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The special relationship and the difference a day makes

Union & US flagsSuddenly, politics is before and after ‘last Thursday’. Before last Thursday, Britain was America’s poodle, prepared to pay the ‘blood price’ for our special relationship, riding pillion passenger to US foreign policy, whatever the blowback.

Since last Thursday, Britain has determined its own destiny. It has rejected participation in another murderous and futile US war in the Middle East. And it has broken the first link in the bloody chains that have bound us to US policy over decades.

Quite an achievement, and one from which I am still reeling. But the extent of Thursday’s impact only began to become clear as President Obama spoke on Saturday. Rather than announcing some imminent and supposedly ‘limited’ punishment on Syria, Obama threw the decision back to Congress. There has certainly been pressure from Congress members – including a petition from over 100 of them – but who can seriously doubt that the major factor was Thursday’s rejection of war by British MPs?

So Thursday was a double blow to the long-established status quo. Not only did parliament defeat the prime minister on a question of war and peace, but Britain broke with US foreign policy and in so doing helped shape global politics in a quite extraordinary way.

There are many factors which have led to this break: Iraq – both as a human tragedy on a massive scale and as the moral nadir of British politics; the declining power of the US and the rise of a multi-polar world; the consistent, principled and organised mass opposition to Bush and Blair’s war drive, initiated over a decade ago.

But however we analyse it and understand it, the key question is how we can move forward in this new context.

Of course we cannot underestimate the structures and underpinnings of the special relationship which will militate against further change, and will seek to recuperate the losses of the last few days.

Yet it is precisely those that we now need to challenge further. Not only the previous automaticity of support by the UK for US foreign policy, but also the effective US occupation of much of the UK’s military infrastructure and its use, irrespective of UK policy. To give just one example: in 2006, CND protested against the use of RAF Mildenhall in Suffolk for weapons transports from the US to Israel, at the time of the war on Lebanon, in which Britain was not involved. When we attempted to hand a letter to the base commander, expressing our concerns, we were informed that we had to seek permission from the US Embassy!

And how many of us are aware of the US/UK Mutual Defence Agreement – the world’s most extensive nuclear sharing agreement – which was signed in 1958 and continues to be renewed every ten years? Last time, in 2004, it went through parliament, more or less on the nod. Next year, this has to change, particularly as the US-backed Trident nuclear weapons system, already on the skids, must surely be the next candidate for the common sense chop. Who could now seriously argue that the US won’t let us give it up?

It is time for both US involvement in British foreign and defence policy, and the secrecy surrounding it, to come to an end. The door is open. We need to step through it.

Image credit: hypermania2 / 123RF Foto de archivo

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