Jeremy Corbyn's rise has put anti-war politics centre stage. We now have a chance to do things completely differently, argues Chris Nineham
The wars that Britain has participated in over the last 16 years have generated unprecedented suffering and instability. All the countries that we have invaded and bombed in these years are still at war.
The West’s war in Afghanistan has lasted four times longer than World War I, but this year the level of violence has reached a record high in what is a nearly decade-long trend.
Iraq, where government forces have just assaulted the Kurds, is still torn by sectarianism. Libya is in the throes of chaotic clashes between rival Islamist groups. And Syria is devastated and divided as a result of a traumatic civil war fuelled by multiple outside interventions.
And yet the West’s only answer is arbitrary and unco-ordinated escalation.
Since coming to power, and with British backing, US President Donald Trump has dropped the “Mother of All Bombs” (MOAB) in Afghanistan, and sent thousands more troops there.
Applauded by Theresa May, he has directly bombed Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s forces in Syria for the first time and he dramatically increased the number of bombing raids in Iraq during the deadly siege of Mosul.
Meanwhile, Britain has provided military support for Saudi Arabia in its deadly war on Yemen. Such actions can only prolong the agony of the Middle East and Central Asia.
One result of the accumulated record of violence has been the dramatic spread of terrorism, not just in the Middle East, Central Asia and large parts of Africa, but also into Europe.
Trump’s aggressive posture has helped to create other flashpoints. His unilateral denunciation of the Iran nuclear deal threatens to unravel one of the vanishingly few effective peace agreements in the region in recent history and raise the already sky-high level of regional tension there.
Most worryingly, his gung-ho approach to the North Korean regime — including threats to ‘totally destroy the country’ — has helped fuel the most serious nuclear standoff since the Cuban missile crisis.
Once again, the attitude of the British government has been deeply unhelpful. Appallingly, May has said she stands “shoulder-to-shoulder” with Trump over Korea.
She has threatened our very own “military response” and looks set to commit British troops to enhanced wargaming in the region in the New Year.
Public opinion in Britain is against this kind of unthinking continuity. If some politicians have learnt little from the experience of 16 years of devastating war, many ordinary people have.
Surveys show that there is little support for more foreign wars and during the general election campaign, polls showed that a large majority of British people agreed with Jeremy Corbyn’s contention that there was a link between the foreign wars we have fought and the spread of terrorism.
Corbyn’s response to the dreadful Manchester attack was one of the turning points of the campaign. It helped to block May’s attempt to use the attack to launch a law and order backlash.
It convinced people that the new Labour leadership had the courage to tell the truth about a failed foreign policy.
We urgently need to build on this widespread anti-war sentiment. The Corbyn surge was partly a product of anti-war feeling and systematic anti-war campaigning that has been such a feature of British life since 2001.
Corbyn was chair of the Stop the War Coalition right up until his 2015 leadership bid. His success raises the prospect of a government committed to a sharp change in foreign policy.
Such a change would be immensely popular and would be an important part of signalling a new set of priorities for Britain.
But we are not there yet. Unfortunately, shadow foreign secretary Emily Thornberry used part of her conference speech to enthuse about Nato and commit to high levels of arms spending.
There are many in Labour who are nervous about taking what they regard as “difficult” anti-war positions, even though the majority of people support them.
A concerted campaign for change is necessary in the coming weeks and months in the trade unions, Labour Party branches and wider society.
The anti-war resolution that was passed at the Young Labour conference recently was a good step forward and shows what can be achieved.
Stop the War has produced a new foreign policy briefing to help make this campaign a success. The briefing provides easy to read but comprehensive reports on the situation in the main theatres of the recent Western Wars.
It includes an analysis of Nato’s current role and exposes the dreadful impact of the Western arms trade. It also has a chapter analysing the links between increased aggression abroad and the worrying spread of Islamophobia at home.
It is written by leading anti-war activists and analysts including professors Paul Rogers and David Miller, Lindsey German, Tom Mills and Murad Qureshi.
We hope it will be ordered and used by activists up and down the country. Informed anti-war campaigning has never been more urgent.
Chris Nineham is a founder member of Stop the War and Counterfire, speaking regularly around the country on behalf of both. He is author of The People Versus Tony Blair and Capitalism and Class Consciousness: the ideas of Georg Lukacs.
More articles from this author
- Behind Trump's tantrums: the US, Iran and the continuing threat of war
- Tony Blair is completely wrong: Chris Nineham on Sky News - video
- If you are against the West's wars you need to be against Nato
- Dearlove's recycled attack on Corbyn exposes the right's increasing desperation
- It's official: a vote for the Lib Dems is a vote for a Tory government
- Trump's back for the election - all out on December 3rd
- BBC attacks Corbyn over his correct stance on foreign wars