The Labour leadership debates thus far have been dominated by questions about electability, coups and potential splits, but in the last hustings the debate took a different turn and moved onto NATO. Jeremy Corbyn has always been lukewarm about NATO and in response to a topic controversially refused to commit to upholding Article 5: the principle of collective defence (“an attack against one Ally is considered as an attack against all Allies”).
One of the reasons for Corbyn’s popularity has been his stance on foreign affairs. Corbyn was a famous opponent of the Iraq War and is a long-standing critic of military intervention of any sort. In the 2015 Labour leadership debates Corbyn claimed he could not think of an instance where he would use military force. This was a position he further advanced with these views. Corbyn stated he wanted to avoid getting involved militarily and wanted to achieve a world where we did not need to go to war.
NATO was co-founded by a Labour government led by Clement Attlee in 1949 after World War 2 around the idea of collective security. Although NATO hasn’t always guaranteed world peace it has largely been successful in its aims and has acted as a deterrent for aggressive nations. War is a last resort and all other options must be exhausted before a military solution is implemented, but we must be realistic about the world we live in. Corbyn is right that we should pursue world peace with vigour and attempt to improve relations with other countries, but is wrong to suggest we shouldn’t uphold Article 5. A refusal to come to the aid of a fellow NATO member is a dereliction of duty and is a stance which should not be compatible with being leader of the Labour Party.
The hope is this situation never arises, but if NATO is to work as a deterrent all nations need to be committed to its goals and working together. Being lukewarm about NATO will only give succour to aggressive nations. It is not a stance which is popular with Labour MPs highlighted in this article by Wes Streeting and with the general public according to a 2014 poll. Corbyn’s idealism has been praised by many but this is a step too far and has made the job of re-uniting the Labour Party all the harder.
Article by Mike Hough
Photograph – The Independent