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Why Jeremy Corbyn Would Be A Foreign Policy Disaster As PM

15/05/2017 17:21 BST | Updated 15/05/2017 17:21 BST
JUSTIN TALLIS via Getty Images

There is a maxim in international politics: "There are no good options, just bad ones. The trick is to pick the best of the bad." The electorate is faced with the same question, who is the best of the bad? While I am not advocating for any candidate, I feel a great sense of unease at the prospect of Jeremy Corbyn as Prime Minister. How can a leader whose rhetoric is reminiscent of bygone era lead a country during one of the most complex international security environments in a generation? Russia, Syria, North Korea, Turkey, Iraq, America and beyond - the challenges are enormous and could get more complex with bad and ineffective leadership.

What we know about Jeremy Corbyn's political activism record is troubling, he has hosted speakers who have ties to terrorist organisations like Hezbollah, even describing the likes of Hezbollah as 'friends'. Although he has since apologised for calling Hezbollah his friends, there are many other groups who he has associated with that he has not apologised for. This is not the only troubling thing about Corbyn's foreign policy.

Syria

While Corbyn's position on Syria seems clear enough, he told the press at Chatham House: "Regime change wars in Iraq, Libya and Syria- and western interventions in Afghanistan, Somalia and Yemen- have failed in their own terms, and made the world a more dangerous place." The trouble with this statement is that it echoes the alternative truth and counterfactual nature of Corbyn's foreign politics. There was no western attempt at regime change in Syria.

In 2011, the Arab Spring struck Syria following Tunisia, Bahrain and Libya, popular anger against ageing authoritarian orders and violent police states, led millions onto the streets to demand reforms or the regime leave power. The Syrian regime responded to these peaceful protests with excessive brute and bloody force, this went on for months, the Syrian regime even began releasing Islamists extremists from prison in the hope they would start a violent insurgency. While this might sound counter-intuitive to non-Syrians, the Assad regime was facing unprecedented uprising with Syria's different minorities coming together to oppose the regime, an Islamist insurgency was the only way to divide the movement and enable the regime to survive despite the fact it triggered the civil war. In terms of the US and UK's foreign policy, the most that these governments have ever called for is President Assad personally step down and the regime comes together with the opposition and forms a transitional government- a far cry from regime change.

Corbyn ignores this reality, it is true that he has called for a 'political solution to the Syrian crisis' and he has voted against British military action inside Syria, but despite being chairperson for the Stop The War Coalition for much of his political activist career, calling Corbyn 'anti-war' is misleading and inaccurate. Corbyn opposes British bombs landing on Syria, but he was in favour of Russia's intervention into Syria in 2015. Between 2015-2017 Russian airstrikes are estimated to have killed as many as 11, 282 civilians according to AirWars. Corbyn has refused to condemn Russian actions citing fears about spreading, "Russophobia," which will likely lead to confrontation with Russia according to Mr Corbyn.

However, his non-condemnation takes on a sinister twist when you consider what Labour's shadow foreign secretary, Emily Thornberry, said to Channel 4 News in October 2016 shortly after taking over the position. "At a time when people are very angry with the Russians and Syrians," she tells Jon Snow, "it is very easy at this time to ratchet up the rhetoric and to pour oil onto the flames." She goes onto to say the UN special envoy has an initiative to escort all 900 Jihadis out of Eastern Aleppo, which is much like what happened in Homs. To a non-specialist audience this statement sounds harmless - except calling for the Homs solution had nothing to do with escorting Jihadis away and everything to do with wholesale expulsion of civilians from the city.

In effect, through coded language, Thornberry was calling for the forced displacement of civilians from Eastern Aleppo, which did happen in December 2016. Legally speaking forced displacement of a civilian population is a war crime and Thornberry has never qualified her position on this. While Corbyn might have a pro-refugee stand, he doesn't seem too keen on preventing Syrians from becoming refugees in the first instance.

Russia

Unquestionably the greatest international security challenge to Western Europe comes from the Kremlin. Meddling in elections, challenging the territorial integrity of the Ukraine and the Baltic states, destabilising the European Union through aggressive actions in both the Ukraine and Syria, there is a long list of charges. Much of Putin's actions have been out of weakness, both his weakness and the weakness of western powers. Putin has responded to his weakness with a show of strength, at a time when European states seem incapable of formulating a coherent response, this makes the Kremlin particularly deadly. The United States under Trump is volatile and unpredictable, to deal with these uncertainties, Britain needs good strong leadership.

The trouble with Corbyn is how weak he has been on these issues. A PM who will not condemn Russian actions due to fears over 'Russophobia' - at a time when Russian actions pose such a serious threat - is not a PM who Britain can look to in times of international crisis. The bottom line is the Kremlin will only take the West seriously if it believes the West will get tough with Russia and possibly backup their words with actions. It's only then that serious negotiations can take place, agreements reached, and international security and peace upheld. Corbyn has thus far refused to back Nato's deployment to the Baltic States, at the invitation of these governments, to help curtail possible Russian aggressive actions against them. When the Ukrainian Revolution happened and the Russian military responded by illegally invading Eastern Ukraine and annexing Crimea, Corbyn responded by blaming Nato and claiming Russia had been 'provoked'. This despite the fact western nations had nothing to do with the Ukrainian revolution and that Russian meddling in the country caused the backlash. In 2014, Corbyn went further and responded to the Russian invasion by saying, "Ukraine's national borders have ebbed and flowed with the tides of history," an odd statement for someone who allegedly cares about international law, of which state sovereignty is a cornerstone.

Conclusion

While Corbyn seems pretty clear on foreign policy issues, he has not only been dangerously inconsistent, but also grossly out-of-touch with the ground realities in many places. While I have highlighted Russia and Syria, his troubling politics extends to other places too. Fundamentally, in Corbyn, you have the two worst traits converge in one leader- ignorance and weakness. While this is a Brexit election, how Britain behaves internationally will determine the success or failure of Brexit, it is not only about negotiations with Brussels, but how we manage international crisis effectively. It is time to realise that Corbyn is not the solution before it is too late.