I was the archetypal Corbyn supporter, but I admit we were both wrong about Nato

We should have listened to central and eastern Europeans who warned about Russian imperialism

James Jackson
Wednesday 27 April 2022 14:40
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<p>The war hits different when you’re in a country that’s been carved up by Russia twice before</p>

The war hits different when you’re in a country that’s been carved up by Russia twice before

In a lot of ways I was the archetypal Corbyn supporter. It wasn’t just voting for Jeremy on four separate occasions, I canvassed on phone banks and knocked on doors during the general election. I was even an officer at Merseyside Momentum.

Although most of us supported Corbyn out of frustration at the diet of austerity offered by the Labour Party at the time, for me it was international peace and an anti-imperialist foreign policy that was worth fighting for.

At the heart of this was a support for internationalist causes like Palestine, Kurdistan and Latin America ignored by the western mainstream. I spent my twenties couch-surfing in the West Bank and backpacking in Zapatista country. Corbyn was the guy who history had proven right so many times, on Iraq, on apartheid and I thought he was right on Nato too.

And in the past, maybe he was. But with five million refugees now escaping a brutal war of aggression in Europe, he’s been proven wrong and so have I. I didn’t expect Russia’s invasion. In fact I even had a bet with a friend that it wouldn’t happen.

I’m currently writing this from Warsaw in Poland, where I’m on a journalism fellowship. When people asked me if I was going to be safe there, I answered confidently in the affirmative. Why? Well, Nato, I suppose. That thing I’m against, remember?

The war hits different when you’re in a country that’s been carved up by Russia twice before, and which former Russian president Medvedev openly threatened just last month. Without Nato’s defensive alliance, it’s likely that bombs would be raining down on where I’m sitting now, like they are in Kharkiv. Remember, it’s only 160 miles from Warsaw to Russia’s border.

As much as it pains me to admit, the hawks called it right. We should have listened to the central and eastern Europeans who warned about the insatiable appetite of Russian imperialism and accused us of “westsplaining.”

Nato is not perfect, but right now it’s all we’ve got. It’s all well and good talking about turning back the clock, the peace dividend and what should have happened in the Nineties after the Cold War ended, as Jeremy Corbyn did on John Pienaar’s Times Radio show. Who wouldn’t prefer to spend money on hospitals than weapons? But Russia is tragically showing us that if you don’t have enough weapons and you get attacked by a more powerful country, you won’t have hospitals for long either.

Though I applaud the principles, and wish from the bottom of my heart that things were different, Corbyn’s stubbornness about Nato is unconscionable in the face of Putin’s atrocities in Ukraine. A defensive alliance is the only option for peace and security in Europe, and the EU can barely agree on stopping sending Russia weapons, let alone an energy embargo. This leaves Nato as the only, and therefore the best, option for peace and security in Europe.

Nato’s withdrawal from Afghanistan was botched, and US sanctions starving the Afghan people are even worse. Neither am I comfortable with Turkey being a member of Nato while Erdogan tramples over democracy and brutalises the Kurds. But an end to US-led foreign adventurism and a Nato focused on defending Europe from imperialist Russian tyranny is one I can get behind.

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The left should drop its well-intentioned but naive opposition so we can help make this alliance focus on defending democracy against fascism. That was a cause thousands of socialists volunteered to fight and die for during the Spanish civil war.

Hearing my comrades talk about how democratic Ukraine should surrender and live under a murderous, corrupt oligarchy makes me feel queasy, as does an obsessive focus on the (admittedly awful) Azov battalion, who wouldn’t exist if Russia hadn’t invaded in 2014. People often forget that socialists were among the loudest voices who were against appeasing Hitler. I’m not saying we should clamour for another world war, especially not a nuclear one.

But right now, Nato is the only force stopping Russia reaching out and grabbing any territory it wants.

Of course we all wish for a world without military alliances, but right now with Putin’s troops on the march, it’s a distant dream, and one the left needs to wake up from.

Jame Jackson is a freelance journalist based in Berlin, writing about politics, news and culture

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