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Why Britain should end the special relationship with the US

Gratitude for past US military assistance should not stop Britain from pursuing its own interests today.

Is the “special relationship” between Britain and the United States fundamentally flawed? It’s an alliance based on shared histories and values, one that has become the cornerstone of British foreign policy after two world wars. But does it serve Britain’s interests as it once did? Could the UK gain from a little more independence of mind and a greater readiness to “play it alone”, à la France?

Gratitude for past US military assistance should not stop Britain from pursuing its own interests today. After all, Washington seldom trumpets its relationship with Britain as “special”. The US considers itself as having “special relationships” with Canada, Mexico, Russia and Germany – to name but a few. If anything, it seems increasingly eager to establish a rapport with the EU as a whole, rather than any individual member state.

Although Britain may benefit from privileged access to US intelligence and weapons, by adhering to US policies around the globe it has forsaken old relationships. This is borne out in the Middle East, where Britain has, in its uncritical deference to the US, sacrificed trading, commercial and diplomatic ties with Libya, Iran, Iraq, Sudan and Afghanistan.

Increased independence also becomes appealing when an alternative European option may offer the same, if not greater, economic and political attractions. British exports to the EU are worth £187bn a year at present and are predicted to rise to £277bn by 2030. European markets for transport, energy and digital services, combined with global trade deals, could add a further £58bn, and many thousands of jobs, to that total.

More urgently, the global political environment has altered dramatically since 1945. Radicalisation at home, and terrorism and the migration crisis, can be countered effectively only through collaboration between neighbouring states.

The US-UK relationship has also harmed Britain’s standing among international bodies such as the United Nations. Take US policy on Bosnia. The UN mandate during the Bosnian War was predicated on the need to keep the peace. To this end, the UN imposed Operation Deny Flight, and Nato was tasked with policing a no-fly zone over Bosnia – a task that was assigned to the United States. But the US had a different agenda.

Washington responded by imposing a policy of “lift and strike” that in effect led to the rearming of Bosnian Muslims and Croats, and then the mass bombing of Serbs. When the Croats proved reluctant to arm the Bosnian army with sophisticated weapons, the Americans took it upon themselves to send arms to the Bosnian Muslim army, making air drops beyond the limits of Operation Deny Flight.

In other words, the US pursued its own agenda in tandem with Nato and its allies when it suited Washington, but was equally prepared to deceive its allies and pursue a unilateral policy in the Balkans. The US showed a readiness to ignore policies agreed with Britain and other countries that should not be too quickly forgotten.

The US action helped cause many of the 15,000 deaths and create 600,000 refugees in the Balkans. It led to a diplomatic backlash, the result being that the US suspended sharing intelligence information with Britain. Later, the UK tried to hedge its bets, first with the Anglo-French St Malo Declaration and later with the so-called “Euro army”.

So far, the sceptics’ case for leaving Europe has been based entirely on nostalgia. Co-operation with America forms part of that delusion. Sovereignty is being wrongly exploited to undermine British interests and security. Instead, a judicious and flexible “special relationship” with Europe should be sought. After all, the United States has expressed a wish for Britain to remain a part of the Union. In this instance, it might be wise to heed the Americans’ advice. 

This article first appeared in the 17 March 2016 issue of the New Statesman, Spring double issue

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White supremacists are embracing genetic testing - but they aren't always that keen on the results

Users of far-right site Stormfront are resorting to pseudo science and conspiracy theories when DNA tests show they aren't as "pure" as they hoped.

The field of genomics and genetics have undergone almost exponential growth in recent years. Ventures like the Human Genome Project have enabled t humanity to get a closer look at our building blocks. This has led to an explosion in genetic ancestry testingand as of 6 April 2017 23AndMe, one of the most popular commercial DNA testing websites, has genotyped roughly 2 million customers.

It is perhaps unsurprising that one of the markets for genetic testing can be found among white suprmacists desperate to prove their racial purity. But it turns out that many they may not be getting the results they want. 

Stormfront, the most prominent white nationalist website, has its own definition of those who are allowed to count themselves as white - “non-Jewish people of 100 per cent European ancestry.” But many supremacists who take genetic tests are finding out that rather than bearing "not a drop" of non-white blood, they are - like most of us a conglomerate of various kinds of DNA from all over the world including percentages from places such as sub Saharan Africa and Asia. Few are taking it well.

Dr. Aaron Panofsky and Joan Donovan, of UCLA’s Institute for Society and Genetics and the research institute Data and Society respectively, presented a research study (currently under peer review for publication) at the American Sociological Association a week ago, analysing discussion of GAT on Stormfront forums. Panofsky, Donovan and a team of researchers narrowed down the relevant threads to about 700, with 153 users who had chosen to publish their results online. While Panofsky emphasised that it is not possible to draw many quantitative inferences, the findings of their study offer a glimpse into the white nationalist movement's response to science that doesn't their self perception. 

“The bulk of the discussion was repair talk”, says Panofsky. “Though sometimes folks who posted a problematic result were told to leave Stormfront or “drink cyanide” or whatever else, 'don’t breed', most of the talk was discussion about how to interpret the results to make the bad news go away”.

Overwhelmingly, there were two main categories of reinterpretation. Many responses dismissed GAT as flimsy science – with statements such as a “person with true white nationalist consciousness can 'see race', even if their tests indicate 'impurity'".

Other commentators employed pseudo-scientific arguments. “They often resemble the critiques that professional geneticists, biological anthropologists and social scientists, make of GAT, but through a white nationalist lens", says Panofsky. 

For instance, some commentators would look at percentages of non-European DNA and put it down to the rape of white women by non-white men in the past, or a result of conquests by Vikings of savage lands (what the rest of us might call colonialism). Panofsky likens this to the responses from “many science opponents like climate deniers or anti-vaxxers, who are actually very informed about the science, even if they interpret and critique it in idiosyncratic and motivated ways".

Some white nationalists even looked at the GAT results and suggested that discussion of 100 per cent racial purity and the "one drop" rule might even be outdated – that it might be better to look for specific genetic markets that are “reliably European”, even though geneticists might call them by a different name.

Of course, in another not totally surprising development, many of the Stormfront commentators also insisted that GAT is part of a Jewish conspiracy, “to confuse whites by sprinkling false diversity into test results".

Many of the experts in the field have admitted to queasiness about the test themselves; both how they come to their results and what they imply. There are several technical issues with GAT, such as its use of contemporary populations to make inferences about those who previously lived in different places around the world, and concerns that the diversity of reference samples used to make inferences is not fully representative of the real world. 

There are other specific complications when it comes to the supramacist enthusiasm for GAT. Some already make a tortous argument that white people are the “true people of color" by dint of greater variation in hair and eye color. By breaking up DNA into percentages (e.g. 30 per cent Danish, 20 per cent German), Panofsky says GAT can provide a further opportunity to “appropriate and colonise the discourse of diversity and multiculturalism for their own purposes". There's is also, says Panofsky, the simple issue that “we can’t rely on genetic information to turn white nationalists away from their views."

“While I think it would be nice if the lesson people would take from GAT is that white nationalism is incoherent and wrong. I think white nationalists themselves often take the exact opposite conclusion."