Saturday, August 20, 2016

How to Become a Fringe Party in North America and Europe

One of the dynamics I learned in the process of researching the Dave and Steve book on NATO is that left-wing parties aspiring to broaden their appeal felt compelled to support NATO operations.  Huh? 

In Canada, the New Democratic Party supported the Libyan operation.  In the Netherlands, it was the Groenlinks party that supported the new policy mission in 2011.*  Both parties had traditionally been anti-NATO, but both chose to support new (and less risky) NATO operations because they saw that being anti-NATO had marginalized them. If they wanted to be mainstream, they would have be seen as not hostile to NATO.  They realized that voters beyond their narrow core saw NATO as a legitimate alliance that their country should support much of the time, if not always.  These parties realized that their anti-NATO ideology caused voters to think of them as fringe parties, as ones that were not serious enough to be considered fit to govern even as part of a coalition.  Taking stances on less risky missions, especially ones that seemed vaguely humanitarian, allowed these parties to shift and be more supportive of NATO. 

Why think about this now?  Because it seems that some actors in Western politics are taking the opposite strategy--how to alienate voters and become a fringe party by being hostile to NATO.  In the US, Donald Trump has been alienating not just Democrats but increasingly Republicans due to his anti-NATO (and pro-Putin) stances.  As Dan Drezner has repeatedly pointed out, no GOP experts have jumped up alongside Donald to suggest that NATO might need to be cut adrift.  The NeverTrump crowd, however, does cite Trump's anti-NATO stances as one of the reasons why they have to oppose Trump, even if they are not fans of Clinton. 

Trump is not alone.  UK Labour "leader" Jeremy Corbyn refused to say that the UK would come to the defence of allies if they were attacked, which seems pretty anti-NATO.  Then, of course, folks found some of his previous NATO statements.  Being anti-NATO is great for pandering to the far left, but that will alienate less extreme Labour voters and tell the rest of the UK that the Labour party is not serious about governing and just wants to be a fringe party.  Of course, Corbyn is doing other stuff that has this effect, but the focus here is on NATO. 

I just want to congratulate both Trump and Corbyn on figuring out how best to turn mainstream parties, ones that has governed on their own, into fringe parties that most citizens will find to be unacceptable.  Well done.

*  I wrote a bit about it in this paper that I never submitted anywhere.  I forget why I didn't--it might been trying to publish too much off of the same book project--that I wanted to avoid self-plagiarism.  Or that this was going to be in an edited volume that never took place. 


Anonymous said...

The current turmoil in the Labour Party is largely a product of left-wing backlash against Tony Blair, so it's understandable that Corbyn would short-sightedly tie anti-Iraq War sentiment with hostility to NATO. Compare that to the Democrats, where a) the incumbent president made true on his promise to limit ground engagement to a last resort, and b) has become the home of ideologically-moderate minorities who understand (from the history of their diasporas) the importance of IGOs in conducting diplomacy.

The enigma is why Trump is self-marginalizing the GOP in this way. In the course of two years, the party of American interventionism has descended into ...what?

Anonymous said...

Also, like the Democrats, NDP support for NATO is favourably rooted in its history. David Lewis is a very underappreciated figure in this regard.
- @awbajrak