Jeremy Corbyn has been attacked by Labour MPs for signaling he would not defend a Nato ally from invasion.
Speaking during a Labour leadership debate with Owen Smith last night, Corbyn said he wanted to avoid the UK “getting involved militarily”.
By contrast, Smith said if he were prime minister he would “come to the aid” of an ally if it was subject to Russian aggression.
Former Labour security minister and Royal Navy head Lord West branded Corbyn’s comments “absolutely dreadful”. Several Labour MPs also criticised Corbyn for his stance.
During the debate, Corbyn made clear he has his own reservations about any UK military involvement even if a Nato member was attacked. When the subject was debated, he said:
“I would want to avoid us getting involved militarily by building up the diplomatic relationships, and also try to isolate any country in Europe. To bring them up.”
Pressed further by ITV’s Carl Dinnen about what he would do if a Nato country was invaded, Corbyn said:
“I don’t wish to go to war. What I want to do is achieve a world where we don’t need to go to war, where there is no need for it. That can be done.”
Lord West told Politics Home today: “I think it’s quite an extraordinary comment and shows a complete lack of understanding of what Nato is, just as he doesn’t understand the concept of having a nuclear deterrent. We belong to an alliance, but he stood up and told our allies ‘I’m not necessarily sure that we’ll come to help you’. I find it quite extraordinary that he’s saying that.
“He’s stating platitudes because it gets the unthinking masses to vote for him. He should not lead the nation because it leads to war when you don’t stand up to bullies.”
He added: “Nato is the most important alliance, along with our alliance with America, for the security of this nation, and I think Mr Corbyn finds both of these things difficult.”
Smith told the debate last night:
“Obviously none of us want to go to war, that must be the last possible option. But I think it is clear were there an invasion of a Nato state, I’m clear we would need to come to the aid of that state.”
Corbyn has previously argued Nato should have been disbanded 25-years ago. During a 2015 Labour leadership hustings, Corbyn said he had “not been supportive” of Nato since collapse of communism and added: “It’s a Cold War organisation, it should have been would up in 1990.”
And he said Article 5 of the Nato treaty, which treats an attack on one member as an attack on all, should give people who wanted to grow the alliance pause for thought.
Corbyn’s position has drawn comparisons with Donald Trump. Last month the Republican presidential candidate courted controversy when he suggested membership of Nato was conditional on other nations paying their “fair share”.
It was hugely significant, the first time a would-be US President had raised a question mark over the defence of its major allies under the 28-state collective alliance, which is enshrined in Article 5 of the Nato treaty
His comments come amid Russian aggression and fears of invasions of Baltic states.