HC 643 The foreign policy implications of and for a separate Scotland

Written evidence from British American Security Information Council (BASIC)

1. Summary


1.1 This submission addresses the influence of Scottish separation from the UK on allies, with a special focus on NATO, and the impact that decisions regarding the Trident nuclear weapon system will have on relations with the rest of the UK and its allies, specifically the United States. Whilst NATO is an explicitly nuclear alliance and will appears likely to remain so for the indefinite future, some of its members have been able to pursue a mixed policy, one that supports Alliance nuclear policy whilst at the same time remaining distant from any direct involvement. It may therefore be possible for a newly independent Scotland to become a member of NATO, whilst also itself becoming nuclear free, though this posture may cause some unease with some NATO members.

1.2 If the newly-elected independent Scottish government were to insist on the removal of nuclear facilities at Faslane and Coulport, as seems likely, London will need to make decisions on the future of its deterrent, and consider the international implications of the renewal and relocation of the Trident nuclear system. This will be affected by a detailed assessment of the alternatives, one that has not yet been completed in recent times as far as we know. [1] However it seems clear that such a transfer of facilities would be highly costly, adding of the order of an additional £10 billion to the capital costs of the Trident renewal programme, and possibly a great deal more if the problems faced became significant. It may seem prudent to factor these issues into choices currently facing the government.



2.1 The authors of this submission are BASIC’s Executive Director (since 2007, and prior to that a staff member since 2002) and Programme Support Officer (since 2011). BASIC is the only peace and security non-governmental organization that is British-American in composition and focus. We operate with offices in London and Washington, a small but committed staff, and an active network of influential board members and advisers, and patrons on both sides of the Atlantic. We work to encourage sustainable transatlantic security policies and to develop the strategies that can achieve them. We partner with other international NGOs that share our goals and we promote public understanding of the danger of growing nuclear arsenals. We have charitable status in the United Kingdom and in the United States.

2.2 BASIC has been conducting a research project these last three years into NATO’s nuclear weapons posture, involving roundtables with officials and stakeholders in NATO capitals throughout Europe. BASIC launched in February 2011 the BASIC Trident Commission here in London, which will report in mid-2013. It should be noted that this submission is entirely unconnected with the BASIC Trident Commission, and does not reflect any discussions being held within that forum, and certainly not the opinions of any of the Commissioners.

3. Scottish Separation: influence on relations with allies


3.1 In the event of Scotland breaking away from the rest of the United Kingdom, its new government would need to decide its relationship to various international bodies, such as the the European Union and NATO. This last is particularly controversial, as the SNP currently has a policy of withdrawal. [1]

3.2 While clearly attractive as a collective security Alliance, NATO has been searching for a role ever since the end of the Cold War. There is no question that its traditional article 5 facility that enables its members to collectively protect the territory of all is its members is core to its reason for existence, but most members do not see any imminent strategic threat to the Alliance and see it more as a vehicle for addressing global security responsibilities. This is more than just a matter of resource prioritisation; it goes to the heart of the nature of the Alliance and the sense of threat it faces today. Some countries closer to Russia, and with a history of occupation, see the country as the principal threat that needs active containment, and deterrence as the principal purpose of the Alliance. Others further to the west, led by Germany, tend to see Russia as a strategic partner, if not ally, as well as an important energy source, and believe that engagement will be better in the long run than isolation. This difference goes to the heart of the challenges facing the Alliance today, challenges that have not been resolved by recent summits, or the agreement of the new strategic concept. Also at the heart of the Alliance is the nuclear component of its defence strategy, with the nuclear security guarantee being provided by the U.S., UK and French nuclear weapon arsenals. This is at the heart of many Scots’ objection to NATO membership.

3.3 Based upon BASIC’s extensive communications with officials across NATO in the last three years, we would conclude that while the November 2010 summit successfully concluded with an agreed strategic concept, followed in May 2012 with an agreed text for the deterrence and defence posture review, the deep rifts between NATO partners will continue. Principally this is because the world looks very different from the perspective of the Baltic states when compared with, say, Edinburgh. And whilst the Scandinavian countries are in some respects vulnerable strategically to the high North – principally a threat from Russian submarines and bombers – their response is generally one of engagement rather than containment.

