This week’s duel between the prime minister and the leader of the opposition saw the shadow foreign secretary caught by a stray if inaccurate shot. Defending the government’s new integrated foreign policy review, Boris Johnson tried to paint Lisa Nandy as some kind of peacenik.
“It is frankly satirical to be lectured about the size of the army when the shadow foreign secretary herself wrote only recently that the entire British Army should be turned into a kind of peace corps,” Johnson told the House of Commons during Prime Minister’s Questions. But this is untrue.
Johnson was presumably recalling a Mail story from January in which Nandy was accused of backing a report which advocated disbanding the armed forces. But Nandy did not back the report, which did not advocate disbanding the armed forces.
A Progressive Foreign Policy for New Times is not even fully endorsed by Open Labour, the soft left faction that published it to start a discussion. The section referring to what Johnson summarised as a “kind of peace corps” is actually written by shadow tourism minister Alex Sobel and the academic Mary Kaldor.
The integrated review, they write, provides an opportunity to “consider a real shift in the nature of our services from classic armed forces to what one might call human security services which would include the military but would also include police, engineers, aid workers, or health workers and would be gender balanced and ethnically diverse; their central task would be to protect human security and in cases of war to dampen down violence rather than intervene on one side or the other.”
‘Human security’ is a capacious concept, stretching well beyond the traditional idea of freedom from violence. It is focused, as the report’s introduction argues, on individuals and communities, and considers poverty, disease and climate change in addition to physical security.
There is no indication Nandy or the wider shadow cabinet share any ambition to replace the armed forces. In the launch event for the whitepaper she largely avoided commenting on the document. The closest she comes is in the following remark:
One of the things that I found really inspirational about this pamphlet is that I think it’s based on the belief that I also share: that while we learn from the past we must never be bound by it, and we need to build a foreign policy that is fit for the realities of this century and not the circumstances of the last.
Ironically, had she endorsed the substance of the document and not the introduction, Labour’s critics would have found much to like. Written by two employment academics, Paul Thompson and Frederick Harry Pitts, the paper savages Jeremy Corbyn’s foreign policy worldview, arguing that the “‘two-campist’ anti-imperialism of the recent Labour leadership has little to offer any future progressive foreign policy.”
According to the report’s authors, this two-camp philosophy frequently posits the West against the rest, and will reflexively back enemies of the former. Global conflicts are solely understood as a result of Western machinations, for example by casting Islamist violence in Europe as a response to Western intervention in the Middle East.
“The response of the Stop the War left to each and every major conflict the world over typically represents little more than a nostalgia trip getting the band back together for one last riff on the Iraq years,” the report says. “But contemporary conflicts do not sit easily with the Iraq complex of the left.”
There is a soft endorsement of focusing on human security in the context of challenging notions of state sovereignty. But the most striking feature of the report is its endorsement of Robin Cook, the New Labour foreign secretary who stressed the need for an “ethical dimension” to foreign policy to make it progressive.
Cook may have opposed the Iraq War, but he presided over interventions of Kosovo and Sierra Leone. If Nandy wishes to use him as a model for Labour’s future foreign policy, the party can hardly be accused of Corbyn’s pacifism.