Ukraine and Progressive Foreign Policy

by Paul Thompson & Frederick Harry Pitts

Unless signs of diplomacy or de-escalation prove to be anything more than disinformation or wishful thinking, Western intelligence reports forecast that Russia will imminently continue a new and dangerous phase of its existing war against Ukraine.

In spite of the facts on the ground, some on the left, epitomised by the Stop the War Coalition (StWC) and its spokespeople, such as Diane Abbott and Jeremy Corbyn, persist in a fantastical invocation of a world in which Russia is not the aggressor and the crisis is somehow the fault of NATO, ‘the West’ and even the UK in particular.

The vituperative reaction to Abbott and Corbyn’s recent comments has now drawn an attempted clarification from StWC. Rhetorically, it recognises Ukraine’s right to self-determination as equivalent to, and equally as legitimate as, the paranoid ‘security concerns’ that mask authoritarian Russia’s imperial ambitions. Practically, however, the statement suggests that Ukraine’s sovereign capacity to determine its own future must be limited by respecting Russia’s demands for a moratorium on Ukrainian membership of NATO.

In a 2020 pamphlet for Labour Campaign for International Development and Open Labour, we criticised the deep-seated theoretical worldview that leaves the StWC, and the wider hard-left it represents, fundamentally ill-equipped to deal with the specificities of situations like that unfolding in Ukraine.

The criticisms must have struck a nerve because the StWC issued a pamphlet of their own in response, with a foreword by none other than Corbyn himself. The riposte rested on the idea that we were part of a new wave of ‘warmonger internationalists’ in the Labour Party symbolised by Keir Starmer and his then Shadow Foreign Secretary Lisa Nandy.

In the LCID/Open Labour pamphlet, we associated StWC with a ‘campist’ mentality that, when faced with the choice between Western liberal democracies and their authoritarian enemies, throws in its ideological lot with the latter.

We also noted a parochial mindset that sees the capacity to act in support of human protection and harm prevention constrained by national borders on the misguided basis that, as StWC’s supporters put it, ‘the main enemy is at home’.

These features are underpinned by a mechanical, deterministic understanding of conflict focused on national blocs calculating and scheming on the basis of material and economic interests. This elides the role of politics in shaping the good and bad intentions of the actors involved, and wipes away the agency and centrality of humans on the ground.

Owing to these flaws, the StWC’s reaction to the present situation in Ukraine bears witness to the absence of any serious engagement with the strategic intent of the main actors or the wider context. Given this glaring lack of analysis, it is worth reminding ourselves of the real situation at hand.

Invasion or intimidation?

Over a long and unchallenged period, Russia has assembled at the Ukrainian border a vast array of troops and hardware transported by road and rail from as far away as its eastern edge, aswell as naval forces stationed at sea.

The erection of field hospitals and transportation of engineers and military police suggest that this is not just for show. By means of an apparent military exercise with its puppet regime in Belarus, and taking into account already-occupied territory in the Donbas and Crimea, Russia has now established a heavily militarised bridgehead into Ukraine.

The intelligence reports – which themselves play a role in pre-empting and disrupting Russian action – suggest that any incursion would probably be sparked by a fabricated pretext or staged provocation in the parts of Ukraine already forcibly occupied following the 2014 landgrab.

A massive Russian air and missile assault, the reports predict, would target military and civilian infrastructure, followed by a ground invasion unprecedented in post-war Europe. The morale and capacity of the Ukraine people to subsist and resist would be degraded by bombing, shelling, cyberattacks and disinformation.

The Ukrainian military, battle-hardened and equipped with technology and training from the UK and its allies, would fight the aggressors adeptly. But, should Putin’s campaign of psychological and physical terror succeed, it could culminate in regime change and the enforced installation of a pro-Moscow, anti-democratic autocrat in power who will tramp down the flourishing rights and freedoms won by Ukrainian reformers, trade unions and social movements in recent years.

Based on the criminally transgressive way Russia has bombed and shelled Syrian civilians and hospitals in support of Assad, any invasion would be widely expected to result in tens of thousands of deaths and the displacement of potentially millions of refugees fleeing Ukrainian cities and towns.

At the time of writing, it is still unclear whether Putin’s plan is to invade or merely to intimidate. Even if the best case transpires and the intelligence reports prove overly pessimistic, however, the underlying politics and strategic intent at play remain much the same.

Whether achieved through invasion or the extraction of concessions through sheer intimidation alone, the transparent aim is, as the Federation of the Trade Unions of Ukraine puts it, to ‘prevent realisation of Ukraine’s European and Euro-Atlantic aspirations’ by destroying the ability of the Ukrainian people to democratically self-determine their future. As Gregory Schwartz has written of the struggles of Ukrainians to move the country in a more European and democratic direction,

rules-based political democracy, transparent institutions and the supremacy of the law….however imperfect, leave workers room to realise many of the rights they actually have and to use freedoms they possess to seek beneficial outcomes. In short, Ukraine today is on the frontline of the struggle for workers’ liberation. A struggle for the workers’ ability to have rules that are respected, to mobilise freely and seek the democratisation of both their workplaces and their polities and a struggle to have those liberties many in the West take for granted or have stopped valuing.

In seeking to obstruct the success of these struggles, Russia’s actions represent imperialist aggression and belligerence of the most brutal and unreconstructed kind, combining conventional military might with postmodern hybrid warfare in pursuit of a revanchist myth of national and ethnic unity.

