Corbyn vs. Smith – How Foreign Policy Will Affect The Labour Leadership Campaign 

For the second time in 12 months, the UK’s main opposition party, Labour has been in a leadership contest that has ripped the tenuous alliance between moderate social democrats and self identifying socialists apart. Because of Labour’s increasingly left wing membership overwhelmingly in favour of the incumbent, Jeremy Corbyn, the challenger, Owen Smith has positioned his policy platform to be as radical as Corbyn’s, instead of  critiquing his ideology, Smith has focused on chastising Corbyn’s leadership style and oratory ability. The main exception to this is foreign policy where the candidates’ stances illustrate the gulf between the Labour party members (who elect the leader) and the wider general public.

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Jeremy Corbyn and Owen Smith, the two Labour leadership candidates

Whoever the winner of this contest is would be the favourite to become the next Prime Minister after Theresa May, so its important to analyse both these candidates foreign policy. It may give us an idea of the future direction of the United Kingdom on a geopolitical level, but more immediately interpret who’s foreign policy will have the most impact.

The most pressing issue facing Britain at this moment is the future relationship with the European Union. Corbyn’s position during the referendum campaign was astonishingly uninspired in both its tone and volume, failing miserably to construct an enthusiastic message on the EU and broadcast it to the media. Amazingly on June 24th Corbyn called for the immediate start for an EU exit process, leading some to criticise he had never actually changed his views from his ‘old-school’ socialism, vehemently opposed to the common market in the 1970s. Smith on the other hand has called for the Labour party to frustrate Brexit as much as humanly possible, going beyond what even some zealous Labour MPs have openly expressed for fear of defying the ‘will of the people’.

You might imagine then the young and urban, educated voters so passionate about the EU who now make up the bulk of Corbyn’s support within the Labour party would find Smith’s stance appealing. However one of the paradoxes of this leadership campaign is this particular demographic’s forgiveness of Corbyn’s lacklustre performance, instead choosing to ignore his failings and blame his ineffectual message on the ‘mainstream media’ failing to give him air time. Smith’s foreign policy stance seemingly most antithetical to the contemporary British public, surprisingly falls on deaf ears within the radical Labour membership.

Beyond Brexit there are numerous other issues, Corbyn and Smith clash on. On the continuation of Trident, Britain’s nuclear deterrent, Smith has said he is in favour, as part of a wider multilateralist strategy for disarmament. Corbyn on the other hand has always been a staunch advocate of unilateral disarmament and it’s a policy that resonates with the Labour membership. Smith has the more conventional stance on Trident that would more likely put him in greater favour with the British public in a general election. However, because of the radical membership it is likely Smith’s ‘warmongering’ stance on nuclear arms will lose him the Labour leadership and therefore the ability to put his empirically more electable policies in to practice. Corbyn’s radical stance conversely, will propel him towards victory within the Labour party, ensuring his fringe views get a national voice, but all historical precedent suggests a voice is all that will manifest from his election.

Perhaps Corbyn’s stance on NATO and Russian aggression is the most theoretically credible foreign policy stance he has, suggesting that NATO has in recent years expanded eastwards too aggressively and has been counter productive and exacerbated long-term historical Russian anxieties of Western encirclement. A policy of rapprochement, may if given a chance begin to halt recent Russian expansionism and alleviate fears of a new Cold War. However, in a recent hustings Corbyn hinted he would not guarantee the UK would respect its Article 5 treaty obligations. Owen Smith rightly lambasted Corbyn for this view expressed (and would rightly be perceived by the British public) with great naïvety. Nevertheless, Corbyn’s exclamations here, will be received by the membership as steadfast determination against ‘establishment-warmongers’ and not with the careful and rigorous examination it deserves. Once again leaving Smith’s more conventional stance in utter irrelevance.

The last big issue on which Corbyn and Smith can be compared is the Syrian conflict where both voted against airstrikes. Smith in recent times has suggested, possibly to try and appeal the left-wing ‘selectorate’ of Labour members, that ISIS could be negotiated with. This backfired and was picked up by Corbyn and supporters, suggesting they were ill considered and proof Smith will say anything to get elected. Corbyn wants a policy built around peace and human rights, but unlike the general public his supporters seem to have no care that he has appeared on Press TV and Russia Today in order to get his message of non-violence and human rights across, showing that Corbyn is far from the morally pure, humanist ideologue his supporters think he is.

