 billion of the poorest people on our planet, and you end up with a refugee crisis of epic proportions affecting every continent in the world, with more displaced people in the world than since the Second World War. Indeed, there are some estimates that think there are more displaced people now than at any time in recorded history.
These problems are getting worse, and they are fueling threats and instability. The global situation is becoming more dangerous and the new United States president seems, sadly, determined to add to the dangers by recklessly escalating the confrontation with North Korea, unilaterally launching missile strikes on Syria, and opposing what was a great achievement as President Obama’s nuclear arms deal with Iran.
And the suggestion is backing a new nuclear arms race.
A Labour government will want a strong and friendly relationship with the United States, but we will not be afraid to speak our mind. The United States is the strongest military power on the planet by a very long way; it has a special responsibility to use its power with care, and to support international efforts to resolve conflicts collectively and peacefully.
Waiting to see which way the wind blows in Washington isn’t strong leadership, and pandering to an erratic administration will not deliver stability. So when Theresa May addressed the Republican Party conference in Philadelphia in January she spoke in alarmist terms about the rise of China and India, and the danger of the West being eclipsed. She said America and Britain had to stand together and use their military might to protect their interests.
That’s the sort of language that led us into the calamities in Iraq and Libya and other disastrous wars that stole the post-cold war promise of a new and peaceful world order. I do not see India and China in those terms, nor do I think the vast majority of Americans or British people want the boots of their young men and women on the ground in Syria fighting a war that could escalate the suffering and slaughter even further.
Britain deserves better than simply outsourcing our country’s security and prosperity to the whims of the Trump White House.
So no more hand-holding for Donald Trump. A Labour government will conduct a robust and independent foreign policy made in Britain. A Labour government would seek to work for peace and security with all the other permanent members of the United Nations Security Council – the United States, China, Russia and France – and with other countries to play a major role, such as India, South Africa, Brazil and Germany. We have to reach out and work with others.
The philosophy “bomb first, talk later” approach to security has failed. To persist with it as the conservative governors make clear its determined to do is a recipe for increasing, not reducing, threats and insecurity. I’m often asked if as Prime Minister I would order the use of nuclear weapons. It’s an extraordinary question when you think about it. Would you order the indiscriminate killing of millions of people? Would you risk such contamination of the planet that no life could exist across large parts of the world?
If circumstances arose where there was a real option it would represent a complete and cataclysmic failure. It would mean world leaders had already triggered a spiral of catastrophe for humankind. Labour is committed to actively pursue disarmament under the nuclear non-proliferation treaty, and we’re committed to no first use of nuclear weapons. But let me make this absolutely clear.
If elected Prime Minister I would do everything to protect the security and safety of our people and our country. That is our first duty. And to achieve it I know we would have to work with other countries to solve problems, defuse tensions and build collective security. The best defense, best defense for Britain, is a government actively engaged in seeking political solutions to the world’s problems. It doesn’t make me a pacifist. I accept that military action under international law as a genuine last resort is in some circumstances necessary.
That is very far from the kind of unilateral wars and interventions that have become almost routine in recent times. I’ll not take lectures on security or humanitarian action from a Conservative Party that stood by in the 1980s, refusing even to impose sanctions while children in the streets of Soweto were being shot down – or which has backed every move of our armed forces put in harm’s way regardless of the impact on our people’s security.
Once again, in this election it’s become clear that a vote for the Conservatives is a vote to escalate the war in Syria, risking military confrontation with Russia, adding to the suffering of the Syrian people, and increasing global insecurity. When you see children suffering in war it’s only natural to want to do something, but the last thing we need is more of the same failed recipe that served us so badly, and the people of the region so calamitously.
Labour will stand up for the people of Syria; we will press the war crimes to be properly investigated, and work tirelessly to make the Geneva talks work. Every action that is taken over Syria must be judged by whether it helps to bring an end to the tragedy, the appalling tragedy of the Syrian war – or does the opposite. Even if ISIS is defeated militarily, the conflict will not end until there is a negotiated settlement involving all the main parties, including the regional and international powers, and an inclusive government in Iraq.
All wars and conflicts eventually are brought to an end by political means. So Labour would adopt a new approach, we’ll not step back from our responsibilities, but our focus will be on strengthening international coöperation and supporting the efforts of the United Nations to resolve conflicts. A Labour government will respect international law and oppose lawlessness and unilateralism in international relations.
