Defence 1: Small country Big heart

Royal Marine reservists exercise in California.

By Professor Gavin Kennedy

There is an unanswerable problem in defence politics, best summarised by the question: `How Much Defence in Enough?’  It has tormented governments since before Julius Caesar’s times.  All defence ministers tend to answer: ‘Much more than whatever we have just now’.

UK unionists assert that `an independent Scotland cannot afford its proper defence’ without the benefits of being under the umbrella of the UK’s security in NATO.  UK unionists’ aim to smother debates about defence in Scotland by demanding lists of the defence equipment and trained personnel who would operate in an independent Scotland in contrast to what exists today and what might be speculated as then affordable. As long as the debate is conducted on this level it remains (intentionally) inconclusive.

The current ‘debate’, such as it is, has too shallow a perspective.  Arguments about how many main battlefield tanks, combat aircraft, modern warships, submarines, missiles, special forces, etc, and their support capabilities would be or could be available in an independent Scotland are a dead end, especially given the perennial uncertainties of contingency planning for future events, of which the general public is always less well informed.

What is required instead is a discussion of an independent Scotland’s proposed foreign policy roles and the security it needs that follow from those roles.   Defence is and ought to be subordinate to foreign policies, which are in turn, in a democracy like Scotland’s, dependent on the country’s likely governing political parties.

Stable policies

In so far as these policies are relatively constant, within a broad consensus between competing alternative governments, planned defence postures of Scottish governments would remain relatively stable within that consensus.  This contributes to defence stability, bound as it generally is by the long development and production cycles of modern defence technologies, the numbers of personnel they need, their military equipment and their intense training, plus their necessary support facilities, including intelligence and preparedness.

Currently, the UK Ministry of Defence expends considerable time, effort and expense in preparing its budgets and capabilities within its multiple remits to function as the hard edge of British foreign policy across the world. The UK main parties broadly agree on Britain’s historic and continuing (if much diluted) retained global roles as a former imperial power.  So significant changes are unlikely to be made by the UK even to fading versions of these worn self-images, other than those brought about by political events.  Some of these are diplomatic (as in the aborted Syrian bombing campaign with the US and its earlier somewhat truncated ‘no boots on the ground’ intervention in Libya).  Some are economic (can the UK afford two very large aircraft carriers and their aircraft?). And some are simply unexpected.

HMS Lancaster

Scottish Defence Force frigates patrolling the North Atlantic or East of Suez with the UK?

The prospect of Scottish independence poses real problems for the UK government and for those whose careers and policy commitments support the fading post-imperial consensus of the Conservative and Labour front benches. Without Scotland, the rUK defence posture is not immediately or directly threatened – Scotland’s contribution to UK defence is not now crucial materially in bases (except for Faslane!) or the reducing numbers in the serious and ongoing programmes of mass redundancy among current military personnel.

Recent and pending defence cuts show that rUK capacity could accommodate a withdrawal of all the remaining ‘Scottish-badged’ units.  Their absence would make it easier for some of the local political challenges faced by proposed rUK cuts through delaying them in rUK to replace the withdrawal of Scottish units.  It is the same with major material cuts in naval warships, aircraft and armour, loosely committed to Scottish territory if not always stationed here.

Faslane and Trident


Landing craft during exercise on Loch Long with Coulport in background. Photograph: Russell Bruce

The elephant in the UK defence line-up is, of course, Trident and its main base at Faslane.  Now this is a real problem for rUK, almost never discussed in public, with few ‘negative headlines’, and no attention directed at it (yet) in case unionist threats and bullying add to a Yes vote.   Faslane is highly negotiable and highly contentious politically and would quickly overtake all the recent bluster about monetary union and the pound.  Trident needs Faslane absolutely!  This is the invisible lynchpin of London’s determination to secure an electoral rejection of Scottish independence for all the negative reasons heard so far.

