Progress | Centre-left Labour politics

The solidarity embodied by Nato is a proud Labour legacy

Solidarity. It is a fairly fundamental value of the left. It is the idea that we will stand alongside those who are suffering or oppressed. Reaching out the hand of friendship in their time of need.

It is something I have heard Jeremy Corbyn talk about a lot. He missed an important meeting of the parliamentary Labour party to attend a Cuban Solidarity event. He is a patron of the Palestine Solidarity Campaign and called for voters to show solidarity with Europe during the referendum. It was even reported that his supporters wrote messages of solidarity in the sand on 40 Cornish beaches. So it is clearly a concept he is familiar with.

That is why I was surprised to hear that if he was prime minister he would not come to the defence of a fellow Nato member if they were invaded by Russia.

The founding of Nato should be considered one of the most significant achievements of Clement Attlee’s radical 1945 government. Ernest Bevin, the great trade unionist and perhaps Britain’s finest foreign secretary, brought together the countries of western Europe and the United States after the war to prevent a similar conflict from occurring again and to stand up to expansionist totalitarianism. It should be a symbol of our proud internationalist tradition as a party and our commitment to cooperation between nations.

Solidarity is at the heart of Article 5 of the North Atlantic Treaty, which says an attack against one member will be considered an attack against us all. Under Article 5 all members will come to the aid of the country under attack to maintain security of the North Atlantic area. This has only been invoked once, after 9/11. Coincidentally, Labour’s George Robertson was Nato secretary general at the time.

We live in a dangerous and increasingly uncertain world. Russia is in economic crisis, looking for scapegoats and asserting a spurious right to protect Russian minorities in neighbouring countries. The reassurance Article 5 gives to countries that feel threatened is as important now as it has ever been. That is why it is worrying to hear Corbyn and Donald Trump undermine the collective security Nato provides. People in Estonia or Latvia, with a 25 per cent Russian population, will feel betrayed and nervous today.

This is a theme Corbyn established when running for leader last year, saying that he could not think of a situation in which he would use military force.

Neil Kinnock said, ‘the real privilege of being strong is the power that it gives you to help people who are not strong’. Britain is a strong country, as such it is a dereliction of our duty and a betrayal of our Labour values to turn away from allies when they need our help.

Nobody wants to see British soldiers sent to war, but removing the deterrence of Nato support makes aggression by expansionist states more likely. Our commitment to collective security makes the world a safer place.

If Corbyn believes so strongly in solidarity why won’t he extend it to our Nato allies?


Rowan Ree is a member of Progress. He tweets @RowanRee


Photo: Defence Images

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