NATO, Ukraine and the Labour Party

Diary of an ex-Corbyn foot soldier (April, 2022) 

Dictionary definition of “foot soldier”: “…a dedicated low level follower…” 

Michael Murray:; FaceBook: Michael Murray London

(1) Introduction “Time to get your mind right on NATO, boy!”

(2)   Stop The War fights back

(3)  Jack F Matlock: “I was there: NATO and the origins of the Ukraine crisis”

(4)  George L Kennan:  Another who was there.

(5)  NATO: “To keep Russians out, Americans in and Germans down” 

(1) Introduction “Time to get your mind right on NATO, boy”

Keir Starmer was quoted in the 28 February, 2022, Huffington Post as threatening: “Any member who attacked the organisation (ie NATO) would have their Labour Party membership scrapped.”  

A Labour Party spokesperson was quoted as having said: “With Keir Starmer’s leadership there will never be any confusion about whose side Labour is on – Britain, NATO, freedom and democracy – and every Labour MP now understands that.”

The implications for Labour MPs, and members who supported the STW statement – and Jeremy Corbyn, in particular – as well as  Stop The War, which had come in for a vicious Starmer attack, were discussed in last month’s LA as was the relationship of NATO to the Military Industrial Complex and  the emergence of post Cold War neo-con politics.  (Link: “On the Edge in Ukraine,” Labour Affairs, March 2022).

In this issue, we take a closer look at NATO in the light of events in and around Ukraine, and the official Labour stance on it – mostly through the eyes of two leading US State Department career diplomats, both former Ambassadors to the Soviet Union – George Kennan and Jack Matlock – both acknowledged Russian experts.  The first, Kennan, was one of the chief architects of the US foreign policy thinking that created NATO, and lived to regret what it became in the hands of  the post Cold War neo-cons and greedy armament industry.  

(2) Stop The War fights back

While condemning the Russian incursion into Ukraine in late February the “Stop The War” coalition (STW) issued a statement which included apportioning a large part of the blame to NATO for the Ukraine crisis. 

“We refute the idea that NATO is a defensive alliance,” it read,“and believe its record in Afghanistan, Yugoslavia and Libya over the last generation, not to mention the US-British attack on Iraq clearly proves otherwise.” 

And, more, pointedly: “NATO should call a halt to its eastern expansion and commit to a new security deal for Europe which meets the needs of all states and peoples.” 

That led to unprecedented action being taken against Labour MPs and threats issued to Labour members  by Labour’s leadership, and a full frontal attack on STW, as reported here last month. 

Since then, STW has issued a number of rebuttals, including one that reminded the Labour Party of two relevant facts:

  1. STW was right about the Afghan war and occupation. It was right about the Iraq invasion. It was right about the regime change war against Libya. And: “In all these conflicts we correctly anticipated the disasters that would ensue when the Labour Leader of the day was urging war.” 
  2. “Doubtless for that reason, when Labour members were surveyed in early 2020 as to which campaigning organisations they most supported, STW was a runaway leader.”  Perhaps, STW concedes, that position “will have eroded somewhat under pressure of Keir Starmer’s unending war on the party he leads, but it remains a potent trend within the Party.”  

“Opposition to war, nuclear weapons and, to a lesser extent, NATO, have been part of Labour’s political culture for generations,” STW also pointed out.

“But now,” it continued, “they appear a menace to the politically vacuous, instinctively illiberal policeman moonlighting as Leader of the Opposition. A man who holds NATO above the NHS as a Labour ‘achievement’.”  

Fighting talk from a pacifist movement.  

Labour has returned to the bleakest days of the Cold War, writes Andrew Murray, STW leading light, when dissent on international matters was crushed and excluded.  It ought to be offering a practical programme for de-escalation beyond the essential Russian withdrawal, lest  – as he is not far out in suggesting  – “this crisis threatens a still more terrible conflagration.” (LINK: Andrew Murray, Menace to Democracy: Starmer’s sordid campaign against the anti-war movement, “ STW website, 9 March, 2022).