The wrong side of history

Exemplified in recent statements by the likes of Abbott and Corbyn, StWC’s response to this unfolding situation has been to present the West as the real aggressors in eastern Europe based on the protective presence of NATO forces in the allied democracies that border Russia and its Belarusian proxy.

StWC recommends the West accommodate Russian demands with ‘serious diplomatic proposals’ that would effectively deprioritise protection of the rights and territorial integrity of the Ukrainian people. These would result in the country’s ‘Finlandisation’ or, even worse, its forced entry into an enlarged Russian ‘sphere of influence’ currently populated by despotic vassal states like Belarus and Kazakhstan.

Such positions represent little more than a superficially left-wing sheen on the same fabricated grievance of ‘encirclement’ Putin’s regime uses to distort the democratic ambitions of the neighbouring countries it sees as its rightful property.

It strikes many as deeply incongruous that StWC, an organisation auspiciously concerned with opposing imperialist wars of aggression and generously supported and funded by the labour movement, should seek to explain away Russia’s actions as unproblematic and diminish the struggles of Ukrainian workers and citizens for democracy and self-determination.

In this way, the potential imminence of a conflict with such catastrophic consequences for the Ukrainian people and the European continent has definitively exposed the practical and ethical inadequacies of the StWC position.

Indeed, in recent weeks, many on the left – including those persuaded on the basis of past conflicts that StWC somehow stood for world peace – seem to have woken up to the realisation that, were Jeremy Corbyn still leading the party, some variation on this craven, complicit position would be Labour’s current policy on the crisis.

An internationalist alternative

The current set of foreign policy positions being espoused by the StWC are far from an aberration, having been exposed in longstanding critiques levelled by left internationalists long before Corbyn’s leadership thrust them into the limelight.

These critiques gained ground among a much wider section of the left once the organisation’s apparent record of finding itself ‘on the right side of history’ started to unravel – namely, in its opposition to Western support for the Kurds and Yazidis struggling against ISIS and the implicit blind eye turned to Assad and Putin’s brutal repression of the Syrian revolution. It was not enough to have been right on Iraq – as were many others on the left – whilst being wrong about so much else since.

In unsparing terms familiar to partisans of these debates, Keir Starmer’s intervention last Thursday, timed to coincide with his trip to NATO, summarised many of these existing criticisms.

Addressing the StWC’s role as standard-bearer of the so-called ‘anti-imperialist’ hard left in the Labour Party, Starmer pointed to the inherent conservatism and absence of concrete solidarity that characterises its isolationist worldview. It represented a clarifying moment in the Labour Party’s intellectual and moral renewal, highlighting just how far the party has travelled on foreign policy from what went before.

In directly calling them out, Starmer forced StWC’s pernicious influence on the left out into the open at the exact point that Russia’s belligerence against Ukraine definitively exposed the logical and ethical absurdity of their ‘anti-imperialist’ worldview.

This complete collapse in credibility has meant that even formerly Corbyn-sympathetic figures like the journalist Paul Mason are now among the strongest voices condemning the continuing appeal of StWC’s simplistic campism among some parts of the left.

And the more open-minded, internationalist wing of what remains of the Corbyn movement have begun to articulate an alternative approach providing a different path than that advocated by the ex-Labour leader and his friends in the StWC. This augments the important existing work done by the Ukraine Solidarity Campaign to rally support on the left of the labour movement for Ukrainian self-determination against Russian intimidation.

In short, there is a clear consensus forming that those content to condone the appeasement of naked aggression when waged by anti-West authoritarians must no longer be afforded legitimacy within the ethical and moral mainstream of the labour movement.

The costs of inaction

A course correction in the Labour Party is cold comfort to civilians in Ukraine, however.

What should be done about the situation is a difficult question precisely because of what the West failed to do before. Rather than too much Western intervention being the cause of the Russian offensive, as StWC seem to think, it is arguably the absence of a clear vision of the causes of Russia’s belligerence and resolute action to counter it that has brought us to this point.

A litany of Western errors has encouraged Russia to test the limits of its resolve today. As its capital cities rolled out the red carpet for Russia’s wealthy elite, the West failed to anticipate and adequately challenge the initial invasion of Ukraine in 2014; ceded space for Russia’s intervention in Syria by sitting on its hands as Assad attacked his own people; and avoided confronting Russia as it criminally bombarded Syrian civilians.

The West’s reluctance to challenge Russia may now have consequences more dangerous and unpredictable than had it taken a more robust stance at any of these previous junctures. Whilst the UK appears to be waking up to this uncomfortable truth, some of its allies seem to have been slower to learn, and China will be watching the American reaction closely as it eyes its own possible revanchist invasion of Taiwan.

In this context, Keir Starmer is absolutely correct to recommit Labour to NATO as a stabilising component of the post-war liberal order and a vital security mechanism for Central and Eastern European states threatened by Russia.

He is also correct to pledge Labour’s support for UK and US measures to protect Ukraine from Putin’s aggression and assist its forces in repelling and defeating a Russian invasion with the provision of military hardware, intelligence and training, as well as troops to other allied countries bordering Russia.  

Contrary to the naïve and disingenuous assertions that Starmer’s position – or ours – represents a ‘warmonger internationalism’, these are measures to deter war, not promote it.

The way to ‘stop the war’, in this sense, is not by legitimising Russia’s false narrative of ‘encirclement’ and its so-called ‘security concerns’. Rather, it is by challenging it, and making clear the substantial political and economic costs that would follow a partial or full invasion, or indeed any number of ongoing hybrid attacks against Ukraine.

Labour also needs to be prepared, where necessary, to call upon the government to do much more, including providing safe corridors and refuge to as many as possible of the people who would be displaced in the wake of a full-scale invasion.

