Under my leadership, Labour’s commitment to NATO is unwavering | Keir Starmer
On all the great achievements of the Labor government in 1945, one stands out on the world stage. The NHS may have the biggest impact on our daily lives, but it was the creation of NATO that ushered in what is now approaching three quarters of a century of peace between European nations.
Prime Minister Clement Attlee has played a vital role in bringing together this unprecedented alliance of democracies. Then, as now, the promise that an attack on one member would be seen as an attack on all was the bedrock of British security policy. As such, Labour’s commitment to NATO is unwavering.
This commitment is more important than ever today.
The threat against Ukraine is real and pressing. More than 130,000 Russian soldiers threaten its border. Russian combat battalions, tank divisions and air squadrons massed, displaying their full-scale invasion capability. For now, Putin’s ultimate intentions are uncertain; the weakening and threat of Russia’s destructive capacity is not. The prospect of a bloody and unjust war hangs over Ukraine.
It was to avoid such unnecessary wars that Attlee’s generation and its foreign minister, the redoubtable trade union leader Ernest Bevin, were NATO’s midwives. With the failures of appeasement and the specter of Munich fresh in their minds, they knew the best way to keep the peace is to show you’re ready to resist aggression. Indeed, on the day of the signing of the treaty creating NATO, Bevin spoke of the new alliance as “a consecration of peace and resistance to aggression”.
Today, when the integrity of a sovereign nation on our European continent is in jeopardy, these words are more sacrosanct than ever. This Bevinian internationalism will guide Labor’s approach to Britain’s security every day under my leadership.
Nobody wants war. At first glance, some on the left may sympathize with these siren voices condemning NATO. But to condemn NATO is to condemn the guarantee of democracy and security that it provides and on which our allies in Eastern and Central Europe rely, while the saber blows of Moscow are being heard more and more.
This is why people like the Stop the War coalition are not benign voices for peace. At best, they are naïve; at worst, they actively rescue authoritarian leaders who directly threaten democracies. There is nothing progressive about showing solidarity with the aggressor when our allies need our solidarity and, above all, our practical help more than ever. The instinctive reflex, “Britain, Canada, United States, France – wrong; their enemies – on the right,” is thoughtless conservatism at its worst.
To truly stop war, you must show that you are serious about upholding peace, that you are serious about keeping your promises to your friends, and that you will always stand up to those who threaten.
Another giant of the Labor movement, Denis Healey, as International Secretary of Labor in 1947, wrote the pamphlet Cards on the Table, which demolished the argument of those on the left that Britain could somehow or else be a third force, aligned neither with the Americans nor with the Soviets. Attlee, Bevin, and Healey saw communism for what it was and were prepared to resist its assault.
The Labor Party today has the same lucid vision of the current regime in the Kremlin. We know, as they do, that bullies only respect strength. Russian tanks sit, engines running, about to annex Ukraine, but the protest signs waved here by the usual suspects condemn NATO, not Moscow. Any equating of the right of a sovereign nation to determine its own future, even to exist, and the vicious aggression of a neighbor is an intellectual sham. To do so is not simply wrong: it is morally wrong.
There is no equivalence between a defensive alliance that has never caused conflict and those that would inflict the terrible cost of war on others.
Hardliners in Moscow will not see a rally on the streets of Britain as a reason to pull their tanks from Ukraine’s borders. All he will see is naivety and weakness – signalmen of virtue in the west providing a smokescreen so he can continue to beat and imprison those brave individuals who dare to oppose to his despotism in the streets of Russia.
That is why I have come to NATO Headquarters to be briefed by its Secretary General, former Labor Prime Minister of Norway, Jens Stoltenberg, on how the alliance can remain united in the face of unnecessary threats from Moscow. And that is why Labor supports the UK Government‘s approach of standing united with our allies in the face of aggression abroad.
It is also why Labor is adamant that the government must do much more to resist the threat of the Russian regime in its country. Under a decade of Tory rule, London has become a hotbed of international money laundering, where kleptocrats and criminals come to cleanse their dirty money of its stains.
It’s not just a matter of financial crime, it’s a matter of national security. Black money and influence leave the mark of weakness and shame on our country, and it needs to be cleaned up. Labor strongly backs an Economic Crimes Bill aimed at creating a proper register of foreign entities in the ownership and ownership of assets, the reform of Companies House to give it a regulatory function and the speedy implementation sensible recommendations from the recent report on Russia by the Intelligence Services and Security Committee.
By dragging its feet and refusing to take immediate action against dirty money at home, when it has the levers in its hands, the Johnson administration is undermining Britain’s moral and practical leadership abroad . We will continue to urge him to put an end to this dithering.
When Bevin and the representatives of the other free nations designed the alliance, one principle was paramount. No nation can be pressured into joining NATO, and no nation can be prevented from doing so by the intimidation and tight-rope strategy of others. Each new member joins for their own independent reasons, and each application is judged on its own merits by existing NATO members. This principle remains fair and just.
The pandemic has once again underscored how today’s grand challenges can only be met through action on a global scale. Although they affect us individually, their very nature demands that they be resolved collectively. We must work tirelessly with our international partners to fight global poverty, future health crises and climate change.
NATO is only one part of the rules-based international system that allows for collective action, but it is an essential part. It must be supported and its resolve strengthened, not undermined by thoughtless opposition. This is why Labor’s support for NATO remains as unwavering today as it was when we were instrumental in its formation. And that’s why I see both the N’s – NATO and the NHS – as legacies of this transformational Labor government that we should be proud of and protect.