Labour should not idealise the military

On 10th July, the Shadow Defence Secretary Jim Murphy and the Shadow Education Secretary Stephen Twigg unveiled in an article for The Telegraph their support for broader involvement of the military in the British education system. The article acts as a clarion call for a mass “invasion” of schools by the military, and articulates their belief that civilians should adopt a “service ethos” which can be cultivated in our nation’s education.

Murphy and Twigg call for the establishment of military academies in “communities with the greatest social and economic need” and more involvement of local cadet forces in extracurricular activities for deprived areas. The logic of their proposal asserts deprivation and a supposed lack of aspiration can be remedied with military discipline and an idolisation of the military as an institution. This simplistic analysis fails to realise the problems in these communities lie not with aspiration, but that deprivation is the cause which forces many young working-class people into the military in the first place.

Murphy and Twigg claim that military veterans can serve as role models for ‘troubled youth’, but fail to point out that 10% of the current prison population are ex-military, and many suffer from mental, physical and substance abuse issues after leaving the force. This is not to demonise those who have served in the military, but rather to point out that the military itself is not an institution which corrects society’s ills in a vacuum. Many of those who will leave the force for the worse come from the kind of communities Murphy and Twigg claim are in need of military academies, communities which still face the kind of deprivation and lack of opportunity when they joined the force originally.

It is incredibly dangerous for Labour to make the link between community spirit and an institution which sends a disproportionately high number of working-class men and women to their deaths from these same communities. Glorifying conflict through desensitising young people to the realities of the military’s primary function, which is to engage in combat, sets a dangerous precedent for the future of the education system and the values which children take away from their time in school. Labour must challenge the conflict consensus through education, promoting the history of peaceful activism and warn of the horrors of war, rather than idealising the nature of the military and its purpose.

Labour would be far better to promote the same values of public spirit and community activism Murphy and Twigg asserts their proposal aims to embody through positive institutions, such as the NHS, which save lives rather than end them. There can be no greater army in Britain than the legion of doctors, nurses and health professionals who serve our country as our first line of defence against illness and death. Investing in communities, in the health service, in schools, and redeveloping our nation’s industry are solutions to the problems Murphy and Twigg believe can be resolved through sending military officials to run our schools. Military role models, like Nicola Murray’s Fourth-Sector Pathfinders in The Thick Of It, cannot ‘inspire’ people out of poverty.

It is incredibly important for young people in disadvantaged communities to feel part of society, but Labour would be better to stay clear of believing this occurs through an institution which tears societies apart. Murphy and Twigg claim their aim is to ensure “there is mutual support before and after military service” in these communities, but this does not occur by normalising the military in education. It comes about by providing jobs for people, rooted in their communities and families, not abroad fighting foreign wars. Public service doesn’t have to be about donning a uniform and a gun, but about building a sustainable future for your community.

By Calum Sherwood

Labour’s Defence Policy Review and NPF

The Labour Shadow Defence Team has launched the Labour Party’s Defence Policy Review and is seeking submissions.

It is vital that members engage in and shape the debate particularly regarding the Labour Party’s current policy on the continued possession of nuclear weapons and engagement in foreign military interventions.

We must ensure the party commits to scrapping Trident and ending our role in destructive wars.

Labour CND has drafted two model responses for you to consider submitting both to the Defence Policy Review and to your National Policy Forum representatives.

You can do so both as an individual member and via your CLP.

 

The National Policy Forum Britain in the World Commission is meeting in mid-June so we suggest you do this immediately after the elections in May.

  • Please ensure you submit this to the Labour Shadow Defence Review by emailing officeoflfof@gmail.com and posting to Shadow Defence Secretary Jim Murphy at the House of Commons, London SW1A 0AA
  • You should also send it to your National Policy Forum representatives, via the MembersNet section of the Labour Party website – http://members.labour.org.uk/npfrep
  • Please tell us if you have made such a submission, on info@labourcnd.org.uk

 

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Labour and Trident replacement

Labour will put greater importance on working with other nuclear weapon states to increase progress on nuclear reductions and disarmament towards the goal of global abolition.

Labour will encourage non-nuclear states to also keep up their pressure for nuclear disarmament as required by the Nuclear Non- Proliferation Treaty.

