Lord Robertson’s much-quoted observations on Scotland in Nato are ill-advised, ill-timed and illogical, writes George Kerevan
SUPPOSE that Malaysia Airlines Flight MH370 had gone missing over the Atlantic. Britain would be hard put to mount a search mission because its air and naval forces are now denuded. The RAF’s entire fleet of Nimrod maritime reconnaissance aircraft were withdrawn from service in 2011, as a crude economy measure by the Treasury.
Of course, we could put up a few Hercules transport planes with binoculars, plus the odd Royal Navy frigate with a helicopter. But any passengers floating in a rubber dingy in the Atlantic are going to have to rely on the Americans, Canadians and Norwegians (who have long-range Lockheed P-3 planes) to supply the backbone of any aerial search effort,
I mention this because Lord Robertson of Port Ellen, ex- Labour defence secretary and former-secretary-general of Nato, has just made an extraordinary, over-the-top speech in Washington DC decrying the military consequences of a Yes vote in the Scottish referendum. He said Scottish independence “would be cataclysmic in geopolitical terms”.
I would reserve the phrase “cataclysmic” for, say, a Russian invasion of Ukraine, or an Iran-Israel war. I think Vladimir Putin’s annexation of the Crimea, the civil war in Syria, and North Korea’s acquisition of nuclear weapons are all dangerous threats to world security but – so far – they are containable, with a bit of diplomatic footwork. For that reason, the latter three crises have not reached a cataclysmic state. The notion that Alex Salmond running an independent Scotland ranks anywhere near them in terms of an existential security threat is, frankly, risible.
How then can George Robertson, a dour Scot from Islay, end up using such wildly disproportionate language and do so in America, as if he were Winston Churchill warning against the Iron Curtain? How can a democratic vote, carried out with not a hint of public disorder, to create a sovereign parliament in Edinburgh for a mere five million out of the UK’s 60 million citizens, constitute a threat to the world? Has George Robertson lost his marbles?
If you want to worry about threats to the security of the British Isles, might not the current ill-preparedness and under-equipment of the RAF, British Army (which is being cut by a fifth) or Royal Navy be a good start? Would George Robertson – whose tenure at the Ministry of Defence was hardly stellar – not be better off using his Washington platform to decry Britain’s lack of maritime reconnaissance aircraft?
Robertson argues: “The loudest cheers for the break-up of Britain would be from our adversaries.” Typically, he neglects to mention who these might be. However, let’s be charitable and assume Lord Robertson truly believes Scottish independence might be misconstrued by potential enemies as a sign of weakness. To the contrary, an independent Scotland not only intends to stay in Nato but to reinforce the alliance’s Atlantic flank by making up for the deficiencies of Britain’s current maritime defences.
Far from an independent Scotland (or Catalonia) balkanising the West, it is only the small, feisty European Union and Nato members who can re-invigorate Europe’s tired institutions with a common purpose. I predict the Nordic, Baltic and ex-Soviet Bloc countries in Europe will take a harder line on mutual defence than Barack Obama’s White House, which Putin is running diplomatic rings round. Note: the latest secretary-general of Nato is Jens Stoltenberg, a former prime minister of Norway.
Robertson claims that “if the United Kingdom was to face a split at this of all times and find itself embroiled for several years in a torrid, complex, difficult and debilitating divorce, it would rob the West of a serious partner just when solidity and cool nerves are going to be vital”. But disentangling Scottish interests from the UK need not be “torrid, complex and debilitating” if London negotiates in good faith. It would help if Lord Robertson himself used his Washington speeches and contacts to secure seamless Scottish membership of Nato.
Robertson again implies that Scotland will be refused Nato membership if it demands Trident nuclear submarines are removed from Faslane. Well, George, how will the Kremlin feel about Nato deliberately weakening its Atlantic front line by kicking out a founder member of the alliance? To use your own phrase, “the forces of darkness would simply love it”.
Lord Robertson’s interest in global security stems from his numerous business connections. He is a paid “senior counsellor” for the Washington-based Cohen lobbying firm, set up by his close friend William S Cohen, Bill Clinton’s defence secretary. The Cohen Group is run by a stellar bunch of ex-Pentagon generals and admirals and helps mainly US defence companies sell their wares.
The group’s website proudly states how it helped “a leading US-based global aerospace” firm snatch a $4 billion contract in Europe from under the noses of two local contractors, by arranging meetings directly with (I quote) that anonymous nation’s “Prime Minister, Defence Minister, Finance Minister, Foreign Minister, and Chairman of the Parliament’s Defence Committee”. Until last year, Robertson was deputy chairman of TNK-BP, an Anglo-Russian oil company. In 2013, BP was forced to sell its half of TNK-BP to Rosneft, a purely Russian firm, after Kremlin arm-twisting. Rosneft is 70 per cent owned by the Russian state. Its boss is Igor Sechin, Putin’s former deputy chief of staff. This experience upset Robertson, who has reverted to seeing the world in Cold War terms.
Equally, the Russians viewed the appointment to the TNK-BP board of an ex-Nato chief as an imperialist insult.
Here is the contradiction in George Robertson’s preposterous rhetoric. The Kremlin thinks it has the right to a “sphere of influence” so it can bully small countries around its borders. Yet Lord Robertson, invoking a new Cold War as his excuse, wants London and Washington to exert their “sphere of influence” over Scotland, blackmailing Scottish voters with lurid threats if they dare vote Yes.