The Referendum on Separation for Scotland: A Defence Force for Scotland-A Conspiracy of Optimism? - Scottish Affairs Committee Contents

5  Scotland and NATO

161.  The question of whether or not a separate Scottish state would be a member of NATO is a key one for any separate Scottish state. A Scotland in NATO could benefit from the deterrent effect provided by NATO allies, including the US, and could rely on NATO Article V—whereby an attack on one is an attack on all.[315] Scotland in NATO could also rely on its allies in peace time, for example NATO air policing similar to the Baltic states. Furthermore, NATO countries are more likely to train together and buy equipment together, which could provide economic benefits.[316] The SNP's previous policy was to not be a Member of NATO, but instead join NATO's Partnership for Peace scheme.[317] Partnership for Peace could enable co-operation with NATO Member States, but does not provide security under Article V.[318] This is still Scottish Government policy if they are unable to join NATO as a full Member.[319]

162.  It would be in the UK's interests to have Scotland in NATO. Sir Nick Harvey MP said that, if Scotland was a member of NATO, it would be a "very significant" factor in how the relationship between the UK and a separate Scotland developed,[320] and this relationship would be important for Scotland. Dr Murrison said "if a hypothetically independent Scotland was not part of NATO's capability. That would be a loss to us all, I believe, as, indeed, it would be a loss to the defence and security of the United Kingdom."[321]

163.  Professor Smith commented on how this relationship might evolve in the long term:

In areas of maritime and air protection, or indeed cyber defences or counter-terrorism, there would be a very strong interest for both Governments to co­operate. Where there were gaps in Scotland's capabilities, as I am sure there would be for a long transition period, or perhaps permanently, it would be in their interest to call upon the assets of the rest of the UK. [...] There would still be interdependence.[322]

And Professor Chalmers said:

One of the questions that the SNP document does not explore is what that sort of interdependence would be. What are the areas in which Scotland would continue to rely, on their scenario, on the rest of the UK in defence in areas like those Ron mentioned—maritime patrol, air patrol and so on—where it would be very hard to have a totally autonomous capability?[323]

164.  At the same time, Scotland would have to consider how far it wanted to get into a wider insurance scheme.[324] Insurance requires premiums to be paid, and a Scotland in NATO would have to invest beyond what it would need just for territorial defence. This would include crisis management co-operative security beyond the Euro-Atlantic area. The Scotland Analysis: Defence paper said:

Acceptance into NATO would therefore depend on an independent Scottish state demonstrating that it had both the political will and the military capabilities to make a contribution, alongside others, to addressing shared security challenges at home and abroad.[325]

Professor Strachan said Scotland would have to "remain at the same level of operational confidence and interoperability that NATO forces have at the moment."[326]

165.  Alternatively, Scotland could choose to be like Ireland, outside NATO. Mr Tusa said:

A Scotland not in NATO and with a loose set of alliances, one less concerned with overseas offensive actions does not look like a country that will have the need for either large or complex armed forces;[327]

He said a Scotland outside NATO would not take part in any significant deployment of troops overseas.[328] However, allies, such as Canada and the US, would consider it odd if Scotland did not want to join NATO.[329] Dr O'Brien said:

It would make it much easier to have Scotland within NATO. If Scotland is outside NATO, a lot of bets are off. No one in the State Department or Department of Defense will go on record about this, but they are very worried about a non-NATO Scotland.[330]

NATO and nuclear weapons

166.  The need for a clear idea of Scottish Government foreign policy in relation to nuclear weapons is very important, not least because the SNP had traditionally said that Scotland should not seek NATO membership because NATO is based on a principle of nuclear deterrence.[331] This policy was reversed in October 2012, when the SNP Conference agreed a Defence, Security and Foreign Policy update, which said:

On independence Scotland will inherit its treaty obligations with NATO. An SNP Government will maintain NATO membership subject to an agreement that Scotland will not host nuclear weapons and NATO takes all possible steps to bring about nuclear disarmament as required by the Nuclear Non Proliferation Treaty of which all its members are signatories, and further that NATO continues to respect the right of members to only take part in UN sanctioned operations.[332]