Labour will back a global nuclear weapons convention with the ultimate aim of the total elimination of nuclear weapons.

Labour will make a clear commitment to scrap Trident and all plans for Trident replacement.

Supporting arguments:

The Labour Party needs to change its policy on Trident and its replacement.

Trident or its replacement does not address our real threats. Even the Coalition Government has confirmed that the UK does not face a nuclear weapon threat from another state, according to their National Security Strategy published in 2011. The possession of Trident does not increase our security. It is not a means of defence, it is means of attack. As such it could prove a magnet for attack in a conflict situation.

Trident or its replacement is a green light to nuclear weapons proliferation. It sends the wrong message at a point when the US and Russia are taking further disarmament steps. It is through honouring our nuclear disarmament commitment that we can achieve a nuclear weapons free world.

Trident replacement is unaffordable. Constructing and maintaining Trident’s replacement will cost over £100billion over its lifetime to 2060. In the shorter term the maintaining the existing Trident system and constructing the Trident replacement will cost us £55billion over the next 15 years.

Trident replacement is unpopular. There is clear and consistent polling evidence that shows the public is opposed to Trident replacement. Even amongst the defence community, many do not favour a costly nuclear weapon system in the face of other public spending cuts.

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Labour and a new foreign policy

Labour will adopt a foreign policy that rejects military interventionism and nuclear aggression.

Labour will reject the principle that UK forces should operate anywhere in the world. Their only purpose should be for the defence of these islands.

Labour will support peaceful negotiations and dialogue through the UN and its member states, in conflict situations.

Labour will immediately withdraw troops from Afghanistan and advocate global disarmament, including a Weapons of Mass Destruction Free Zone in the Middle East and the scrapping of Trident here in the UK.

Supporting arguments:

Ed Miliband stated in his first speech as leader that ‘This generation wants to change our foreign policy so that it’s always based on values, not just alliances.’

The UK’s alliances, notably with the US and NATO or other Western powers, have led the country into numerous military strikes and wars in recent years, particularly Iraq and Afghanistan, under the justification of ‘liberal interventionism. This policy has damaged our international standing and lacks public support in the UK.

These interventions have been selective, seizing on certain internal conflicts and perceived threats, whilst ignoring others.

These interventions have left thousands dead and injured, harming rather than helping the people who live there and leaving behind countries that are neither stable nor safe.

These interventions have only been for the benefit of multi-national corporations and Western powers seeking to gain access to natural resources and infrastructure contracts.

Any justification for these wars has been seen to be lies to disguise the real intention of extending Western strategic control and interests.

The UK’s Cold War-era alliance, NATO, has expanded its sphere of influence by encouraging former Warsaw Pact countries to join and engaging in ‘out of area’ operations. Given the Warsaw Pact was dissolved twenty years ago, serious questions remain unanswered as to the role of NATO.

A progressive, socialist foreign policy requires resources and skills to be committed to reducing poverty and improving living standards rather than supporting military action and the instability and misery it causes.

Labouring for Peace reviewed

Labouring for Peace, by Rosalie Huzzard and Grace Crookall-Greening is a history of Labour Action for Peace; a campaigning group within the Labour Party.

It started as a Pacifist Organisation in World War I as ‘Labour Pacifist Fellowship.’ Afterwards it was joined by non-pacifists and it changed its name to ‘Labour Peace Fellowship’ and ultimately ‘Labour Action for Peace’ . This happened when the MP Frank Allaun had a leading role in it, joining that consistent worker for peace and nuclear disarmament, Ron Huzzard. Labour Action for Peace became part of the ongoing campaign in the Labour Party for unilateral nuclear disarmament and a sane foreign policy based on the principles of the United Nations Charter.

The book starts with a tribute to Frank Allaun by former Labour MEP, Stan Newens and to Ron Huzzard by former Labour Party General Secretary, Jim Mortimer. It then details the history of the campaign and its relations with the Labour Party.

It is an interesting book which deserves a wide circulation . However, I have two criticisms of its general approach.

