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Showing posts with label Partnership for Peace. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Partnership for Peace. Show all posts

Tuesday, 9 October 2012

NATO, NATS and the Cui bono? question

All political parties are good at finding proxies to reflect their opinions on sensitive matters where ministers want to slide quietly away from the firing line until the barrage settles down. The SNP has been no exception.

I don’t believe that Andrew Wilson is such a proxy, mainly because I hear the ring of truth in his personal antipathy to nuclear weapons, and I therefore treat his views as expressed in the Scotland on Sunday article on NATO as entirely his own. Since they very closely match the core arguments of Angus Robertson and Angus MacNeil on NATO membership – and that of the bulk of my correspondents who support the U-turn – I will address them in that context.  Having done that, however, I will sound a cautionary note to politicians and commentators at the end.

Andrew Wilson is at pains early in his opinion piece to establish his anti-nuclear, CND pedigree, as indeed are most (not all) of those who support the U-turn. I don’t doubt for a moment his total commitment to a nuclear-free Scotland. I do believe, however, that some other senior figures in the SNP are, at best, disingenuous when they say the same, that the party contains some who are closet nuclear deterrent protagonists, and that their closet is not very deep. I hope I am wrong, but it would be surprising in a large, broad-based independence party if this were not so. Membership of NATO would, sooner or later, make it respectable to emerge from that closet.


The inherited treaty obligations argument. There is no hard evidence that such obligations exist under NATO for an independent Scotland.

AW: “..its 22 member states see it as critical to their defence ..” There are 28 member states, Andrew. If we excludes the three dominant nuclear states (US, UK and France) there are 25. Perhaps you are confusing NATO with Partnership for Peace, which has 22?

The 25 have clearly opted to be members. None of them are in the unique situation of Scotland – not a member in its own right, resolutely opposed to nuclear weapons, yet hosting the UK’s nuclear deterrent and vitally important to the NATO strategy – “NATO’s aircraft carrier” as astonishingly characterised by Jim Sillars whilst still arguing that Scotland should remain a member.

The Angus Robertson argument - we should remain in, subject to an agreement that Scotland can become free of nuclear weapons in the same way as Nato members Canada and Greece.

Andrew Wilson characterises this as “a no-brainer”. It clearly is not a no-brainer (a contemptuous way to dismiss counter arguments) for a significant number of SNP members, for a helluva lot of Scots of other parties, and for the European nations including the Republic of Ireland who have chosen to stay out of the clammy and potentially lethal embrace of NATO. Perhaps he could look at my many blogs on the subject, e.g. 18th July 2012, and review his no-brainer assessment, or the  briefing and fact papers put out by CND, including their recent response to AR’s latest missive, CORRECTING THE NATO BRIEFING. You say you “admire, respect and love many of the people who will be arguing against from a principled position”, Don’t then patronise them with phrases such as no-brainer.

AW:if the SNP votes to keep a position on withdrawal this month, its chances of ever actually leading the country out will have diminished because the chances of a Yes vote will have, too.”

A number of the people you “admire, respect and love” don’t agree with that assessment, Andrew, and think, as I do, that exactly the reverse may be true. The firm commitment of the SNP leadership to ‘Britishness’ and to a NATO U-turn has been followed by a decline in support for independence in the last poll. I will draw a veil over who supported what – or not – on the devo-max fiasco, now hopefully stone dead.

I don’t want to fall into the post hoc ergo propter hoc fallacy – there are many complex reasons for poll shifts – by claiming that these twin policies plus the devo-max confusion and fog of obfuscation, all once favoured by you, have contributed to that decline, but equally I think that both you and the SNP should be more than a little cautious about drawing simplistic conclusions from polls claiming the a majority of the Scottish electorate fear withdrawal from NATO.


Before offering this analysis and general cautionary note, I repeat what I said about Andrew Wilson at the start of this blog -

“I don’t believe that Andrew Wilson is such a proxy, mainly because I hear the ring of truth in his personal antipathy to nuclear weapons, and I therefore treat his views as expressed in the Scotland on Sunday article on NATO as entirely his own.”

