George Kerevan: Why independent Scotland must stay in Nato

The Trident submarines as Faslane have long been a sticking point

The Trident submarines as Faslane have long been a sticking point

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SEPARATE nation should play its part in getting Russia and US to negotiate away more of their nuclear weapons.

Tomorrow sees the inaugural meeting of SNP CND. The new group unites those in Nationalist ranks (including high-profile MSPs) who want to retain the SNP’s long-time commitment to quit Nato, which they see as a pro-nuclear alliance. SNP CND represents the first break in the party’s famous iron discipline for well over a decade. But it represents more than that. It is another rite of passage for the SNP as it moves from protest movement to nation-builder.

The upcoming SNP national conference in October will see a proposal by the leadership to change policy and stay in Nato. This is partly to deflect inevitable negative publicity during the referendum campaign – “Salmond leaves Scotland defenceless”. But principally it is to demonstrate that an independent Scotland will engage positively and responsibly with the global community. However, the party’s official view of nuclear weapons and nuclear power remains unaltered. An independent Scotland would require the removal of the UK’s Trident nuclear submarines from Scottish waters, and existing civilian atomic power plants won’t be replaced when they reach the end of their operational life.

The SNP CND founding statement asserts that “if Scotland wants to stay in Nato then it will be more difficult to get rid of Trident”. Yet it’s just as plausible to argue it will be more difficult for the remainder of the UK to blackmail Scotland, as a fellow Nato member, into accepting what it does not want, especially as Scotland would have friends inside the alliance. For Nato is no longer a relic of the Cold War. Twelve of the current 28 members actually joined after the demise of the Soviet Union.

SNP CND replies that Nato’s bureaucracy could be used to “delay” the removal of Trident from Scotland. But this ignores the fact that Germany and other key Nato states are already leading a campaign to remove nuclear weapons from European soil – a campaign Scotland can support best by remaining inside the alliance where its vote counts.

In October 2009, as part of the coalition agreement of Germany’s new centre-right government, Guido Westerwelle, leader of the Free Democrats and the country’s new foreign minister, persuaded Chancellor Angela Merkel to agree they should seek the withdrawal of tactical (battlefield) nuclear weapons from Europe, as part of a wider strategy of arms control. For the past three years, Westerwelle, supported by Belgium, the Netherlands and Norway, has made substantial progress in getting the bombs out.

For instance, at its Chicago summit in May, under heavy German pressure, Nato altered its so-called “deterrence and defence posture”. Instead of a traditional refusal to give a “no-first-strike” guarantee, Nato now promises never to use nuclear weapons against a country that does not possess them, and is a signatory of the UN non-proliferation treaty (that means Iran, by the way). The Chicago summit also adopted – for the first time in any military alliance – a commitment to make nuclear disarmament a constituent part of its strategy.

Bill Ramsay, the organiser of SNP CND, is not impressed. He argues the German campaign will be thwarted by the United States. But Washington cannot impose its will on the European members of Nato. General De Gaulle threw the Americans and their nukes out of France in 1966. Besides, the number of US tactical nuclear weapons in Europe has declined since the end of the Cold War from about 2,500 to a token 200 bombs. This compares with some 2,000 still deployed by Russia.

What Ramsay misunderstands is that Germany’s pressure to remove tactical nukes from Europe is not a one-sided demand that the US takes its bombs home. The Germans want to remove the Russian weapons at the same time. The quid pro quo for the Russians shifting theirs to the other side of the Urals is that the US’s go to Nevada. A neutral Scotland will be irrelevant to that debate. In fact, Scotland quitting the alliance now reduces Nato’s diplomatic credibility when negotiating over Russian nukes.

What are the chances of a new round of nuclear arms reduction talks between Russia and Nato? It is certainly needed, and soon. Most of the existing treaty obligations to cut warheads and do on-site inspections are now legally time-expired. Or, in the case of the US’s unilateral (and destabilising) withdrawal from the anti-ballistic missile treaty, redundant. Russia has threatened to withdraw from the 1987 INF treaty abolishing short and medium-range missiles. Which means it could add nuclear tips to its new, highly accurate, highly mobile Iskander missile system – the replacement for the infamous Scud rocket. The Iskander was used (with conventional warheads) in Georgia in 2008, when the Russians invaded. No-one these days thinks a nuclear war in Europe is a realistic possibility. But Russia’s invasion of Georgia (which has a population the size of Scotland), and its cyber-attack on Estonia in 2007, are proof positive Moscow thinks it can bully small countries and get away with it. Russia keeps tactical nukes as a diplomatic big stick.

Pretending Nato is solely to blame for nuclear weapons is naïve. Pretending an independent Scotland that repudiated Nato could fend off Russian bullying in the oil-rich North Atlantic is a dangerous gamble. And pretending a majority of Scots will vote for independence plus neutrality is political fantasy.

Getting Moscow (and Washington) to the negotiating table will be difficult. But I think Scotland should be part of making it happen. Independence, after all, is not about leaving the UK. It’s about joining the world.

To date, both sides of the Nato debate have conducted the discussion in a well-mannered fashion – to the fury of unionist commentators desperate to see the “Yes” campaign split. The reason is simple: for the first time, the Scottish people are deciding their own foreign policy. The decision will be made on moral and rational grounds, not (as at Westminster) to curry favour with the White House, or sell arms at a profit. No matter the outcome, this is Scotland awakening to statehood.

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