In the second of two articles on NATO, Keir Mather, OULC Co-Chair for HT18, advocates Britain’s continued membership of the club out of a moral obligation to vulnerable foreign nations and as a patriotic duty.
An aggressive and unpredictable Russian state, its citizens living under a tyrannical dictator; democracy in Eastern Europe crumbling; an insecure Baltic, with our Scandinavian neighbours under incessant threat. It is perhaps telling that I could be writing about the problems Britain faced at any time during the dark decades of the Cold War era. But I am not. I’m writing about the very real peril we face in Europe today. It is one we have faced before, and one we shall continue to face long into the future. If Britain in 2017 is to remain strong, free, and protected from forces that seek to undermine our society, we must fight as the Labour Party to retain our membership of the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation. It is not just a question of electoral appeal, membership of NATO is both a moral obligation and a patriotic duty.
For those who claim that NATO membership is contrary to the interests of the British working class, or that it sees us aligning too closely with the newly belligerent United States, I would ask them to cast their minds back to who it was that secured our membership. Britain’s membership of NATO is uniquely intertwined with Labour history, and it is one of our Party’s greatest achievements. Our greatest ever leader and prime minister, Clement Attlee, along with our working class hero of a Foreign Secretary, Ernest Bevin, negotiated our membership back when Britain stood on the precipice as a noble bulwark against Soviet aggression. They did this not to appease our American big brother, but because they understood the first obligation of any government, to defend and protect its citizens, their values, and in our case, the historic institutions that make British parliamentary democracy the envy of the world.
Although many of the challenges that necessitate our NATO membership are ones we have faced for generations, the new challenges facing Britain make retaining our membership all the more compelling. Our standing in the world has been diminished by Brexit. Where we once asserted ourselves with power and confidence on the world stage, Britain is now seen as little more than a bit player in geopolitics. This, coupled with Trump’s denouncing of the organisation as ‘obsolete’, means our enemies not just in the Kremlin, but throughout the undemocratic world, are perceiving our newly isolated nation as an easier target than ever before. If we wish to ensure our security as a nation for future generations, we need to prove that our commitment to organisations like NATO is stronger than it ever has been before. The sum of 2.7% of GDP is a price worth paying to ensure our security as a nation, and the balance of power on the European continent.
But how do we reconcile the very real tensions between being on the British Left, and the moralistic implications of paying in to the most powerful military community in the world? Well, firstly, solidarity is a concept that we on the Left should be familiar with. We owe our commitment not only to our own citizens, but to the peoples of Finland, Estonia, and Baltic states who feel the pressure of the Russian state growing as the United States shrinks from its international obligations. The Labour Party has always been a political movement of internationalists. Many of our members went and fought in the International Brigades against the evils of Francoism. Labour Party members volunteered in their thousands to fight against Nazi Germany as it conquered the civilised nations of Europe. This is because they understood, as many of us still do now, that there is no dialogue to be had with dictators, and those who terrorise innocent people. Our moral duty to aide the oppressed, no matter how arduous the fight, is a battle we must continue to wage today through international cooperation with our closest allies.
The United States’ recalcitrance, the wave of nationalism, and desire for autarky sweeping many parts of the Western world, should not mean we shrink from the fight. As in the words of Tony Benn’s favourite hymn, we must ‘Dare to be a Daniel. Dare to stand alone! Dare to have a purpose firm! Dare to make it known.’ Our purpose as the Labour Party is to fight for a better world, and as socialists, we should not ignore the challenge but embrace it.