Andrew has also a long, honourable record of service to the SNP and to the cause of independence.

American lawyers, and for all I know, British lawyers, when challenged on introducing a topic in court by opposing counsel, reply “You opened the door …” Andrew Wilson has offered his personal background in support of his case, so I will feel free to explore it further. (My door is similarly wide open after five years of blogging!).

Drawing – with caution – from Wikipedia, it can be seen that Andrew has a considerable political pedigree in the SNP. An economics and politics graduate, he was viewed by the media as “a rising star of the SNP, an iconoclast and pro-market economist”. He was an early proponent of the full fiscal autonomy idea (devo-max). He lectured the party on ‘Britishness’ after independence as early as 1999. He wrote a column for the Sunday Mail asking Scots to support the English football team. After his active political career, he joined the Royal Bank of Scotland as a business economist in 1997 and became Deputy Chief Economist, then after the 2008 crisis became Head of Group Communications. He joined WPP in 2012, a company which describes itself as “a world leader in advertising and marketing services” in what such companies in quaint management-speak call “a client-facing role”.  (Presumably the rest face away from the client?)

By any standards, WPP is big (its billing for the six months ending June 2011 were over £21 billion) and significant, with over 153,00 full-time employees in 2400 offices over 107 countries, with a large, diverse client base across the world.

Given its formidable client base (over 300 of Fortune Global 500 companies, 29 of Dow Jones 30, 60 of  NASDAQ 100, 32 of Fortune e-50, etc.) it would be impossible for it not to have major clients in the defence and/or closely related industries (see Dow Jones 30, for example).

Such an analysis could be offered for any multi-national or transnational company, and similar conclusions could be reached for many of them, and such companies are vital to Scotland now and will be even more so in an independent Scotland. I offer the analysis to demonstrate the formidable difficulties faced by politicians - and their key supporters employed by such companies - when faced by the complex questions raised by the interface between politicians and the military'/industrial complex especially when it touches on nuclear matters.

For example, when I lasted worked full-time in industry, I was an HR director in a drinks company. What if I currently held that post in the present minimum pricing context? When I was running my own consulting business, I had a number of major clients in the alcohol industry and early on, worked through a sub-contract for Vickers  in their Leeds and Newcastle factories. Other clients had links to the nuclear industry. I had no easy answers then to moral and political dilemmas posed by such situations and I have none now.

What I can say is that I would have been fair game for scrutiny if I had been as politically vocal as I am now, and could not have quarrelled with cui bono? questions when I sounded off.

At this time of potential constitutional change for Scotland and the UK, of a magnitude that cannot be understated, with complex ramifications for European and indeed global defence strategies, an increasingly polarised debate, with Scotland’s nuclear and NATO position central to that debate, all politicians and all commentators may expect scrutiny about how they link into the fiendishly complex network of profit, patronage and politics of international defence, and Eisenhower’s nightmare of the military/industrial complex and its insidious influence on democratic processes. Worse still, this inevitably can create a poisonous McCarthyite atmosphere, contributed to by both sides of the debate, as manifested particularly in the ill-advised comment on the impartiality of BBC presenters, one that extended in many cases to their partners, spouses and relatives.

But it is not simply an ad hominem argument to say that it is entirely reasonable for voters to look at the business and commercial affiliations of those who are not politicians but choose to offer political arguments. They have a perfect right to do so, and the voters have a perfect right to ask Cui bono?

I think that for many commentator working for major companies in the private sector, especially international ones, that it would be prudent to consider the likelihood of that question being asked before offering political views, however objective and altruistic their viewpoint.

Wednesday, 18 July 2012

Scotland’s NATO membership – a deeply flawed concept and a retreat from principle

Five key facts -

1. NATO is firmly committed to nuclear weapons and the concept of nuclear deterrence, and only a unanimous vote by all 28 member states can change that policy (29 member states if rUK remains a member and Scotland becomes a member after independence.) In other words, the three nuclear member states can veto any attempt to abandon nuclear weapons.