The coming days and weeks will clarify whether Russia intends to invade or intimidate its way to a weaker Ukraine. In either case, Labour’s priority must be to help keep open the space for the continuing struggle, by Ukrainian activists, workers and citizens, for freedom, democracy and self-determination.

14th February 2022

Why Britain Can’t Afford to Fall Behind in Africa

Britain’s relationship with Africa matters. The world’s oldest continent, today Africa is also its youngest, with 60% of its population under the age of 25. Its huge potential for growth is underscored by the fact that Africa is currently home to a staggering 8 of the 15 fastest growing economies in the world. With its population set to double by 2050, investing in the economic power of this young population will be absolutely key to the success of Global Britain.

This is why I’m pleased to see the Government starting to lean into our partnership with Africa. This month they are holding the third African Investment Summit  to help British investors and African governments forge closer ties. But is it enough and is it too late?

As a trading nation, our success depends on global markets. Working in the private sectors, I’ve seen the hugely integral role investing in international development and emerging economies plays in successful business. Gone are the days when international development was regarded as a charitable wing that sat firmly in the Corporate Social Responsibility Team. From H&M and Deloitte to HSBC and IKEA, successful global businesses know that as a trading nation our destiny is intertwined with that of our international partners. And among our international partners, I firmly believe that Africa is key.

A strong African economy and healthy workforce is good news for British people and businesses as well as Africans. However, realistically we cannot rely on trade alone. Africa is still the poorest continent in the world and increasing wealth has also brought rising inequality. For example, Nigeria’s GDP is booming and many individuals are enjoying the fruits of the growing economy. Yet 87 million Nigerians still live on less than £1.90 a day.

This is why trade and aid must go hand in hand to truly harness the phenomenal potential of this young population. British business leaders like Dominic McVey, who runs businesses across Africa, cite UK aid as playing a critical role in opening up markets to them in regions that UK exporters would have previously struggled to reach, adding “I firmly believe that most businesses in the UK that have been able to invest in the Global South have been able to do so because of the development expertise provided by British aid workers and supported by successive Governments.”

It is true that we invest in aid because it is morally the right thing to do. However it is not merely a gesture of altruism – a healthy, thriving economy and workforce across Africa is plainly in our interest shown through the work of British entrepreneurs like Dominic. It is through investing in economic growth and job creation that we can help to make our development partners of today our trading partners of tomorrow. Take South Korea, a former aid recipient that last year traded £7.2bn worth of goods and services with the UK, making them one of our top trading partners in East Asia. Of course this is due to a range of factors not solely aid, but this example clearly shows why aid and trade are two sides of the same coin, mutually reinforcing one another for everyone’s benefit.

But is the UK arriving late to the party? China has been investing huge sums into Africa since 1977. They saw the huge potential in the continent and have gone at it with a vengeance, gaining a foothold in the region (and building up significant debt) over the past four decades. Britain rightly does development very differently from China, however there is no getting away from the fact that we have a long way to go to strengthen our partnership with the continent. After all Theresa May was the only British Prime Minister to visit Kenya – a key British partner – in over 30 years and Johnson has not visited the continent once while in No10. Meanwhile the decision to  break a manifesto commitment and slash the aid budget has hit countries across Africa the hardest. Aid to Kenya, identified as a key development and security partner to the UK, has been cut by 39% while aid to Nigeria, also identified as an important partner in the Integrated Review, has been cut by 55%.

We urgently need to reset our relationship with Africa. The private sector stood up long ago and realised the importance of the continent to global affairs and trade. The Government cannot afford to fall behind as other countries, including hostile states, will be only too keen to step up and fill our void.

Libby Smith

Executive, Labour Campaign for International Development

Director of Advocacy, Coalition for Global Prosperity

LCID’s Conference Programme

We’re thrilled to give you an update on all of our exciting events we have planned for Labour Party Conference this year! 

Reception with Bond

First up is our annual drinks reception with Bond. This will be an important moment to rally continued support for good quality, poverty focused aid. The reception will explore how the Labour Party can continue to champion international development and an ethical foreign policy in Parliament, ensuring Britain is at the forefront of saving lives, and bringing freedom, security and prosperity to those who need it most. Speakers include Shadow International Development Secretary Preet Gill MP, LCID Honorary President, Liverpool West Derby Ian Byrne MP, newly elected MP for Batley & Spen Kim Leadbeater MP, and our Chair Heather Staff.

Time:  18:30 to 20:00
Date:  Sunday 26 September
Venue:  Hilton Brighton Metropole
Room:  Tyne    

In Conversation with Lisa Nandy

We are delighted to be partnering with the Coalition for Global Prosperity to co-host an event. Our event ‘In Conversation with Lisa Nandy MP, Shadow Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs’ is set to be a fascinating discussion, exploring how the Labour party can continue to champion international development and an ethical foreign policy in Parliament. 

Together both organisations share a commitment to championing Britain as a force for good around the globe and are therefore delighted to be joined by Lisa Nandy MP, who as Shadow Foreign Secretary is a vocal campaigner for the critical need for Britain to show global leadership and promote and defend human rights. The event will be an excellent opportunity to hear Lisa Nandy discuss what Global Britain means to her as she shares her expertise and explores Labour’s vision for a foreign policy fit for 2021 and beyond. 