(3) Jack F Matlock: “I was there: NATO and the origins of the Ukraine crisis”

Writing on the eve of the Russian incursion into Ukraine, Jack F. Matlock, career diplomat and  Soviet affairs expert who was US Ambassador to  the Soviet Union in the critical years I987 to 1991 and participated in the negotiations that ended the Cold War, felt obliged to put the record straight on exactly what happened at that historic juncture. In an article entitled  “I was there: NATO and the origins of the Ukraine crisis”  he poses, then addresses, three questions:   

(1) Was the current Ukrainian crisis avoidable ?

(2) Was it predictable ?

(3) Most provocatively – and apposite: Was this crisis wilfully precipitated?

To (1): was it avoidable ?  Unequivocally, he answers “Yes.” 

“Despite the prevalent belief held by both the Washington(DC) foreign policy establishment and most of the Russian public, the US did not support, much less cause the breakup of the Soviet Union. We supported the independence of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania,” and, he points out: one of the last acts of the Soviet parliament was to legalise their claims to independence.

“Putin has never threatened to re-absorb the Baltic countries or to claim any of their territories, though he has criticised some that denied ethnic Russians the full rights of citizenship, a principle that the EU is pledged to enforce.”   

“Since Putin’s demand is an assurance that NATO will take no further members, and specifically not Ukraine or Georgia, obviously there would have been no basis for the present crisis if there had been no expansion of the alliance following the end of the Cold War, or if the expansion had occurred in harmony with building a security structure in Europe that included Russia.”

To (2): was it predictable?  His answer: “Absolutely.” 

He goes on to describe NATO expansionas the most profound strategic blunder made since the end of the Cold War. When, in 1997, the question of adding more NATO members came up he was asked to testify before a Senate Foreign Relations Committee to which, inter alia, he said the following:

“Far from improving the security of the US, its allies and the nations that wish to enter the Alliance, it could well encourage a chain of events that could produce the most serious threat to this nation since the Soviet Union collapsed.”  

He also spoke about the existential threat to life on earth posed by the combined stock of nuclear weapons.

“The plan to increase the membership of NATO fails to take account of the real international situation following the end of the Cold War and proceeds in accord with a logic that only made sense during the Cold War”… 

“If NATO isto be the principal instrument for unifying the continent, then logically the only way it can do so is by expanding to include all European countries. But this does not appear to be the aim of the administration, and even if it is, the way to reach it is not by admitting new members piecemeal.”

There follows a longer comment on the issue of whether there was an express NATO commitment to not encroaching on the former Soviet ‘sphere of influence’.

“President Bush also assured Gorbachev during their meeting in Malta, December 1989, that if the countries of Eastern Europe were allowed to choose their future orientation by democratic processes, the US would not “take advantage” of that process. (Obviously, bringing countries into NATO that were then in the Warsaw Pact would be ‘taking advantage.’) 

“The following year, Gorbachev was assured, though not in a formal treaty, that if a unified Germany was allowed to remain in NATO there would be no movement of NATO jurisdiction to the East, “not one inch.”

Lastly (3) Was the crisis precipitated?

Alas, the policies pursued by Presidents George W Bush, Barack Obama, Donald Trump and Joe Biden have all contributed to bringing us to this point.

Adding countries in Eastern Europe continued during the G W Bush administration but that was not the only thing that stimulated Russian objection. At the same time, the US began withdrawing from the arms control treaties that had tempered, for a time, an irrational and dangerous arms race and were the foundation agreements for ending the Cold War

The most significant was the decision to withdraw from the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty which had been the cornerstone treaty for the series of agreements that halted for a time the nuclear arms race“.  (Link: Jack F Matlock, Jr,  ACURA VIEWPOINT: “Today’s Crisis over Ukraine,” 14 February, 2022 : ACURA = American Committee for Us-Russia Accord) My emphasis in Bold: MM.)  (Link: YouTube: Democracy Now! Ex-US Ambassador to USSR: Ukraine Crisis comes directly from Post-Cold War Push to Expand NATO”)

(4) George Kennan: Another who was there.

