Such was the thrust of the speech at Labour Party Conference this morning from John Healey, Shadow Secretary of State for Defence.
Healey takes the government – and its predecessors over the last decade – to task for making Britain weaker in the world, ‘by breaking international law, antagonising our European allies, slashing development aid and failing to stand up for human rights.’ All these are fair criticisms, but unfortunately Healey does not outline a new vision for Britain based on peace and justice. Instead he asserts the importance of NATO, nuclear weapons and military spending.
Talking of the importance of alliances and treaties, he says that ‘Britain will forge a flexible geometry of new alliances’. Never mind the mixed metaphors, presumably this is referring to the new AUKUS pact, the military partnership between the UK, the US and Australia, which is a dangerous escalation in the West’s ongoing confrontation with China.
Spreading nuclear technology is at the heart of the deal: the US and UK are collaborating with Australia to provide them with nuclear-powered submarines. This risks nuclear proliferation and is a breach of the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT).
Thanks to Labour CND, conference delegates were able to vote on a motion stating that AUKUS is in breach of our obligations under the NPT and that the Labour Party should oppose it. The mover of the motion emphasised that our security is best protected by diplomatic not military means; the seconder of the motion strongly supported the Maritime Union of Australia’s call to spend on jobs and health rather than nuclear submarines. The vote was carried with 71% for the motion, and 29% against. This is very good news and shows that the party membership continues to be overwhelmingly anti-nuclear. Now we need to see this position actively taken up and articulated by the leadership.
Judging by Healey’s speech today, that is not likely to happen. There’s not a mention from him about the government’s Integrated Review earlier this year which announced major military spending and hardware increases. And not a word about the government’s decision to increase the UK’s nuclear arsenal by over 44% – breaking international law. So where is Labour’s opposition to that and defence of the NPT?
The rethink on security that Britain so badly needs is not coming from this Labour leadership.