Labour must not fall into the trap of equating national security with military expenditure

Stop the War Coalition

Stop the War welcomes the opportunity to contribute to Labour’s 2020 National Policy Forum.

The Conservative Government’s policy of Global Britain/Empire 2.0 aims to reflect our colonial past and closely align the UK with the US. We fear that to hold such a single, close alliance with Trump’s America will result in bringing the UK into new conflict, and that the UK should move forward with a progressive approach to foreign policy rather than attempting to revive its imperial past. In a multipolar world we would hope that new partnerships and alliances can be built, and we encourage the Labour Party to develop a foreign policy platform which reflects this and one which clearly distinguishes Labour from the Tories by emphasising values of justice and equality.

We were heartened by Keir Starmer’s statement made during the leadership election in which he said that under his leadership Labour would support “No more illegal wars. Introduce a Prevention of Military Intervention Act and put human rights at the heart of foreign policy. Review all UK arms sales and make us a force for international peace and justice.”  We also welcome his commitment to a Minister for Peace and Disarmament.

Stop the War is one of the most popular campaign groups, and the most popular foreign policy campaign group, amongst Labour members (YouGov poll February 2020). A growing number of Labour Party branches and CLPs have adopted anti-war positions. We therefore hope that our views will be considered favourably.

It is not just the Labour membership who recognise the damage of Britain’s involvement in successive wars. Opinion polls following the Manchester bombing in 2017 made it clear that the vast majority (three quarters) of the British public do not support on-going foreign intervention and understand the link between the growth in domestic terrorism and the disastrous foreign wars that successive British governments have pursued since 2001.

Going forward we would like to see Labour underpin a commitment to diplomacy, equality and human rights in its approach to foreign policy. Labour must not fall into the trap of equating national security with military expenditure. If there is one clear lesson to be learnt from the Covid-19 pandemic it is that protecting people requires investing in medical equipment and not military equipment.

This requires a reassessment of arms sales, militarisation and a commitment to pursue diplomatic rather than military solutions.

In order to do this we believe Labour should:

  • commit to ending the policy of foreign military interventions;
  • seek a foreign policy strategy independent of the US. Labour should learn lessons from past failures and reassess its commitment to the ‘special relationship’ adopting the role of a critical friend rather than one of blind subservience;
  • speak out against the increasingly anti-China rhetoric led by President Trump and now being adopted by our own government. Such rhetoric is not only escalating tensions with China but is also fuelling racism at home;
  • do all it can to end the disabling sanctions imposed on Iran;
  • actively support the withdrawal of troops from Afghanistan and the Middle East;
  • continue in its support for Kashmir’s right to self-determination, as agreed at conference in 2019;
  • call for the withdrawal of support for the Saudi led coalition and an immediate cessation of hostilities by all parties to the conflict in Yemen and end the direct involvement of British military and civilian personnel in the Saudi war effort;
  • maintain its position to end arms sales to Saudi Arabia and Israel. We also hope that Labour would seek to end all training and equipment contracts with repressive regimes, such as Saudi Arabia;
  • reaffirm its preparedness to recognise Palestine, making clear its opposition to Israeli settlements and distancing itself from Netanyahu’s and Trump’s plan to annex the West Bank.

In addition Stop the War would like Labour to:

  • review its ongoing support for NATO in the light of NATO’s development from a cold war alliance to an expansionist alliance actively engaged in interventionist policies increasing international tensions;
  • review its support for the Trident nuclear weapons system. We believe that the coronavirus has put to rest arguments that defence industries cannot be diversified and that nuclear weapons are necessary to safeguard the UK population. The government’s own National Risk Register makes it clear that danger of a pandemic is far greater than danger of a nuclear attack. The resources spent on renewing Trident could be diverted to re-building the economy following the devastating economic impact of the pandemic.

It has become clear through the coronavirus pandemic that the UK’s defence strategy has been mismanaged on such a sale that rather than keeping its citizens safe it has actively endangered them. Preference for big military expenditure and overseas operations led to spending on arms and military equipment at the expense of pandemic planning.

We would hope that in the light of the Covid-19 pandemic the Labour Party would redress this balance.

We hope that the Labour Party will learn from mistakes of the past, from the Chilcot Inquiry and the recent wars in Afghanistan, Libya and the Middle East and that an alternative approach to foreign policy is adopted.

20 Jun 2020

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