What are the perspectives of Britain’s foreign policy, and what stands behind Johnson’s proposition of creating the so-called European Commonwealth? Wojciech Łobodziński asks Kate Hudson, General Secretary of the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament.
Kate Hudson is a British academic and left-wing politician. She the General Secretary of the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament (CND) and Media Officer of Left Unity party. She authored books on perspectives of the European left-wing thinking, British disarmament movement, and the rise and fall of Yugoslavia.
How serious is Boris Johnson’s proposal to create the European Commonwealth? He suggested no less but a military agreement of Latvia, Estonia, Poland, Lithuania and Ukraine, with the main role of the United Kingdom. Sounds ambitious, but wasn’t it just announced for internal purposes? To give an impression that the United Kingdom is still a superpower, despite Brexit and all the internal problems?
It is hard to say at the moment. Nevertheless, if you look at the record of Johnson’s government during the last few years, there is very little about building communities across borders.
Johnson is responsible for taking us out of the European Union – so the idea of a kind of eurosceptic, anti-Russian alliance with the UK at its heart fits with that. However, I tend to see it largely as posturing on the international stage. Generally, the whole narrative of our government, particularly through a recent major foreign and defense policy review, has been about promoting the idea of so-called global Britain. But if you read through, it is not about global Britain in terms of cooperation in the area of global climate catastrophe, food or water shortage, it is not even about development. It is about the projection of military power. So the whole focus is on reemerging as a great power that will be prepared to take military action if necessary.
There are great commonalities with the US strategic approach, with Trumpian overtones, and continuity under Biden. It frames a world scenario with authoritarian regimes, Russia and China, on one hand, and democracies, freedom-loving countries with the US at their head on the other.
Britain, probably since the Suez crisis in the 50s, is eager to be a kind of lieutenant to the United States. A junior partner through the so-called special relationship.
We have seen that even in recent history.
Tony Blair did that kind of work for George Bush, and now Johnson is doing the same for Joe Biden. We also see the UK’s determination to be a big player in NATO. The UK is increasing its nuclear arsenal and multiplying the scenarios in which they would use them – very much like the USA. The UK has also outlined its so-called Indo-Pacific tilt, which is also taken up by NATO, in line with the US orientation against China.
Last year we also saw the emergence of the AUKUS pact, between the US, UK and Australia, which says that the UK and the US will provide them with nuclear-powered submarines, increasing the potential for conflict with China. Many thought that the next conflict would be about China, but the military conflict with Russia has come up suddenly. But in my view, the Ukraine war has been a long time in the making. The expansion of NATO in the last thirty years has very much contributed to that terrible situation, the terrible invasion of Ukraine. There are many, many factors, US and UK foreign policies have a very negative impact on the world.
We saw already the so-called war on terror, now we see that the focus is being shifted from the Middle East to China. We cannot really understand these things in a small sense. They are part of major global geostrategic factors. The USA wants to remain the sole superpower, and the UK wants to get a boost by supporting them in that, and the boost is in part the expansion of the military industry.
Does Johnson’s engagement in Ukraine is also a way of “scoring points”? He cynically presents himself as a key Kyiv ally, profiting from the limited visibility of the European Union, when it comes to helping Ukrainians more.
Certainly for the first weeks of war we were exposed 24 hours a day to images and news from Ukraine – and it was right to do that. What happened to the people of Ukraine is absolutely terribly. However, fo all that time our government put the emphasis solely on military victory over Russia. According to them, there cannot be any peace talks and negotiations. For me this is a disaster, as all wars need negotiation to end them.
In Britain, there is no recognition of the role of NATO expansion in the course of events that ultimately led to this war. There is also a determination to send more and more weapons to Ukraine.
Of course, Ukraine has the right to defend itself. This stems from international law and no one can question that.
However, when NATO and Russia both have nuclear weapons, and there has been a lot of loose talk about using them, everything has to be done to prevent that happening. Because if they are used, everyone will be dead. Ukraine will cease to exist. Bringing the war to an end rapidly is essential.
Ukraine, and Poland, most probably, also…
Poland too. Therefore, it is not a question of going into the fight and sending more and more weaponry, you have to at all cost avoid a situation which escalates beyond that. There has been a lot of talk about a no-fly zone that would eventually end up in a war between NATO and Russia. The calls for that seem to have reduced, but recently they have been for sending massive, heavy weaponry to the east of Ukraine. And of course there has been a new agreement between UK and Poland, with short range missiles to strengthen Polish military capabilities.
There is big money for the European military industries here by the way. The company that provides those missiles is British, French and Italian. The British part of BAE Systems manufactures the UK’s nuclear weapons submarines. It puts Poland on the frontline of a possible war between NATO and Russia. I would say it is pretty disastrous.
Those new agreements and Boris Johnson’s actions – how are they perceived by ordinary British people in this whole new crisis situation?
Johnson presents himself as a heroic wartime leader, even though we are not at war. He likes to see himself as sort of a Winston Churchill figure. He likes to show himself shaking hands with presidents, among them the president of Poland. He likes to be on the world stage.