Time:  14:00 to 15:00
Date:  Monday 27 September
Venue:  Hilton Brighton Metropole
Room:  Lancaster

Global Britain: Britain’s role in a changing world

Next up we are partnering with Oxfam and Crisis Action to host an event on humanitarian issues. This event will explore how a Labour Government should approach the UK’s foreign policy priorities, how to approach conceptions of the national interest and what this means for the UK’s relationship with the world going forward. The panel will include Wayne David MP, Shadow Middle East Minister; Hilary Benn MP; Douna Haj Ahmed, Advocacy Officer at the British Syrian Council; Roh Yakobi, Associate Fellow at the Human Security Centre; a representative from Oxfam’s Yemen office, and will be chaired by LCID Advisory Board member Alice Macdonald.

Time:  11:00 to 12:00
Date:  Monday 27 September
Venue: Holiday Inn
Room:  Arundel 2

Stronger Together for Britain in the World

Earlier that morning, LCID is co-hosting with Labour Foreign Policy Group and others an event as part of Anneliese Dodds MP’s Stronger Together policy review. The panel will discuss how a Labour government can lead a country that is self-confident on the global stage, acting with integrity, courage and consistency to deliver for the people of Britain and make the world a better place. Speakers include our Vice-Chair David Taylor, Anneliese Dodds MP, Chair of Stronger Together, Preet Gill MP, Lisa Nandy MP, Emily Thornberry MP, Co-Chair of LFPG Jessica Toale and Mariela Kohon, Senior International Officer at the Trade Union Congress.

Time:  9:00am-10:00am
Date:  Monday 27 September
Venue: Hilton Brighton Metropole
Room: Durham Hall

Human rights and corporate supply chains: how to prevent UK companies from profiting from human rights abuses abroad 

Finally, we partnering with the Labour Campaign for Human Rights (LCHR) and SME4Labour for an event on human rights and supply chains. Speakers include Shadow Asia Minister Stephen Kinnock MP, Shadow Trade Secretary Emily Thornberry MP, Mark Dearn, Corporate Justice Coalition Director, Daniel Leader from Leigh Day, and Rahima Mahmut, World Uyghur Congress UK Director.

Time:  13.30-14.30
Date:  Sunday 26 September 2021
Venue: Hilton Brighton Metropole
Room: Gloucester         

Motions for Conference

Your CLP will be meeting to discuss motions to put forward to Labour Party Conference later in the month. Local Labour parties can put forward suggested motions to be debated at a national level.

If you still have time to suggest a motion, below are two model motions we would encourage you to put forward. They are in support of 0.7% aid and an independent DFID (with thanks to Caroline Pinder from LCID’s Speakers Network for updating it), and in solidarity with the Uyghur people (with thanks to Labour To Win). You can find the text of both motions below:

Cuts to UK aid budget and independence of DFID

Conference notes:  

  1. The government’s decision to merge the Department for International Development (DFID) with the Foreign & Commonwealth Office (FCO) to form the Foreign Commonwealth and Development Office (FCDO).
  2. Cuts to the aid budget for 2021-2022 by £5 billion, from the 0.7% target to 0.5% of GNI.

Conference believes: 

  1. These decisions put UK aid in jeopardy. When development agencies sit under the Foreign Office, their focus gets subverted and impacts the UK’s ability to reduce global poverty. 
  2. Having a Secretary of State for International Development in the Cabinet is essential to ensure global development issues are discussed at the highest levels of government.
  3. The timing of this cut to the aid budget is reckless as the global crisis caused by COVID-19 will be exacerbated in the world’s poorest countries.
  4. The UK has been a global leader in international development. Signalling a retreat into narrow self-interest undermines the emergence of a “Global Britain” which will directly impact the UK’s influence on promotion of human rights and its ‘soft power’ capabilities.

Conference resolves: 

That the Labour Party’s Leader, the Parliamentary Party and the National Policy Forum, should:

a) Seek to maintain the 0.7% target now, and commit to reinstating 0.7%, and DFID, on Day 1 of a Labour Government with its Secretary of State in the Cabinet

b) Support the retention of the International Development Committee (IDC) to ensure transparency and accountability for aid spending.  

Solidarity with the Uyghurs

Conference notes:

  1. The Chinese state is inflicting industrial-scale racist oppression on the Uyghur people along with other ethnic and national minority groups in north-west China. The Uyghurs are majority-Muslim and are the largest national group in the province officially called “Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region” but known to Uyghurs as East Turkestan.
  2. The repression includes arbitrary mass internment and indoctrination of at least a million people in concentration camps; an extreme, intrusive, suffocating regime of mass surveillance; draconian restrictions on cultural, linguistic and religious freedom, including the virtual banning of Muslim religious practice; and the systematic separation of Uyghur children from their families.
  3. This has been documented by many human rights groups, including Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International and the UN Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination.
  4. The Chinese government is tightening its control on Xinjiang because it perceives dissent, lack of “loyalty” to China, and calls for more autonomy or independence, as threats to its economic interests: Xinjiang is a major fossil fuel producer and a key artery into central Asian and Middle Eastern markets.

Conference resolves:

  1. To express solidarity with the Uyghur people and other minority groups in Xinjiang.
  2. To call upon the Chinese government to close the concentration camps and release all those detained; stop the state harassment and intrusive surveillance of the day-to-day lives of the Uyghurs and other minority peoples in Xinjiang; release Uyghur children to their families; stop the torture and abuse.

Afghanistan and Progressive Foreign Policy

Paul Thompson and Frederick Harry Pitts

With many in the UK and elsewhere depressed and heartbroken by events in Afghanistan, some quarters of the left have seemingly exulted in the defeat of the US and UK forces and their Afghan allies. For some within the Labour Party and the wider left, there was only one lesson to be drawn – the necessary failure of what the likes of Yanis Varoufakis labelled a “liberal-neocon imperialist” intervention and occupation.