The nuclear debate, uniquely, is somewhat isolated.  The post-war nuclear deterrent was focussed on the serious and real threat of the capability of the former Warsaw Pact, led by the Soviet Union, to destroy the USA and Western Europe and, in turn risk the destruction of the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe.  NATO’s mission was to deter the lunacy of a nuclear attack on its member countries, three of them armed with their own ‘independent’ nuclear deterrents which, if anything went wrong, could have ended the world as we know it.

In my view, the case for Polaris/Trident during the Cold War was well made.  In so far as Scotland was a member country of the UK, its location here was politically necessary (Faslane is near to the ‘great circle’ shortest navigation path from Washington, via Scotland, to Moscow, and vice-versa).  But with the collapse of the Soviet Union and the spread of independence across Eastern Europe, the emergence of real detente potentially changed the nuclear balance and the real risks of a suicidal or accidental nuclear conflagration.

Faslane is now redundant for a non-nuclear independent Scotland (though its excellent naval base, communications, and storage facilities remain valuable resources for a non-nuclear Scotland).  No similar dominant targets as those along the Washington-UK-Soviet ‘great circle’ route are currently obvious.  In fact there are no realistic targets for which Trident is an appropriate defence, other than foreign policy based on pure ‘power projection’ by a former but fading world power.  Realistically, such posing by rUK is not in Scotland’s national interest (Wales and Northern Ireland can and should speak for themselves), though it remains a political imperative for London governments and the front benches of the main UK parties.

In these circumstances Faslane remains highly negotiable for a non-nuclear Scotland, particularly if push came to shove with Scottish independence. Hence, London’s excitable determination to use its worldly guile to secure a No vote and prevent a Yes.

Alternative roles

RAF Delivers Aid to Flood Hit Pakistan

Other Scottish Foreign policy objectives: Peacekeeping, Humanitarian aid,  Disaster response, Conflict resolution?

Scotland may wish to reconsider its minor role in world affairs as a post-imperial appendage of a continuing UK with its major diplomatic and political mission in world affairs, with its seat on the United Nations Security Council, its (expensive and dangerous) mobile ‘world policeman’ postures and its continuing aspirations to be a major player in all world affairs, currently focussed on North Africa and the Middle East, and potentially elsewhere.

Alternatively, for Scotland there are commendable roles for a small but advanced country to play in the Commonwealth, UN and its several conventions and humanitarian affiliates (FAO, WHO, UNESCO, ILO), plus the EU, EFTA, WTO, IMF, World Bank, OECD, Red Cross and other friendly organisations compatible with UN membership and Scottish civilised governance.

I remain unconvinced that remaining a part of a major player is in Scotland’s national interests.  Instead, Scotland can forge new relationships bilaterally and multilaterally across the world, including, of course, with England, Wales and Northern Ireland, and with our Irish and Scandinavian neighbours. Amicably separated from the UK, but with close ties of family and common history to the millions of people who share our values across these islands and in the Commonwealth, Scotland can carve out a place for itself in the UN as a democratic, pluralistic and humanitarian small country but with a big heart.

Gavin Kennedy BA MSc PhD

Professor Gavin Kennedy was Professor of Defence Finance in the Department of Accounting and Finance at Heriot-Watt University and Professor of Economics at Strathclyde University, where he helped to develop the MBA programme. His research interests are all aspects of the history of negotiation; he has written a book on Adam Smith’s philosophy and economics and has published extensively in the fields of defence economics and naval history. His books on negotiation are best-sellers and are widely read by practising managers. Professor Kennedy has been managing director of Negotiate Ltd since 1987, an international consultancy specialising in negotiation and influence, whose clients include corporations, government departments and non-governmental organisations in many countries.



PHOTOGRAPHS  Headline photograph  40 Commando on exercise in California. Unless otherwise credited, photographs are from the MOD and downloaded under the Open Government Licence.

About russellbruce

Writer, journalist and blogger. Worked in advertising and publishing. Former board member Loch Lomond National Park Authority, Chair of Borders Writers' Forum
This entry was posted in Defence, Economy, Foreign Policy, Politics. Bookmark the permalink.

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