Much talk over the weekend as to why Labour Party leader, Jeremy Corbyn failed to appear at the annual British Legion Festival of Remembrance at the Royal Albert Hall and that was as usual, attending by Her Majesty the Queen. Mr. Corbyn’s absence has as yet not been explained but at least he did turn up at the Service of Remembrance in Whitehall yesterday in order to lay a wreath on behalf of the Labour Party.
It is sad that on the day that we recall the signing of the Armistice exactly 101 years ago at 11am today that I should find myself needing to remind of the dangers to UK defence, national security and also to the NATO alliance of one man, the leader of the Labour Party, Jeremy Corbyn. His views on such crucially important matters as defence and national security and his loathing of NATO matter not one jot – unless of course he was to be elected as the next Prime Minister of the United Kingdom. Today I speak about one man – not about the party that he leads and who I know full well do not share his views on NATO.
It has been well known for years that Mr. Corbyn was no friend of NATO and most probably, I can imagine that he will have been quite pleased to have heard the French President, Emmanuel Macron suggest last week that in his view, NATO was brain dead. Thankfully, such ridiculous and unnecessary words used to describe NATO are reserved for the French. Germany, just like the UK and as far as I am aware, all the European members of NATO apart from France, take a very different and far more positive view of the alliance importance.
Repeating words that she had used in a speech to the European Parliament earlier this year, it was pleasing on Friday to hear the European Commission President-elect, Ursula von der Leyen, a hugely respected German politician and until earlier this year, the longest serving member of Angela Merkel’s government repeat words in respect of her own belief of NATO being an “excellent protective shield of freedom”. Speaking at a 30th anniversary event to mark the fall of the Berlin Wall last week, she hit out at Emmanuel Macron’s criticism of NATO in which the French President highlighted what he termed as being, sharp divisions within Europe on the value of NATO and the Continent‘s military future and his appalling description that the alliance was ‘brain dead’.
In an interview with Sky News, the Chief of the Defence Staff General Sir Nick Carter echoed her words claiming that NATO is “as important as it’s ever been” now that Europe faces a myriad of challenges to its defence. Sir Nick said: “This year we signed off a new NATO military strategy, the first time since 1967. And that’s a strategy that tries to take a 360-degree look at the problems that Europe has to confront in security terms. So, I think that it terms of the alliance, NATO is probably as important as it’s ever been.”
General Sir Nick went on to say that “And the plain fact is that with 29 nations it’s important that we all come together and we all contribute to that alliance in a fair way” and also that “I think it’s right that burden-sharing is on the agenda.”
Presented with a quote dating from 2014 in which, he was not apparently told of the author of the quote beforehand, Labour Party leader, Jeremy Corbyn had apparently claimed that NATO should have “shut up shop, give up, go home and go away” after the end of the Cold War, General Sir Nick said: “Of course, we all had a huge amount of optimism in 1989 as the [Berlin] wall came down and we celebrated that over the last couple of weeks. “But the reality” he said was “that the world has changed, it has moved on” and that “We now have what I think will be characterised as global competition between great powers – something that we probably haven’t seen of this ilk since the middle and the early part of the last century”.
“So I think” he said” that NATO’s relevance is now back where it was during the cold war because of the nature of that threat and that evolving global strategic context.” In relation to the Corbyn quote and having discovered that the appalling words used above had been made by Mr. Corbyn, General Sir Nick quite rightly said that “You wouldn’t expect me during an election campaign to make any observations about politics at all. My job is to provide military advice to whoever will be the leader of the day”
Pressed on whether he would make it clear to Jeremy Corbyn that his views on NATO are fundamentally different from those of the Labour leader Sir Nick replied: “I don’t know is the straight answer. But” he said “my view as a military adviser to any leader of this country is that NATO remains a very important part of our national security and that it is right and proper that we should lean into NATO in every way possible”.
For the record, Jeremy Corbyn has been a long-time critic of NATO. In May 2012 he apparently wrote a piece in the ‘Morning Star’ titled “High time for an end to NATO” in which he described the organisation as an ” instrument of cold war manipulation”. He also wrote that the “the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1990, with the ending of the Warsaw Pact mutual defence strategy, was the obvious time for NATO to have been disbanded” and he followed this up in a 2014 speech in which he referred to NATO being an “engine for the delivery of oil to the oil companies”.
For these comments and for his refusal to answer whether he would defend a NATO ally in the case of attack Mr. Corbyn was rightly criticised by Anders Fogh Rasmussen, former Prime Minister of Denmark and the 12th NATO Secretary General from 2009 to 2014, who said that Mr Corbyn’s opinions were “tempting President Putin to aggression” and that these made comparisons between his views and those of the American president Donald Trump.
Mr. Corbyn was also rightly criticised by Lord [George] Robertson of Port Ellen, highly respected former Secretary of State for Defence in the first Labour Government under Tony Blair in 1997 and who two years later, went on to become the 10th Secretary General of NATO who said that “it beggars belief that the leader of the Party most responsible for the collective security pact of NATO should be so reckless as to undermine it by refusing to say he would come to the aid of an ally.”
Mr Corbyn had apparently told the Guardian newspaper in August 2015 that: “I am not an admirer or supporter of Putin’s foreign policy, or of Russian or anybody else’s expansion” and he claimed that though he would like to pull the UK out of NATO, he acknowledges that there is not an appetite for it among the public and instead will push for the Alliance to “restrict its role”.
CHW (London – 11th November 2019)
Howard Wheeldon FRAeS
Wheeldon Strategic Advisory Ltd,
M: +44 7710 779785