2. From NATO site: "Whilst the North Atlantic Council (NAC) is the ultimate authority within NATO, the Nuclear Planning Group (NPG) which meets annually in Defence Ministers format is the ultimate authority within NATO with regard to nuclear policy issues."

3. A democratic vote or consent to use nuclear weapons by the member states is not required to launch a nuclear strike. (The authorisation of the Kosovo bombing provides a salutary example of how things might work. Effectively, the USA military decides, supported by UK and France)

4. The situation of Scotland is fundamentally different from that of any other member state - it hosts the UK nuclear deterrent, and if it insists on the removal of nuclear weapons from Scotland, rUK cannot host them and will cease to be a nuclear power. This poses a threat to NATO's nuclear stance that is posed by no other member state.

Although Scotland will reiterate its non-nuclear policy after independence, it must negotiate the manner and timescale of the removal of Trident and nuclear-armed submarines from Scottish waters.

5. The 25 non-nuclear member states are members of a defence alliance that can - and would - launch a nuclear strike in their name without their authority.  The 25 non-nuclear states cannot vote to remove nuclear weapons from NATO or make any changes to its policy because of the veto power of the three nuclear states.

What is the SNP proposing on NATO membership and why?

I posted the full Newsnight Scotland interview between Angus Robertson MP and Isabel Fraser, incl. the short but useful analysis that preceded it. In total it lasted 6m 40 secs, with the interview section being only 5m 10 secs. (For that edition of Newsnight Scotland, the producers clearly though same sex marriage was a much bigger topic than membership of a nuclear alliance that has the capacity to exterminate millions. But I believe they have a longer, more in-depth analysis planned of the SNP’s defence policy. God knows, such a programme is overdue – and vital.)

However, I have split the vital content up in edits to point up the individual contribution. Nothing has been edited out of these sections. Here is Angus Robertson’s full contribution – 3m 45 secs -  minus Isabel Fraser.

Here is Isabel Fraser asking all of her five questions -

Here are the five questions individually -

Angus Robertson answered none of them to my satisfaction. His approach was what I call the torrent of words approach – a kind of mini-filibuster style adopted by politicians when they don’t want to be pinned down. It was partially effective, and perhaps understandable, given the ridiculously short time available, but to me it was consistent with the half-truths and evasions that have characterised the lead-up to this revelation of the SNP leadership’s real intentions on NATO membership.

But the questions still hang there, waiting for an answer.

Since Angus Robertson’s contribution did not fully answer my question above - What is the SNP proposing on NATO membership and why?I must try to fill the gaps myself.


“Scotland will inherit its international treaty obligations including those with the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO) and will remain a member, subject to agreement on withdrawal of Trident from Scotland.”

“With agreement on the withdrawal of Trident and retaining the important role of the UN, Scotland can continue working with neighbours and allies within NATO.”

“ … An SNP Government will maintain NATO membership subject to an agreement that Scotland will not host nuclear weapons and NATO continues to respect the right of members only to take part in UN-sanctioned operations. In the absence of such an agreement, Scotland will work with NATO as a member of the Partnership for Peace programme, like Sweden, Finland, Austria and Ireland. …”

The Faslane base will remain, as Joint Forces Headquarters, and will be central to the SNP’s defence structure.

I believe that summarises the essence of the SNP’s NATO position – the full defence paper contains a great deal more than this about other aspect of Scotland’s defence plans.

Before looking at why the SNP are doing this (and I believe that they are being disingenuous about at least some of their reasons for abandoning a long-held anti-NATO policy) let’s examine the feasibility of them achieving membership of NATO while removing Trident and maintaining a non-nuclear policy.

“Scotland will inherit its international treaty obligations including those with the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO)”

Well, will it? On what is this assumption based? One would assume that it is legal advice based on examination of international law on newly independent countries.

I’m no lawyer, but the Vienna Convention on Succession of States in respect of Treaties must be relevant here, however it is a deeply controversial document in its relevant clauses. (I am indebted to a Danish contact, Troels, for much information. Troels is interested in Scottish affairs but does not take a position on them, feeling that it is Scotland’s business.)