Left commentators like Paul Mason are right to highlight how liberal interventionism has been undermined by the legacy of the Blair and Bush era. Underpinned by overly optimistic fantasies of a new unipolar global order of peace and prosperity, Western governments vastly underestimated the practical, political and military obstacles to creating new, democratic institutions in divided and economically underdeveloped societies, ruled by patriarchal, sectarian political elites. 

It cannot be denied that the experience in Afghanistan confirmed how difficult it is to build up state capacity from scratch. But the kind of failure associated with the likes of Iraq cannot be the sole prism through which every other security or humanitarian intervention is framed. Setting aside the merits and justifications of the original 2001 NATO-backed intervention in response to the 9/11 attacks, the events that followed in no way fit an easy narrative of imperialist occupation and oppression.

There are doubtlessly many things that could and should have been done better or differently. This is particularly true of the period following the cessation of the military campaign in 2014. But any balance sheet would show real advances in women’s rights, democracy, human security, civil society and economic development. It is important for the left to acknowledge these small gains, however piecemeal and imperfect, and their underpinning conditions of possibility and preservation.

However, some left responses to emergent foreign policy issues find themselves overburdened by the longstanding conceptual baggage of ideas like ‘imperialism’, squeezing out room for analysis of these concrete achievements and the threats posed to them. Such responses purport to analyse the world through a historically ‘materialist’ lens focused on how material factors determine foreign policy, but this theoretical framework ironically fails to produce any practical politics matched to the real material specificities of lives in danger, freedoms at risk and the means available to protect them.

In a context where the relatively small Western military presence represented a thin line protecting a fragile set of basic freedoms for the people of Afghanistan, rushing to crow about the defeat of the ‘occupying powers’ runs the risk of affirming a return to fundamentalist rule – as is now laid painfully bare, the only plausible alternative to the emergent and imperfect democratic experiment instituted following the Taliban’s removal from power nearly twenty years ago. The left’s response should be measured against this reality, on the basis of the world as it really is rather than the make-believe world called into being by ill-fitting conceptualisations of ‘imperialism’ and ‘colonialism’.

Mason and others are wrong to argue that because of the failure of a particular model of liberal interventionism, there is nothing that democratic nations can do in situations like Afghanistan. Refracting all foreign policy through the lens of military intervention, the anti-imperialist left imaginary lacks interest in the other diplomatic and humanitarian means at the disposal of democratic nations confronting challenges like that in Afghanistan. Open Labour’s recent statement on what could have been done militarily and politically to prevent a total Taliban victory is a rare exception, emphasising humanitarian intervention to preserve what Mary Kaldor calls ‘human security’.

Low points on the left

Open Labour’s statement was one of the few effective responses to emerge from the left in the last week or so, admirably shorn of apologism and score-settling over the Blair years. Particular lowpoints of the left response included Varoufakis’s condescending call for Afghan women to ‘hang in there sisters’, the Socialist Campaign Group’s proposal for reparations to be paid to the new Taliban-led government, Stop the War’s absurd claim that the intervention had served ‘no purpose’, Young Labour’s conspiracist statement demeaning Afghan attempts at democracy, and Jeremy Corbyn’s call for ‘regional powers’ like China, Russia and Iran to step in and help steer the incoming Taliban regime.

Met by understandable criticism on social media, these salvos exposed to greater scrutiny a longstanding moral and ethical malaise among the left. Indeed, in light of the present situation these abject sentiments may well serve to sway some to abandon the default and ultimately disastrous foreign policy positions that have been par for the course among too many on the left for years.

What stood out, for many, was the complete lack of empathy for those about to lose freedoms and, in some cases, lives. Disavowing any immediate or direct actions, the most the left offered were transactional pledges of ‘solidarity’ and calls on the government to take more refugees. While the latter is of course welcome, the overall response did little to conceal a casual disregard for any practical defence of the small but meaningful gains made by women, minorities and civil society in Afghanistan itself.

Whilst for some the dogmatic and tone-deaf response of the anti-imperialist left has been brought into sharp relief by recent events, it is no aberration. Last year we co-authored a pamphlet on progressive foreign policy for the Labour Campaign for International Development and Open Labour, critically reconstructing the worldview that drives the dominant left approach to conflict and violence beyond our immediate national borders.

Mischaracterised on the hard left as ‘warmonger internationalism’ and the hard right as a work of ‘wokery’, the pamphlet focused on the outdated and binary ‘campism’ of a substantial, though by no means all-encompassing, portion of the contemporary left. This campist mentality grants agency solely to a Western bogeyman seen as responsible for all the ills of the world. Meanwhile, it excuses the actions of any actor opposed to the West as an automatic and inevitable reflex. This ‘resistance’, no matter how authoritarian or reactionary, is understood as the unthinking consequence of material determination. At the same time, this dehumanising perspective patronises local forces and mobilisations that actively resist these authoritarians and reactionaries, portraying movements for democracy and human rights as the unwitting dupes or complicit stooges of Western hegemony.

Ironically, this campist worldview rhetorically deprives its favoured counterhegemonic forces of agency, preserving the West as the only significant global actor. The ‘rest’, meanwhile – an amorphous amalgam of rising powers, subordinate states and liberation movements – can only limply respond to its evil deeds. This denial of agency does little to advance the cause of self-determination and democracy, and leaves the left bereft of an intellectual basis to plausibly account for the repressive, destabilising and even genocidal actions of states and movements perceived as opposing ‘the West’. Moreover, by solipsistically seeing the West as the centre of the world, the campist left seeks a nationalistic ‘peace in one country’ at any cost, demanding the UK, US and allies wipe their hands of the war and violence that will continue to be experienced by civilians elsewhere.