3.4 Whilst opinion in Scotland towards NATO may currently be heavily influenced by the domestic perception of the relationship with London, foreign adventures in Iraq and Afghanistan, and perceptions that the Alliance is still caught up in Cold War nuclear legacies, in future such opinion may be more influenced by how the Alliance can facilitate Scotland's role in the world and its relationship with its near neighbours, much as its closest Scandinavian neighbour Norway does. This reconsideration may also be affected by the perception that should Scotland remove itself from this ‘European mainstream’, as Professor Malcolm Chalmers phrases it, which could affect the chances for future cooperation with the UK’s armed forces – with whom the SNP has clearly expressed they would like to maintain close ties in the event of separation. Furthermore, if Scotland wishes to collaborate with Norway and Denmark on security in the North Atlantic, which appears to be a fundamental part of ongoing considerations in the plans for a Scottish Defence Force, NATO membership may be essential.

3.5 Norway appears comfortable to sign up to Alliance policy that supports the continued relevance of nuclear deterrence and play a full and loyal role on the nuclear planning group, whilst at the same time playing a leading role as a non-nuclear weapon state within the NPT that questions the future for nuclear weapons in the international system, and bans the deployment and transit of nuclear weapons within its territory in peace time. NATO’s own Secretary General appeared to acknowledge this reality when visiting explicitly nuclear-free New Zealand in June, saying, "actually, we have quite a number of NATO Allies that are also nuclear free… they have exactly the same experience [as New Zealand]…". What may seem to some as contradictory or ambiguous outcomes may be accommodated by the Alliance.

3.6 The Scandinavian approach of a focus on strong defensive defence capabilities with modest defence budgets, and internationalist engagement through development aid and mediation, may come to be seen as popular in Scotland as an alternative to the current defence relationships within the UK context. Scotland may look to its relationship with Scandinavia as an alternative. If this were the direction that Scotland went, it is likely that NATO membership, on a different basis to that experienced today through London, could be seen as facilitating this transition.

3.7 Of course, such an explicit approach, whereby Scotland seeks to balance NATO membership with becoming nuclear free will not be welcomed by many other members, and could have an impact on the longer term cohesion of the Alliance. There is already some concern that key members of NATO are moving away from a commitment to nuclear deterrence, while others remain strongly of the opinion that it is essential. The governments of Belgium, Germany and the Netherlands have been pressing for the removal of tactical nuclear weapons from their soil, and may welcome a nuclear free Scotland to NATO with open arms as a progressive step for a move towards a change in NATO policy.

3.8 However, unless Scotland is willing to be seen as an outlier within the Alliance its new government would need to be cautious in moving too quickly to force expulsion of nuclear weapons from its territory. This would make enemies very quickly, and it’s not clear how the rest of the UK could comply.

3.9 It is still not determined whether or not Scotland would easily inherit membership to NATO if it became independent of the UK. NATO requires aspiring members to meet certain criteria and complete a multi-step political and military dialogue and integration process before they become members.

3.10 It also remains unclear whether Scotland would be placed on a fast track to accession to the European Union and permitted to negotiate as a de facto member, or whether the country would need to go through a normal accession procedure. There are significant transition challenges to the latter, given Scotland’s current membership of European law and procedures as part of the UK.

4. How important is the issue of Trident?


4.1 Trident is likely to feature prominently in the referendum campaign, not least because the Yes campaign will seek to use it to illustrate their case that Scotland exists under a defence and foreign policy that its population disagrees with, hosting nuclear weapons they do not want. Opinion in Scotland has been more clearly opposed to maintaining the nuclear deterrent since the early 1960’s, and in particular, keeping it in Scotland. [1] It’s basing location could yet prove harmful to the cohesion of the Union.

4.2 Those supporting independence will also be seeking to strengthen their negotiating hand in the event of a vote in their favour. It would be a strong card to play in general negotiations for an independent Scotland, one that it would be difficult to drop in the face of public opinion if it is made a significant issue in the referendum.

4.3 Obligations to international treaties, specifically the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT), will need to be recognised in this process. The Scottish Government has voiced its wish to become party to the Treaty as a non-nuclear weapon state. If the rUK and an independent Scotland want to be States Parties to this Treaty, they will need to abide by Articles I and II which prohibit the transfer of nuclear weapons to non-nuclear weapon states. Whilst there is nothing that explicitly prevents a nuclear weapon state (all assume the rUK will inherit the status the current UK has a nuclear weapon state under the definition of the NPT) basing its weapon systems on the territory of a non-nuclear weapon state, there is no precedence for all their weapons to be based abroad, and only one country (the United States) bases any abroad today, and this is becoming increasingly controversial. It has been suggested that the arrangement of having US nuclear weapons in ‘non-nuclear weapon states’ in Europe continues to undermine the credibility and trustworthiness of the countries involved in the arrangement. There would be an indefinite question over the practice of transporting warheads on Scottish roads, and issues of sovereignty over the sea approaches to the base, as well as over the base itself. It would seem that any such arrangements would be temporary in nature.

