Last thing we need


February 8, 2005 10:29 | Jeremy Corbyn, MP

Corbyn argues that the EU should concentrate on eliminating poverty instead of building an army.

THE devastation of the tsunami has resulted in millions of people all over the globe giving large amounts of money in an unprecedented display of a basic human instinct - helping other people in trouble.

At least 150,000 people have perished in the disaster and millions have been made homeless. It has made us all realise how fragile our existence can be.

It is possible that this is a turning point in the attitude of the rich West to the countries on the rim of the Indian Ocean - one can only hope.

According the respected journal The Lancet (the weekly magazine of the British Medical Association, which represents almost all UK physicians - ed.), the death toll of civilians in Iraq is over 100,000 and still rising.

The millions who marched in 2003 all over the world were supporting not tyrannical regimes, but humanity. If the US and British war efforts had relied on a tsunami-style appeal, we can safely assume that no war would have occurred.

I make this comparison to indicate that those of us who want to see a world at peace are not isolated and alone.

A new debate is stirring in Europe on the role of the European Union in international affairs and whether there should be a standing European army, as the draft constitution heralds.

Before we look at this issue, it is worth considering a little of the background to the plans.

Europe was divided by the cold war. Massive arsenals were built up by both the Warsaw Pact and NATO. The end of the cold war should have created the "common European home" that Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachov proposed.

Instead, the Warsaw Pact was dismantled and NATO, which ought to have done the same, cast around for a new role.

In a series of brilliant political manoeuvres, it managed to retain its funding and military structure by successfully playing the anti-terrorist card.

It also involved itself in the Yugoslav conflict, redefining itself as an out-of-area organisation. While proclaiming its democratic virtues, NATO had no qualms about embracing fascist Spain and Portugal in the 1960s and '70s. The military dictatorship in Greece and, later, military rule in Turkey did not cause any ripples for the NATO publicity machine.

The organisation is now the world's only effective military alliance and is acting as an agent of US foreign policy, trying to act as the military arm of the UN when it agrees with its decisions.

Those who propound a European military force frequently make the point that the US needs a rival in the world and that Europe can provide it.

But, unless they seriously intend to start a war with the US, which seems inconceivable, they will actually be supporting US foreign policy.

The reality is that the US is fully stretched in Iraq, where it has 140,000 ground troops and needs some relief.

While a European force would not have got involved in the current conflict, who can tell what new adventures the White House neocons will drag the world into and which nations would support them?

Another argument that is used to support a EU force is that Europe is somehow a benign influence in the world, while the US, with its 100 military interventions in a century, is intrinsically malevolent.

The left in Europe should remember our history. No country is free from the taint of colonial exploitation and the atrocities that the scramble for Latin America, Asia and Africa brought about.

The real purpose of a European army would be to provide protection for commercial interests and a local force for NATO (US) operations to take place elsewhere in the world.

British support for the European military option seems to have been lukewarm and Tony Blair only blessed it when it was clear that the US was not opposed and NATO would not be undermined.

In its statement of international priorities, the Foreign Office outlined eight priorities for Britain, starting with the threat of weapons of mass destruction and global terrorism, illegal immigration, the rule of law, a secure EU, the promotion of the country's economic interests and the protection of energy supplies and Britain's overseas territories.

It is only point six, which mentions "sustainable development," that has any respect for the desperate needs of the poorest people across the planet.

In other words, our whole foreign policy appears to be based on the threats created by injustice, poverty and instability and gives only half a nod in favour of doing something about the causes.

The Ministry of Defence followed this up with a plan of security policy to 2030 which talks of "asymmetric conflicts," new nuclear threats, the US global war on terror and conflicts in space and cyberspace.

Over the last 10 years and, particularly, over the last three, NATO has become embroiled in out-of-area operations and is establishing itself as a world military body.

The concept of a European force needs to be very carefully examined. Is this to become a benign force under which Europe will undertake humanitarian missions or will it be a surrogate for the US and NATO?

The defenders of the concept claim that it would operate only under the terms of the UN charter and by a majority vote of the EU council of ministers.

As the decision-making in the run-up to the invasion of Iraq demonstrated, there is no period of calm reflection.

In a crisis where the US called on European involvement, it could either invoke the NATO charter of common defence or simply put huge pressure on the new NATO members who are also in the EU to vote for it.

The world's great challenge, as the tsunami demonstrated, is to get help and aid to people in need, fast. Tied to this is the importance of a world body like the UN having more power, greater democracy and a police force of its own. The inability of the world to help the victims of genocide in Rwanda, despite desperate pleas from UN secretary general Kofi Annan, is ample demonstration of this.

The debate about a European army provides an opportunity for peace movements across Europe to unite and to campaign against it.

The best way to ensure that Europe acts as a force for good in the world is to pursue an economic and social strategy that eliminates poverty and injustice. It will not be achieved by becoming cannon fodder for the neocons in Washington.

Jeremy Corbyn is a British Labour MP, representing the London constituency of Islington North. He can be contacted at This article first appeared in the Morning Star, the world's only English language socialist daily, on 19 January 2005. To find out more about the Morning Star, go to their website

See also:

Campaign Against EU Constitution

Single Currency 'Threat to Democracy'

Left MEPs Condemn Nominee for President of EU Commission