Nicola Sturgeon told the Foreign Affairs Committee:

We have made it very clear that we want to continue to be a member of NATO but on the condition that we do not host nuclear weapons.[333]

167.  Many of our witnesses said this position was difficult. Professor Chalmers said Scotland would have to sign up to the NATO constitution, as reaffirmed in Lisbon in 2010:

A Scotland in NATO would have to endorse a Strategic Concept that states that 'as long as there are nuclear weapons in the world, NATO will remain a nuclear alliance' and goes on to agree that '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'.[334]

In the event of separation, the issue of NATO membership is absolutely crucial to the future defence of Scotland. The Scottish Government should make clear, as a matter of the utmost urgency, in the White Paper on Independence, its position on whether a separate Scottish State would seek NATO membership and sign up to the NATO Strategic Concept.


168.  Three NATO countries, the US, the UK and France, possess nuclear weapons. Five NATO countries, Belgium, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands and Turkey, have US nuclear weapons on their territory. George Grant said:

I know of at least three of those—Belgium, Germany and the Netherlands—that have stated their desire to divest themselves of those weapons, but they have all agreed that to do so they must have the agreement of all 28 member states.[335]

Germany recently made clear that it wishes the US tactical nuclear weapons on its territory to be removed, but it has accepted that this will only happen when a consensus exists across NATO.[336]

169.  There are NATO countries which have an anti-nuclear policy and no nuclear weapons on their territory, such as Norway.[337] George Grant said:

There are countries such as Norway that are anti-nuclear in principle, the SNP's posture would [...] have very practical ramifications. If you are against something in principle and you do not have any bombs, that is fine—but this would have actual strategic consequences.[338]

Furthermore, Norway's anti-nuclear policy includes a position where they do not ask if visiting ships are carrying nuclear weapons.

170.  George Grant highlighted that the SNP policy on nuclear weapons would ban nuclear weapons being based in Scotland and also that they would not allow nuclear armed vessels docking in Scottish ports.[339] He said "no NATO member has sought to proscribe freedom of movement for the alliance's cornerstone strategic asset in this way."[340] Asked how this might work in practice, Mr Grant said:

"Don't ask, don't tell" was the point that Alex Salmond laid out. He said that obviously it is a moot point, because there would be a "don't ask, don't tell" policy, but that seems to be contradicted by what Angus Robertson subsequently said about the fact that they wouldn't want these vessels docking in their ports. I agree that if you are going to have that policy, you need to know whether vessels are carrying nuclear weapons. That is something that the SNP would have to resolve.[341]

171.  The White Paper on Independence should clearly set out the Scottish Government's policy on vessels from nuclear powers docking in Scottish ports, whether it would require foreign naval ships from nuclear powers docking in Scottish ports to declare if they are carrying nuclear weapons, and what measures a Scottish Government would use to enforce this prohibition.

172.  There are NATO countries, Greece and Canada, which used to have nuclear weapons on their territory but those weapons have been removed. The US withdrew their nuclear weapons from Greece as part of the post Cold War reduction in nuclear weapons. The Canadian Government chose to not have their own nuclear weapons and decided not to acquire US nuclear weapons. However, no NATO member has forced the removal from its territory of nuclear weapons which form part of the NATO collective defence.[342] NATO officials in Brussels have told officials from the Scottish Government that an applicant country would have to resolve military or territorial disputes with other members before joining.[343] The UK Government has said:

All 28 NATO Allies would need to approve an independent Scottish state's application to join the Alliance. The SNP's policy position, to seek membership of NATO while opposing NATO's Strategic Concept, undermining the collective defence of NATO Allies, would represent a significant complication.[344]

173.  There is a fundamental inconsistency in the Scottish Government's potential position in accepting the role of nuclear weapons in NATO's security while demanding their rapid removal from Scotland's own territory. NATO has made it clear that it would expect a new Scottish State to have settled any disputes with other NATO Members before it could apply for membership. This would appear to mean that a solution to Trident basing which was acceptable to the UK would be necessary before the NATO membership of a separate Scotland could be considered. Thus the Scottish Government could not dictate the terms of its application to NATO.


