Labour needs to clarify its defence policy

Jeremy Corbyn needs to commit to the principle of collective defence


Jeremy Corbyn needs to make his position on NATO clear and commit to supporting the principle of collective defence.

During the leadership campaign the North Atlantic Alliance was a clear point of contention between Corbyn and the three other candidates. Corbyn’s desire to withdraw from NATO and his view that the military alliance is to blame for Russian aggression in Ukraine are well known.

His supporters have cited this as an areas where he could compromise to unite the party. Corbyn himself has vaguely talked about Britain having a different relationship within NATO rather than leaving. In a Channel 4 debate he criticised NATO’s ‘excessive expansion’ and insisted that Britain should ‘argue quite strongly in NATO for a more realistic view of what its role is’.

NATO’s aims have changed since the end of the Cold War and its Out-Of-Area Operations have attracted controversy. From the Horn of Africa to the former Yugoslavia, NATO has engaged in peacekeeping and crisis management. While it would do us no favours with our Trans-Atlantic allies nor would it necessarily be the right thing to do, it is not impossible to redefine some of these aims.

However, Corbyn’s problem with NATO goes to the organisation’s core because he doesn’t appear willing to uphold the principles of a collective defence relationship. Article 5 of the NATO Charter states that ‘an attack on one Ally shall be considered an attack on all Allies’. The UK cannot remain in NATO and not abide by this founding principle.

Collective security kept Western Europe united, free and safe throughout the Cold War. It still remains important as Putin’s Russia becomes increasingly expansionary. Today the existence of NATO is vital for member states in Eastern Europe whose security is threatened by renewed aggression from Moscow.

One of the most important reasons for a North Atlantic Alliance is to deter acts of aggression. However, collective defence does not work if the threat of a collective military response is not credible.

Previous comments and statements made by Corbyn would undermine NATO’s credibility. Corbyn’s refusal to support the war against al-Qaeda in Afghanistan in the strongest example of this as it is the only time in NATO’s history that Article 5 has been invoked following the 9/11 attacks.

During the leadership contest Corbyn was constantly evasive when it came to security matters. When asked directly what he would do if there were Russian tanks running through Lithuania, he replied ‘Well they’re not running through Lithuania’ and instead talked about trying to prevent that situation occurring. In the last leadership debate he was asked if there was a situation where he could envisage deploying British military forces. He vaguely replied ‘sure there are some but I can’t think of any at the moment’.

He is now Leader of Her Majesty’s Most Loyal Opposition and does not have the luxury of protesting on the backbenches. Labour’s leadership needs to clarify its defence policy.

So what happens if we have to invade Russia?

It was Chris Bryant who first asked this question when he was initially offered the position of Shadow Defence Secretary. Corbyn wasn’t prepared to have that conversation even with someone he wanted in his Shadow Cabinet. But it’s a question he’s going to have to answer.

Corbyn’s Shadow Cabinet and backbenchers will most likely force him to commit to remaining in NATO like they have done with the EU. Corbyn can’t carry on being evasive, he’s in the real world now not engaging in a student debate. If Labour’s position is to stay in NATO, Corbyn must also commit to supporting the principles of collective defence. That means supporting the deployment of British military force if an NATO ally is attacked.

Gray Sergeant is a Labour activist from south Essex. Follow him on Twitter

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14 Responses to “Labour needs to clarify its defence policy”

  1. Jason Butcher

    What is the point of NATO? Why persevere with Cold War institutions?

  2. Cole

    In case you haven’t noticed there is a little problem with Putin invading other countries…

  3. AJ2

    John McDonnell stated on Question time last night that there would be no policy to leave NATO. So that’s it

  4. barry hearth

    OH, like the USA and Britain do?

  5. barry hearth

    your article takes the standpoint that Corbyn should be just another autocratic leader, if that’s what you want either vote for someone else ( and get everyone to agree) or find another party.

  6. Jams O'Donnell

    “as Putin’s Russia becomes increasingly expansionary. Today the existence of NATO is vital for member states in Eastern Europe whose security is threatened by renewed aggression from Moscow.”

