Jeremy Corbyn speech at Chatham House
Corbyn, Leader of the Labour Party, speaking at Chatham House, said:
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House has been at the forefront of thinking on Britain’s role in the world. So
with the General Election less than a month away, it’s a great place to set out
my approach: on how a Labour Government I lead will keep Britain safe, reshape
relationships with partners around the world, work to strengthen the United
Nations and respond to the global challenges we face in the 21st
And I should say a warm welcome to the UN Special
Representative in Somalia, Michael Keating, who is here today.
On Monday, we commemorated VE Day, the anniversary of
the victory over Nazi Germany in Europe.
VE Day marked the defeat of fascism and the beginning
of the end of a global war that claimed seventy million lives.
General Eisenhower, supreme commander of the Allied
forces in 1944, went on to become Republican President of the United States
during some of the most dangerous years of the Cold War in the 1950s.
In his final televised address to the American people
as President, Eisenhower gave a stark warning of what he described as “the
acquisition of unwarranted influence by the military-industrial complex.”
“Only an alert and knowledgeable citizenry”, he said,
“can compel the proper meshing of the huge industrial and military machinery of
defence with our peaceful methods and goals, so that security and liberty may
Sadly, in the more than half a century since that
speech, I think it’s clear that Eisenhower’s warning has not been heeded.
Too much of our debate about defence and security is
one dimensional. You are either for or against what is presented as “strong
defence”, regardless of the actual record of what that has meant in practice.
Alert citizens or political leaders who advocate
other routes to security are dismissed or treated as unreliable.
My own political views were shaped by the horrors of
war and the threat of a nuclear holocaust. My parents met while organising
solidarity with the elected government of Spain against Franco’s fascists
during the Spanish civil war.
My generation grew up under the shadow of the cold
war. On television, through the 1960s and into the seventies, the news was
dominated by Vietnam. I was haunted by images of civilians fleeing chemical
weapons used by the United States.
I didn’t imagine then that nearly fifty years later
we would see chemical weapons still being used against innocent civilians. What
an abject failure. How is it that history keeps repeating itself?
At the end of the cold war, when the Berlin Wall came
down we were told it was the end of history. Global leaders promised a more
peaceful, stable world.
It didn’t work out like that.
Today the world is more unstable than even at the
height of the cold war. The approach to international security we have been
using since the 1990s has simply not worked.
Regime change wars in Afghanistan Iraq, Libya, and
Syria – and Western interventions in Afghanistan, Somalia and Yemen – have
failed in their own terms, and made the world a more dangerous place.
This is the fourth General Election in a row to be
held while Britain is at war and our armed forces are in action in the Middle
East and beyond.
The fact is that the ‘war on terror’ which has driven
these interventions has failed.
They have not increased our security at home – just
And they have caused destabilisation and devastation
Last September, the Commons Foreign Affairs Select
Committee published a report on David Cameron’s Libyan war.
They concluded the intervention led to political and
economic collapse, humanitarian and migrant crises and fuelled the rise of Isis
in Africa and across the Middle East.
Is that really the way to deliver security to the
Who seriously believes that’s what real strength
We need to step back and have some fresh thinking.
The world faces huge problems. As well as the legacy
of regime change wars, there is a dangerous cocktail of ethnic conflicts, of
food insecurity, water scarcity, the emerging effects of climate change.
Add to that mix a grotesque and growing level of
inequality in which just eight billionaires own the same wealth as the 3.6
billion poorest people.
And you end up with a refugee crisis of epic
proportions affecting every continent in the world. With more displaced people
in the world than since the Second World War.
These problems are getting worse and fuelling threats
The global situation is becoming more dangerous.
And the new US President seems determined to add to
the dangers by recklessly escalating the confrontation with North Korea,
unilaterally launching missile strikes on Syria, opposing President Obama’s
nuclear arms deal with Iran and backing a new nuclear arms race.
