Labour’s future foreign policy will be bleak if it follows advice to ‘break the rules’

Aircraft carrier
Joe Glenton

Breaking the rules, cyber-attacking civilians, and ‘aggression’ in international affairs are the way forward for Labour foreign policy, a former Navy officer has reportedly told a meeting hosted by the party’s Friends of the Forces (LFF) group.

Largely defunct under Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership, the pressure group was re-launched in June 2020.

At the time, Labour leader Keir Starmer said:

I want to open up Labour again to our Armed Forces, their families and veterans across our country.

LFF promises the membership access to defence industry figures, think-tanks, and the Labour front bench.

Turn off the lights

The meeting in question focused on threats to UK security. It was held online on 24 November and featured professor Peter Roberts, a former Royal Navy officer and director of military science at the Royal United Services Institute (RUSI).

Peace Pledge Union (PPU) campaigns manager Symon Hill was in the audience. In a press release, PPU noted some of Roberts’ comments with concern:

Roberts said that he was “not talking about breaking laws” but repeatedly used the phrase “breaking the rules”. Asked to give examples, he suggested that if there was an attack by Kim Jong-Un, breaking the rules could mean choosing “to attack him in cyber and turn the lights off in downtown Pyonyang”. He added that US forces were often impressed by UK forces because of “our ability to bend the rules”.

Asked about the need for foreign policy not to appear aggressive, he said, “I’m pretty content with aggression”.

Roberts concluded by saying, “The Labour Party is the natural friend of the armed forces. I’m really looking forward to the re-emergence of the Labour Party with this mandate.”

Questions to answer

Hill said that the Labour Party leadership had “vital questions to answer”: 

Will they make clear that they do not support someone who calls for cyber-attacks on civilians through mass deprivation of electricity? Or for UK forces to use war in Syria as an excuse to fight war in the Arctic? Will Keir Starmer reconsider his praise for Labour Friends of the Forces given that they invited a speaker with such views, which were endorsed by the group’s co-chair?

Hill added:

Peter Roberts is right about one thing: obeying rules doesn’t make war ethical. The best response to this is to challenge war and militarism, not to back greater aggression. The rules that we want to see armed forces personnel breaking are the rules that require them to obey orders to wage war. We are glad that there are other people in the Labour Party, and other parties, who want to resist war rather than promote it.

Human rights?

Early in his tenure, Starmer made ten pledges on Labour’s future direction. Number 4 focused on foreign policy:

No more illegal wars. Introduce a Prevention of Military Intervention Act and put human rights at the heart of foreign policy. Review all UK arms sales and make us a force for international peace and justice.

But Starmer’s record so far doesn’t look good in terms of honouring this pledge. For example, Starmer sacked three MPs for refusing to abstain on the Tory Overseas Operations Bill which critics say could decriminalise torture during military operations.

And if he continues to support LLF and the policy ideas it is putting forward, then the future of Labour’s foreign policy looks very bleak indeed.

Professor Roberts and Labour Friends of the Forces have been approached for comment but had not responded at the time of publication. A full recording of the discussion has also been requested from LFF.

Featured image via Wikimedia Commons

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  • Show Comments
    1. On the plus side, Labour won’t be anywhere near power for a long time so it’s probably not worth worrying about. They were a bunch of murderous bastards when they were in power so no bad thing.
      Why don’t you go back to worrying about ‘Zionists’ infiltrating the party and ignoring the ECHR report.

    2. Well well. the military has a politcal bias, and only seeks to serve without a discussion about what modern day threats are to a country’s integrity.
      No questions about what is a real threat is, like Cybercrime, stolen identities, and corruption by politicians by a wanton breaking of its rules of engagement with the public. Money laundering etc.
      A disregard for the intent of democacry, and endless lying to substantiate claims.
      Who is willing to fight a war from the last century?
      Robots ?

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