The Labour leadership campaign is debilitated by an incongruity. Smith’s policy platform is on the whole considerably more sensible and measured than Corbyn’s, with statistical evidence showing it would be more appealing the British public in a general election scenario by not drifting considerably from conventional narrative. However, this will do Smith no favours. Corbyn’s longtime stubbornness and ‘consistency’ on foreign policy has convinced the Labour party membership he is a principled and morally pure man with a radical enough vision to counter the establishment they believe Smith represents. Corbyn’s policies essentially guarantee him the Labour leadership, however it is incredibly unlikely the British public will endorse them anywhere near as enthusiastically.

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The Aftermath Of Paris: Uncomfortable Truths

The attacks in Paris on Friday 13th, killed over 120 people and were the deadliest terrorist attacks carried out by an Islamic terrorist group in the West, for over a decade. It was confirmed shortly after that ISIS, the theological quasi-state has claimed responsibility for the Paris attacks, managing to garner the combined disgust of every government on the planet. Cameron, Putin, Obama, Hollande, all seem to agree now on the need to end ISIS once and for all. Even Cameron for instance has stated his willingness to negotiate with Putin over Assad remaining in power, exemplifying this determination to tackle ISIS.

However, there remains a glaring strategic gap in the Western world, the outright refusal to use ground troops in the Middle East. This is the uncomfortable truth, this is the option that must be on the table if we truly wish to have a stable Middle East, eradicate ISIS and stop these kinds of attacks from happening in Paris, New York or Beirut ever again. A dangerous precedent has been set in recent times, it seems intervention indiscriminately from the air is acceptable, but that strategically using ground troops to minimise collateral damage is not.

The barrier that holds the West back from achieving a meaningful long-term strategic solution in the Middle East, is the memory of Iraq and the deadly mistakes made. The Iraq War, created a power vacuum in which Islamic State could grow and create an abhorrent warped manifestation of Islamic theocracy in which it could flourish. However, it would be a naive misconception to think that contemporary Western intervention is the source of all current problems, or that the Middle East was a byword for stability before it. In short, the Western powers and their populations need to get over the hangover of Iraq, and learn that inaction has just as many consequences as action.

The root problem of Iraq and Syria can be found in the arbitrary border that slices through Mesopotamia. ISIS territory corresponds, with unnerving accuracy, with where the majority of Syrian and Iraqi Sunni populations reside. Sunni ISIS have gained traction as a violent response to the Shia dominated governments of Syria and Iraq, and solely bombing them will not outright destroy them, or their ideology, and will only serve to act as a propaganda tool.

Instead, our response that takes place after 13/11, has provided an unprecedented opportunity to give the oppressed peoples of the Middle East a clean break and a fresh start and make amends for our horrendous misjudgments in Iraq. By deploying ground troops we can send a message to our supposed allies Turkey and Saudi Arabia, that it is not ok to complicity allow ISIS supply lines to exist. We can show that it is not ok to oppress and deny the Kurds their rightful claims to a state, when they are doing their utmost to fight medieval methods of governance ISIS uses. By using ground troops we can show to Middle Eastern populations that we will stand by them in their quest for human rights, the rule of law and long-term stability.

By putting ground troops into service and using them to pacify and change what remains of Iraq and Syria, we can create the beginnings of a long-term peace, helping to stop the flow of refugees coming to the EU and give its stretched institutions some breathing space to deal with the humanitarian catastrophe unfolding. If we can halt or slow this flow of people it will undermine the credibility of Eurosceptic parties intent on using the migrant crisis created by ISIS to divide our multicultural society, and break the EU apart. It’s stated by many that ISIS want jihad, want war, want to become martyrs, while this is true to some extent, they also want to destroy Western civilisation from the inside. Achieving the collapse of the European Union will be the first stepping-stone for this aspiration.

The choice is clear; we must act now in tandem with Russia and the Security Council. The time has come to end the life of Islamic State.