A Labour Government will want a strong and friendly
relationship with the United States. But we will not be afraid to speak our
The US is the strongest military power on the planet by
a very long way. It has a special responsibility to use its power with care and
to support international efforts to resolve conflicts collectively and
Waiting to see which way the wind blows in Washington
isn’t strong leadership. And pandering to an erratic Trump administration will
not deliver stability.
When Theresa May addressed a Republican Party
conference in Philadelphia in January she spoke in alarmist terms about the
rise of China and India and of the danger of the West being eclipsed.
She said America and Britain had to ‘stand strong’
together and use their military might to protect their interests.
This is the sort of language that led to calamity in
Iraq and Libya and all the other disastrous wars that stole the post-Cold War
promise of a new world order.
I do not see India and China in those terms. Nor do I
think the vast majority of Americans or British people want the boots of their
young men and women on the ground in Syria fighting a war that would escalate
the suffering and slaughter even further.
Britain deserves better than simply outsourcing our
country’s security and prosperity to the whims of the Trump White House.
So no more hand holding with Donald Trump.
A Labour Government will conduct a robust and
independent foreign policy – made in Britain.
A Labour Government would seek to work for peace and
security with all the other permanent members of the United Nations security
council – the US, China, Russia and France.
And with other countries with a major role to play
such as India, South Africa, Brazil and Germany.
The ‘bomb first, talk later’ approach to security has
failed. To persist with it, as the Conservative Government has made clear it is
determined to do, is a recipe for increasing, not reducing, threats and insecurity.
I am often asked if as prime minister I would order
the use of nuclear weapons.
It’s an extraordinary question when you think about
it – would you order the indiscriminate killing of millions of people? Would
you risk such extensive contamination of the planet that no life could exist
across large parts of the world?
If circumstances arose where that was a real option,
it would represent complete and cataclysmic failure. It would mean world
leaders had already triggered a spiral of catastrophe for humankind.
Labour is committed actively to pursue disarmament
under the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty and we are committed to no first use
of nuclear weapons.
But let me make this absolutely clear.
If elected prime minister, I will do everything necessary
to protect the safety and security of our people and our country.
That would be my first duty.
And to achieve it, I know I will have to work with
other countries to solve problems, defuse tensions and build collective
The best defence for Britain is a government actively
engaged in seeking peaceful solutions to the world’s problems.
But I am not a pacifist.
I accept that military action, under international
law and as a genuine last resort, is in some circumstances necessary.
But that is very far from the kind of unilateral wars
and interventions that have almost become routine in recent times.
I will not take lectures on security or humanitarian
action from a Conservative Party that stood by in the 1980s – refusing even to
impose sanctions – while children on the streets of Soweto were being shot dead
in the streets, or which has backed every move to put our armed forces in
harm’s way regardless of the impact on our people’s security.
Once again, in this election, it’s become clear that a
vote for Theresa May could be a vote to escalate the war in Syria, risking
military confrontation with Russia, adding to the suffering of the Syrian
people and increasing global insecurity.
When you see children suffering in war, it is only
natural to want to do something.
But the last thing we need is more of the same failed
recipe that has served us so badly and the people of the region so
Labour will stand up for the people of Syria. We will
press for war crimes to be properly investigated. And we will work tirelessly
to make the Geneva talks work.
Every action that is taken over Syria must be judged
by whether it helps to bring an end to the tragedy of the Syrian war or does
Even if ISIS is defeated militarily, the conflict
will not end until there is a negotiated settlement involving all the main
parties, including the regional and international powers and an inclusive
government in Iraq.
All wars and conflicts eventually are brought to an
end by political means.
So Labour would adopt a new approach. We will not
step back from our responsibilities.
But our focus will be on strengthening international
co-operation and supporting the efforts of the United Nations to resolve
A Labour Government will respect international law
and oppose lawlessness and unilateralism in international relations. We believe
human rights and social justice should drive our foreign policy.
In 1968, Harold Wilson’s Labour Government signed the
Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty.