Firstly, it understates the connection between the struggle for a sane anti-nuclear policy with the struggle for inner-party democracy. The Tories have always believed that it is all right for the electorate to choose between the alternatives put before it every four or five years but that these alternatives must be determined and shaped by so called ‘experts’. This belief is shared by many establishment minded people, including most Liberals and the Labour Party right. Tony Blair adheres to this approach. Yet from the days of Keir Hardie the majority of the Labour Party has believed that the citizen has the right to shape these alternatives. In the Seventies we made some progress towards this. The very success of CND, Labour CND and Labour Action for Peace to commit party conferences to unilateral nuclear disarmament helped to make ‘New Labour’ more resolute to destroy the power of Labour Party Conference in accordance with the old anarchist slogan : “If voting meant anything they would not allow you to do it.”

At the time of writing this (January 2012) Ed Milliband’s initial attempts to re-establish the power of conference and to revise Labour’s nuclear policy have both been temporarily shelved. But the struggle for both can and must be the norm. The Labour Party issued in October 2011 a statement ‘Britain’s role in the World’, which does not mention Britain’s nuclear weapons and advocates ‘Liberal Internationalism’ . Individuals and Parties should send in their comments.

Secondly, there are grounds for hope. There has never been a time when there has been such interest in world affairs and foreign policy like the present. Neither nuclear weapons or Britain’s adventures in Iraq, Afghanistan or Libya have popular support. There, however, is a feeling of impotence. We have to convince people they have power if only they are prepared to use it.

The struggle continues. We have no right to opt out. With the perseverance exemplified in this challenging book we shall win.

Walter Wolfgang.

Copies of Labouring for Peace  are available £6.75 including postage and packaging from:

Richard Hart, 94 Newbury Road, Bromley, Kent, BR2 0QW.

Email: rhart45 [at] hotmail.co.uk

Home: 020 8290 5325

Mobile: 07729 263 226

Challenge to Labour front bench

The Commons was enlivened by a debate on Trident replacement once again on Monday afternoon as the Defence Secretary was called to the Commons to answer an Urgent Question on his new £1.1 billion contract – heavily trailed in the Sunday press – to redevelop the Rolls-Royce plant at Raynesway in Derby and to produce the reactor for the first of the submarines replacing Vanguard.

The idea of ordering a submarine reactor ahead of the main decision on constructing the rest of the submarine, at a cost of several hundred million pounds, is something I’ve repeatedly condemned in debates with the Defence Minister. As one part of the £4 billion declared ‘necessary’ to design the submarines before the construction decision, it is simply part of achieving a fait accompli so that a future government’s hands are tied. On the Today programme on Monday morning, the Lib Dem Defence Minister said it would be down to a future government to negotiate its way out of the contracts in 2016, but the Defence Secretary yesterday afternoon clearly said that Rolls-Royce depend of the commitment of the government.

One only needs to look at yesterday’s Evening Standard to see the arguments stating that ‘Trident is too costly to cancel’.

It was not made clear but it looks like we need to add another £500 million to the Trident replacement tab if these new facilities are necessary. The whole thing is a project which everyone expects to grow in cost exponentially, and yesterday illustrated that it is already doing so.

I was encouraged to see more Labour MPs questioning the government. Not only Paul Flynn and Michael Connarty but the questions from David Lammy, Nick Brown and Sheila Gilmore show there is a serious debate to be had in the Labour Party. Why should police numbers be cut to pay for Trident, rather than the other way round, as David asked.

But given this announcement arguably adds £500 million to the cost of delivering the replacement, it was disappointing that Labour’s front bench response gave such a wholehearted welcome of the ongoing programme, rather than offering serious scrutiny.

Alison Seabeck wrote that ‘keeping our nation safe’ should be ‘above partisan politics’. Indeed it should, but how we achieve that should be open to discussion, particularly in the Labour Party. Even the government’s own National Security Strategy said the threat of another state attacking with nuclear weapons is now of ‘low-likelihood’ but we are cutting all manner of other defence and public sector programmes and workers while saving Trident.

The reports from last weekend’s National Policy Forum sound very positive for the future and Jon Cruddas’s appointment as chair of the policy review is welcome given he joined me and many other MPs in demanding a debate on Trident at annual conference in 2006 ahead of the Commons vote and he has argued in favour of scrapping Trident to focus on forces welfare or conventional equipment, I hope we can now have an honest and mature debate about our defence spending priorities.

