Nov 11 2012

The Slippery Slope

Murdo Richie explains the consequences of the SNP conference decision on NATO.

We are being deceived into thinking that we are safe with NATO-friendly nationalists when instead we have a disgraceful pretence, (1) claims Lord NATO alias its former General-Secretary and former UK Defence secretary, George Robertson. Torn between his former position recognising the SNP Conference decision as the right thing and his hatred of the SNP he calls them politically dishonest. Adding none of the new countries that joined NATO ever rejected the nuclear umbrella, he cites the Strategic Concept adopted last year.

Deterrence, based on an appropriate mix of nuclear and conventional capabilities, remains a core element of our overall strategy. The circumstances in which any use of nuclear weapons might have to be contemplated are extremely remote. As long as nuclear weapons exist, NATO will remain a nuclear alliance.

The supreme guarantee of the security of the Allies is provided by the strategic nuclear forces of the Alliance, particularly those of the United States; the independent strategic nuclear forces of the United Kingdom and France, which have a deterrent role of their own, contribute to the overall deterrence and security of the allies.

We will ensure that NATO has the full range of capabilities necessary to deter and defend against any threat to the safety and security of our populations. Therefore we will

– ensure an appropriate mix of nuclear and conventional forces

– ensure the broadest possible participation of Allies in collective defence planning on nuclear roles, in peacetime basing of nuclear forces [his emphasis] and in command, control and consultation arrangements.

He closes his argument wondering if they will now subscribe to NATO’s Strategic Concept. Answering that, I reckon, will be more difficult than bullying half a conference plus 29 into submission.

Adjustment and adaption

It is a valid question, but he conveniently forgets that the Labour Party, always pro-NATO, never formally abandoned its commitment to unilateral nuclear disarmament by direct Conference decision. Instead, during the great collective changing of minds that spontaneously affected all career motivated MPs on Neil Kinnock’s arrival in leadership, a series of so-called Policy Reviews were launched. Constant promises overflowed that no policy would change, but enough of a nod-and-wink made clear what was abandoned. The process of individual psychological adjustment and organisational adaption was begun so that MPs and party officials quietly dropped any commitments they once so passionately held till a party house-trained to fight imperialist wars was created.

Even if the nuclear weapons based at Faslane andCoulport go, NATO membership will compel the Scottish Government to keep Cape Wrath as the only ship-to-shore firing range in Europe used by NATO forces because it is the only location in Europe where military aircraft can drop 1,000lb bombs. It would also mean keeping another bomb site used for smaller munitions at West Freugh in Luce Bay, Galloway. Also retained would be the open air depleted uranium testing range at Dundrennan, again the only site of its kind in Europe. It is also the locationfor the so-called energy supergun that is expected to be the US’ weapon of the future. And there are storage bases for various forms of conventional weapons at numerous locations throughout Scotland that have been regularly activated for many conflicts. Even if an independent Scotland chooses not to take part in a NATO conflict it will still be a supply base and a training facility. (3)

Assuming the coming Independence Referendum will produce an affirmative response may make it possible to build on the strength of opinion against nuclear weapons at the Gare Loch bases, (4) but a negative answer could unleash greater efforts from the lobbyists within the global military establishments to overturn any prior policy commitments. Moreover, there is no guarantee the SNP would form the government of an independent Scotland.

Decades rather than years

Even if the current SNP policy was not subject to modification, the issue of the leasing of the bases will remain. Professor Malcolm Chalmers from the Royal United Services Institute has observed, the UK’s internal continuity has given its elites the self confidence to make a disproportionate contribution to international governance. (5) Fear of losing this influence as well as hoping to inherit Britain’s seat at the UN’s Security Council may mean that the remainder of the UK (rUK) may enter into an arrangement with the future Scottish Government to lease the bases. The absence of other suitable sites could become a semi-permanent arrangement.

Citing the examples of the treaty ports that enabled access for the Royal Navy into designated ports of the Irish Free State, he points out,”[t]his need not mean that Scotland would have to keep UK nuclear weapons on its territory for perpetuity … [but] that they could remain for some considerable period of time, decades rather than years.” (6)

Source of constant disagreements

The issues of bases operated by a foreign power with no real input from the host government are likely to be a source of constant disagreements especially during periods of heightened global tension. In the run-up to the Second World War, this was why De Valera was so keen to remove the “treaty ports” privileged status. Alongside this, are the difficulties arising over the payments for the lease. The volume of annual payments of around a £1 Billion a year as rental will have to include expected decommissioning costs and may also cause problems if they do not materialise but are offset against any other financial issues that could arise from the financial separation settlement of the two governments. Moreover, a cash-strapped government may become financially dependent on them.

Alex Salmond is more right than Lord NATO when he claims, an independent Scotland could and would have participated in the UN-sanctioned, multi-nation operation in Libya last year. And … we would have stood with the overwhelming number of the international community in opposing the illegal, unilateral invasion of Iraq – which was neither NATO-led nor UN-approved. (7) NATO has already moved from an organisation designed for European collective defence to a pool from which a coalition-of-the-willing can be assembled for Out of-Area Operations. But he is wrong to believe that defence contracts like the forthcoming Type-26 Global Combat Ship will continue as normal. An independent Scottish navy will be very small and the rUK’s defence requirements smaller too.

To a large extent he writes, what we are actually debating is the kind of country we want Scotland to be in the 21st century. But how aware of the processes he has unleashed are his supporters?

Murdo’s Blog

1. The SNP and its leadership are taking us for fools

2. (dead link)

3. Why the Independence Referendum is being turned into one on NATO

4. The submarine base at Faslane services both nuclear weapons laden Vanguard class submarines and the nonnuclear weapons laden but nuclear powered hunter killer submarines, the Astute class vessels. The Royal Navy Weapons Depot at Coulport stores the nuclear warheads. Both are on the shores of the Gare Loch.

5. Professor Malcolm Chalmers, Kingdom’s End?

6. Ibid. For a fuller development of these issues see, Malcolm Chalmers & William Walker, Uncharted Waters. The UK, Nuclear Weapons and the Scottish Question. Tuckwell Press. 2001.

7. Why we can ban nuclear weapons and stay in Nato

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    […] Murdo Ritchie (before in RCN) – The Slippery Slope- The Consequences of the SNP conference decision on NATO, 11.11.12 […]

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