On Tuesday 13th April, The Green Party, which is now the the 3rd biggest party in the U.K. in terms of membership, released their manifesto for May’s General Election.
The remit of this blog is to cover issues around the wars currently being fought by the U.K. and it’s allies, mainly the U.S.. With that in mind, here’s a brief review of some of the foreign policy pledges contained within The Green Party’s manifesto.
1. Distancing themselves from recent wars, within limits
The ‘Security and Defence’ section of their manifesto opens with this paragraph:
The UK’s recent history has been scarred by involvement in ill-advised military interventions that have undermined our national and international security. The Green Party opposed these interventions, which have brought havoc to Iraq and Libya and only fragile gains in Afghanistan, as well as driving an increased terrorist threat closer to home – all at the cost of many precious lives and vast amounts of money and other resources that could have been better used for other needs.
From an anti-war perspective, this is good as far as it goes. It is surely a statement of opposition to the wars in Iraq, Libya and Afghanistan; a recognition that they have only succeeded in increasing the terror threat; and a nod to the human cost of these wars.
It is much better than Labour’s mealy mouthed promise to ‘learn the lessons’ of previous interventions, while at the same time pledging to continue to support the bombing of Iraq.
On the other hand, one might say that rather than being ‘ill advised’ – much like wearing bermuda shorts to a job interview might be – these interventions were in fact criminal.
Iraq blatantly so.
Libya in the sense that, while there was a U.N. mandate for the protection of civilians, there was no mandate for regime change (p.3) according to an advisory paper from the House of Commons Library.
And Afghanistan because, while two U.N. Resolutions were passed in the immediate aftermath of the 9/11 attacks, neither ‘authorized the use of military force in Afghanistan’, according to Marjorie Cohn, who is a former president of the National Lawyers Guild, and a professor at Thomas Jefferson School of Law.
Personally, I would’ve opposed these wars even if they did have clear legal mandates, because I don’t think the U.N. Security Council is a neutral, progressive body taking decisions for the good of humanity. Often times, it’s far from it, and is dominated by the major Imperialist powers.
But the British Establishment do like to project an image of themselves as law abiding, and frequently use international law as a tool to attack and undermine Official Enemy states. In that sense, I always think it’s worth pointing out their hypocrisy, and that they regularly flout international law themselves. It wouldn’t have taken much to insert the words ‘illegal’ or ‘criminal’ into the paragraph.
Describing these wars as ‘ill advised’ also suggests that some wars might be ‘well advised’.
I’m also not keen on the statement that there have been ‘fragile gains’ in Afghanistan. In one sense, this is true.
In 2001, for example, 133 babies per 1000 died before the age of 5 in Afghanistan. In 2013, that figure stood at 97 babies per 1000.
In 2001, life expectancy in Afghanistan was 55 years. In 2013, that figure stood at 61 years.
Since 2001, there has also been an increase in the number of children enrolled at school and, at least in the bigger cities, some modest gains for women’s rights (although Afghan feminist groups like RAWA have said that life in rural areas is now in a sense worse than under the Taliban, due to an all engulfing war on top of the enduring discrimination and lack of opportunity, and Afghanistan remains one of the worlds worst countries in which to be a woman).
The reason i’m not keen on this nod to ‘fragile gains’ in the manifesto is because these ‘fragile gains’ are frequently used as an argument in favour of the invasion and occupation.
Less children are dying before their 5th birthday, more children are enrolled in school, there has been an increase in life expectancy, and some progress on women’s rights. How can you, then, possibly oppose this war? It’s been a humanitarian success!
But this argument – and i’m not saying The Green Party themselves are making it – totally ignores the immense human suffering that has accompanied those ‘gains’.
A recent study by the Nobel prize winning group Physicians for Social Responsibility found that the war has ‘directly or indirectly, killed around . . . 220,000 in Afghanistan’ (p.15).
Amnesty International reported in 2012 on how Afghanistan was undergoing ‘a largely hidden but horrific humanitarian and human rights crisis’.
And Amnesty International again reported in 2014 on how:
Thousands of Afghan civilians have been killed since 2001 by international forces, and thousands more have been injured’, adding that ‘even where the available evidence suggests that killings were unlawful, family members of the victims have no means whatsoever of accessing justice’
Nor is there any real prospect of a genuinely democratic system emerging in Afghanistan while it remains under the occupation of the U.S. et al, in conjunction with their handpicked warlords who in some cases are little better than their Taliban predecessors.
As Noam Chomsky once pointed out, just because there was rising standards of living in slave societies, that doesn’t mean slavery was justified.
And as an aside, it is also true to say that there were gains in life expectancy, child mortality and women’s rights under the Soviet occupation.
