Jeremy Corbyn’s 2016 conference address – 7: national security

I’ve been standing up for human rights, challenging oppressive regimes for 30 years as a backbench MP and before that as an individual activist, just like everyone else in this hall. Just because I’ve become the leader of this party, I’m not going to stop standing up on those issues or being that activist. And while you’re about it, terminate that bid made by our Ministry of Justice’s to provide services for Saudi Arabia – which would be required to carry out the sentence that would be put down on Mohammed Ali al-Nimr.

Human rights 

A refusal to stand up is the kind of thing that really damages Britain’s standing in the world. The Tories want to repeal the Human Rights Act and some want leave the European convention on Human Rights. And just to show what they’re made of, their new Trade Union Bill which we’re opposing very strongly in the House and the country, is also a fundamental attack on human rights and is in breach of both the ILO and the European Convention on Human Rights.

I have been inspired by people across our country making collections for the refugees in Calais, donating to charities and the work of Citizens UK to involve whole communities in this effort. These refugees are the victims of war – many the victims of the brutal conflict in Syria. It is a huge crisis, the worst humanitarian crisis in Europe since the Second World War. And globally it’s the biggest refugee crisis there has ever been. But the scale of the response from the government, Europe and the international community isn’t enough.

And whilst the government is providing welcome aid to the region, especially in the Lebanon, we all know much more needs to be done. Because it’s a crisis of human beings just like you and just like me looking for security and looking for safety. Let’s reach out the hand of humanity and friendship to them.

National security

The best way to protect the British people against the threats we face to our safety at home and abroad is to work to resolve conflict. That isn’t easy, but it is unavoidable if we want real security.

Our British values are internationalist and universal. They are not limited by borders. Britain does need strong, modern military and security forces to keep us safe and to take a lead in humanitarian and peace keeping missions – working with and strengthening the United Nations. There is no contradiction between working for peace across the world and doing what is necessary to keep us safe

Today we face very different threats from the time of the Cold War which ended thirty years ago. One example: on my first day in Parliament as Labour Leader it was a privilege to meet the soldiers and medics who did such remarkable work in tackling the Ebola crisis in Sierra Leone.

That’s why I have asked our Shadow Defence Secretary, Maria Eagle, to lead a debate and review about how we deliver that strong, modern effective protection for the people of Britain.

A new generation of nuclear weapons

I’ve made my own position on one issue clear. And I believe I have a mandate from my election on it. I don’t believe £100 billion on a new generation of nuclear weapons taking up a quarter of our defence budget is the right way forward. I believe Britain should honour our obligations under the Non Proliferation Treaty and lead in making progress on international nuclear disarmament.

But in developing our policy through the review we must make sure we all the jobs and skills of everyone in every aspect of the defence industry are fully protected and fully utilised so that we gain from this, we don’t lose from this. To me, that is very important.

And on foreign policy we need to learn the lessons of the recent past

  • It didn’t help our national security that, at the same time I was protesting outside the Iraqi Embassy about Saddam Hussein’s brutality, Tory ministers were secretly conniving with illegal arms sales to his regime.
  • It didn’t help our national security when we went to war with Iraq in defiance of the United Nations and on a false prospectus.
  • It didn’t help our national security to endure the loss of hundreds of brave British soldiers in that war while making no proper preparation for what to do after the fall of the regime.
  • Nor does it help our national security to give such fawning and uncritical support to regimes like Saudi Arabia and Bahrain – who abuse their own citizens and repress democratic rights. These are issues we have to stand up on and also recognise in some cases they are using British weapons in their assault on Yemen. We have got to be clear on where our objectives are.

Real leadership can resolve conflicts, prevent war and build real security

But there is a recent object lesson in how real leadership can resolve conflicts, prevent war and build real security. It’s the leadership, the clever and difficult diplomacy that has been shown by Barack Obama and others in reaching the historic deal with Iran.

That deal opens the way for new diplomatic efforts to resolve the conflict in Syria.The scale of the destruction and suffering in Syria is truly dreadful. More than a quarter of a million people have been killed and more than ten million driven from their homes.

I yield to no-one in my opposition to the foul and despicable crimes committed by Isil and by the Assad government including barrel bombs being dropped on civilian targets. We all want the atrocities to stop and the Syrian people free to determine their own destiny. But the answer to this complex and tragic conflict can’t simply be found in a few more bombs. I agree with Paddy Ashdown when he says that military strikes against Isil aren’t succeeding, not because we do not have enough high explosives, but because we do not have a diplomatic strategy on Syria.

That’s the challenge for leadership now, for us, for the prime minister. The clever, patient, difficult diplomacy Britain needs to play a leading role in. That’s why Hilary Benn and I together are calling for a new United Nations Security Council resolution that can underpin a political solution to the crisis. I believe the UN can yet bring about a process that leads to an end to the violence in Syria. Its meetings in New York were very important.




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