The Labour leader’s position on the Kosovo war is repugnantby Oliver Kamm / May 16, 2017 / Leave a comment
Jeremy Corbyn has “been on a journey,” said Emily Thornberry, the shadow foreign secretary, on The Andrew Marr Show on Sunday. Such, at least, was her indulgent interpretation on being shown clips from 2011 of the Labour leader denouncing Nato as a “danger to the world.”
If Corbyn had adjusted his views to the realities of international diplomacy, it would be to his credit. But his record on security issues includes positions that are not only tendentious but repugnant. Corbyn’s supporters persistently claim that he’s unfairly treated by the media. In reality, he’s had an easy ride, especially on foreign and defence policy. Less than 20 years ago, Nato took military action against the genocidal regime of Slobodan Milosevic in Serbia; Corbyn’s response was not just to oppose this campaign but to deny outright Milosevic’s war crimes. Those crimes are documented facts, not matters of opinion.
Collective security is integral to Labour’s traditions. Among the party’s historic achievements is the Attlee government’s role in the creation of Nato in 1949, which tied the defence of western Europe to that of the United States. All postwar British governments have treated Nato membership as the bedrock of defence policy but there has been a persistent dissenting minority opinion within the Labour Party. Robin Cook, who served as foreign secretary after Labour won the 1997 election, is a case in point. In 1978, he co-authored a Fabian pamphlet that argued for “some form of partial disengagement from Nato.” But after that, Cook genuinely did go on a journey. In office, he helped commit Nato to its campaign in Serbia. On 24th March 1999, Nato aircraft began bombing Serb air defence and communications systems. The aim was to stop Milosevic’s assault on the Albanian population of Kosovo.
The Kosovo campaign was just and limited. Unlike the Iraq war, which prompted Cook to resign from Tony Blair’s government in 2003, Nato’s use of airpower in Kosovo had no aim of regime change. The war wasn’t even fought for Kosovan independence. It had the specific goal of preserving a threatened Muslim population from destruction. Milosevic had ignored diplomatic efforts to bring peace to the province of Kosovo, including a ceasefire agreement in October 1998 and the Rambouillet peace accords in February 1999 that sought to restore autonomy to Kosovo. Serb forces deployed increasingly…