By Jeremy Corbyn MP

Originally published on LabourList on 19th June 2012

Labour, war and liberal intervention

PUBLIC MEETING

Labour, war and liberal intervention:
Why it’s time to change

Yasmin Qureshi MP
Jeremy Corbyn MP
Sonia Klein

7pm, Monday 11th June
Committee Room 17
Houses of Parliament

Iraq, Afghanistan, Libya. Three countries with thousands of civilians dead, infrastructure destroyed and ongoing conflict. Billlions committed to Trident replacement.

Labour’s policy review is a chance to challenge the legacy of war during the New Labour years and end support for liberal interventionism.

Labour members want a foreign and defence policy based on peace and justice, join us as we discuss the way forward.

Organised by Labour CND
www.labourcnd.org.uk • info@labourcnd.org.uk

Save Shaker Aamer – time is running out

Urgent Appeal – please sign the e-petition for the return of Shaker Aamer to the UK

100,000 signatures needed by May 14th

Labour CND is supporting this appeal from the Save Shaker Aamer Campaign and urges all CND members to sign this e-petition in order to put pressure on the Government to take immediate steps to demand the return of British Resident Shaker Aamer to the UK.

A decade of abuse and torture in Guantanamo

The e-petition was launched on 14th February by human rights lawyer, Gareth Pierce, and Shaker’s father-in-law on the day which marked Shaker Aamer’s ten years of unlawful imprisonment, torture and abuse in Guantanamo. Shaker Aamer is one of many victims of the US/UK Governments’ “war on terror” policy. Public protest succeeded in bringing home the other 15 UK Citizens and British residents who were abducted, tortured abroad and rendered to cruel detention without trial in Guantanamo.  However, Shaker Aamer still remains in Guantanamo, locked up in a steel cell, in solitary confinement, in absolute denial of all his human rights.

Fears for Shaker Aamer’s life

There are serious concerns for his health. He suffers constant pain from various medical conditions caused by years of inhumane and cruel treatment. He has been weakened by years on hunger strike in protest at the injustice and brutality suffered by those who remain in Guantanamo. His UK lawyer, Clive Stafford Smith, who visited him in November 2011, stated that Shaker is slowly dying in Guantanamo. Shaker faces no charge or trial. He was cleared for release over five years ago.

Token gestures by the UK government

The UK Government has made several requests to the US for his release and return to the UK. But, it would seem that these may be token gestures, to conceal the intent to delay his return. Shaker’s allegations of UK complicity in his torture in the presence of M15/M16 agents are serious and embarrassing to the Government. Whilst he remains in Guantanamo, his testimony has been silenced.

The latest threat to prevent Shaker’s return to the UK

The Government’s lack of action may be linked to an alarming recent report that Shaker has been visited again by Saudi officials who attempted to coerce him into signing documents agreeing to his transfer to Saudi Arabia, a country from which he fled over 28 years ago.

Complicity by the UK government

This visit could not have taken place without the agreement of the UK Government.  If Shaker is forcibly transferred to Saudi Arabia, he will be imprisoned, tortured and permanently separated from his British wife and children and the truth of his torture will never be heard. Although Shaker refused to sign, his family believe that he may be rendered there against his will at any time.

The e-petition to the Government to take urgent action to bring Shaker home may be our last hope to save him. Time is running out, please help to bring Shaker home.

The text of the e-petition:
“Shaker Aamer is a British resident with a British wife and children who has been unlawfully imprisoned without trial by the US in Bagram Air Force Base and Guantanamo Bay for over ten years. The Foreign Secretary must undertake new initiatives to achieve the immediate transfer of Shaker Aamer to the UK from continuing indefinite detention in Guantanamo Bay.”
Created by Saeed Siddique, Shaker’s father-in-law

How you can help

  • Please sign this e-petition and encourage all your family, friends and contacts to sign it too.
  • Copy this appeal, take it to your local CND group and Labour Party, sent it to your MP, local press, community organisations and councils.
  • Join Labour CND in this campaign for a victim of NATO’s war on terror policies.

