UK Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn is the latest high-profile figure in the West to call into question the role of NATO and cast doubt on whether his country would, or should, automatically defend NATO allies in the case of an unprovoked attack.
The Telegraph published footage of Corbyn saying that NATO was an “engine for the delivery of oil to the oil companies” and it should “give up, go home, and go away”. Then, during a leadership hustings in Birmingham last week, Corbyn was asked if he would uphold the alliance’s Article 5 (the principle of collective defense, which states that an attack on one member is an attack on all) and he chose not to give a solid answer. Instead, Corbyn said he would want to avoid Britain becoming militarily involved in conflicts and that he would not wish to go to war.
His comments were met with predictable outrage. One Guardian columnist branded the remarks a “step too far”. Military leaders and MPs said his reluctance to commit to NATO was “dangerous” and he was “unfit to be leader” of the Labour Party. Former NATO secretary general Anders Fogh Rasmussen went so far as to dramatically declare that Corbyn was weakening “the entire Western civilization”. In a particularly juvenile attack, one columnist wrote that Corbyn “hates the West and loves Russia”.
Others attempted to smear him by casting him in a similar light to controversial US presidential candidate Donald Trump, who has made similar comments about Article 5, although not as explicit as those made by Corbyn, and perhaps not for all the same reasons. The Mirror ran a quiz asking readers could they differentiate between the two men on policy.
In most ways, Corbyn and Trump could not be less alike, but in questioning NATO, they’ve unleashed the same militarist outrage in their respective nations. The response to Corbyn’s comments mirrors exactly the response Trump received. What never follows, however, is debate. NATO exists to combat imaginary threats (which if they don’t exist already, will be created), Article 5 is sacrosanct and there’s to be no critical discussion about it. Merely suggesting that the public engage in an honest evaluation of the alliance is enough to have oneself sequestered as a crazy, fringe thinker.
Lord George Robertson, another former NATO secretary general, announced that the “public” would be “dismayed and disgusted” at the suggestion that the UK would not defend its NATO allies unconditionally. Surely he hasn’t questioned every member of the British public to reach this conclusion? If it came down to a choice between, for example, protecting Latvia, or going to war with nuclear-armed Russia, one can easily imagine plenty of Brits would chose to let Latvia deal with the Russian bear itself.
But that’s a wild hypothetical. In actuality, many like Corbyn who call for the end of NATO are not doing so because of some nationalist and callous disregard for the Baltics (or any other members). They’re doing so because they believe NATO’s existence actually makes these wars more, not less, likely. They believe the saber-rattling NATO engages in at its borders with Russia is provocative and unnecessary. They have critically assessed the results of decades of disastrous NATO interventions and seen not much to be proud of. They have seen the messes NATO has made in the Balkans, Afghanistan, Libya and now the drive for a new Cold War.
They know full well that NATO expansion was lobbied for and driven by American arms manufacturers who stood to gain billions by gobbling up small nations and forcing them to upgrade their militaries with the latest American weaponry. To put it bluntly, they know that to continue its existence, NATO relies on war, not peace.
They also know with certainty that NATO has no intention of seeking stabilized relations with Russia, because peaceful coexistence does not instill fear — and fear is NATO’s bread and butter. Only in this context can Corbyn’s suggestion that the UK should avoid war be regarded as a crazy and bizarre sentiment.
NATO might spin fairytales of freedom, democracy and peace, but in its lifetime it has brought death and destruction. It has bombed first and asked questions later. It has bombed embassies, TV stations (so much for freedom of the press), destroyed whole nations and fear-mongered others into filling the coffers of American defense contractors. It has been used as a tool for Washington to control the foreign policy of 28 sovereign nations under the guise of protecting them.
NATO’s PR machine is powerful — and it kicks into overdrive when influential figures dare to speak out against it. The think tanks and talking heads come out in force to appeal to the hearts and minds of the public. NATO is about democracy, they say. It’s about collective defense. It’s about human rights. How could anyone be against that? Corbyn and his ilk must be crazy, they argue. But rest assured they won’t advocate bringing democracy and human rights to Saudi Arabia, one of the most brutal dictatorships on earth, which just happens to be an American ally. They won’t mention that NATO member Turkey is one of the worst countries in the world in which to be a journalist. Neither will they delve too deeply into the real roots of the refugee crisis in Europe.
Corbyn’s distaste for NATO has little to do with loving Russia. It’s the assessment of a man not lobbying on behalf of arms manufacturers or on the payroll of war-mongering think tanks masquerading as engines for peace.
Photo by Ms Jane Campbell