Left out in the cold? What Jeremy Corbyn’s Foreign Policy Would Mean for the UK

On 12th September, left-winger Jeremy Corbyn was elected as the Leader of Her Majesty’s Most Loyal Opposition in a move described by Prime Minister David Cameron as a ‘threat to national security’[1] and a ‘radical breakthrough in British politics’ by the Russian Ambassador to London[2]. His distinct – some may say radical – foreign policy stance, if implemented, would stir debate on issues considered beyond question by most in British politics. Whilst Leader of the Opposition, there is little Mr Corbyn can do to actually implement his foreign policy plans. But imagine, that Mr Corbyn were elected to the grand office of Prime Minister. Suppose he was free to implement his foreign policy in extremis, irrelevant of public opinion and a disobedient Parliamentary Labour Party and Cabinet (both of which would realistically block the vast majority of his plans). What would that mean for Britain, and its place in the global community? Would these fair Isles truly be under threat, as the current PM would have us believe, or could this alternate course actually benefit the UK at home and abroad?

Image Courtesy of Jasn, © 2015, some rights reserved.
Image Courtesy of Jasn, © 2015, some rights reserved.

One of the most immediate measures Mr Corbyn would likely take would be to revoke British membership of NATO[3]. For NATO, this would be more an embarrassment than an actual problem. With a military spending less than 10% of that of the United States, the UK contributes around 6% of the total NATO military expenditure[4], meaning the UK’s departure would do little to harm the alliance – other than abandoning allies. Nominally, the effect on Britain’s defence would also be relatively low. Geographically, the UK is surrounded by NATO member states and it seems extreme to suggest that Britain would be left defenceless following a NATO-exit. The most significant harm would come from being out of the loop with US military movements and developments, in addition to that of other NATO members. UK defence would likely lag behind, but in the currently global situation with new types of threat developing, it may not be a bad idea to focus on new types of deterrent, rather than continuing with what is arguably Cold War defence thinking. Leaving wouldn’t be a great idea, but it wouldn’t sink Britain either.

Mr Corbyn is also entirely against the renewal of Britain’s independent nuclear deterrent, or even the idea of any British nuclear deterrent at all[5]. Whilst a world without nuclear weapons is a wonderful aspiration, it seems foolhardy for the UK to abandon theirs just yet. We live in a world where state level warfare is an increasing rarity. No state that actually possesses nuclear weapons is realistically a nuclear threat to the UK right now (I’m looking at you Mr Putin), and no state with access to nuclear weapons could ever morally justify their use against a state that couldn’t retaliate in kind. Even if Daesh or some other non-state actor like a terrorist group managed to access nuclear weapons, the nature of such actors mean it would be impossible to strike back in kind. So why should we bother with forking out for such an expensive deterrent if there’s no one to deter? Honestly, it’s a power thing. Despite a declining importance in hard power, we still get a seat with the top dogs on account of our nukes. Maybe, one day, there will be a real and serious reason that Britain should keep them. And when there are around 10,000 nuclear warheads out there[6], this probably isn’t the time to ditch ours. It’s also worth noting that our nuclear deterrent is there to protect our continental pals as well. History tells us it’s probably not the best idea to leave the protection of Europe in French hands. Sorry Mr Hollande.

One of Mr Corbyn’s best policies is his willingness to talk to terrorists[7]. Whilst repugnant to much of the population, attempting to solve problems through dialogue rather than killings really does seem to work. It’s about knowing the enemy, understanding what they want, and driving them toward a non-violent means of achieving compromise. On one hand, this could potentially encourage groups to use violent means to gain a platform for negotiation and tacitly acknowledges violence as a means of achieving political aims; this means it must be limited discussion. Refusing to talk to groups such as Hamas (and his support for a Palestinian state is great, by the way) until they renounce violence only prolongs the killing. True, Mr Corbyn’s interventions during and since the Troubles regarding Ireland have not been particularly helpful[8]. But the principle of talking with terrorists is not something we should be dismissing out of hand; that’s just counterproductive counterterrorism.

Mr Corbyn has a long parliamentary history of noninterventionism[9]. Whilst many point to his vote against the Iraq War, supporters tend to ignore his opposition to successful intervention, such as action in Kosovo. He strongly opposes any kind of intervention in Syria, other than the setting up of so-called ‘safe-zones’ for refugees[10]. In the purely self-centred view of helping Britain deal with the refugee crisis, this is short-sighted, and from a moral perspective deplorable. Unworkable safe-zones try to address the fallout, not the actual cause of the problem: the violence in Syria. There needs to be a full and open debate on how Britain can help end the violence in Syria; to dismiss certain actions is not productive. Mr Corbyn fails to acknowledge intervention successes elsewhere and denies our moral duty as an international power to protect those left unprotected by their own state.

The ‘Special Relationship’ would have to go. Mr Corbyn has made crystal-clear his ardent Anti-Americanism[11], but he fundamentally misunderstands the importance of such a friendship. Although we have differences with our allies across the pond, and there are faults with the relationship, there remain two good reasons why we should sustain it. The first is that America remains the global hegemon. Perhaps this won’t last, and maybe we should start seeing other people on the side, but to lose our close connection with the world’s dominant state is just dumb. Second, a good friend supports but also criticises. We need to be a voice of reason to a US that can often get carried away (PS, the same argument applies to the EU). Britain does have some small influence over US policy and it’s probably a good thing for the state that popularised the checks and balances system domestically to have some international advice from a trusted ally.

Is Mr Corbyn a threat to national security? Don’t be ridiculous. Does Mr Corbyn threaten the status of Britain as a global power? Frankly? Yes. And, as a generally moral force in the international sphere (I mean, we’re dealing with the US, Russia, and China here), that’s something we shouldn’t be giving up quite yet.

[1] http://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/politics/david-cameron-claims-jeremy-corbyn-is-a-threat-to-national-security-10498651.html

[2] http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/politics/Jeremy_Corbyn/11881065/Russian-ambassador-lavishes-praise-on-Jeremy-Corbyn-over-foreign-policy.html

[3] http://www.theguardian.com/politics/2015/sep/12/what-does-jeremy-corbyn-think

[4] http://www.sipri.org/research/armaments/milex/milex_database/milex_database

[5] http://www.theguardian.com/politics/2015/sep/12/what-does-jeremy-corbyn-think

[6] http://thebulletin.org/nuclear-notebook-multimedia

[7] http://www.theguardian.com/politics/2015/sep/12/what-does-jeremy-corbyn-think

[8] http://www.belfasttelegraph.co.uk/news/northern-ireland/jeremy-corbyn-defends-stance-on-ira-31561663.html

[9] http://leftfootforward.org/2015/08/what-will-a-jeremy-corbyn-foreign-policy-mean-for-labour/

[10] http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-politics-34375754

[11] http://www.economist.com/news/britain/21665066-jeremy-corbyn-clearly-anti-american-ambiguous-over-europe-anti-man

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