From Trudeau to Corbyn, the new rise of the progressive left

Justin Trudeau, son of former Canadian Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau has, without much fanfare in the UK, been elected the new Liberal prime minister of Canada. Understandably, the relatively routine change of government in a moderately sized democracy will take a back seat to the long-standing geopolitical drama of the Syrian Civil War. Trudeau’s election however, could potentially be the most important political story of the decade, by acting as the precursor to the rise of progressive politicians Bernie Sanders and Jeremy Corbyn in the English-speaking world.

The Liberal party in Canada have traditionally been a left of centre party, ideologically similar to our own Liberal Democrats. Unlike our Liberal Democrats however, Trudeau’s party increased their seat count in the Canadian parliament by nearly 400% to win an overall majority, the scale of this victory cannot be exaggerated.

Despite the Liberal Party’s traditionally centrist ideology, Trudeau won on a message of ‘positive politics’, borrowing money and running a deficit in order to invest in public infrastructure, drug reform and a promise to house more Syrian refugees. Sound familiar? Trudeau adopted this more progressive policy platform as he was severely behind in the polls and needed a new approach in order to change course. The positive politics message, combined with the Canadian economy falling into recession in September, saw Trudeau’s Liberals jump 10 points in the polls in half a month and record this stunning victory. Trudeau managed to position his party in a niche that dismissed the rhetoric surrounding public spending cuts being necessary to achieve deficit reduction as a fallacy, and through the onset of recession, he was able to politically capitalise on the opportunity presented to him.

Despite criticism from some on the left that Trudeau’s progressive positive politics is a dressed up continuation of neo-liberalism from a traditionally neo-liberal party, it is undeniable that the progressive socio-economic vision presented in the Liberal’s manifesto would not look out of place in Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour party. Trudeau’s victory could therefore be seen a precedent for a victory for fellow progressive’s like Jeremy Corbyn or Bernie Sanders. A victory such as Trudeau’s in a country that shares such a historical affinity to Great Britain and America like Canada, displays that there is an appetite for change to the ‘deficit cutting’ discourse espoused by the Western political establishment.

A catalyst, such as the recession that occurred in Canada, could be enough to unleash a desire for change that could crush conservative deficit rhetoric in the UK and provide Jeremy Corbyn with the ability to win in 2020. Caution should be exercised however; both Corbyn and Sanders face much more formidable domestic pressure in terms of print and television media bias respectively. The public image of Sanders in a presidential system as an elderly out-dated socialist gives him a significant handicap when compared to the young and charismatic Trudeau elected in a parliamentary system.

Even Corbyn will suffer from this problem in 2020 and part of the reason why Trudeau has been so successful is because of his ability to use his image to create a perception of a new approach. However Corbyn and Sanders’ politics are old style socialism and their media image reflects that. For the progressive left to win against the divisive dogma advocated by the right it may be that, like in Canada, it needs a new, younger and fresher face.

Saudi Arabia: The Forgotten Poison Of The Middle East

With the focus of the international media on the Mesopotamian valley because of ISIS, the Syrian war and of course the refugee crisis, it’s easy at times like these to forget about the big-picture problems of the wider Middle East. Jeremy Corbyn, the recently elected leader of the Labour Party used his speech at the party conference in Brighton to draw attention and call upon David Cameron, rightly, to stand up to Saudi Arabia and stop the flow of weapons to Riyadh.

Many establishment politicians and media outlets ignore Saudi Arabia because the guise of external stability makes it easy for our leaders to deliberately ignore it. Saudi Arabia blatantly lacks the desire to act in the interest of its people or the interest of peace in the region.

Saudi Arabia has recently been appointed leader of a UN panel, which governs human rights inspections. There was a horrifying lack of outrage in the Western World to this news. This is because many Western governments believe in exchange for oil and more importantly a perception that it is in our geo-political interest; we turn a blind eye to the nature of the Saudi Arabian state. We buy oil from Saudi Arabia and they then use that money to buy weapons we manufacture. On the surface this appears to be a lucrative partnership to secure both our resource and strategic interests in the region.

