At its March conference the Green Party of England and Wales reversed its long-standing opposition to NATO. The Green Party had said for a long time that its aim was to take the UK out of NATO and that NATO was not a “suitable mechanism” for maintaining world peace.
Yet now the Green Party has decided that “NATO has an important role in ensuring the ability of its member states to respond to threats to their security”. Now it calls for NATO to guarantee that it would not use nuclear weapons first in a conflict and that NATO should act “solely in defence of member states”.
Now the Green Party in England and Wales is at loggerheads with the Greens in Scotland, which maintains a strong opposition to NATO. This is because of a long-standing tradition of anti-militarism in Scotland, which would see it totally discredited if it changed its policies.
Linda Walker, co-convenor of policy working group on Peace, Security and Defence made excuses for this drastic change of policy by saying:
“During the Conference debate on Peace, Security and Defence there was nothing which aroused stronger emotions and more conflicting views than our membership of NATO. This was the case for the Working Group too. Our membership included some who believed that NATO is generally a force for good; some who thought it would look bad for the Green Party to be speaking out against NATO whilst the war in Ukraine is raging; and some who believe that NATO is an aggressive alliance which tends to act as an arm of United States policy and the Green Party should have nothing to do with it. So we had to come to a compromise which all could accept. The section starts with ‘The Green Party recognises that NATO has an important role in ensuring the ability of its member states to respond to threats to their security’. This was hard to swallow for some of us.”
The Green Party further fudged the issue by then stating: “Other security arrangements may be considered should such reforms become unattainable’.
Following the passing of the motion, a spokesperson said: “Russia’s war on Ukraine has underscored the fears of other neighbours that their territorial integrity and independence is under threat. Conference showed the party’s commitment to international solidarity, where nations support one another through mutual defence alliances and multilateral security frameworks…Conference’s support for this motion does not mean a direct role for NATO in Ukraine. We do not support an escalation of the crisis there. But it does mean that NATO has an important role in ensuring the ability of its member states to respond to threats to their security.”
An amendment calling for the UK to try to use its nuclear weapons as a “bargaining chip” in setting up a new treaty to reduce nuclear arsenals was rejected but nevertheless this indicates some of the forces now active within the Green Party.
Many Green Parties throughout the world have their roots as much in the peace movement as in environmentalism and ecologism.
The onset of the war in Ukraine has led those Greens involved in government to renege on their pacifist and anti-militarist positions. Previously, the Greens in West Germany were voted into parliament because of a very large movement against the use of short-range nuclear missiles by the US in their country in the early 1980s. It was then an anti-NATO party that was strongly in favour of disarmament. In the UK there was a strong crossover of Green Party Membership with that of the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament. The same held true in the Netherlands and Sweden.
Later, the Green parties that developed in central and eastern Europe were similarly anti-militarist, because of their experience of occupation by Soviet forces. However, this was tempered by their failure to oppose membership of NATO because of the fear of Russian aggression.
The anti-militarism of the German Greens changed in the 1990s after Germany was reunited. The Greens, now ensconced in federal government, faced widespread internal controversy before the Green leader and foreign minister Joschka Fischer managed to get backing for intervention in Kosovo by a delegate vote of 444 to 318.
Despite major opposition, this led on to German Greens supporting the German Army in ‘peacekeeping’ around the world. This prefigures the change on NATO with the Green Party of England and Wales.
In 2011 European Green parties backed military intervention in Libya, even if ‘limited’. Further shifts came with the beginning of the war in Ukraine in 2014 and the occupation of Crimea by Russia.
German Greens months before the recent Russian invasion were calling for support for the Ukraine regime up to military aid, including its traditionally anti-militarist left wing.
This is not because of simply lack of political principle or personal failings, although the pursuit of careers and power do play a part, but because of a politics rooted in a reformism based on winning support on an electoral level through a series of elections, and integration into the governmental and parliamentary system. To do this, the Greens, not just in the UK but throughout the world, need to preserve their parties as a broad church, uniting right, centre, and left. As a result, concessions are increasingly made to the right of their parties, and the traditions of anti-militarism and pacifism are sacrificed as the cost worth paying to preserve their continued existence. This is true not just over positions on war but on other issues like nuclear power, opposition to which was seen as another fundamental position of the Green parties. Now the Greens in Finland have moved to back the use of nuclear power, and similar moves are afoot among the Dutch and German Greens, as well as the development of pro-nuclear positions among some Greens in the UK.
As one Green Party member enthusiastically commented online about the decision over NATO: “This is great news. The more we engage positively with mainstream sensibilities, the easier it will become to promote our climate and biodiversity concerns.” Another Green Party member commented: “This decision is a major retrograde, rightwards step. One of the key reasons I joined the Greens to begin with was our thoroughgoing unilateralism. I fear too that we will regret our wording. Does no nuclear first strike imply tacit support for the possession of nuclear weapons? NATO, after all, is a nuclear alliance”.
All of this illustrates what we in the ACG have been saying all along. One, radical change can not come through reformist parliamentary parties, however radical, and secondly, as we noted in a recent article, war fever has split the Labour left and is now causing ructions within the Green Party.
It remains for revolutionary internationalists to continue to defend a position of No War But the Class War and for escalation of the class struggle here and everywhere.