Article 16 states that newly independent states receive a "clean slate", whereas article 34(1) states that all other new states remain bound by the treaty obligations of the state from which they separated. Moreover, article 17 states that newly independent states may join multilateral treaties to which their former colonizers were a party without the consent of the other parties in most circumstances, whereas article 9 states that all other new states may only join multilateral treaties to which their predecessor states were a part with the consent of the other parties.

Scotland, in separating from the UK, would seem to come under article 34(1) and article 9. Among the many perceptions of this must be the possibility that Scotland would be bound to NATO obligations under article 34(1) but could be turfed out under article 9. If so, they presumably cease to be bound by NATO obligations.

Let’s look at what Lord (George) Robertson, a former general secretary of NATO says in today’s Herald. Under the headline Nationalists’ Nato policy shift branded a ‘cynical’ ploy the noble Lord of Islay is quoted as follows -

Lord Robertson, former secretary-general of Nato, was contemptuous of the SNP leadership's planned policy shift, saying: "This is a cynical exercise to get rid of another electoral albatross. Membership of Nato involves accepting its Strategic Concept, which clearly sets out a position and policy on nuclear defence, so countries in Nato will greet the Nationalist approach with derision."

Angus MacNeil, the co-signatory of the SNP NATO proposal has today reminded George Robertson of his  remarks during a speech to the Moscow State Institute of Foreign Relations in 2001 - "In the Founding Act, NATO committed itself to the famous three nuclear "no's" - no intention, no plan and no reason to establish nuclear weapon storage sites on the territory of the new members - a commitment still valid."

I think, Angus, that the wee Lord of Islay will speedily invoke the Vienna convention relevant articles (above) to refute that one – but we’ll see

NATO’s strategic concept includes the possession and use of nuclear weapons of mass destruction, and any member state signs up to that, even if they are non-nuclear. They cannot amend that, nor can they veto their use. NATO is not a democracy – it is  a military alliance dominated by three nuclear states.

A real question exists over whether NATO could demand that Scotland honour aspect of  its treaty obligations, e.g. provision of safe havens to nuclear-armed NATO submarines, while refusing to allow an independent Scotland to join or remain in  NATO. (Angus Robertson conspicuously avoided answering Isabel Fraser’s question on that topic.)

“An SNP Government will maintain NATO membership subject to an agreement that Scotland will not host nuclear weapons and NATO continues to respect the right of members only to take part in UN-sanctioned operations.”

I can see no problem with the second half of that, the right of Scotland to refuse to take part in non UN-sanctioned operations, but the first part – the key part – sure as hell does pose problems. The difficult question to address is the negotiating dynamics of such a negotiating objective – for that is what it is.

Put bluntly, the SNP leadership want to maintain their nuclear virginity by getting rid of Trident while joining a nuclear alliance committed to retaining and using it without Scotland’s permission, or that of the other 25 non-nuclear member countries. Bear in mind that if Scotland is successful in removing Trident, the high probability is that the rUK would cease to be a nuclear power. Angus Robertson stated on Newsnight Scotland, “nuclear weapons being stationed in another country is a matter of bi-lateral arrangements between the two countries concerned – it doesn’t involve NATO at all, and in this case, that would be the relationship between Scotland and the United Kingdom – it’s not a matter for NATO at all …”

That is either naive or disingenuous. The idea that NATO would not have a significant influence on the rUK Ministry of Defence, and on any negotiations over Scotland’s NATO membership and Trident doesn’t stand up for a moment – in my view.

In essence, if we take the SNP’s negotiating stance at face value (I don’t) they will be saying to NATO – “Let us remain under the NATO defence umbrella and in return we will destroy rUK’s status as a nuclear power and remove at a stroke a major part of NATO European nuclear strike capacity.”

