There has been much huffing an puffing in the press recently about the supposed ‘split’ in the SNP over NATO and some of my colleagues have taken advantage of the traditional summer silly season to pour a little gasoline of that conflagration as the opportunities to make an individual mark amidst an MSP phalanx as large and as disciplined as the SNPs are not frequent.
I call the motivation of none of my colleagues into question and some—like Dave Thomson—with a longstanding commitment to the CND would have been morally inconsistent had they not raised a debate about joining NATO. I don’t seek to change their principles, nor do I seek to muzzle their understandable desire for debate.
But what I do is to ask the less committed, the more open-minded people both within and without the SNP to consider the position of our non-nuclear neighbours and friends who are very much supportive of and active in NATO—and all of whom thole the idea that there are members with nuclear capability.
1. NORWAY Perhaps the most like the Scots from NATO’s perspective, between us we would hold the northern flank of NATO’s defence of Europe. Both of us (along with Iceland and Greenland) provide unsinkable aircraft carriers that would seriously hamper any hostile naval action from this direction. Norway already deploys the LRMP aircraft, fast patrol boats and SBS capability (all badly neglected by the present UK MoD) as well as modern interceptors. Because of relatively short ranges, aircraft carriers are actually superfluous and function more as attack sub targets (i.e. liabilities).
Norway’s posture is boosted by a significant portion of their GDP (already over 50% bigger per capita than the UK’s) going to defence. Their policy of “Smart Defence” was outlined this April in a speech from Mr. Roger Ingebrigtsen, State Secretary, Norwegian Ministry of Defence. In it, he asserts:
“Smart Defence is about striking a balance between legitimate and important national concerns – and the benefits we could obtain from a new culture of cooperation in the alliance and with important partners.”
In other words, it involves not just signing up to NATO as a joint defence but it involves trusting your neighbouring partners to supply key components of a joint defence posture. Even though that would render it more difficult to stand alone, it makes for a better, cheaper and more integrated joint capability.
Interestingly, he found no need to even mention nuclear weapons—none are deployed in Norway and NATO’s entire posture in the country is both non-nuclear and welcomed.
2. DENMARK Similar to Norway, Denmark outspends the UK per capita in defence but still keeps defence low as a proportion of GDP. The Danish Defence Agreement, signed by all political parties in 2009, defines its defense arrangements as:
“Denmark’s membership of NATO is a cornerstone of Danish security and defence policy. In a strategic perspective Denmark’s sovereignty is secured through NATO’s Article 5 commitment to collective defence of Alliance territory. At the same time, NATO provides a framework for the participation of the Danish Armed Forces in international missions.”
They accept that the Danish Armed Forces must continue to be able to fight conventional conflicts, but there will be an increasing need to be able to participate in other types of conflicts, such as counter-insurgency operations, peacemaking operations and reconstruction efforts. The fact of NATO members possessing nuclear weapons does not rate a mention as there is no arrangement for them to be deployed on Danish soil.
3. NETHERLANDS Not quite as comparable as the other two geographically or demographically, the Netherlands has a rather unique attitude towards international law and military obligations. The origins of the country’s long-standing global trade in the 17th century explains their strong support for international law, which follows from a combination of a law-abiding people in a small trading country with insufficient individual military capacity.
A paper from the CfESat the University of Twente reinforces this in some depth and explains how they forsook a long-held policy of strict neutrality and joined NATO in 1949 with similar provisos against deployment of nuclear weapons. During the Cold War, the Netherlands nonetheless proved to be an active and loyal member of the Alliance, which—in their eyes—allowed for a much larger role in international affairs than its size would justify.
In 1999, the Netherlands did debate similar issues to those underlying the SNP proposal. Those on NATO’s nuclear strategy, on the need for a NATO no-first-use declaration, and on the need for an explicit UN mandate for NATO actions did not succeed in getting majority support.
TAKEN TOGETHER the position of Scotland’s three closest neighbours who are NATO members appear very similar and pragmatic about realities with which any small European country would need to come to terms.
It would be ideal if no nuclear weapons existed, failing which an international treaty were to abolish them and that abolition be enforceable, all the way down to rebels, splinter groups and dissidents. Given the world the way it is, steering our way out of a Cold War without Armageddon was perhaps the best we could realistically hope for.
But, join it or no, NATO and the US/UK/French nuclear arsenals around which it was originally built remain facts. An independent Scotland could be far more a force for good than its present role in shoring up England’s residual delusions of global empire and influence. But not if it sulks in the corner because no-one will accept their strict principles.
Without independence, we are a voiceless people people with a nuclear arsenal foisted on us by someone else, making mockery of our principles. If we refuse to join NATO, our influence on the world will be that of Nicaragua or Eritrea or Kirghizstan—all viable countries of around 5m with some regional influence but little on the global stage.
As an EU member, Scotland would have commercial access to a market of 300m and a correspondingly amplified voice in world trade and its regulation. As a member of NATO, it would have a similar military voice while still being able to limit its involvement to non-nuclear and UN-sanctioned involvements. More importantly, it would have a say in driving debate within NATO to make a non-first-strike declaration or one on a requirement for a UN mandate before any action.
The choice is stark, clear and easy because our neighbour friends—models to whom we would aspire—point the way: Do you want to stop the world so Scotland can get on? Or do you want to become Jocky-Nae-Freends, sulking in a corner by ourselves?