Labour's Manifesto Is a Breath of Fresh Air but We Still Have a Long Way to Go on Foreign Policy
If Corbyn gets in to Number 10 on December 13, that would have a seismic impact on Britain’s role in the world
Last Thursday, Jeremy Corbyn launched the Labour party’s new manifesto in Birmingham City University amongst a huge crowd of cheerful students and enthusiastic supporters. The new manifesto is the strongest socialist manifesto ever launched by any political party in British history.
Amongst some of the key policies are the pledges to increase the health budget by 4.3%, introduce a national care service, bring forward a new zero target, nationalise key industries including rail, mail and water, scrap universal credit, build 100,000 council homes a year and solve the Brexit conundrum. These are all very welcome and will greatly benefit working people under a Corbyn led Labour government.
But even though the manifesto has many positives, there are certain aspects of the foreign policy section that are not reflective of Corbyn’s historic views, especially on Trident and NATO. It is, therefore, important to analyse why these positions are not in the manifesto and how we can win the debate, both within and outside of the party.
In the 36 years of being an MP, Jeremy Corbyn has always been on the right side of history, especially in matters relating to foreign policy. He has consistently opposed wars and military interventions and has emphasized on the fact that the War on Terror and the failed foreign policy approach to conflict resolution has made us less safe.
There is no doubt that since Corbyn was elected as Labour Leader, there has been a significant transformation in the Labour Party’s approach to foreign policy, particularly in relation to wars, military interventions and terrorism. His involvement with the peace movement has been a huge advantage in changing the narrative of ‘Bomb first, talk later’.
In his speech after the Manchester terror attack in 2017, Corbyn rightfully emphasized the link between terrorism and foreign wars, and said that “ informed understanding of the causes of terrorism is an essential part of an effective response that will protect the security of our people that fights rather than fuels terrorism.” By rejecting the establishment’s rhetoric that militarism is the key to international security and achieving foreign policy goals, he made a historic shift in the debate about foreign wars, Britain’s complicity in these wars and how that has exacerbated the risk of terrorist attacks.
His commitment to peace, human rights and social justice is reflected in the 2019 manifesto. A Labour government under his leadership would end the arms’ sales to Saudi Arabia and Israel, introduce a War Powers act, implement fully the recommendations of the Chilcot enquiry and reform international rules to defend the human rights of civilians, especially in war zones including Syria, Yemen, Gaza and Myanmar. It also pledges unwavering support for the Palestinians and Tamils, to end colonial rule in Chagos Islands, to issue a formal apology for the Jallianwala Bagh massacre and to uphold the human rights of the people of Western Sahara and West Papua while increasing foreign aid and UN peacekeeping operations.
Labour’s optimistic approach towards establishing a truly ethical foreign policy is testimony to the fact that the anti-war agenda is now dominant in the Labour membership. However, even though Corbyn has stayed true to his anti-war principles, and his policies are in and of themselves transformative, there are two key foreign and defence policies that he has not been able to overturn yet because of the resistance he has faced from the right wing of his own party, especially the Parliamentary Labour Party.
The new manifesto pledges to support the renewal of Trident and maintain our commitment to NATO while spending at least 2% of GDP on defence. The decision to renew Trident and maintain NATO’s membership will put him under great pressure from both domestic and international critics if he becomes Prime Minister considering his long-standing support for nuclear disarmament and opposition to military interventions.
Corbyn rejected Trump’s warmongering and involvement in the upcoming election at the launch of the manifesto. But committing to be a part of NATO will mean a never-ending battle against Trump’s ever-increasing demands for increase in defence spending and foreign wars.
Since the launch of the War on Terror, the UK has spent billions of pounds on foreign wars and military interventions. The institute for Strategic Studies has listed the UK in their top 15 countries with the highest defence budget. And although the minimum threshold of the defence budget is set at 2%, it’s much more than that every year.
Apart from having financial implications, wars and nuclear weapons are also two of the biggest impediments to tackling the climate emergency and are totally incompatible with the urgent need to move to a zero carbon economy by 2030. Trident renewal will inevitably be a main hindrance to Labour’s climate diplomacy agenda.
If Corbyn gets in to Number 10 on December 13, that would have a seismic impact on Britain’s role in the world. Corbyn’s foreign policy ambitions are unlike any other Labour leader. But although Prime Ministers have a significant amount of power to make foreign policy decisions, there are still limits to what can be done unilaterally.
There is no doubt that there would be a huge amount of pressure on Corbyn to continue the existing international alliances, including that of NATO and the coalition fostering the War on Terror. It is also more than likely that his anti-war stance would be rejected by the mainstream of his own party as we’ve seen over the last four years.
A Corbyn-led Labour government will be our first step towards an anti-war government and will be a major milestone for the anti-war movement. The changes that Corbyn has made to the overall foreign policy approach are immense but he has not yet won the anti-war debate fully. It’s a debate that must be won. So the need for an anti-war movement, which puts forward the alternative arguments and supports Corbyn from the periphery of Downing Street is more important than ever if a truly ethical and progressive foreign policy is to be established.