This orientation extends to Afghanistan, where the left recognises only the Western intervention and overlooks the role of other powers in the Afghan conflict, aswell as its centrality to geopolitical contests between them. The left lays responsibility for the failure of this ‘unwinnable conflict’ solely at the door of the US, UK and NATO forces. Yet the Taliban is no marginal, ragtag militia. It has been armed and supported in various ways not only by factions in Pakistan, but also buttressed to some extent by other regional powers and Gulf states, few of whom had an interest in a democratic Afghanistan. In other words, there was a lot more than one ‘intervention’ going on and those who armed and backed one of the most repressive and reactionary political forces on earth bear the primary responsibility for what we are now seeing unfolding, rather than those who, until recently, sought to combat it.

Tilting at windmills

The campist approach also obscures the role of other global and regional powers like China, Russia and Iran – the importance of which to contemporary geopolitics also seems lost on the US and the UK. In this way, the disastrous and avoidable denouement of the coalition’s exit from Afghanistan is a matter of profound regret not only for Afghans, but also for its wider strategic consequences. Whilst governmental and public weariness with so-called ‘forever wars’ is understandable, seeking to shape foreign policy primarily in line with the contingencies of internal political calculations has limitations. Regardless of whether we wish to turn and look away, persistent diplomatic and foreign policy challenges will continue to face democratic nations and shape their domestic politics.

President Biden will feel this more than most. In our Open Labour pamphlet and elsewhere, we cautiously evaluated the extent to which Biden would represent continuity with presidents Obama and Trump on the role of the US in the wider world, including in the Middle East and other conflict zones like Afghanistan. We documented how the US had ceded ground to Russia in shoring up the Assad regime in Syria, and how Iran had manifested its regional aspirations unchallenged through the proliferation of proxies in Syria, Iraq, Yemen and elsewhere. Unfortunately, the centrality of Afghanistan to broader global rivalries seems lost on Biden, aswell as his UK allies. Together they aspire to leave behind commitments in Afghanistan, Iraq and Syria as part of an ‘Indo-Pacific tilt’ in support of systemic competition with China.

But this is a mistaken way to wage a ‘new cold war’ where China itself is flexing its muscles diplomatically and militarily beyond its Pacific backyard – including in Afghanistan, with which it shares a border. China’s likely recognition of the Taliban regime paves the way for investment in reconstruction and rare earth mineral extraction characteristic of a growing network of client states and dependent economies. The failure of both the Trump and Biden administrations to anticipate these consequences exhibits precisely the lack of joined-up thinking weakening liberal democracy worldwide at a time of crisis.

We were hopeful, at the time of Biden’s inauguration, that he would realise the promise of his pitch to reassert American power on the world stage as a guarantor of free societies, human rights and liberal democracy, as well as spark a wave of industrial, economic and social renewal capable of providing a progressive and competitive alternative to the authoritarianism of China. Unfortunately, events of the past weeks may fatally undermine his plans, including for a ‘summit of democracies’ to bypass the weakness and complicity of UN bodies.

Labour’s response

With the left some distance from power and influence, then, the Afghanistan debacle is primarily a story of the complacency of the centre and right. But it is particularly incumbent on the left, in its historical specificity as an emancipatory force, to recognise and confront the consequences of an eroding liberal world order for the preservation of local and global spaces for radical or reformist politics. Recent events in Afghanistan expose some of the major intellectual and ideological faultlines in the Labour Party. Given impetus by the fresh approach to foreign policy introduced by Lisa Nandy in the Shadow Foreign Affairs brief, the leadership’s response to the Afghanistan crisis shows that the mainstream of the party has overcome the severe limitations of the Corbyn years.

It is a common refrain that foreign policy does not fly on the doorstep, but occasionally a crisis emerges that resonates with a public, whose understanding has been aided by excellent on-the-ground journalism. As Tom Hinchcliffe notes, Afghanistan is one such example. Labour have adeptly occupied some of the terrain this has opened up to advance critiques of the government’s handling of the crisis. Aswell as chiming with the public mood, the party’s response has ably highlighted the incapacity of the conservative and populist right to live up to the defence of liberal democracy projected in the government’s ‘Global Britain’ agenda.

The unfolding human tragedy in Afghanistan transcends political calculations, but the party’s positioning on recent events has had the effect of turning what has been a serious weakness in recent years – defence and foreign policy – into an emerging strength. As the Biden presidency continues Trump’s isolationism in the US, and the Johnson government exposes the empty reality of Global Britain, Labour has the opportunity to repair trust and confidence around defence and foreign policy at a time it is slipping away elsewhere on the political spectrum.

Whilst representing a vital step in Labour’s moral, political and electoral renewal, this will be small solace to those subject to Taliban tyranny and Islamic State terrorism in Afghanistan. There are hopeful signs that allies will step into the space the US vacated to carve out an island of human security amidst the crisis. Echoing calls made by Open Labour and others, the French government were leading efforts at a UN level to guarantee military provision of safe passage to civilians in Afghanistan. Sadly and somewhat typically, the UN Security Council left the proposals in a significantly watered-down state. Nonetheless, humanitarian corridors or safe zones are just one example of what can be done beyond outdated dogma and craven calculation.