On 2 May, 1998, after the US Senate ratified NATO expansion, against the advice of  Jack Matlock discussed above, Thomas L Friedman of The New York Times made a call to George Kennan for his view on that decision. 

Kennan is considered the architect of the US “containment” of the Soviet Union. Like Matlock, he was a State Department lifer, Russia expert and, also like Matlock, US Ambassador to the Soviet Union for a time. 

Kennan called NATO expansion a “tragic mistake … for which there was no reason whatsoever.” 

“Our differences in the Cold War,” he told Friedman, “were with the Soviet Communist regime. And now we are turning our backs on the very people who mounted the greatest bloodless revolution in history to remove that Soviet regime. And Russia’s democracy far advanced, if not farther, as any of these countries we’ve signed up to defend from Russia.” (my emphasis. MM)

(May I, a perplexed foot soldier, ask, in parenthesis: How do those who participate in the unparalleled current alienation and demonisation of the whole people –  its diaspora, and, even its dead generations – square it with the historical veracity of the point made by Kennan in the highlighted paragraph above? The cognitive dissonance engendered by “manufactured consent” seems to be the only answer.  And it is a depressing comment on our body politic.)  

And, with the outcome of the war in the Ukraine still the subject of speculation,  we’ll end this piece with George Kennan’s most prescient observation:

“Of course there is going to be a bad reaction from Russia, and then (the NATO expanders) will say that we always told you that is how the Russians are – but this is just wrong. (my emphasis in bold” MM) 

(LINK: (Thomas L Friedman, “This is Putin’s War. But America and NATO aren’t innocent Bystanders,”NYT, 21 February, 2022)  

(LINK;  Youtube: Why is  Ukraine the West’s Fault?  Featuring John Mearsheimer, University of Chicago)

(4)  NATO: “To keep Russians out, Americans in and Germans down.”

Friedman ended the NYT account of the Kennan interview with: “And that is EXACTLY what happened.”  (NYT capitals) 

Perhaps we should too – but that would put us at odds with Labour’s official line and we’d risk being “scrapped.”  

 So, we’ll end on another note: a more appropriate final thought on what has gone before.

Discussion of the purpose of NATO, as its modus operandi, including flooding eastern Europe with billions of dollars of  “defensive” weaponry, which “won’t go away,” when the Ukraine conflict ends  has come under some criticism. And this frequently throws up the unattributed line: “NATO was conceived to keep the Russians out, the Americans in and the Germans down.”  

Fact-checking for this articlefound the author was none other than NATO’s First General Secretary, Lord Hastings Ismay.  

He’d have to be British, with that trademark Palmerstonian calculus. And Churchill-sponsored, as indeed, the record shows, he was.   

Is Lord Ismay’s pithy quote as relevant now as then ?  Think Nord stream 2.

And how does it square with what official Labour would have us believe about NATO, Labour’s part in its conception and current reincarnation – and that version of history to be mandatory? 

In an organisation that purports to be ‘democratic socialist ?   

 And on pain of expulsion?



Michael Murray

Not many on the Left will know that China is Ukraine’s largest trading partner. Or that there are embryonic “Belt and Road Initiatives” already in the former soviet countries. It’s the way forward for the world: multipolar not hegemonic international relations. Economic and social cooperation, not zero-sum, wasteful rivalry. The scale of the existential problems facing the planet, environmental, socio-economic – and the inherited geopolitical fault lines with the capacity to draw down on us nuclear annihilation –  is crying out for no more “Do as I say, not as I do” coming from one hegemonic power. That’s the moral of this balanced, reasoned video put together in the hope that what is happening in the Ukraine may cause the world to reflect on how we got into this apocalyptic, milli-second to midnight moment. 

LINK: “China Reaffirms Closer Relations with Russia as Ukraine War Continues”  –  Break Through News  31 March 2022. (On Youtube)

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