Douglas Chapman: Norway a model for new defence strategy

Norwegian soldiers on Andorja Island. Photograph: Getty
Norwegian soldiers on Andorja Island. Photograph: Getty
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As a result of the continuing Brexit chaos, we could be less than a year away from starting to negotiate our withdrawal terms with the rest of the UK, and in these circumstances the defence and security of our nation would sit at the very heart of these discussions.

Last year, with the House of Commons Defence Select Committee, and latterly with the Nato Parliamentary Assembly, I attended a fact-finding missions in Norway. It is obvious that Norway works hard at securing her borders and providing a level of protection and security across a range of threat areas identified by the highly regarded Norwegian Government defence team in Oslo.

While they don’t see Russia as a potential day-to-day threat, relations between Norway and Russia are a combination of wary, pragmatic and workman-like. Their measured words are backed up with impressive Norwegian military hardware and they foster positive relations with near Western neighbours and allies through Nato.

The similarities between Norway and Scotland could not be closer. A Northern European nation with a long coastline with many islands and positioned on the edge of the Arctic Circle. Huge areas of sea to protect and patrol with those seas carrying significant wealth-creating assets that are important to the nation – oil, gas, fish, renewable energy resources. A well educated population of around 5 million people where most of that population is centred in major cities but with an important rural, but more sparsely populated hinterland, which brings its own defence and security issues. A large financial services sector which may be open to cyber attack from state and non-state actors such as through organised crime. Both are members of Nato and our taxpayers contribute to its defence, security operations and burden-sharing responsibilities.

While similarities abound, unlike Norway, Scotland is not yet independent and in the area of defence and security is not allowed to make her own decisions on assessing the level or scale of threats, nor can she build up the military and intelligence service resources to counter Scottish-specific security threats. Scotland is currently shackled to a UK defence policy which we are seeing is increasingly more difficult to deliver as the UK remains obsessed with Trident, the hugely expensive Successor programme and the attempt to retain a surface fleet Royal Navy that not only faces South but is more often than not tied up in Portsmouth rather than being at sea due to technical design faults and lack of suitably qualified crew.

With Trump and Putin the world is changing fast. Our defence challenge for a new and independent Scotland is to quickly focus on building up hard-edged, non-nuclear capability and capacity and working with Nato and EU partners.

This requires to be backed up by and integrated into our foreign policies, our international aid programme, our intelligence and diplomatic services and in the way we want to treat people who join our armed forces, how we support their families and how we care for them after they decide to leave at the end of their career. Also critical is our contribution to Nato, the EU, the UN and through more “close to home” relations with the Arctic Circle nations.

The strategic geographical position of Scotland makes us valuable partners for the security of the North Atlantic and in particular the protection of the Greenland / Iceland / Scotland gap. Interesting perhaps that no Royal Navy ship was available to take part in the recent Nato exercise in the North Atlantic and this only helps to highlight where Scotland’s priorities need to lie post-independence.

Focusing on defence and security at home and creating stability and cohesion abroad could and should be part of our underlying principles in developing our defence posture. We have no Empire2 mission to deflect us from our task in hand but that does not mean an independent Scotland will be isolated, without diplomatic influence or lack military or security punch. If the Norwegians can do it, and do it well, so can Scotland.

Douglas Chapman is MP for Dunfermline and West Fife and is the SNP Spokesperson for Defence Procurement, Peace and Nuclear Disarmament. He is a member of the Nato Parliamentary Assembly