Kachin Conflict

The Kachin are a people that inhabit the eponymous Kachin State within Burma. They are a majority Christian people in a majority Buddhist area. The Kachin state is a mountainous area and historically the Kachin have been separate from the majority of Burma. Under the British Empire the Kachin were given a large degree of autonomy. Many Kachin fought for the UK in World War One and World War Two, it was British colonial policy to preference minorities such at the Kachin, Karen and Shan over the majority ethnic Burmese.

Many ethnic Burmese supported the Japanese invasion during World War Two. Whilst most Kachin supported the British. In return for this support the Kachin were promised that they would have autonomy and a right to govern their own affairs after the war ended. To this day many Kachin feel a strong sense of solidarity with Britain.

To repay this promise; Clement Attlee, insisted to Burmese Nationalist leader Aung San that Britain would not support his attempts to lead an independent Burma unless he guaranteed protections for ethnic minorities such as the Kachin. Attlee went further and insisted that Aung San gain the consent of the Kachin, Karen, and Shan. This was achieved at the Panglong Conference in 1947 when the Kachin agreed to become part of an independent Union of Burma. Aung San however was assassinated six months after independence. After this, successive Burmese leaders sought to undermine the federalist principles of the Panglong Conference and centralise power. Furthermore, during the 50s Prime Minister U Nu signed away several traditionally Kachin areas to China and in 1961 he declared that Buddhism was the state religion – which further alienated the Christian Kachin.

In 1962 U Nu was deposed in a military coup by General Ne Win. Ne Win officially ended the 1947 Constitution, further centralising control in Yangon. Most ethnic Kachin in the Burmese military defected on masse and formed the Kachin Independence Army (KIA) – intending to defend the Kachin State from Burmese oppression. From 1962-1994 the KIA controlled much of the Kachin State, they were particularly powerful in the rural areas, whilst the cities were the subject of urban warfare comparable to the troubles in Northern Ireland. A ceasefire signed in 1994 ended open hostilities temporarily.

After 17 years hostilities erupted again in 2011. Many Kachin had become increasingly disenchanted at what they saw as a poor leadership in Yangon, with an inability to deal with the rampant poverty and crime across Burma. The 2008 Constitution was also interpreted as threatening because it cemented the Burmese Army’s control over civilian affairs. But the final straw was the insistence that the KIA integrate into the regular Army, this was seen as a power grab that would effectively cripple the Kachin’s ability to resist the central government.

Since 2011 there has been intense fighting between the Tatmadaw (Burmese Army) and the KIA. Over 100,000 people have become internally displaced people (IDP’s). Many Kachin sought refuge behind the KIA lines on the border with China, but many more are kept in temporary accommodations in Burmese Government controlled areas. These temporary accommodations are kept separate from ethnic Burmese areas and are essentially shanty towns that are overcrowded, with little to no privacy and disease and drug problems rampant.

Whilst Burma made efforts to return to civilian control in 2015, in 2021 the Tatmadaw reasserted their authority and removed the Burmese civilian government. The KIA however were able to take advantage of this chaos to regain control of the city of Alawpum that was lost in 2016. The Burmese Government has been launching air strikes since 2021; whilst the KIA lack an air force they have had some success are repelling these assaults.

The KIA are a popular group that are seen as the defenders of the Kachin people. The Kachin feel that over the last 60 years they have been subjected to a policy of “Burmanisation” whereby all ethnic minorities are having their cultures degraded with the intent of homogenising the populace inline with the majority Burmese, Buddhist, culture. Some Kachin see this as colonisation on the part of the Burmese, for example the Burmese government often erect Buddhist Pagoda’s in majority Christian or Islamic areas. This attempt to degrade and destroy Kachin culture, as with the treatment of the Karen, Shan and Rohingya, is in line with the UN’s position on genocide. This has the effect of increasing ethnic tensions between the Burmese and Kachin and is part of a general populist divide and rule policy the Tatmadaw have used.

There is however cause for hope. Since the February 2021 coup, many young Burmese have taken to the streets to oppose the Tatmadaw. Many more have begun to recognise the shared oppression they experience with ethnic minorities in Burma, and it is hoped that a new generation of Burmese and Kachin can work together to fix the mistakes of the past. For most Kachin, the long-term aspiration is of an independent state. Before the British, they were never ruled by China or Burma, and largely managed their own affairs. However in the short term the goal is that the promises made to the British and Kachin in 1947 are honoured by the Burmese government.

As with the Rohingya, the persecution of the Kachin by the Burmese Government is wholesale and ongoing. The British Government must insist that as with the people of Hong Kong the promise made by the Burmese Government at the end of colonialism are honoured. We have a responsibility to protect and support the Kachin people’s aspirations for freedom and sovereignty. Since February 2021 there have been sanctions against coup-leader Min Aung Hlaing, these include a travel ban and asset seizure. Under Magnitsky legislation these sanctions must extend to all members of the Tatmadaw who have carried out attacks on the Kachin, Rohingya, Shan, Karen and all ethnic minorities in Burma.

With thanks to Hkanhpa Sadan and the Kachin Relief Fund for their help on researching this article.

Jonathan Wallcroft – NEC Member Labour Campaign for International Development

The Time For UK Leadership on Climate Change is Now

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) was set up by the United Nations, with the mandate from governments around the globe to carry out reviews of climate science, which would become the basis for policy and decision making. Thousands of scientists each year contribute to the review and provide a comprehensive overview of the drivers of climate change. This month the IPCC published part of it’s sixth report, with a condensed summary of 14,000 scientific papers. The report acts as a benchmark, providing world leaders with the scientific grounding and guidance as to whether their policies and actions are going far enough, and quick enough. The last time the IPCC produced a report of this scale was in 2013. Each iteration of the IPCC report is more stark than the last, leaving no room to question the ever looming reality of climate change, and the evidence being clear that developing countries are feeling the effects the hardest.