Shaker Aamer is only one of many whose lives have been destroyed by the unjust policies of the UK and US Governments. Your support for this e-petition may bring him home and give him back his life. Public protests like this can prove that the pursuit of justice can, even against the odds, defeat Government policies. We must stand up against the use of over-whelming military force, abduction, torture, indefinite detention without trial, extra-judicial assassinations by drone and nuclear threats to try to give our world a future and give peace a chance.
Joy Hurcombe

Chair, Labour CND

Is the pro-nuclear alliance disintegrating?

CPOA(Phot) Tam McDonald

The pro-nuclear alliance that has dominated Britain’s major political parties for decades showed further signs of disintegration last week when ConservativeHome hosted an intelligent and well-researched blog in support of the CentreForum think tank’s new ‘Dropping the Bomb’ report. The report argues that Trident is now a waste of money and that the billions should be spent instead on conventional military forces, while maintaining Britain’s technical “nuclear capability”.

This is scarcely a conversion to CND – but it does pose again some questions which supporters of Trident have never really answered.
Is it really the “minimum deterrent”, as it is regularly described, to have Trident submarines on routine 24-hour patrol? And if supporters of Trident concede, as the Coalition Government did in its National Security Strategy, that there is no short or medium term threat that justifies a ‘nuclear deterrent’, why not support CentreForum’s more credible minimal ‘deterrent’: diverting the money for Trident replacement to conventional weaponry, whilst maintaining the ability to regenerate a nuclear capability in 12-18 months?

The reason these questions are not answered is that support for nuclear weapons is based on posture and vanity not a rigorous assessment of Britain’s defence needs (and within Labour’s ranks, a misguided electoral anxiety). The framework for CentreForum’s report and the related argument made on ConservativeHome is pro-military and retains a theoretical nuclear capability. That will surprise no-one on the left. But – along with former Foreign Secretary Malcolm Rifkind co-chairing the Trident Commission and former Conservative Party Chairman Michael Ancram voting against Trident Replacement in the last parliamentary vote – it does show those far more favourable to the military moving well beyond the grand gestural rhetoric of the 1980s that has intimidated a succession of Labour leaders.

With a recognition across the political spectrum that circumstances have changed, the Labour Party should no longer have any anxiety reviewing its position, and Ed Miliband’s recent comments indicating an open mind are welcome. The CentreForum report is correct to say “let’s make informed forward looking choices”. The Labour Party cannot afford to base its nuclear policy on a flawed analysis of the reasons for its defeat in 1983 and 1987, when Ed Miliband didn’t have a vote and the 18-24 age group weren’t even born.

Obama – now likely to be re-elected in November – has spoken of his vision of a world without nuclear weapons. To achieve that vision, Ban Ki-Moon and over 140 countries now support a Nuclear Weapons Convention as the means to achieve global abolition of nuclear weapons. The next Labour manifesto should commit to the Convention, rather than being sidetracked by the false adoption of the language of multilaterism to justify a misnamed ‘minimum deterrent’.

The next Labour Government should show its good faith in negotiations leading to worldwide nuclear disarmament: by taking Trident off routine patrol, scrapping plans to replace to it and working swiftly towards a nuclear free Britain and a nuclear free world.

 

  • By Daniel Blaney

Stop Western intervention in Middle East, by Walter Wolfgang

The Washington Post has published an advertisement signed by many retired American generals opposing war with Iran. Their position is right.

The development of nuclear power by any country, whether Britain, France or the USA is regrettable – powerful fissile material can be used for the production of nuclear weapons. But it is equally clear that Iran has not broken any international agreement.

The right way to stop any possible development of nuclear weapons by Iran – which it has not yet got – is to ensure the UN holds a discussion on a nuclear weapon free zone in the Middle East, and oblige Israel – which has got nuclear weapons – to attend it.

There is no case for intervention against Iran by Israel or by the United States. Western intervention in Libya has plunged the country into civil war. Fortunately the Chinese and Russian veto at the UN of a NATO-Arab League resolution in Syria may possibly result in a negotiated solution of the Syria impasse.