174.  In our previous inquiry Report Terminating Trident: Days or Decades? we found that the nuclear weapons in Scotland could be made inoperative within days and the warheads removed from Scotland within two years. The process, carried out this quickly, would lead to the UK losing its ability to carry out Continual At Sea Deterrence and thus forcing the UK into unilateral nuclear disarmament.[345] In its response to that Report, the Scottish Government did not comment on the timetable beyond saying that "Scottish Ministers are firmly committed to securing the earliest safe withdrawal of nuclear warheads from Scotland."[346] Nicola Sturgeon has stated categorically that:

The position that we would want Trident to be removed from Scotland is not negotiable.[347]

And referring to the two year timetable outlined by CND Scotland, Ms Sturgeon said:

As a responsible Minister in a responsible Government, I would not want to impose a time scale that was unsafe and we would not do that. We would have sensible discussions about that timescale with the UK Government but on the basis that it is about the speediest safe removal.[348]

Similarly, speaking to the Brookings Institute in the US, the First Minister said "We recognise that the safe removal of the UK's Trident system would require careful discussion with the UK Government and our NATO allies."[349]

175.  Scotland is not a nuclear power under the Nuclear Proliferation Treaty and does not have the requisite skilled staff so could not remove the warheads unilaterally.[350] Recreating the Faslane and Coulport facilities elsewhere in the UK would be complicated and expensive. Professor Smith said insistence upon immediate removal would "pollute almost everything else" as it "causes all sorts of problems for the rest of the UK in dealing with it.[351] It would be expensive, and any cost would be included in the overall separation negotiations. Professor Chalmers said disagreement on Trident would bring all negotiations to a "juddering halt,"[352] and that:

If an independent Scottish Government were to insist on the Trident submarines being removed rapidly without the UK Government having anywhere to put them, that would create a very bad atmosphere between Scotland and the UK, and indeed between Scotland and the wider international community. It is one thing accepting a re-division of territories, which very few other countries in NATO would sympathise with at all, but quite another if it was seen to be taking a radically different foreign policy course, and that is what rapid expulsion would be.[353]

176.  We note that Professor Chalmers described the rapid removal of Trident as "a radically different foreign policy course". It is clear that the expulsion of Trident from Scotland would constitute the kind of dispute between a separate Scottish State and a NATO Member State that would obstruct Scotland's application to NATO.

177.  Professor Chalmers said that if the negotiations were carried out in a hostile spirit then it would be very difficult to reach an agreement and "the bargaining power would undoubtedly be with the UK rather than Scotland."[354] It could stall negotiations on both defence and non-defence matters, and could extend the transition period. Professor Chalmers said politicians in a separate Scotland would have to prioritise:

On the Scottish side, you would probably see quite a significant political re-orientation and a dispute between those who thought smooth transition to independence was the most important objective and those who thought rapid de-nuclearisation was.[355]

Furthermore, he went on to explain that if Scotland did show a willingness to allow Trident to stay on the Clyde according to the UK timetable, it would be in a much stronger negotiating position on other issues. Professor Chalmers said:

If a Scottish Government were to accept that for a significant period of time, perhaps indefinitely but certainly a long period of time, Trident would have to remain because there simply is not anywhere else to put it, that in itself would be a significant bargaining card for Scotland. Scotland could say, "We've given you this, but in return we want a reasonable negotiation that leaves Scotland with a defence force that is small but does the job, and a Scotland in NATO that therefore does not have to rely entirely on itself for its own security."[356]

178.  It would be in the interests of both States to cooperate and allow Trident to remain for the foreseeable future.[357] There are precedents. Ireland allowed the UK to retain access to the Treaty Ports between 1921 and 1938. The UK would need to be able to protect the base, which would necessitate the RAF and Royal Navy having a presence in Scotland.[358] If this took the form of a sovereign base then the UK would expect complete freedom of action, complete control and complete sovereignty over the facility.[359] However, when asked about the prospect of the UK Government leasing the submarine base on the Clyde, Nicola Sturgeon said a future SNP Scottish Government "would not be in a position of accepting that kind of arrangement."[360]

179.  We welcome the fact that the Scottish Government has acknowledged the need for sensible discussions about the timetable with the UK Government if, in the event of separation, they would pursue their policy of removing Trident from the Clyde. We welcome the First Minister's acknowledgement that these discussions have a NATO dimension. We re-state our previous recommendation that the Scottish Government must provide more detail on their desired timetable for the speediest safe removal of Trident from the Clyde.