Life expectancy in Afghanistan was 41 years in 1980, as compared to 48 years in 1989.
The number of children who died before their 5th birthday was 255 per 1000 in 1980, as compared to 187 per 1000 in 1989.
As for the advancements in women’s rights under the Soviet occupation, Rasil Basu, who was the U.N. Development Programs advisor to the Afghan Government between 1986-88, has written:
During the occupation, in fact, women made enormous strides: illiteracy declined from 98% to 75%, and they were granted equal rights with men in civil law, and in the Constitution. This is not to say that there was complete gender equality. Unjust patriarchal relations still prevailed in the workplace and in the family with women occupying lower level sex-type jobs. But the strides they took in education and employment were very impressive.
As a thought experiment, people who support the invasion and occupation of Afghanistan on the grounds that it saw improvements in child mortality, life expectancy and women’s rights might like to ask themselves if they would’ve supported the Soviet invasion and occupation on the same grounds. And if not, why not?
So for me, pointing to ‘fragile gains’, while not focusing more on the context of those ‘gains’, helps to obscure what has actually been done to Afghanistan by the occupying powers, and could potentially bolster and feed into pro-war narratives.
But this is me being hyper-critical of the language employed by The Greens, rather than the position they have outlined, which remains one of condemning and distancing themselves from the wars in Iraq, Libya and Afghanistan.
Something which Labour, as supporters of and/or participants in all of those wars, have failed to do.
2. Helping to prevent violent conflict, war crimes and genocide overseas
This is another worthwhile aim, and the manifesto makes clear that they aren’t proposing purely or, perhaps, even primarily militaristic solutions.
They say that they will do this by:
(i) helping to develop local capacities to avoid, manage and resolve conflicts;
While this pledge is light on specifics, the general thrust of it doesn’t seem particularly objectionable to me. But the specifics do matter, and I for one would like to know what they have in mind before coming to any conclusion as to whether what they are proposing is supportable. What are these ‘local capacities’, and how will they be ‘developed’?
(ii) enhancing the UK’s well-respected role in genuine peacekeeping and the protection of non-combatant communities
This makes clear that The Greens are a not radical pacifist or anti-militarist party. Participating in ‘genuine peacekeeping and the protection of non-combatant communities’ is going to require a military force that can ‘project power’ overseas.
The ‘protection of non-combatant communities’ aspect also suggests that The Greens are proponents of the so-called ‘Responsibility to Protect’ (R2P) doctrine – whereby, in theory, military force is used to protect civilians who are under threat of mass atrocity crimes. Labour, the Tories and the Liberal Democrats are also proponents of this doctrine.
However, in the case of Labour, the Tories and the Liberal Democrats, there is good reason to believe that ‘R2P’ is used by them as a pretext to drum up public support for wars that are in reality motivated by amoral economic and strategic concerns, rather than humanitarianism.
The Tories and the Liberal Democrats invoked ‘R2P’ before bombing Libya, for example. They said they wanted to protect civilians and civilian populated areas under threat of attack.
But they then went on to arm, train and give air support to rebel militias that committed mass atrocity crimes against civilians and civilian populated areas themselves, up to and including Crimes against Humanity.
The people of Sirte, Tawergha, Kararim, Tomina and Abu Hadi categorically were not protected. Rather, they were massacred, murdered, forced from their homes, tortured and persecuted, while NATO forces either watched or participated.
It quickly became clear that the U.K.’s aim in Libya was regime change, a long standing goal of the British Establishment, and not the protection of civilians.
Labour also invoked ‘R2P’ before bombing Kosovo and Serbia in 1999, ostensibly to protect Kosovar Albanians from Serb security force depredations.
However, that bombing uncontroversially made a bad humanitarian situation worse. For example, a House of Commons Foreign Affairs Committee report, published in March 2000, stated that:
it is likely that the NATO bombing did cause a change in the character of the assault upon the Kosovo Albanians. What had been an anti-insurgency campaign – albeit a brutal and counter-productive one, involving atrocities such as that at Racak in January 1999 – became a mass, organised campaign to kill Kosovo Albanians or drive them from the country. This was partly because of the Serbs’ reaction to the bombing, and partly because the launch of the campaign required that the OSCE monitors be withdrawn, thereby removing one of the obstacles to action against the Kosovo Albanians.
What’s more, senior Generals within NATO knew that the bombing would likely escalate the level of violence. Wesley Clark, who was the most senior General within NATO, told the press at the time that the escalation of Serbian security force atrocities in response to the bombing was ‘entirely predictable’, and that ‘the military authorities fully anticipated the vicious approach that Milosevic would adopt’.
