Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn struck fear into Britain’s rulers when he said he would avoid war if a Nato ally was attacked.
His challenger Owen Smith was quick to resurrect Cold War fantasies about Russian troops, with snow on their boots, marching across Europe. Labour right wingers accused Corbyn of “a gross betrayal of Labour’s internationalist principles”.
But there’s nothing internationalist about a military alliance that waged a brutal war on the people of Afghanistan.
There’s nothing internationalist about its warships patrolling Fortress Europe’s borders to keep out desperate refugees.
Nato is one of the biggest obstacles to peace—and Corbyn was right to speak out against it.
It was formed in 1949 to officially defend democracy against Russia and the Eastern Bloc’s imperialist Warsaw Pact alliance, but its real aims were much bigger.
When our rulers claim that Nato is a cornerstone of “collective defence”, they mean of their own interests—not ours.
As the US took over from the declining British Empire in 1945, it wanted to bring Europe’s old imperialist powers under its leadership. The senior Nato military commander in Europe has always been a US general.
Having been weakened by the Second World War, Europe’s rulers accepted US domination to protect their interests. Nato reserved the right to act against “communism” and “subversion” within member states.
The alliance has played a particularly important role for Britain’s ruling class, which is why Corbyn’s stance has panicked them so much.
Britain’s rulers thought they could maintain their place at the top table as part of Nato. British general Lord Ismay, Nato’s first secretary general, said the alliance’s aim was “to keep the Russians out, the Americans in and the Germans down”.
That’s why Labour’s right wing foreign secretary Ernest Bevin pushed hard for the alliance’s formation.
But even the left of the party has largely shied away from calling for Nato withdrawal to avoid rattling the ruling class too much.
In the 1983 general election Labour campaigned for unilateral nuclear disarmament. But its manifesto still declared, “Labour believes in collective security—the next Labour government will maintain its support for Nato.”
Corbyn has also previously said there wasn’t “much appetite” for withdrawal.
If he tried to take Britain out of Nato, Britain’s ruling class and its international allies would mobilise against him.
The anonymous generals threatening coups could even come out of the shadows.
Corbyn’s stance is absolutely right—but to follow it through would require mass mobilisations from below and to fundamentally change the system.