4.4 Reputation and credibility within disarmament and non-proliferation forums, such as the Conference on Disarmament (CD) and the NPT, will remain important to both the rUK and an independent Scotland in the decision on if and how long deployment of the Trident nuclear weapons will remain in Scotland. It would not be seen as reasonable by many NPT members for rUK as a nuclear weapon state to place undue pressure on their newly independent neighbour to continue to host rUK nuclear weapons against Scottish will.

5 Options around relocation


5.1 Of course, a new Scottish government may not have an SNP majority. But this is hardly cause for comfort in London. The principal reason why the Scottish Labour Party has not itself come out against the continued basing of Trident in Scotland is because of its internal relationship with the rest of the Labour Party. It seems likely this dynamic would change with independence, and the makeup of a new Scottish government may simply influence just how strongly it would negotiate on this matter.

5.2 The principal focus of negotiations around the location of the nuclear bases will therefore likely be on a timetable for relocation out of Scotland, somewhere a period we estimate likely to be between two and 20 years. London would of course seek through negotiation to delay such a move, and would bring into play other issues on which they have a stronger hand for leverage. They would certainly want a delay long enough to survey, get agreement and construct alternative facilities south of the border, with sufficient leeway for contingencies and unforeseen challenges, assuming a decision is taken to continue with the project.

5.3 Relocation of the nuclear system will require time and effort, and may best be undertaken by a government study, not dissimilar to the current government review on alternatives to the Trident system. In fact, it would be prudent of this review on nuclear alternatives to consider relocation in its examination in anticipation of the impact of this issue, as relocation could conceivably influence the choice of delivery system. Even if the referendum were to return a no vote, this issue is likely to remain a cogent for the foreseeable future, rendering long-term investment at those bases more risky.

5.4 Nick Harvey, when Minister of State for the Armed Forces, in evidence to the Scottish Affairs Committee in June, confirmed that finding alternative sites south of the border for the facilities currently at Faslane and Coulport would be challenging and extremely costly.

5.5 The principal alternative port to Faslane would need accessible facilities and deep water to enable the submarine easily to slip into the ocean without detection, but it is finding a site for the warhead storage and loading facilities at Coulport that would present particular challenges. Prof Malcolm Chalmers of RUSI concludes that the most likely viable site is Falmouth, Cornwall, which has deep water access, but this would require moving a significant number of civilians and the construction of new bunkers and handling facilities, both of which would require complex decision-making and consultation processes, as well as some significant expense, running into several £billions, increasing the current capital cost estimates for the renewal project considerably. Having accounted for this we believe a reasonable estimate would be in of order of £10 billion, or an additional 50%, though the total figure could easily end up being more if significant obstacles arise that involve major compensation or lengthy inquiries.

5.6 There is a possibility that London would need to consider transitionary arrangements. It has been suggested that the MoD may even approach France or the United States for basing, though the logistics involved in the transport of warheads and other supplies, not to mention the political implications of dependence on another nuclear weapon state, could prevent consideration of this option.

24 September 2012

[1] A review on location options was conducted in 1963 for the Polaris nuclear system, and various options were considered between 1979 and 1982 when the UK acquired the Trident D5 system from the Americans. There has been independent analysis conducted on relocation options since.

[1] SNP leader in the UK House of Commons, Angus Robertson, has recently proposed a change to the SNP policy on NATO. The proposed change in policy suggests than an independent Scotland would be a member of NATO, but only participate in missions approved by the UN. So far, indications are that this proposed change in policy, which is to be discussed at the October SNP conference, will be opposed—if for no other reason than to save from creating a deep division within the party. It has received criticism amongst party members and an internal party opposition group has tabled an amendment to the SNP conference to maintain the party’s original policy. The fear amongst many party members and public supporters is that NATO membership would allow nuclear weapons to stay in Scotland. However, in a recent YouGov poll conducted on Scottish Attitudes on Defence in May of this year, 75% of respondents for an independent Scotland to remain in NATO. What is more, the same poll showed 52% of support for this decision among SNP members with 22% opposed.

[1] 64% of Scots in a 2007 ICM poll stated their opposition to the maintenance of nuclear weapons there for the next 50 years, which has been followed with consistent results from polls, including, more recently, one conducted by YouGov in 2010 that showed almost 70% opposed Trident replacement.

Prepared 17th October 2012