As prime minister, I hope to build on that
Labour’s support for the renewal of the Trident
submarine system does not preclude working for meaningful, multilateral steps
to achieve reductions in nuclear arsenals.
A Labour Government will pursue a triple commitment
to the interlocking foreign policy instruments of: defence, development and
For all their bluster, the Tory record on defence and
security has been one of incompetence and failure.
They have balanced the books on the backs of
servicemen and women.
Deep cuts have seen the Army reduced to its smallest
size since the Napoleonic wars.
From stagnant pay and worsening conditions, to poor housing.
The morale of our service personnel and veterans is
at rock bottom.
And as the security threats and challenges we face
are not bound by geographic borders it is vital that as Britain leaves the EU,
we maintain a close relationship with our European partners alongside our
commitment to NATO and spending at least 2 per cent on defence.
That means working with our allies to ensure peace
and security in Europe. We will work to halt the drift to confrontation with
Russia and the escalation of military deployments across the continent.
There is no need whatever to weaken our opposition to
Russia’s human rights abuses at home or abroad to understand the necessity of
winding down tensions on the Russia-Nato border and supporting dialogue to
reduce the risk of international conflict.
We will back a new conference on security and
cooperation in Europe and seek to defuse the crisis in Ukraine through
implementation of the Minsk agreements.
We will continue to work with the EU on operational
missions to promote and support global and regional security.
This means our Armed Forces will have the necessary
capabilities to fulfil the full range of obligations ensuring they are
versatile and able to participate in rapid stabilisation, disaster relief, UN
peacekeeping and conflict resolution activities.
Because security is not only about direct military
defence, it’s about conflict resolution and prevention, underpinned by strong
So the next Labour Government will invest in the UK’s
diplomatic networks and consular services.
We will seek to rebuild some of the key capabilities
and services that have been lost as a result of Conservative cuts in recent
Finally, while Theresa May seeks to build a coalition
of risk and insecurity with Donald Trump, a Labour Government will refocus
Britain’s influence towards cooperation, peaceful settlements and social
The life chances, security and prosperity of our
citizens are dependent on a stable international environment.
We will strengthen our commitment to the UN. But we
are well aware of its shortcomings, particularly in the light of repeated
abuses of the veto power in the UN Security Council.
So we will work with allies and partners from around
the world to build support for UN reform in order to make its institutions more
effective and responsive.
And as a permanent member of the Security Council we
will provide a lead by respecting the authority of International Law.
To lead this work, Labour has created a Minister for
Peace who will work across the Ministry of Defence and the Foreign and
We will reclaim Britain’s leading role in tackling
climate change, working hard to preserve the Paris Agreement and deliver on
international commitments to reduce carbon emissions.
Labour will re-examine the arms export licensing
regulations to ensure that all British arms exports are consistent with our
legal and moral obligations.
This means refusing to grant export licences for arms
when there is a clear risk that they will be used to commit serious violations
of international humanitarian law.
Weapons supplied to Saudi Arabia, when the evidence
of grave breaches of humanitarian law in Yemen is overwhelming, must be halted
I see it as the next Labour’s Government task, as my
task, to make the case for Britain to advance a security and foreign policy
with integrity and human rights at its core.
So there is a clear choice at this election.
Between continuing with the failed policy of
continual and devastating military interventions, that have intensified
conflicts and increased the terrorist threat.
Or being willing to
step back, learn the lessons of the past and find new ways to solve and prevent
As Dwight Eisenhower
said on another occasion:
If people “can
develop weapons that are so terrifying as to make the thought of global war
almost a sentence for suicide, you would think that man’s intelligence would
include also his ability to find a peaceful solution.”
And in the words of
Martin Luther King “The chain reaction of evil – hate – begetting hate, wars
producing more wars – must be broken, or we shall be plunged into the dark days
I believe we can find those solutions.
We can walk the hard yards to a better way to live
together on this planet.
A Labour Government will give leadership in a new and
constructive way, and that is the leadership we are ready to provide both at
home and abroad.