The wildfires across Libya, Algeria and Tunisia have reinforced the IPCC findings on Africa. What we are witnessing now – the floods, heat waves and wildfires – are just a foretaste of what’s to come if governments don’t take urgent action. Over the past week I have been watching the news and following the wildfires across North Africa with great despair. I’m proud to be of dual heritage, namely Algerian and Irish, and that only solidified when I finally had the privilege of meeting my Algerian family for the first time three years ago. I felt instantly at home and loved exploring the beautiful country for the first time. I messaged family members immediately after hearing of the wildfires that were devastating the lives and landscapes in Algeria. I felt hopeless as my aunt cried down the phone, “my country is burning down in front of me”.  Whilst these wildfires in Northern Algeria appear to have originated by arson, their scale and unfathomable strength is undoubtedly fuelled by the arid conditions that have become progressively worse due to climate change.

As the report makes clear, weather events such as heatwaves, heavy rainfall, droughts and hurricanes are becoming more frequent and more likely as a result of the climate crisis. There is no time for delay. We need immediate action to avoid worsening impacts. The UN Climate Summit COP26, hosted by the UK, is the perfect opportunity for the government to put its climate leadership rhetoric to the test, centering negotiations around the world’s poorest and the support they require to keep their countries alive. As the main drivers of climate emissions, developed countries have a responsibility to provide financial resources to poorer countries desperately in need of adaptation strategies. Currently only half of the finance handed out to developing countries is in the form of grants, the rest is loans with returns expected from the donor. We must not worsen the debt crisis with loans to poorer countries that cannot afford to pay them back. We have a duty to provide them with condition free grants.

Whilst supporting those that need it the most, the time is also now for the UK to step up their leadership on the international stage and set the agenda for ambitious targets for the years ahead. Transformational change is possible, but only with a joined up radical new approach.

Leila Bousbaa: Senior Events Officer – Coalition for Global Prosperity

0.7% Vote on Monday: Please contact your MP today – it’s now or never to save UK aid

On Monday there will be a crucial vote which would restore UK aid spending to 0.7%. 

Make no mistake – winning this vote will save lives.

Please contact your MP, by phone or email, to urge them to support the vote. You can find their contact details here: www.members.parliament.uk/FindYourMP

Urge your MP to support the amendment to the Advanced Research and Invention Agency Bill, tabled by Andrew Mitchell MP on Monday.

Here are some points you can make:

  • UK aid has a life changing impact, and with the COVID pandemic increasing poverty around the world, is needed now more than ever
  • Yes, eventually we will need to address the UK deficit, but not yet, and it should not be done by cutting support for some of the world’s poorest people
  • The UK public still support aid – recent polling shows 53% of the public support aid, compared to only 22% against
  • As the UK hosts the G7 and the COP26 climate talks this year, this vote will encourage a race to the top among other wealthy countries to do more

If you do one thing this year to help LCID, please make it this.

A message from Anna McMorrin on her time as Shadow DFID Minister

by Anna McMorrin MP

On Friday I was appointed as the new Shadow Minister for Victims and Youth Justice. As a result, I will be moving on from my current role as Shadow Minister for International Development.

Over the past year we have faced a time of unprecedented circumstances, from COVID to conflict to climate. We have seen how the scale of these challenges has exacerbated injustices and humanitarian crises facing the most vulnerable and marginalised across the world. The UK Government’s short-sighted and ill-judged cuts to lifesaving aid will further entrench those challenges and inequalities, as well as reverse any progress and resilience that UK aid has proudly helped to achieve and build.  From ensuring more girls receive a formal education, providing access to safe drinking water and sanitation, vaccinating infants and children from preventable diseases, and tackling food insecurity caused by climate-related disasters and conflict. The cuts also significantly impact your ability to effect change for the better and deliver programming which really does save lives and programmes which shape the future for the better – that is a terrible loss, the cost of shameful cuts will be increasingly felt in the decade ahead.

I feel incredibly privileged to have been able to advocate for those who need our support and cooperation, to have been able to call out injustice, and to fight for the values which should define Global Britain but which are disturbingly threatened. I am proud to have fought the reduction in cross border aid access in northwest and northeast Syria and regime impunity, to have stood against the illegal seizure and demolition of Palestinians land and property and continued de facto annexation, to have been a vocal champion for innocent and vulnerable Yemenis caught in the gravest humanitarian emergency, and to have been leading the charge on support and outcomes that must be delivered for developing nations at COP26. I will continue to speak up about these issues and to be a strong advocate wherever possible. 

Thank you for your support and collaboration!

Watch: Understanding the Integrated Review

The Government have now released their ‘Integrated Review‘ of the UK’s defence, and diplomacy and development policy. Except development barely featured. You can read our reactions to it on both development and civilian protection issues here.

In response to the review’s publication, we hosted a special event with our friends at Labour Friends of the Forces and the Labour Foreign Policy Group.

The event explored the key elements and gaps in the Integrated Review as well as how Labour should respond, building upon the IR to articulate its own ambition for Britain in the World.

Speakers included Wayne David MP, Shadow FCO Minister, Sarah Champion MP, Chair of the International Development Select Committee; Lord Robertson, former NATO Secretary General; and Rt Hon Jack Straw, former Foreign Secretary.