2018: The year of still living dangerously

by Rob Marchant

If you thought 2017 was a disturbing time for world geopolitics, hang on to your hats. Last January we wrote about the potential bear-traps of a Trump presidency. One year into it, they are all still there and mostly look worse.

Current situations in Iran, North Korea, Syria, Ukraine and the Baltic states all look like either remaining, or escalating into, serious conflicts during 2018. Worse than that, we live in genuinely unstable times where the historical precedents are not great.

Aggressive powers – mostly Russia and its client states – have been appeased over recent years in a manner eerily reminiscent of the way fascist powers (Germany, Italy and Japan) were appeased in the 1930s, also following a few years after a major financial crisis and world recession. And that decade didn’t end too well.

The problem that Jeremy Corbyn has is, of course, that he is on the wrong side of the debate regarding all these potential flashpoints. While he will equivocate and be plausibly deniable over his support or not in each case, let’s look at the facts.

  1. Iran: Corbyn was paid to present on the regime’s propaganda mouthpiece PressTV (note that this is not the same as appearing on it, although frankly even that is a questionable action, given its banning from the airwaves by OfCom for breaches of broadcasting standards). He appeared on it even six months after its licence was revoked. Further, he has yet to even comment on, let alone support the protesters in, the ongoing scuffles and their violent suppression of the last week, or criticise Iran’s despotic and repressive government.
  2. With North Korea, although he has superficially appealed to both the US and North Korea for calm and argued for them to disarm (a somewhat optimistic appeal in either case), Corbyn’s inner circle also contains known regime apologists such as Seumas Milne and Andrew Murray. Until becoming leader, he chaired Stop the War Coalition (now chaired by Murray), an organisation which superficially advocates for peace but, strangely, never seems to criticise any governments apart from those in the West. Maintaining this disingenuous, “will both sides please step back” approach, while simultaneously implying that only one side is to blame, is typical of Corbyn’s “cognitive dissonance” approach to foreign policy.
  3. Similarly, in all his comments on Syria, he has never once criticised Bashar Assad, a dictator known to have committed mass-murder against his own citizens. He also said there was “very strong evidence” supporting the Russia-propagated position that the use of sarin gas was by the rebels and not by the Assad regime, later proven to be a lie.
  4. Finally, in Ukraine, Milne propagated the Russia-pushed (and blatantly untrue) line that the Euromaidan protestors in Kyiv were having their strings pulled by fascists. If Russia were to attempt a full takeover of the country, or march into one of the Baltic states (something not at all beyond the realms of possibility in the potentially limited window while Trump remains POTUS), you could guarantee that at best he would appeal for calm on both sides, rather than supporting Britain’s treaty obligation to respond in kind via NATO.For those who do not consider a Baltic invasion possible, by the way, please consider (i) the deep nervousness of the states themselves and (ii) the relative ease with which Putin has already browbeaten and manipulated the world into relatively passive acceptance of his invasion of three Ukrainian provinces. The cost so far has been only selective sanctions on Russian individuals, sanctions which Trump has already (unsuccessfully) attempted to lift. The only difference here is NATO: again, something which Trump is dismissive of.

Closely involved with all these potential flashpoints is Russia: the string-puller in Syria and Iran; the agitator in North Korea; the invader in Ukraine. For the record Corbyn appeared numerous times on its propaganda channel Russia Today since its inception and, since he became leader, his frontbenchers have also appeared 26 times. Perhaps more importantly, he has never been known to make any criticism of Putin (unless emptily criticising “all sides” for use of violence) and, let’s face it, spent the first six years of his parliamentary career taking the USSR’s position against the West. It’s not like there’s not form here.

No, Corbyn is on only ever one side in these debates: the opposite one to the traditional position of his country, on principle.

Weighing all of this up, is this a problem for Britain? Of course it is: a huge one.

If Corbyn is to get even a whiff of becoming its prime minister, which the polls say he does, he would be first and foremost a security risk of the highest order. For him to be attending COBRA or seeing top-classified documents from the security services would be very tricky indeed (we might remember that Harold Wilson felt a distinct paranoia that MI5 were watching him, and it was later found he wasn’t wrong).

No-one expected a Labour win in 2017, but wiser heads will see this time that it is a possibility, if not yet a probability. One honestly wonders whether the spooks might not be tempted to move beyond the monitoring stage with Corbyn; surely a greater threat to the country’s security, if elected, than Wilson ever was.

That said, what is certain is that any major geopolitical shock in 2018 could still have a deleterious effect on Corbyn’s standing. So far he has had minor ones: Syria, Ukraine and Iran are not plays whose main acts have happened on his watch. We are now dealing with the aftershocks.

North Korea has been the only real new flare-up during his term as leader: but a serious escalation there could make his “criticise both sides” policy look increasingly foolish.

As for an attack on one of the Baltic states, this could be the most deadly of all for Corbyn: a man who has spent his whole life criticising NATO would be almost certain to rule out any kind of military response.