    Should this blog not be called “Right Foot Forward”?

    This sort of US promoted rubbish does not belong in any sort of “Left” viewpoint.

    Corbyn very properly and accurately refers to the fact that the revolution in Ukraine was initiated and promoted by the US. It’s also as plain as day that the US wants to maintain it’s present global hegemony and as part of that aim, to undermine in any way possible the power of Russia and China.

    To ignore that is to be a “useful idiot” for the CIA and US right-wingery.

  7. Jams O'Donnell

    Never been on this site before, but it seems to be mis-named. Presumably it is run by Blairites.

  8. Charlatans

    NATO is a huge success story and the predominant reason the Berlin Wall eventually came down.

    There are so many other reasons the UK should be a leading light in NATO and Corbyn is going to get harshly bitten in his buttocks for his anti Trident, NATO, IRA,and Falkland Islands views.

    Already the Argentine President has been encouraged to get on her high Malvinas horse:


    Jeremy Corbyn is a great friend of Latin America and shares, in solidarity, our demands for equality and political sovereignty.— Cristina Kirchner (@CFKArgentina) September 12, 2015

    Corbyns views are giving false hope to Argentina whose sovereignty claims are totally against UN and world treaty protocols listed in the following academic paper listing all the many legal and historical reasons why you are wrong:

    The Falkland Islands were taken back against massive odds, with great fortitude and bravery of the British members of Operation Corporate, with much loss of life and horrendous injuries. We did it legally with the vast majority of our Nation backing us together with extremely grateful Falklands Islanders, who 100% wished to retain their British sovereignty.

    Mutual peace among the NATO alliance members has also been an outstanding achievement particularly when one consults the vast catalogue of European and World wars between NATO members in the prior millennium.

    NATO should be supported notwithstanding there are some expansionist aims by US/EU which, in the last couple of decades, which have resulted in the unnecessary prodding of the Russian Bear since the 90s. Namely the NATO/EU determined expansionist desires right up to the Russian border, has been a massive mistake.

    There should have been a much more pragmatic foreign and mutually beneficial trading relationship pursued instead of taking advantage of Russia going through its perceived humiliating recovery from USSR dismantling mode. They are still an immensely strong and proud nation and react firmly to provocation.

    A good example of this provocation was shown by EU MEPs joining in street demonstrations in Kiev just prior to Russian takeover of Crimea and the hugely dangerous and damaging civil war. This should have been predicted and was never going to have a good outcome knowing the psyche and history of the strong Russian historical indigenous ties with Ukraine/Crimea. Ukraines lack of NATO membership meant there was never ever any chance of NATO/EU having a military response, basically leaving egg all over NATO/EU faces.

  9. Rick

    Anoyther Corbyn U Turn.

  10. barry hearth

    Agree on several fronts, James. Notice that most posters stay annonymous?
    The US hates Assad and tried to force the UK to go to war using IS as as the route in.
    Kerry is still banging that drum………… that why our ( very depleted) forces are now training hard for hot dry climate fighting?


    Because the Cold War did not end just a battle.

  12. Tony

    Charlatans: When the Berlin Wall went up it was privately welcomed by the Kennedy administration. He reportedly said: “A wall is better than a war”.
    Let us not forget that the US split Germany. Together with Britain and France, it introduced a new currency into the western sectors of that country. The USSR was not consulted. The US also decided that any reparations would be taken from each country’s occupation zone. This the USSR did and thus the eastern sector was impoverished as a result.
    By contrast, this did not happen with Austria which was occupied in exactly the same way as Germany. By 1955, it was possible to negotiate a treaty which guaranteed that country’s neutrality and the occupation troops left. The US was not prepared to accept that for Germany.
    NATO is not a ‘huge success story’ at all. It helped to split our continent.

  13. Harold

    Do not worry the Army will step in and return democracy to the Tories if they lose the election.

  14. Sue J

    Which countries has Putin invaded?

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