Britain needs a government that strives for peace

Lloyd Russell-Moyle

On April 22 this year, the Saudi royal air force bombed a wedding party in the village of al-Raaqah village, in northern Yemen.

The young bride and groom survived but scores of their relatives were killed and injured, including 26 children, whose dismembered limbs were scattered among the branches of the surrounding trees.

Since Saudi Arabia intervened in a civil war three years ago, such attacks are commonplace. Over 22 million people need humanitarian assistance, half of whom are children.

Tens of thousands have been killed, principally from aerial bombardment by the Saudi-led coalition, which is both armed by Britain and co-ordinated with the assistance of British troops stationed in its command and control centres.

Our coalition is not only bombing schools, hospitals, weddings and funerals but is spreading starvation and disease through its siege of Hodeidah, the port which supplies the vast majority of the food to the arid area.

The Houthi rebels, who emerged from their mountain strongholds in the wake of the Arab Spring calling for a new consensus that would give them a share of political and economic power, are the target of this air war.

As the war has dragged on, they have hunkered down for a long guerilla war against myriad groups backed by the West, the Gulf Arab states and al-Qaida. Like everyone else in this vicious conflict, the Houthis have committed war crimes.

The government justifies its membership of the coalition in three ways, which crumble on the most cursory of scrutiny.

It says that it is supporting the UN-backed “legitimate government” of Yemen, led by Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi. Legitimate is of course a very slippery term. After all, Bashar al-Assad is the “legitimate” leader of Syria, but that has not stopped Britain from supporting his domestic opponents.

In any case, Hadi was elected in an election where he was the only candidate (his term of office has long expired) and he now lives not in Yemen but in Riyadh, the Saudi capital.

The government says that any arms it supplies to Saudi Arabia are not at a “clear risk” of being used in war crimes and other violations of international humanitarian law.

Any alleged violations, it says, are thoroughly investigated by … Saudi Arabia. The so-called Joint Incidents Assessment Team (JIAT), which is meant to be doing this work, of course clears the coalition of wrongdoing in the tiny proportion of cases it actually investigates. The al-Raaqah wedding bombing did not, in JIAT’s view, deserve any investigation.

Lastly, the government’s supporters say openly that Saudi Arabia is “trying to do the job of the international community.”

Just how bombing Yemen into a moonscape serves international peace and security they do not say.

Andrew Mitchell, who had a Road to Damascus moment when he visited Houthi-controlled territory last year, says that anti-British graffiti adorns the walls of the towns of Northern Yemen and that his own party’s war is increasing the risk of terrorism at home.

The government of course has no intention of extracting itself from its war in Yemen because it values short-term private profit over human rights and national security.

It has heard calls from the UN, the EU and even our own parliamentary committees to stop approving arms sales into the conflict. It is also ignoring the British public: only 13 per cent support British arms sales to Saudi Arabia, according to a YouGov poll.

It is therefore essential that those within Parliament who believe in a humane internationalism and oppose endless war make their voices heard.

Jeremy Corbyn, of course, has long been an advocate of foreign policy initiatives that would promote global peace, justice and security. But just because we have won the leadership does not mean we have won the battle of ideas.

I am the co-convener of the Socialist Campaign Group, a group of democratic socialist Labour MPs working to pull the PLP to the left on both domestic and international issues.

We do not just want Britain to suspend arms sales to parties to the Yemeni conflict — as Belgium, Germany, Norway and Spain have done — but for it to drive a fundamental change to the international order based on the principles of internationalism and socialism.

We should be making concrete political asks of the government which can help inform a future policy platform when Labour wins power.

These could include the revival of an independent review into Britain’s arms licensing process announced by the government in 2012, but then quietly dropped.

It could include the establishment of an alternative licensing system, whereby the responsibility for processing licences for arms exports should be taken away from the Department for International Trade (whose job, after all, is to export as much as possible) and into a non-governmental department, which would make its licensing guidance to government public.

Lastly, we should be developing Corbyn’s 2015 leadership manifesto pledge for a defence diversification agency, to manage the transition of jobs from the precarious military sector to the more stable civilian sector.

Nothing is forever and Britain’s intensely relaxed attitude to selling arms to whichever tyrant has the money to buy them isn’t either. Labour is the only party with the political will to reform in this area, and reform it we will.

Source: The Morning Star

26 Sep 2018

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