Paul Anderson, review of Peace Through Non-Alignment by Ben Lowe (Socialist Society, £1.50), Tribune, 14 November 1986

For many years, the Labour leadership has made it clear that it has no intention of withdrawing Britain from Nato – and this year, the party’s annual conference for the first time passed a motion endorsing British Nato membership. (Previously, conference had merely voted against anti-Nato resolutions.)

But it would be wrong to assume that Labour’s attitude to Nato has been fixed for all time: although no one now believes that the party will adopt an anti-Nato position before the next general election, what happens after that will be conditioned by the turn of events.

For example, if Nato pressure were to prevent a Labour government from implementing the party’s anti-nuclear defence policy, the pro-Nato stance would come under strong attack from inside and outside the party (and not just from those now demanding an immediate change to an anti-Nato position). Something very similar would happen were a Labour government unable to prevent use of US forces in Britain to attack Libya or some other Middle Eastern country.

Ben Lowe’s pamphlet outlines the history of Nato and makes a clear case both for British withdrawal from Nato and for raising the profile of anti-Nato arguments.

He argues convincingly that Nato is and always has been a means for the US to exercise its domination of the west, rather than an alliance of equals to defend the “free world” from the “Soviet threat” (which Nato propaganda has always claimed is much greater than it is). Nato is irreversibly committed to nuclear arms, and would do everything in its power to prevent implementation of Labour’s anti-nuclear defence policy. Hopes that Nato could be reformed from within are ill-founded, he believes.

Unsurprisingly, given its brevity, Peace Through Non-Alignment doesn’t indicate the sort of “objective circumstances” that would force the question of withdrawal from Nato to the top of the British political agenda  –  which is a pity, not least because the most convincing argument against raising the profile of the anti-Nato case is that it’s utopian to do so.

More important, Lowe doesn’t make it clear whether he sees British withdrawal from Nato as a simple unilateralist step  –  or whether it should be just one move of many in a grand pan-European (or even global) attempt to dismantle the bloc system. (In the latter case, a British anti-Nato government might demand for example, that British withdrawal from Nato should be matched by the Soviet Union allowing Hungary to withdraw from the Warsaw Pact.) But perhaps it is too soon to get specific on such points: important as they might become, the priority today must be the broad one of ending the pro-Nato consensus that has dominated British political life since the late 1940s. Lowe’s pamphlet deserves to be widely discussed.

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