There is resistance to Assad in Syria but there is also significant support. Syrians are intensely nationalistic and rightly suspicious of Western nations. The United States and NATO have had to present their interference in the Middle East as bending the ‘Arab Spring’ in their direction. Meanwhile, some of the Syrian representatives are in China trying to broker a ceasefire.

The Syrian National Council itself is divided. A section of it does not want the West to arm them – a policy promoted by those great champions of social liberties Saudi Arabia and Qatar. Even the US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, while angry about the Russian and Chinese veto, states that Western intervention is unlikely and would pledge unity not civil war.

The danger is a proxy war fought out in Syria between those linked to Iran and the pro-western section of the Syrian rebels back by NATO, Saudi Arabia and the Gulf States.

Ed Miliband made the mistake of backing NATO over Libya. Labour should now make it clear that it will lead the resistance to any intervention – whether overt or covert – in Syria and Iran.

Stop spending on war, writes Jim Mortimer

Much of the discussion about the economic problems facing Britain is based on a myth.

Put simply, the myth is that Britain’s national deficit between income and expenditure is attributable to unsustainably high wage levels, excessively generous pension schemes (particularly for public sector workers), high levels of social service benefits which discourage the search for jobs, too low a retirement age and unnecessary subsidies for social benefits including social housing, higher education and some disability allowances.

The main advocates of this myth are to be found in and around the Conservative Party and among newspapers sympathetic to the Conservative Party.

Unfortunately, some Labour politicians also subscribe to some of these myths, though almost always in a less emphatic manner than their Conservative counterparts. They subscribe to the ‘responsible’ view that the Labour Party should acknowledge the need for economy in social spending as an essential prelude to recovery. Labour politicians are also usually more ready than their Conservative opponents to draw attention and to criticise the excessive incomes and bonuses received by many of the top people in banking and commercial services.

Nevertheless, some Labour politicians have not vigorously defended or identified themselves with the efforts of working people through their unions to defend their jobs, wages and conditions. They are, in my view, wrong not to have done so.

The reason why they are wrong is that Britain’s economic deficit is attributable primarily to the commitment to unjustified and unnecessary wars in recent years. War, particularly when fought at great distance, is extremely expensive.

There was the war in Iraq. It was conducted by a Labour Government under Tony Blair. It was ‘justified’ on the false assertion that Iraq was in possession of nuclear weapons capable of a destructive attack on Britain or British possessions at very short notice.

No evidence was ever found to justify this allegation, nevertheless an extremely expensive war was conducted which not only added heavily to Britain’s financial burden but led to many deaths both among Iraqi citizens and among the military of the invading forces.

The other very costly military adventure is in Afghanistan seems interminable.

The origin of the Afghan war was partly internal and partly external. The USSR withdrew in 1988 because it became clear that they could not decisively influence the outcome of the internal struggle in Afghanistan and because of their own casualties. The conflict continued and now ten years after invading, NATO continues to suffer casualties, without being able to strike a decisive blow. The Taliban remain in Afghanistan and has neither won nor been defeated, so the war continues.

The third military conflict in which the British Government chose to intervene was in Libya. Whatever the rights and wrongs of the Gadaffi regime – and there were both rights and wrongs – it was not the legitimate role of Britain to intervene with extensive bombing raids under the claim that it was defending civilians. Gadaffi was defeated, above all, by foreign military intervention including British forces.

There have also been other expensive military interventions by Britain in recent years. One such intervention was in Kosovo in the determination of some of the Western powers to bring about the disintegration of Yugoslavia. NATO acted independently of the United Nations, being well aware that Russian and China would have vetoed the bombing of Kosovo. The Yugoslav war removed the pretence of the sanctity of the UN Charter. It was Harold Pinter who said as long ago as 1999, that ‘the NATO action in Serbia had nothing to do with the fate of the Kosovan Albanians but was another blatant assertion of US power.’

Spending on war on the scale of recent years needs now to be eliminated from Britain’s expenditure. This is essential for Britain’s economic recovery.

 

Jim Mortimer was General Secretary of the Labour Party from 1982 to 1985.

This blog was from his contribution to the 2012 CLPD AGM.

Photo shows an All Terrain Jackal vehicle of the Household Cavalry in Afghanistan, by Sergeant Russ Nolan RLC. Defence Images.