However this a completely incorrect and juvenile assessment of the political reality of the wider Middle East, with the Iranian nuclear deal effectively ending the main problem the West has with Iran i.e. it’s capacity to develop weapons of mass destruction, there’s a genuine lack of any serious military threat. Some may argue that Iran supports terrorist groups abroad such as Hezbollah and therefore is a danger to be contained. Saudi Arabia though, has been at best complicit in the ISIS advance because as a Sunni group it destabilises the Shia governments of Iraq and Syria, which are more closely aligned to their sworn enemy, Iran. By buying oil and selling weapons to Saudi Arabia we make our fight against ISIS much more difficult by continuing to fund the Saudi state’s ability to resist our own influence.

Additionally Saudi Arabia’s response to the Syrian refugee crisis is both morally repugnant and against Western interests. Saudi Arabia has refused to reallocate any of the 20% of GDP it spends on defence to house refugees, or provide any humanitarian relief in the country. Instead the Saudi government continues to use its military to bomb small and impoverished Yemen to its south where an airstrike recently killed over 150 people at a wedding party. Perhaps more worryingly for the fight against terrorism, Saudi Arabia has offered to build 300 mosques in Germany for the influx of refugees. This is no religious humanitarianism however; this is a calculated move to further export Wahhabism, the Saudi government’s hard-line and socially backwards, perverted form of Islam.

Jeremy Corbyn did a wonderful thing by using his speech to bring attention in the UK to the naïve and hypocritical relationship we have with Saudi Arabia. The Conservative government continues to wrongly support one of the most detestable regimes on the entire planet that punishes its own citizens in a medieval fashion. ISIS and Assad may be abhorrent, but we only have to look to our ‘allies’ to find the root of the poison.

Cameron And Corbyn, Neither Offer The Full Solution On The European Refugee Crisis

Europe has been overwhelmed by its own inadequacy and has resolutely failed to deal with the increasingly large numbers of people coming into Europe. David Cameron’s token proposition of allowing a ‘few thousand’ Syrian refugees to come to Britain does not change his position that Britain needs to ‘sort out’ the situation on the ground in the war torn country. Jeremy Corbyn on the other hand, suggests Britain should adhere to its liberal traditions, stay out of foreign wars and take as many refugees as possible. Both approaches are far too simplistic to handle the most detestable failure of the modern European Community.

It’s fair to say I am in favour of a nuanced approach to decision making in modern politics, with my political ‘heroes’ including 18th century parliamentarian and aristocrat Edmund Burke, Tony Blair the-war-criminal-extraordinaire and Charles Kennedy fierce opponent of the war in Iraq. Ideological consistency is not my forte.

A humanitarian disaster on the scale of the European migrant crisis requires a universal, fully comprehensive approach in order to tackle the unfolding catastrophe. Both Cameron and Corbyn are held back from embracing an across-the-board solution by their own ideological predispositions and prejudices. Cameron on the one hand is held back from accepting more refugees and tackling the immediate human disaster at home because of his and his party’s irrational fear of the ‘other’. Corbyn is held back from truly tackling the root cause of the problem because of a reactionary and ideological, anti-colonial paranoia that prevents him from accepting any idea of foreign intervention on the part of Western World. In reality we need a fusion of these two approaches that transcends partisan ideological lines if we ever hope to truly end this crisis.

The UK has both a moral obligation and a geopolitical need to involve itself across the world to stop the flood of desperate people coming to European shores. We have to preserve our liberal international reputation, vital in every aspect of our daily lives, from getting the best international trade deals and diplomatic power.

Aylan Kurdi was recently found dead on a Turkish beach after his family attempted to make the two mile trip across the sea to Greece. He was three years old.

In order to make sure we do not alienate ourselves within Europe ahead of Cameron’s ‘renegotiation’, the right wing must accept the refugees that make it here, or at the very least process, shelter them and recognise there is a human side to this political tragedy. The left however must realise that merely accepting the refugees is not enough and there is a political element to this human tragedy. Our government wanted to intervene in Syria but was defeated on a parliamentary vote, which Jeremy Corbyn, of course voted against.

People on the left of politics simply need to recognise that inaction is also a deliberate choice that has consequences; we’ve allowed the four-way fight in Syria between Assad, ISIS, the Kurds and Assorted-rebel-groups, to go on unchecked for years. Many of course at the mere hint of a foreign intervention cry “Iraq” like an in-built moral reflex and rightly point out the factionalised nature of Syria and how difficult the practicality of an intervention would be. The West of course made mistakes in Iraq but there is no reason we cannot learn from them and apply those lessons to an intervention in Syria.