We believe passionately human rights and justice should drive our foreign policy. In the 1960s Harold Wilson’s Labour government worked for and signed the nuclear non-proliferation treaty. As Prime Minister I hope to build on that achievement. Labour supports the renewal of the Trident system, but doesn’t preclude from working for meaningful multilateral steps to achieve reductions in nuclear arsenals.
A Labour government will pursue a triple commitment to the interlocking foreign policy instruments of defense, development and diplomacy. For all their bluster, the Tory record on defense and security has been one, frankly, of incompetence and failure. They balance the books on the backs of servicemen and women. Deep cuts have been made in the army, reduced to the smallest size since the Napoleonic Wars, stagnant pay, worsening conditions. poor housing… The morale of our service personnel and veterans is at rock-bottom.
It’s vital that as Britain leaves the European Union we will maintain a close relationship with our European partners alongside NATO, to keep spending at 2%, but that means working with our allies to ensure peace and security in Europe. We will work to halt the drift towards confrontation with Russia and the escalation of military deployments across the continent. There’s no need whatsoever to weaken our very strong opposition to Russia’s human rights abuses at home or abroad, but to understand the necessity of winding down tensions on the Russia-NATO border, and supporting dialogue to reduce the risk of international conflict.
We’ll back a new conference on Security and Cooperation in Europe, and seek to defuse the crisis in the Ukraine through implementation of the Minsk agreements. We’ll continue to work with the European Union on operational missions to promote and support global and regional security. This means our armed forces will have the necessary capabilities to fulfill the full range of obligations, ensuring they’re versatile and able to participate in rapid stabilization, disaster relief, UN peacekeeping, and conflict resolution activities.
Because security is not only about direct military defence. It’s about conflict resolution and prevention underpinned by strong diplomacy. So, the next day the government will invest in our diplomatic network and consular services. We will seek to rebuild some of the key capabilities and services lost as a result of conservative cuts in recent years, such as the loss of human rights advisors in so many of our embassies around the world.
And finally, while Theresa May seeks to build a coalition of risk and insecurity with Donald Trump, a Labour government will refocus Britain’s influence towards coöperation and peaceful settlements, and social justice. The life chances, security and prosperity of our citizens are dependent on a stable international environment.
We will strengthen our commitment to the United Nations, but are well aware of its shortcomings, particularly in the light of repeated abuses of the veto power in the UN Security Council. So we’ll work with allies and partners from around the world to build support for United Nations reform in order to make its institutions more effective and more responsive. And as a permanent member of the Security Council we’ll provide a lead by respecting the authority of international law.
To lead this work Labour has created a Minister for Peace who will work across the Ministry of Defence and the Foreign and Commonwealth Office. We’ll reclaim Britain’s leading role in tackling climate change, working hard to preserve the Paris agreement and deliver on international commitments to reduce carbon emissions.
We’ll re-examine the arms export licensing regulations to ensure that all British arms exports are consistent with our legal and our moral obligations.
This means refusing to grant export licenses for arms where there’s a clear risk they’ll be used to commit serious violations of international humanitarian law. Weapon supplies to Saudi Arabia, when the evidence of grave breaches of humanitarian law in Yemen is overwhelming, must be halted immediately – as Emily has made very clear many times in Parliament.
I see it as the next Labour government’s task, my task, to make the case for Britain to advance a security and foreign policy with integrity and human rights at its core.
So it is a clear choice in this election. Between continuing with a failed policy of continual and devastating interventions that have intensified conflicts and increased the terrorist threat, or being willing to step back, learn the lessons of the past, and find new ways to solve and prevent conflicts.
Dwight Eisenhower said on another occasion if people can develop weapons that are so terrifying as to make the thought of global war almost a sentence for suicide, you would think that man’s intelligence would include also his ability to find a peaceful solution.
And in the words of another American, Martin Luther King, the chain reaction of evil, hate begetting hate, wars producing more wars, must be broken – or we shall be plunged into the dark days of annihilation.
I believe we can find those solutions. We can walk the hard yards to a better way to live together on this planet.
A Labour government will give leadership in a new and constructive way. And that is the leadership we’re ready to provide both at home and abroad.
Thank you very much.
(Thank you to Labour Party at YouTube)