NATO themselves committed war crimes during the bombing campaign, including carrying out deliberate attacks on civilian infrastructure and media outlets – as ever, with total impunity.
A bombing campaign that worsened an already bad humanitarian situation, that was carried out in the full knowledge that this would be the consequence, and in which war crimes were committed, can not be said to be ‘humanitarian’ in any meaningful sense of the word.
I’m sure The Greens would argue that, in contrast to the Tories, Labour and the Liberal Democrats, they are sincere in their desire to ‘protect non-combatant communities’. And they might even be telling the truth.
But a ‘humanitarian war’ is still a war, with all the shit and misery that war entails, and their pledge is not unproblematic in that sense. It is one that’s open to abuse and exploitation at worst, and that could fall foul of the law of unintended consequences at best.
3. Ending arms sales to abusive and undemocratic regimes
The manifesto promises that The Greens will introduce:
a strict licensing regime to prevent sales of weapons and military equipment to undemocratic regimes and those that violate human rights (including, at the present time, Israel and Saudi Arabia).
All good, unless your concern is protecting the profits of arms companies, and keeping yourself in the good books of tyrannical regimes so as not to lose out on investment opportunities.
And it’s a measure that Labour have conspicuously failed to promise, perhaps because they have absolutely no intention of ending arms sales to abusive and undemocratic regimes.
4. Ensuring that all security and defence policies adhere to international law, including international humanitarian law
The manifesto pledges that The Greens will:
ensure that UK security and defence policies are consistent with international law, including international humanitarian law
I’m sure all of the other main parties would say that this is a policy they support as well.
But Labour’s manifesto contains a strong hint that they will bring back Control Orders, or something akin to Control Orders, which have previously been condemned by Amnesty International as being in contravention of the U.K.’s human rights obligations under international law.
So there is no good reason to believe Labour, or indeed, the Tories or the Lib Dems.
5. Cancelling the Trident replacement, decommissioning existing nuclear weapons, and working towards a nuclear weapons free world
The manifesto promises that The Greens will:
Save a massive £100 billion over the next 30 years by cancelling Trident replacement and decommissioning existing nuclear forces and facilities
initiating and/or joining negotiations on a universally applicable nuclear abolition treaty to prohibit the use, deployment, development, production, stockpiling and transfer of nuclear weapons and requiring their complete elimination
My view on nuclear weapons is that if states aren’t going to use them, then they don’t need them. And if they are going to use them, then they shouldn’t be allowed to have them. There is no purpose to these bombs beyond indiscriminate mass killing, and the likes of Sweden, Norway and Finland seem to do okay without them, so I don’t see why the U.K. couldn’t either.
What’s more, the U.K. simply can’t participate in good faith efforts to rid the world of nuclear weapons – which is a matter of the survival of life on Earth – while maintaining their own.
As Mohamed El Baradei, then head of the IAEA, said in 2007:
How do they expect this system of haves and have nots to be sustainable? How do I go to country X and say ‘you should keep your obligation not to develop nuclear weapons’, when the big powers are making no progress towards their obligations for disarmament? . . . Britain cannot modernise its Trident submarines and then tell everyone else that nuclear weapons are not needed in the future . . . We need to treat nuclear weapons the way we treat slavery or genocide. There needs to be a taboo over possessing them.
This policy will be presented by the right, and even some on the left, as evidence of The Greens’ pie-in-the-sky idealism. But unless increasing the potential for nuclear holocaust is your bag – and for me, it doesn’t seem like much of a vote winner – then it’s entirely sensible and defensible.
To sum up, there is much in The Green Party manifesto to recommend.
I like the way they have distanced themselves from and condemned recent wars (even if the language isn’t as strong as it could be); I like their promise to end arms sales to abusive regimes; and I like their promise to decommission the U.K.’s nuclear weapons program, while working towards global nuclear disarmament.
I’m not entirely sure what they have in mind when they pledge to enhance the U.K.’s role in ‘peacekeeping and civilian protection’ operations, think such a promise is potentially open to abuse, and could easily fall foul of the law of unintended consequences. They are still basically talking about war making, after all, even if the humanitarian impulse behind it is 100% sincere.
I also think that The Greens are, in a sense, fortunate not to have a track record in national government. When they pledge to uphold human rights, stop arming abusive regimes, curtail aggressive wars, and campaign for nuclear disarmament, it’s tempting to believe them. Because, unlike with Labour and the Tories, there isn’t decades of precedent to suggest they will do otherwise.
But taking the manifesto at face value – which is all we can really do at this point – it is far more progressive and humane in its aims than anything Labour have offered.