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Alasdair MacIntyre

Is a neutralist foreign policy possible?

(Winter 1960/61)

From International Socialism (1st series), No.3, Winter 1960/61, p.26.
Thanks to Ted Crawford & the late Will Fancy.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’ Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

What weighs most heavily against unilateralism with those willing to consider its claims seriously is that it appears to be a demand without a context, a demand isolated from other questions of policy. The jockeying in the Labour Party which has followed upon the Scarborough decision has revealed the danger of this very clearly. Even those willing to accept Conference demands seem determined to interpret unilateralism in such a way that if it were implemented the arrangements of international power should be as little disturbed as possible. It so happens that technical developments in the field of nuclear weapons make this an easy task. The existence of Polaris missiles already makes Britain a less important aircraft-carrier than she was. In two years Britain will be an obsolete component in the American defence system. Britain's contribution to NATO will then be compatible with the renunciation not only of the independent deterrent but also of any British-based American missiles. Moreover the same developments will change the function of all America's satellites. They will become a conveniently placed set of buffer states who will no longer be required for possible offensive purposes. Thus a Britain which demanded that the defensive aspects of NATO should be emphasized rather than the aggressive would fit easily into a necessary and prudent realignment of American policy.

The danger is then that unilateralism is reinterpreted by such Labour leaders as Harold Wilson until it becomes compatible with what CND has already declared to be incompatible, the NATO alliance. Socialists therefore have a responsibility to elaborate a foreign policy which will express an authentic break with present policy. There are of course unilateralists who have already done this but on whose policies we need scarcely waste printing ink. The Communist Party want to create at best a passive satellite, at worst a non-combatant opponent for the Soviet Union. Other socialists content themselves with insisting that the abolition of the bomb is part of the abolition of capitalism, a truism that enables them to avoid the difficult and specific questions of foreign policy. The most serious restatement of such policy has in fact been made on the New Left by E.P. Thompson, John Rex and others. It is about some features of the kind of policy which writers such as those have elaborated that questions ought to be raised.

There are generally three elements in such a policy. The first is the notion of Britain as strengthening and partly leading a Third Force of the uncommitted nations, especially the Afro-Asian powers. The second is the notion of the United Nations as a viable instrument for such a Third Force not merely to express and advocate but actually to enact its policies. The third is the notion of such action as relaxing tension and bringing about controlled multilateral disarmament of the two major world blocks. What this policy shares both with Mr Cousins and with Mr Gaitskell is the view that international politics is a matter of the conflict of nations rather that of the conflict of classes. It is in the light of this shared assumption that the questions about 'positive neutralism' of this kind must be framed.

To the view of Britain as leading a Third Force the objection must be raised that the colonial revolution divides Britain from those states which on this view she should aspire to lead. To this it can be said that positive neutralism demands a Britain committed to support for the African revolution. But this is not a homogeneous affair. And in any case such a commitment would make a radical break with all Labour Party colonial policy. Britain's trading patterns would have to change to at least some extent and this requires a more radical internal change of economic policy. Perhaps this chain reaction could occur. But we need as a first task to become more precise about this possibility.

Secondly, the experience of the Congo certainly does not speak unambiguously for the possible independence of United Nations action. It is very sad that Mr Khruschev's inadequate tactical sense should have helped to conceal how true the Soviet Union's accusations against Mr Hammarskold were. The original resolution on which the UN force entered the Congo was simply defied. The action of the African states with its extremely opportunist swinging to and fro raises parallel doubts about the United Nations and the third force.

Thirdly, where we have had apparently independent political action it has been because the US and the USSR have been in a tense position where neither dared to move forward. In such positions UN action has left American and Russian policy untouched. Such policy appears more responsive to internal pressures than to world events.

Fourthly, the absence of China from the United Nations has to an unknown extent made the United Nations a scene of negotiations when it might have been one of much more continuous bitter acrimony. The conflicts of East and West have simply not been exposed to the full in the UN because the Chinese have not been there to expose them.

These are questions which it may be possible to answer. But until they have been answered at length or an alternative policy has been proposed the statement of the unilateralist case is greatly weakened.

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