Does the U.K.’s Labor Party Really Want Out of NATO?
Policy + Politics

Does the U.K.’s Labor Party Really Want Out of NATO?

A man with ideas that would radically transform his country’s relationship with the rest of the world is currently leading his party’s polls ahead of a leadership election, and it isn’t Donald Trump. In the UK, the Labor Party, currently the minority in Parliament but in charge as recently as 2010, is electing a new leader and the man at the head of the polling, Jeremy Corbyn has some interesting views on international relations, including pulling the United Kingdom out of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization.

The U.K., a founding member of the mutual-defense organization that has helped keep the peace in Europe since 1949, is a key part of the alliance. With one of the most powerful militaries of any of the 28 member countries, British troops have long been a stalwart of NATO’s forces.

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Corbyn, however, sees the alliance as a relic and has actually blamed NATO’s eastward expansion for the current conflict in Ukraine, where Russia has invaded and illegally annexed Crimea and continues to support armed rebels in the eastern part of the country. He also objects to the agreement among the members of the alliance to dedicate 2 percent of their gross domestic product to defense spending.

“Nato was a cold war institution,” he recently told The Guardian. “It has given itself quite extraordinary powers of insisting on 2% defense expenditure of all its member states.”

In another Guardian interview, published Friday, he said that if he were elected, he would apologize to the British people on behalf of the Labor party for bringing the country into the Iraq war during the government of Labor prime minister Tony Blair.

“As a party, we found ourselves in the regrettable position of being aligned with one of the worst rightwing governments in US history, even as liberal opinion in the US was questioning the headlong descent into war.”

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He has vowed to put some distance between the U.S. and the U.K. when it comes to foreign policy issues. The two countries have, in general, marched in lockstep on major issues, including the response to Russia’s aggression in Ukraine and the recent nuclear arms deal with Iran.

Even if Corbyn were elected to head Labor, he’d still be some distance from No. 10 Downing Street. The Conservative government controls the House of Commons, having won a convincing victory this past May, and isn’t required to hold another election until 2020. (Unlike the U.S., where elections are held regularly every four years, parliamentary elections can be called early, so it is possible that another election might be held before that date.)

However, as the leader of the opposition, Corbyn’s voice would be a powerful one and the prospect of him someday ascending to the position of prime minister could prompt leaders on both sides of the Atlantic to wonder about the future of the two countries’ “special relationship.”

For his part, Corbyn has shown little hesitation about criticizing the U.S., even going so far, in an interview with Russia Today, as comparing the U.S. military to the terrorist group ISIS.

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The U.K.’s Channel 4 aired footage of an interview Corbyn did last year in which he discussed ISIS with an RT correspondent.  “Yes they are brutal, yes some of what they have done is quite appalling, likewise what the Americans did in Fallujah and other places is appalling.”

Anti-war activists have accused U.S. troops of committing atrocities in the fighting over the Iraqi city of Fallujah in 2004. So far, though, nobody has accused the U.S. military of systematized public beheading of enemies, encouraging the rape of women and girls, and any of the various other unspeakable practices that are part of the group’s daily practice.

So, that kind of comparison by a major figure in an ally’s government might not sit well in Washington if Corbyn does, indeed, take the helm of the British opposition.