27 March 2016: I cannot vote for a pacifist as prime minister

I am a member of the Labour Party. I go to my local branch meetings, and am working to get Sadiq Khan elected as mayor of London. I plan to campaign hard to help Labour retain power in Camden in 2018 (unless I have been purged by then). However, if Jeremy Corbyn is still party leader at the 2020 General Election, I will not vote Labour – unless he has stated publicly that military force is sometimes justifiable, and given some real world examples of where it has been.

A Corbyn government would probably be better for the UK economy than continued Conservative rule. But on current trends it would be very bad for foreign policy, with potentially disastrous consequences. Human beings are of equal value wherever they live. Being progressive means being internationalist.

Corbyn says that he is not a pacifist. But he is a de facto pacifist in that he has not yet, as far as I know (and I’ve looked quite hard), given an example of when he accepts that the use of force has been justified or would be justified. In a radio interview he was asked if he could name a conflict in which the use of force had been justified. His reply was that he couldn’t think of one.

While I was at Greenpeace and campaigning against the invasion of Iraq I was often asked this question, and always said the Second World War. Not exactly controversial to say that force was necessary and justified to defeat Hitler and end the Holocaust. Peaceful negotiations – which Corbyn says he favours – had been tried with the Nazis, and had failed. (They are nowadays known as appeasement.) But, as John Rentoul wrote following a recent interview with our would-be prime minister:

“he respects conscientious objectors to the Second World War, without saying that he recognises that it was a just war.” 


Daesh will not be more open to peaceful negotiation than the Nazis were. Yes, every situation is different; Syria in 2015 is not Germany in 1939. And air stirikes may not be the way to combat Daesh. The three Labour MPs whose campaigns I was involved in last year, Wes Streeting, Catherine West and Keir Starmer, all of whom I respect, voted against air strikes in Syria. Hilary Benn, who I also respect greatly, voted in favour. What concerns me about Corbyn’s approach is not his line on Syrian air strikes but his refusal to accept that force is ever necessary.

The Second World War was not the only, or even most recent, just and necessary war. NATO’s involvement in Bosnia Herzegovina was another. So was NATO’s involvement in Kosovo. I have recently been re-reading John Kampfner’s excellent book Blair’s Wars, and highly recommend this to anyone trying to make sense of Labour and foreign policy.

Corbyn’s line on Kosovo is appalling. He says that peaceful negotiations should have been tried. They were. He says that UN authorisation should have been sought. But, as Kampfner records, the US, UK and others had been told by the Russians that they would veto any UN resolution, out of solidarity with their Serbian ally, but that they would not take any practical measures against NATO operations in Kosovo. So, instead a spending valuable time going through motions at the UN, NATO went in and helped the Kosovar.

Yes, NATO bombs killed some civilians. Some tactics, such as the use of cluster bombs (see https://www.hrw.org/reports/2000/nato/Natbm200.htm#P37_987) were wrong. But the intervention was right; it helped prevent mass killing and ethnic cleansing turning into total genocide. Over 13,000 people (civilians and soldiers) were killed or went missing in 1998-2000 in Kosovo (see http://balkanwitness.glypx.com/KosovoCasualties.htm). But without NATO intervention it would have been even worse. The German Foreign Minister at the time was Green Party leader Joschka Fischer. The Greens have a very strong pacifist tendency, but Fischer supported German involvement in Kosovo, saying to his party colleagues:

“You say never again war. I say never again Auschwitz.”

Jeremy Corbyn does not see it quite that way. In 2004 he signed an Early Day Motion about “a ‘genocide’ that never really existed in Kosovo” (see http://www.parliament.uk/edm/2004-05/392). He may have changed his mind since then. If so, he has ample opportunity to say so.

If Corbyn does state publicly that military force is sometimes justifiable, I will vote Labour in 2020. If not, and if he is still leader, I will not.


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