Challenging the rhetoric and the actions which underpin Nato. Photo: Getty
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Nato stands for bombed-out Afghan schools, not Obama grinning for photo-ops

Kate Hudson, general secretary of the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament, explains why she has been protesting the arrival of the Nato Summit in Newport.

If you’ve been in Newport and Cardiff over the past week, you might have thought you’d entered a warzone.

As Nato warships drifted ominously into the harbour and US Osprey and Nighthawk helicopters thundered in the sky, above mile after mile of steel fencing, disgruntled residents were left taking to Twitter to complain about their desks shaking at work. "The amount of helicopters I have heard today makes it sound like we’re at war,” one said.

Here in the UK, we can view this dazzling array of weaponry with whimsy: with sardonic takes on social media.

But the sophistication of this security apparatus in Wales is a world away from the carnage in Afghanistan: a country left in ruins by a Nato-led force. Here, these same helicopters really do fly over a war zone. They fly over a country which has seen tens of thousands of its men, women and children killed. They fly over shattered institutions, a foundering security force, a state rocked to the point of collapse.

And that is what Nato stands for. It’s not Barack Obama grinning for a photo-op in a Newport school – it’s the bombed-out ruins of an Afghan school providing the only playground for local children.

Formed in 1949 as a "defensive" alliance, Nato prompted the creation of the Warsaw Pact. But while the end of the Cold War in 1990 may have meant the dissolution of the Warsaw Pact, it was the beginning of a new era for Nato.

This "defensive" alliance decided to take on "out of area" operations. Sometimes "the best form of offence is defence", isn’t that how the saying goes? Defence through killing tens of thousands in Afghanistan? Defence through the bloody chaos in Libya, where militias compete in an all but lawless land? Few can now argue that these interventions have contributed anything to global security.

And of course there is Ukraine, which is set to be the primary item on the agenda at the Nato Summit in Newport. It is clear there is no military solution for the Ukraine crisis – from whatever quarter it comes. But few can deny that Nato’s insatiable expansion into eastern Europe has contributed to heightening tensions around Russia and Ukraine, raising the spectre of a new Cold War. Is it any surprise that Russia feels threatened? Do we really need to spell out how the US would react to a Russian-led military alliance pulling up at the border in Mexico?

For the past week, the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament has been working with partners in Europe and beyond to not only protest the arrival of the Nato Summit in Newport, but also to challenge the rhetoric and the actions which underpin it.

The No To Nato Counter-Summit was held in Cardiff and Newport last weekend. It saw peace campaigners and activists from across Europe, the US, and Russia come together to discuss alternatives and diplomatic routes towards true global security.

And the weight of the peace movement has been never been clearer. A potentially disastrous bombing campaign in Syria was averted last year, when more than a decade of protest against wars in Iraq, Afghanistan and beyond hung heavily over the Parliamentary vote. A humiliated David Cameron was forced to abandon military action. The atrocities of the civil war in Syria are all too clear, but let’s not delude ourselves that bombing in favour of the rebels would have solved anything. Many of those who called for bombing in August 2013 are now telling us that we should be aligning with Assad to counter the barbarism of Islamic State. What a difference a year makes.

Back in Newport, the peace movement today prised open the gates of Fortress Nato. A delegation from the No To Nato protests was allowed through the steel fence to hand-in letters and messages of opposition to Nato. A symbolic act, of course, but one which shows the real strengths of the peace movement and its ability to actually shape politics in our country.

Tens of millions around the world oppose Nato’s interventionism, its expansionism and the fact that US/Nato nuclear weapons are hosted on European soil – in countries with staunchly anti-nuclear public opinion like Germany, Belgium, Italy and the Netherlands. It is only through persisting with campaigns which call for political solutions over military actions, for diplomacy over air strikes, and for peace not war, can we hope to achieve real and lasting global security.

Kate Hudson is general secretary of the CND

Photo: Getty Images
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Autumn Statement 2015: George Osborne abandons his target

How will George Osborne close the deficit after his U-Turns? Answer: he won't, of course. 

“Good governments U-Turn, and U-Turn frequently.” That’s Andrew Adonis’ maxim, and George Osborne borrowed heavily from him today, delivering two big U-Turns, on tax credits and on police funding. There will be no cuts to tax credits or to the police.

The Office for Budget Responsibility estimates that, in total, the government gave away £6.2 billion next year, more than half of which is the reverse to tax credits.

Osborne claims that he will still deliver his planned £12bn reduction in welfare. But, as I’ve written before, without cutting tax credits, it’s difficult to see how you can get £12bn out of the welfare bill. Here’s the OBR’s chart of welfare spending:

The government has already promised to protect child benefit and pension spending – in fact, it actually increased pensioner spending today. So all that’s left is tax credits. If the government is not going to cut them, where’s the £12bn come from?

A bit of clever accounting today got Osborne out of his hole. The Universal Credit, once it comes in in full, will replace tax credits anyway, allowing him to describe his U-Turn as a delay, not a full retreat. But the reality – as the Treasury has admitted privately for some time – is that the Universal Credit will never be wholly implemented. The pilot schemes – one of which, in Hammersmith, I have visited myself – are little more than Potemkin set-ups. Iain Duncan Smith’s Universal Credit will never be rolled out in full. The savings from switching from tax credits to Universal Credit will never materialise.

The £12bn is smaller, too, than it was this time last week. Instead of cutting £12bn from the welfare budget by 2017-8, the government will instead cut £12bn by the end of the parliament – a much smaller task.

That’s not to say that the cuts to departmental spending and welfare will be painless – far from it. Employment Support Allowance – what used to be called incapacity benefit and severe disablement benefit – will be cut down to the level of Jobseekers’ Allowance, while the government will erect further hurdles to claimants. Cuts to departmental spending will mean a further reduction in the numbers of public sector workers.  But it will be some way short of the reductions in welfare spending required to hit Osborne’s deficit reduction timetable.

So, where’s the money coming from? The answer is nowhere. What we'll instead get is five more years of the same: increasing household debt, austerity largely concentrated on the poorest, and yet more borrowing. As the last five years proved, the Conservatives don’t need to close the deficit to be re-elected. In fact, it may be that having the need to “finish the job” as a stick to beat Labour with actually helped the Tories in May. They have neither an economic imperative nor a political one to close the deficit. 

Stephen Bush is editor of the Staggers, the New Statesman’s political blog.