Liam Fox: There is a price to pay for national security
IF an independent Scotland outlaws nuclear weapons the decision will threaten the UK’s place in Nato writes Liam Fox
For probably the first time in my political career, I find myself agreeing with Alex Salmond. There is simply no way that the Scottish Nationalist Party can continue with a defence policy that argues an independent Scotland could not be part of Nato.
To leave after enjoying the alliance’s protection for the last 60 years is like leaving the pub before your turn to buy the round. Those against Nato in Scotland will point to the other northern European countries that are not part of the alliance but, to take the pub analogy a little further, they’ve been buying their own drinks all night and don’t owe anybody anything.
The clear existential threat of the Soviet Union may have gone but there are new threats emerging; the geopolitical landscape is changing and, besides, you don’t choose your wars, they choose you. We live in uncertain times and any suggestion that a western, multi-faith, multi-cultural and resource rich nation - possibly soon sitting on a strategically important sea lane – will face no threat if it adopts a pacifist security policy, betrays the most incredible naïvety over the ways of the world. Norway and Denmark are no warmongers but they are investing heavily in their maritime capabilities and prize their Nato membership because they foresee competition in the Arctic and High North. Unsurprisingly, they would expect an independent Scotland to do the same.
But the Scottish Nationalists must not be taken in by Alex Salmond’s unilateral decision to re-interpret the Nato treaties. Nato is a nuclear alliance. In its Deterrence and Defence Posture Review, released at the Chicago Summit earlier this year, that was re-affirmed without ambiguity. “Nuclear weapons are a core component of Nato’s overall capabilities for deterrence and defence” could not be clearer. Nor could “allies acknowledge the importance of the independent and unilateral negative security assurances offered by the United States, the United Kingdom and France.”
Nato membership means that you agree to nuclear weapons being the ultimate insurance of your sovereignty. That has been the case for Scotland within the United Kingdom since Nato formed in 1949 and for as long as there are nuclear weapons in the world, I personally would want that to continue.
However, a Scottish constitution that outlaws nuclear weapons on Scottish soil threatens the UK’s nuclear contribution to Nato. Mr Salmond may be promising the removal of our nuclear weapons from Faslane but he does so without consulting any of our Nato allies. Faslane has taken decades to develop; it employs thousands of highly vetted specialists and gives our nuclear submarines direct access to the deep anonymous waters of the North Atlantic. There are not many other pieces of coastline in the UK that afford the same access and that’s before we consider the infrastructure costs and build times; and the need to either relocate – or recruit, vet and train – an entire workforce.
Now if the will of the Scottish people is that Scotland should be independent this will need to be worked around. Trident will have to leave but Salmond needs to start explaining a timeline for that so that the Scottish people and our Nato allies know exactly what they’re dealing with. He knows that removing Trident immediately will be impossible and he knows he’ll need to negotiate a sovereign base area solution with London that will last for decades whilst another nuclear base is built elsewhere.
I remarked in a speech in Birmingham last week that Mr Salmond is a political opportunist not a Commander-in-Chief. His credentials as the latter will be in sharp focus this week as he tries to reconcile the dawning realities of his haphazard foreign and security policies with the expectations of his party. Will he accept that Nato is a nuclear alliance and that even if Scotland’s long term plans are to be nuclear free, the responsibility of a Head of State and Commander-in-Chief is to ensure the stability of Nato’s nuclear capability for as long as it takes to move it elsewhere? Or, will he continue to appease his party members by renouncing nuclear weapons and continuing to call for their immediate removal from the Clyde? His audience this week is not just in the conference hall in Perth, but in Washington, London, Paris, Berlin, Copenhagen and Oslo.
Finally, whilst the strategic aspects of the SNP’s defence policy will take the headlines this week it is important that we continue to challenge the tactical inconsistencies too.
An army with six Scottish infantry battalions plus the Scots Guards and the Scottish Dragoon Guards is already just under 5,000 strong and would need around 12,000 engineers, artillerymen, signalers, mechanics, logisticians and medics to support them.
The SNP have committed to a total defence force of 15,000 so either these proud Scottish regiments are being made un-deployable because they have no supporting troops or the SNP cannot come good on its promise to restore and keep the Scottish regiments – especially when theyalso have plans for marines and Special Forces too.
In the air, they’re taking a handful of Typhoon fighter jets to protect Scottish airspace but forget that whilst these jets may currently be based in Scotland, they are refueled in the air by tanker aircraft based in Oxfordshire. The SNP have no clear plans for any tanker aircraft of their own and it is difficult to see where they’d find the money even if they did.
And in this, the week of the anniversary of the Battle of Trafalgar, the plans for a Scottish Navy are an insult to the countless brave Scots who have fought in the Royal Navy over the last 300 years.
State of the art, nuclear powered hunter-killer submarines from the Royal Navy are to be replaced in Scottish waters by diesel submarines that would have looked cutting edge in the 1970s. And the idea that this creates nuclear free waters off Scotland is laughable. We hear frequently about the Russian bombers that probe our airspace but the world of the submariner is less well publicised. The Royal Navy’s Astute Class submarines will give the captains of nuclear-powered Russian subs plenty to think about before entering our territorial waters but the noisy and out-dated diesel subs favoured by the SNP will be very easily avoided.
In the United Kingdom we have armed forces of which we should all be very proud. Over the centuries soldiers, sailors, marines and airmen from Scotland, England, Wales and Northern Ireland have come together to protect this country from whomever has intended her harm.
There are countless reasons to argue that we are better together but to my mind the defence of these islands and our shared history and ideals, must come right at the top of the list.
The SNP will fret over Nato and its nuclear heart in Perth this week but that isn’t the real issue here.
The real issue for the people of Scotland is whether we are better, stronger and safer together as a United Kingdom. I passionately believe that we are.
• Liam Fox is the Conservative MP for North Somerset and a former Secretary of State for Defence
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