180.  Trident is part of the nuclear security umbrella provided by NATO. If Scotland evicted Trident from the Clyde it would greatly damage Scotland's relationship with other NATO countries, and impact upon any application to join NATO. A future Scottish Government may demand Trident is evicted, but that decision would have repercussions. The Independence White Paper should set out the potential implications of such a decision. It should also set out how Scotland would defend itself if evicting Trident on a timetable unacceptable to the UK and NATO meant Scotland's application to NATO was rejected or stalled significantly.

315   Scotland Analysis: Defence, Cm 8174, page 56 Back

316   Q 202 Back

317   Scottish Government, Your Scotland, Your Voice, para 8.42 Back

318   Q 3890 Back

319   SNP Foreign, Security and Defence Policy Update, October 2012 Back

320   Q 355 Back

321   Q 3889 Back

322   Qq 2166-2167 Back

323   Q 2159 Back

324   Q 153 Back

325   Cm 8174, para 2.33 Back

326   Q 203 Back

327   Francis Tusa, Defence Analysis, Scottish Independence: The Defence Equation, February 2012, Vol. 15 Issue 2 Back

328   Q 191 Back

329   Malcolm Chalmers, The End of an Auld Sang, RUSI, April 2012 Back

330   Q 1396  Back

331   Q 192 Back

332   SNP Defence Policy Update, October 2012. See also, Note by the Director, The DItchley Foundation, The future of Scotland: international implications and comparisons, 6-8 June 2013  Back

333   Oral evidence to the Foreign Affairs Committee, 28 January 2013, Q 279 Back

334   Malcolm Chalmers, The End of an Auld Sang, RUSI, April 2012 Back

335   Q 3487 Back

336   Malcolm Chalmers, The End of an Auld Sang, RUSI, April 2012 Back

337   The Herald, Threat to SNP policy to scrap nuclear weapons, 20 August 2012 Back

338   Q 3487 Back

339   George Grant, In Scotland's Defence? Page 33. See Interviewing Alex Salmond, the man who wants to break up Britain, The Economist, 12 July 2012 Back

340   George Grant, In Scotland's defence? 2013  Back

341   Q 3500 Back

342   George Grant, In Scotland's defence? 2013  Back

343   Scottish Independence, Scottish Government-NATO talks, 16 August 2013. BBC, Scottish Independence: Scottish Government officials meet with NATO, 15 August 2013 Back

344   Cm 8174, page 53 Back

345   Fourth Report of 2012-13, Terminating Trident: Days or Decades? HC 676. See also Independence would end UK role as a nuclear power, says ex-spymaster. Scotsman, 10 December 2012 Back

346   Letter from the Deputy First Minister, Scottish Government, to the Chair of the Committee, February 2013. See also SNP Foreign, Security and Defence Policy Update, October 2012 Back

347   Oral evidence before the Foreign Affairs Committee, 28 January 2013, Q 293 Back

348   Oral evidence before the Foreign Affairs Committee, Q 296 Back

349   Scotland as a Good Global Citizen, Address to the Brookings Institution, Washington DC, 9 April 2013  Back

350   Q 1168 [Ainslie] Q 1415 [Walker] Back

351   Q 2174 Back

352   Q 2174 Back

353   Q 165 Back

354   Q 165 Back

355   Q 2174 Back

356   Q 165 Back

357   Qq 2338-2340. See also Dr Colin Fleming, A Scottish Defence Model - Learning from Others, 11 February 2013,  Back

358   Qq 2207-2209 Back

359   Q 331 Back

360   Oral evidence before the Foreign Affairs Committee, 28 January 2013, Q 295 Back

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Prepared 23 November 2013