First, in the event that Labour were still in opposition, this could be enough for the Tories to destroy him politically, as a failure to respond to an attack on one of its members would clearly mean the demise of NATO as an effective vehicle for Western defence (one assumes, of course, that the Tories would advocate for action, even were it not supported by Trump).

In the event that Labour were actually to be in power, however, the situation would be immeasurably worse. It would mean that Labour was actively trying to bring down the organisation which had kept the peace in Europe these last seventy years, bringing eternal shame upon both party and country.

In short, it would be appeasement of Chamberlainian proportions, a new Sudetenland: “a quarrel in a country far away, of whom we know little”.

Rob Marchant is an activist and former Labour party manager who blogs at The Centre Left


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15 Responses to “2018: The year of still living dangerously”

  1. John Wall says:

    An interesting article. I wish I’d seen it before publication as there are a few things I’d add:

    (1) Putin’s invasion of the Chechen Republic.

    (2) Putin’s annexation of the Crimea.

    Putin is as potentially dangerous as Hitler.

    Hitler started by expanding the Reich to take in ethnic Germans, many of whom were supportive. There were inequities in the Treaty of Versailles and, to some extent, this was sorting some of them out. However, letting Hitler get away with these made him think that he could get away with blatant land-grabs. It’s a great “what if”, had Hitler limited his territorial ambitions.

    Putin, similarly, has got away with too much and how far will he go before the West acts?

    Ciorbyn is another Lansbury but there doesn’t appear to be anybody to get rid of him – the unions were the voice of reason in the 30s.

    It’s not 9nly Russia Today that Corbyn, et al support and endorse – don’t forget the Morning Star.

  2. Alf says:

    Iraq. Libya. Remind me who was in charge then.

  3. buttley says:

    Rob, in your bullet point number 3

    You assert “Similarly, in all his comments on Syria, he (Corbyn) has never once criticised Bashar Assad”

    On 11th September 2015, Corbyn said “I’m not a supporter of Assad; I think the human rights record of his regime is dreadful and the methods he’s used against his opponents is quite dreadful.”

    You then go on to assert “The use of sarin gas was by the rebels and not by the Assad regime, later proven to be a lie.”

    You link to an article that proves no such thing, indeed, it clearly states:

    “The sarin identified in the samples taken from Khan Sheikhoun was found to have MOST LIKELY been made with a precursor (DF) from the original stockpile of the Syrian Arab Republic,”

    “In light of the marker chemicals identified in the (sarin precursor methylphosphonic difluride) DF and the sarin, which are BELIEVED to be unique, the Mechanism concludes that the precursor chemical DF – which is necessary to produce binary sarin – is VERY LIKELY to have originated from the Syrian Arab Republic.”

    Please address these points.

  4. Paul Canning (@pauloCanning) says:

    Amazed you’ve not included Venezuela in this scenario, especially if looking at 2018 ‘flashpoints’.

  5. Paul Canning (@pauloCanning) says:

    Would also point out that although all the people I follow on this don’t think Russia will invade Lithuania the Baltics say they’re being invaded anyway, just not by tanks. That’s why Nato has deployed there now and that’s what a Corbyn government would – one assumes – pull us out of (for a start).

  6. Putin isn’t as dangerous as Hitler, and I’m sure Rob doesn’t think so. His economy is weak, dependent almost entirely on oil and gas exports. His military is outclassed by the US.

    However, Rob is right, Putin is still dangerous. His actions in Georgia, Ukraine and Syria are undermining international norms. The aggressive behaviour of his military, from cyber-attacks on the Baltics, to submarine incursions into Swedish territorial waters. His irresponsible probing flights by Russian bombers forces western countries to spend more than they would like on defense, to counter them. The deaths of journalists and opposition politicians on his watch, and his interference in out democratic processes shows his hostility to democracy.

    Putin is partly dangerous because he is scared. He knows the one threat to his rule is internal dissent. The various revolutions against dictatorships around the world must, at times, keep him awake at night.

    And he knows that what gives oxygen to these revolutions is, most of all, prosperous democratic Europe. The existence of highly prosperous and successful democracies just over the border is a serious threat to him.

    Will Putin’s army come sweeping across the north German plain, as was threatened during the cold war? No. Despite his substantial nuclear arsenal, Putin is not the existential threat to western democracy that Hitler was, but he is a stark threat to small countries like the Baltic States.

    I wish those who call themselves progressives but ridicule these concerns would wake up to the real nature of Putin’s regime, which is regressive is almost every sense.

  7. paul barker says:

    Interesting stuff but if thats how you feel why are campaigning for Corbyn to become PM?

  8. @John: Indeed. I am currently reading Churchill’s “The Gathering Storm”, and what stands out is Hitler’s surprise to find the British and the French so compliant. The French had army superiority for a long time and Hitler had plans to back out of the remilitarisation of the Rhineland if he met serious opposition. He didn’t.