But it is also seen as a distraction when it comes to his political problems at home. For example the so-called Partygate: while people could not attend the funerals of their loved ones due to COVID-19 restrictions, Johnson organized parties at Downing Street, with alcohol, karaoke and so on. That was very damaging for him, so there have been political moves against him – such as a vote of no-confidence. But he is still there.
He survived the vote even though 40 percent of his party’s MPs voted against him.
That’s right. But he says you can’t change a leader during a war! But we are not at war. He is just reprehensible… in every way.
Some of the media are critical of him though and also there is more understanding of the more complex situation surrounding the war, and NATO’s role in all of that. And it is not only about the opinions of the peace movement, there are also former diplomats and politicians, scholars that also say that you need to look deeper to understand that situation. So as the war continues, there is an increase in proper debate and discussion. The establishment focus is on the evils of Russia and Putin, some would actively support regime change in Russia, but there are other issues too that are of concern to ordinary people here.
Some will say that we are in an economic crisis, a terrible cost-of-living crisis, as we call it here.
We are suffering very badly because of the impact of Brexit, there are not enough working people in the agricultural sector, in the NHS and in the travel sector.
Also there are problems with supply chains. You cannot get a lot of ordinary stuff, and it is not just because of the war or pandemic. It is also about wrong choices and Brexit. So in the end people will be fed up with giving so much money to the military.
Is there also a debate about the proposal I mentioned earlier, of creating a European Commonwealth? After all, this project would be somehow undermining the role of NATO in the region. It would be pretty much a NATO without NATO. Is there an US blessing for that?
Well, it is a good question. NATO is a massive structure, at least 2 percent of the GDP of member states is required to go on military spending. The UK does that, maybe Poland too. So it requires a lot of spending and so-called military investment. It also requires a huge apparatus of control. There are heads of states involved in that, the next summit is in Madrid next month. I cannot imagine that anything else will supersede that.
There are other frameworks too: there is also the EU and the OSCE which is a quite positive thing, because it also includes Russia, so it could be ultimately a framework for talks and negotiations. The issues of security can be resolved only by discussing the real issues, and only on the condition that the US and its allies are willing to recognize that you cannot just have a unipolar world. There has to be recognition that other countries have legitimate security concerns.
How would Britain feel if Russia had a base in the Isle of White or the Channel Islands? It is clear that Russia is wrong to invade Ukraine, but also NATO is wrong in pushing its military projection to the borders of Russia. We are talking about some kind of new institutions, while only a genuine good will can resolve the problem.
Some say that the OSCE is the only institution that can resolve this crisis, it plays along the narrative of the new concert of superpowers that might defuse the tension between the countries and create a new multi-polar world. What are the perspectives for left-wing agenda here? Are we trapped between Russia’s attitude and NATO bases?
You are not going to have any chance of solving the conflictual situation as long as the sides are not willing to actually talk about the concerns of the others and take steps to meet those. Nor when both sides are not willing to demonstrate good faith.
Petr Drulak, former Deputy Foreign Minister of Czechia, analysed of the possibilities of resuming the peace talks in an interview for Cross-Border Talks.
But there are good initiatives that could be considered, if the political will is there. For example, the International Trade Union Congress and the International Peace Bureau produced a new common security report, with very detailed proposals for how you can approach those issues. There is also a big discussion about nonalignment, and a possibility of recovering some visions of the nonaligned movement from the sixties. There are debates going on. Those visions combined with popular political power open new perspectives.
As peace activists we always try to do that through getting the message out and lobbying policymakers, and we will carry on doing that. But until we force our governments and so-called leaders to take a different approach, we will be stuck in this trap.
Perhaps in the end the stance of France, Germany and Italy is going to save the Global South from the big food shortage that could trigger new wars…
We very much hope so. I might disagree with Macron’s domestic policies and neoliberal leanings, but his persistence and willingness in negotiating with Russia, and the work of France and others around the Minsk agreements, that is to be highly appreciated. Also, any other countries that would make sure that countries of the Global South are not starving, have to be supported. The US stance against Nord Stream and China’s Belt and Road initiative also plays a role here. And still ordinary people are suffering terribly.
So anything that will work to make sure that people do not starve, that is good. Negotiation is vital. Everytime our government says that we cannot negotiate, it is condemning people to death.
What should we do in countries like Poland, where people are obsessed with this war-mongering, confrontational propaganda?
I think there are a lot of similarities between Poland and the UK here. A lot of people have attacked the peace movement here, even some on the left. But we are the peace movement, we are not going to advocate for sending weapons and arms anywhere. So we just have to keep up that struggle. We cooperate with Ukrainian and Russian pacifist movements too and we have to continue to do that.
I know that in the last decades the situation in Poland, after its accession to NATO and due to increasing militarisation, it is becoming more and more difficult to take a pro-peace stance there. I also see Poland’s historical issues. I am aware of the history of struggles against Russian Empire. And the difficult relations with the Soviet Union. It is really harder to be anti-NATO in Poland than in many other countries.
But do the people of Poland want to be on the frontline? Do they want to be a nuclear target when it comes to the war? Or do they want to have a peace agreement in the region that respects everybody’s concerns?
Cover photo: Boris Johnson on a visit to Kyiv, 17 June. Source: Twitter.