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Editorial: Starmer in Washington continues a calamitous drive to war

LABOUR has spent its first week in power signalling a changed approach from the Tories — a national wealth fund for infrastructure projects, a reset to devolution with a new council of the regions.

In Washington Keir Starmer’s purpose is different — to show his “cast-iron commitment” to continue the last government’s subordination to US foreign policy, co-ordinated through the Nato military alliance.

This was never in doubt — Starmer is merely affirming Britain’s role in the US-led imperialist bloc as every postwar Labour prime minister has before him. 

There are good reasons, though, to regard British foreign policy as every bit as disastrous as domestic policy in recent decades.

On one level the Morning Star can agree with Starmer’s lines at the Nato summit — yes, the world is getting more dangerous. 

Two current major wars, in Palestine and Ukraine, show a real capacity to expand into wider conflicts and drag in other powers.

Both relate, in different ways, to the major fault line in international relations, that between the US and the old European colonial powers on one side, and the rest of a world in which that transatlantic bloc carries less and less weight. 

Starmer’s speech, calling on Nato members to spend more on their militaries, follows the Western convention of presenting the alliance as guarantors of a “rules-based international order” which is under threat from rising “authoritarian states.”

In reality, the arms race is driven by Nato. Not only does the United States spend more on its military than the next 10 countries put together, the Nato bloc taken together is responsible for 75 per cent of all military spending worldwide, though it comprises just 12 per cent of the world population and 30 per cent of its GDP.

Three-quarters of all arms spending is not, in Starmer’s eyes, enough. Though Labour opts to stick to arbitrary Tory spending rules overall, it promises billions more for the military: raising the defence budget to 2.5 per cent of GDP entails a rise from £64.6bn to £87.1bn, a £22.5bn increase in spending annually. By contrast, axing the two-child benefit cap to lift hundreds of thousands of kids out of poverty is something Labour says it cannot afford: the Institute for Fiscal Studies estimates this would cost £3.4bn a year.

Nor can Nato’s claim to spend this money defending a “rules-based order” stand scrutiny. Last month saw Julian Assange secure his freedom after years of persecution in British jails for exposing the war crimes of “the empire,” as the US bloc is widely known in the global South. 

Britain has been alongside the US in ripping up international law with wars of aggression against Yugoslavia, Afghanistan, Iraq and Libya, conflicts whose consequences persist in ongoing conflicts and refugee crises today. Today’s militarism risks igniting a new world war with China, the principal economic and technological rival to the US. All in the name of upholding a global system of unfair trade treaties and unfettered corporate access to resources that keeps a majority of the human race in poverty, is wrecking ecosystems at an accelerating rate and is destabilising the climate into the bargain.

Nothing could be more important than stopping this war. Those who claim the troop build-ups are a deterrent ignore history, not just that of the first world war but recent history: Russia’s invasion of Ukraine followed the expansion of Nato to its borders, its encirclement by US bases and a whole series of enormous Nato military manoeuvres — the “Defender Europe” exercises — simulating war against it. Unsurprisingly, frightening Russia did not prevent war but provoked it, feeding a parallel rise in nationalist militarism there.

The drive to World War III will not be challenged by the opposition Conservatives, or by more than a handful of MPs. But its consequences if unchallenged are unthinkable. So a real opposition must be built outside Westminster.

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