That is how it is being presented to the membership – it is how it will be presented at conference on October – a nice, clean-cut offer – or take-it-or-leave-it ultimatum, depending on your viewpoint. And from my Twitter exchanges, that is exactly the simplistic interpretation placed on it by many SNP supporters – Trident out and we’re in NATO – say no, and Trident goes anyway and Scotland joins Partnership for Peace (an organisation founded by NATO, incidentally).

My belief is that the SNP strategists’ position is far more complex than that – if it was not, they would be eaten alive in the negotiations. What I believe it really is disturbs me deeply, but whether it is or isn’t right now, here is my scenario of where we will wind up if we do go down this deeply misconceived route.

We will wind up in NATO, with at best, a token disarming of Trident warheads - something that can happen quickly and be reversed just as quickly – a commitment to a long period of theoretical decommissioning of ten to twenty years, and will be committed provide ‘safe haven’ to NATO nuclear-armed submarines. The high likelihood is that if a deeply unstable world survives 10/20 years without a nuclear war,  the vaporisation of Faslane and a large part of the West of Scotland and permanent pollution of the rest of it, the decommissioning will never happen, and Scotland will remain home to WMDs and Trident.

It is believed by many commentators that the SNP is going down this route solely because they believe that it will play well with a sector of the electorate for a YES vote in the referendum, and those opposed to NATO membership but supporting independence (like me) will still vote yes. They are right on the second assumption but perhaps not on the first. While I believe the referendum vote is part of the SNP’s rationale, I don’t believe it is anything like the prime reason. If I did, I would resign right now at such cynical expediency.

There is a lot more I could do – and may well do – on examining the negotiating strategy on defence, but for the moment I’ll wind up.

Here is the total Angus Robertson/Isabel Fraser interview -

Monday, 16 April 2012

Changing the policy on NATO – who, us? Whatever gave you that idea?

I haven’t blogged much over the last few weeks because I’ve had nothing to say that wasn’t being said better by others, mainly professional journalists. Since my raison d'être on political blogging has been to fill the gaps and attempt to correct the misrepresentations or inaccuracies of the media, I’ve been kept busy for four years.

But things have changed quite a lot, and although the unionist propagandist nonsense continues, and indeed has fallen to new lows, there have been notable balancing contributions in the print media, often of outstanding quality, e.g. Gerry Hassan, and on radio and television.

There is a highly vocal sector of SNP support to whom this improvement seems to be invisible, convinced that there is a deep, dark conspiracy in the media to deny the SNP the oxygen of publicity and to misrepresent the facts as nationalists see them.

For them, the arch conspirator is the BBC, with BBC Scotland infested by hostile presenters and news readers, all of whom are fifth columnists for the Labour Party or the Coalition, or at the very least, fellow travellers. For those locked in this McCarthyite mindset, even the present or former occupations and professions of their spouses and close relatives become evidence of the conspiracy.

What can I say that I have not already said at length? I have been highly critical of specific instances I saw as unfair media reporting, and I have spent a lot of time and effort dissecting them and commenting. But this is light years away from the allegations of institutional bias levelled at the BBC. It is deeply hurtful to professional journalists and interviewers trying to do the job they are paid to do and that society needs them to do. It is highly counter-productive, breeds a completely understandable resentment among press and media professionals, and is fact calculated to bring about exactly the kind of negative image of the nationalist movement that it claims to detect.

It betrays a total failure to understand the role and function of professional journalists, interviewers and presenters, and exhibits all the worst features of stereotyping behaviour – selective scrutiny of reality, seeing and hearing only things perceived as negative and attributing them to an entire group or class.

I must emphasise that this is not SNP Party behaviour, and the party’s professional communicators and press office under Peter Murrell have a highly-developed understanding of their roles, do a superb job and are highly alive to the need to maintain open and cordial lines of communication with the media.  For them, much of this is an embarrassment and a deflection from their main thrust. In fairness, in a very small way, I also probably give them the odd minor headache and prove to be a pain in the arse.