    What many analysts seem to miss is that sometimes foreign policy is conducted – especially by the bad guys – on the basis of “chancing their arm”. If it works, great. And sometimes it does because other world leaders (e.g. Obama) simply can’t get where they’re coming from. They expect them to have rational care for human life, etc. when they don’t.

  9. Dr Christopher Farouk Hussain says:

    Jeremy Corbyn’s judgement has always been questionable, but then what leader hasn’t had questionable judgement? I think the point about siding against the West is true, but I’ve always been of the view that the US is the greatest threat to world peace. Not because I believe the US to be evil or more evil than anywhere else. It’s because the US has greater clout than most other nations and can cause shocks that affect a much larger region than say Syria or North Korea. North Korea’s regime is a threat to peace in the Korean Peninsula, to Japan and to China. US is capable of starting a war anywhere in the world and has done so before. The US has meddled in the affairs of the middle east many times, and also with questionable motives and/or judgement.

    Also, one point which may come across as nitpicking but is quite important – are you centre-left because you favour the centrist approach to defence but are left wing on all other matters. My problem with the so-called centre left is that they’re right wing economically too. Corbyn is a deeply flawed individual, but he is left wing. His opponents are almost all right wing economically. Support social housing, renationalisation of the railways, repealing of some anti-union laws, progressive taxation and regulation of the financial sector, and you would get my vote with your approach to defence. The problem is you don’t support those things, leaving myself and many others on the left in a bind.

  10. @Buttley: Really, what are you talking about. The United Nations – the UN! – issued a report which clearly blamed the Syrian regime. Your quotes which mention where things are “likely” are about the details of exactly where the sarin came from, which stockpiles, ingredients etc. But there is absolutely no doubt about the sarin coming from the regime.

  11. John p. Reid says:

    alf Cameron was in. Charge during Lydia.

  12. Stephen Hildon says:

    Russia is the agitator in North Korea?!? The highlight of a hilarious article. Choosing sides in Syria led to the uncautious to cheerleading Al-Qaeda.

  13. buttley says:

    Rob, what are you talking about.

    When challenged on your bullshit, you project at me, they are not my quotes, they are non evidence cited by you in support of your assertions.

    The United Nations – the UN! – they did indeed clearly blame the Syrian regime, but with one notable caveat, which was, that the blame was “regardless of the perpetrator”.

    i.e. this occurred on your soil, therefore you own it, kind of blame.

    http://www.un.org/apps/news/story.asp?NewsID=57468#.WlEg6IWTY7A

    “there is absolutely no doubt about the sarin coming from the regime”

    Nice move of the goal posts there, i don’t know where the sarin like substance came from, nor do you, those that do, will never or can’t say.

    What is clear, is that, it is not Proven.

    Theodore Postol, Professor Emeritus of Science, Technology, & National Security Policy @ Massachusetts Institute of Technology, has lots of doubts about this case, most are very valid.

    https://drive.google.com/file/d/0B_Vs2rjE9TdwR2F3NFFVWDExMnc/view

    So lets be clear, in one paragraph you mis-spoke twice,

    That Corbyn did not ever say what he had clearly said.

    That it had been proven that the Syrian regime was responsible for the Khan Shaykhun attack.

    Both untrue.

  14. Tony says:

    “and, let’s face it, spent the first six years of his parliamentary career taking the USSR’s position against the West. It’s not like there’s not form here.”

    Please explain what you mean by this!

  15. Harry says:

    “No-one expected a Labour win in 2017, but wiser heads will see this time that it is a possibility, if not yet a probability.”

    I think most people would argue that a Labour win next time is more likely than not given the current state of the Tories and the sad history of minority governments in the UK (last two were Major and Callahagn both wiped out in landslides). For a man who predicted labour could lose 100 seats in 2017 to be telling us all about what “wiser heads” think now is more than a little ridiculous.

    As for the idea that Corbyn’s position on foreign policy is going to be a more significant drag on his electibility next time compared to last June seems mistaken for two reasons. Firstly the Tories and their press allies (and of course the labour right) threw all of this at him during the election and most of it bounced of, possibly because Crobyn was proved pretty much 100% correct when it came to the biggest UK foreign intervention this century (Iraq).

    The second reason is that I’m unconvinced that foreign policy is ever particularly high on voters agenda’s, Blair managed to win in 2005 even though Iraq was already becoming very unpopular. I can see no reason to think that with the economic effects of Brexit intensifying and the costs of austerity rising by the day people are going to focus on whether or not corbyn used to go on Russia Today, nor is it likely that Putin would take the risk of actually attacking a NATO state. I also think you over estimate how much public support there would be for any major UK involvement in regional conflicts I think most of the public left and right will be of the view that we have enough on our plates at the moment.

    Ultimately Brexit and domestic issues will be the focus of the next election and that is what labour has to concentrate on. Emily Thornberry can handle foreign affairs for the party and is proving more than capable in doing so, no need for Corbyn to stick his neck out there especially given the large number of criticisms that can be made of his past positions.

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