The mistake of inaction should have been learnt in Rwanda in the 1990s when the Western World stood idly by as it watched one million people succumb to the greatest genocide of modern times. The plain fact is Europe has both the economic ability to accept many refugees and the military capability along with the USA to provide serious protection to people living in Syria. With a military intervention to set up safe havens for refugees and defeat ISIS, we give the Syrian people a chance to rebuild the area from the disgusting groups trying to destroy it and its inhabitants, by doing so we can control the flow of refugees, tackle the people smugglers directly responsible for many of their deaths and put in place a truly long term solution.

European powers made a mistake in creating Syria; the responsibility falls on us to sort out our mess.

Trident Tested, Why Corbyn Is Wrong On Trident

The papers would have you believe that Jeremy Corbyn’s election as Labour leader is just around the corner and a prominent topic during his campaign has been the UK government decision to renew Trident, our nuclear deterrent. It’s a common opinion among the far left that nuclear weapons are an abhorrent artefact of the past.

We cling on to the possession of nuclear weapons on the deluded fantasy that we will at some point have to dissuade some rouge state from attacking us with the deadliest force possible. Armageddon is simply too hard to stomach, so surely it’s just common sense to scrap a weapons program that wastes billions of pounds each year when that money could be going to the NHS or Pensions?

So why would I argue for the case for renewing such a disgusting symbol of destruction, why should we not, like many are suggesting unilaterally disarm? The answer lies not in nuclear weapons as a usable tool of war, but in nuclear weapons as a critical tool of diplomacy and influence. The power of nuclear weapons doesn’t come from a state’s willingness and actual ability to blow several hundred craters into the Russian countryside. But rather the unthinkable idea, we might, however small the chance, actually do that one day. I may sound like a sadistic maniac seemingly embracing with open arms the potential for a nuclear apocalypse but in a way that’s sort of the point.

Britain has over 200 Nuclear warheads, all of them based on submarine launched Trident missiles like this one

The value of nuclear weapons lies in how implicit messages about their potential use and possession are conveyed to other states. The incredibly small risk that a state may one day commit the impossible, commands a respect and authority in the international system that can’t be guaranteed in any other way. Possession of nuclear weapons is an expression of ultimate power and it both creates and reinforces the idea in other nation-states that we are a force to be reckoned with in the world, both in terms of diplomatic influence and military operations.

If we were to give up nuclear weapons, it’s certain what type of message that would convey to other states. It would send the message that we’re no longer serious about standing up for our interests, including standing up to dictators who abuse human rights across the world, and standing up for minorities in places like Hong Kong that are slowly having their political rights eroded by the Chinese government. Giving up nuclear weapons also means we have to start giving up how we are perceived globally, the perception that we are a state that commands authority and respect and whose views and interests should be respected.

Britain needs and should aspire to have influence in the world because of the values we promote. Giving up nuclear weapons means we could one day jeopardise our veto power on the UN Security Council as the nations around us lose their perception of the UK as a major world force.

Undoubtedly the UK has made its fair share of past foreign policy mistakes, but willingly scaling down our global influence would leave oppressive regimes in China and Russia, to encourage non-intervention and exploit our weakened diplomatic reputation and exacerbate the problems of human rights abuses across the globe.

Nuclear weapons are inherently immoral and shouldn’t exist in the world and multilateral disarmament should be a key global priority. But it is naïve and misguided to assume that morally it would put pressure on states like the USA, China and Russia to disarm. Unilaterally disarming would on the contrary be inherently immoral, as it swings the balance of diplomacy and international prestige straight to nation-states that do not have the interests of our country or humanity at heart.

In short it’s a far too simplistic view to look at nuclear weapons as a pointless tool of destruction and warfare. Portraying the renewal of Trident as a £30 billion insurance policy against ISIS or North Korea is insane. However, renewal of Trident doesn’t just buy some shiny new submarines; it also buys you the immeasurable and unquantifiable ability to gain prestige and the international perception of authority to exert global influence.