All of this behaviour has been evident in the lead-up to the NATO story which has now engulfed the Party. Up to the weekend and even into Monday, when the story began to really break, there were still party supporters claiming that it was a storm in a teacup – just another nasty rumour planted by the usual suspects to attack Scotland’s defence policy. Party contemplating change on anti-NATO policy? Certainly not! But interestingly, a high proportion of those denying the claim were also highly sympathetic to the idea of an independent Scotland joining NATO.

After yesterday’s Scotsman, last night’s Newsnight Scotland and today’s press and media - with senior party figure, Scottish academics and spluttering generals past and present taking sides - they will have a hard time pretending that nothing is happening.


The wisdom of the Glesca Barras – soapbox orator, c. 1950:Ye aye ken when politicians are up tae something – they slide away fae ye when ye ask them a direct question …”

First, a confession … I am opposed to NATO, and have been for a long time, but I had a brief period a few weeks back when I felt that I should treat the NATO issue as I do the monarchy, as a republican – a price worth paying, a compromise worth making for the sake of the greater goal of independence. It was a very temporary lapse – an aberration. I am utterly and totally against Scotland joining NATO.

Why is it an issue now? Some SNP supporters, in denial over the possibility, are saying that it isn’t an issue at all, and the whole thing has been got up by the usual suspects, and the Party is contemplating no such thing. In their minds, this is just another manifestation of the wider attack on the SNP’s defence policy for an independent Scotland. There is no doubt that there has been such an attack, ill-co-ordinated, contradictory, and factually deficient in many instances.

Why? Because defence policy is the core issue – the root of the United Kingdom’s hostility to Scotland’s independence.

It is an issue that has been the elephant in the room up to now, because the electorate is largely indifferent to it.

It has already been admitted that UK defence chiefs have been sedulously ignoring it, in the hope that it would somehow go away. They are now faced with the reality of an SNP majority government, a referendum date,  a well-co-ordinated YES campaign and a chaotic and leaderless unionist NO campaign.

They are totally unprepared for the collapse of their nuclear strategy and almost certainly the end of the UK as a nuclear power. They are in a blind panic, running about in all directions.

But amidst all their distortions, misrepresentations, conflicting and unsupported allegations, they have identified one thing that to any objective observer of recent events is almost certainly true – a significant body of opinion exists within the SNP, within the ministerial group and the strategic planning team for the referendum that the SNP policy of non-membership of NATO is not sacrosanct, and that the policy could be changed.

It seems likely, given the nature of the arguments (as I see them) for this change of a thirty year policy that this opinion is also held by the First Minister. Since Alex Salmond is the most popular and strongest democratic political party leader in the United Kingdom, and perhaps in Europe, those opposed to a change of policy can only take heart in the fact that he is also a supreme pragmatist in strategic and tactical terms, and will very carefully weigh the arguments and the pressures for and against such a change.


Let’s dismiss immediately the idea that membership of NATO is attractive to the SNP strategists because they are enamoured of NATO and believe it is vital to either Scotland’s defence or its place in the world. The wish to change policy is driven, in my view, by the following SNP judgments and considerations -

1. The non-nuclear stance of the SNP is a central tenet of belief of the Party, and cannot be questioned or abandoned at this time without a potentially disastrous split and total loss of credibility.

One doesn’t have to go further back than the recent Spring Conference to hear it reiterated in resounding terms from senior party officials, to be greeted by rapturous applause from the membership, without a single dissenting voice. (That is not to say there is no one in the party that is pro-nuclear deterrent – they simply have the sense to keep schtum in public.)

2. A referendum YES vote is a mandate to negotiate the terms of independence. Negotiation means mutual modification of ideal objectives and mutual concession. If NATO membership is defined as negotiable by the SNP negotiating strategists, it would provide a high-value bargaining chip, and could be conceded in return for important concessions from the UK team.

Negotiating note: Professional negotiators enter a negotiation with their objectives and desired  outcomes categorised and ranked on a scale of importance. A clear distinction must be made between goals that are negotiable and those that are not – the deal-breakers.

The removal of nuclear weapons after independence is non-negotiable – it must happen. However, an objective can be categorised as non-negotiable, i.e. a deal breaker, yet allow negotiation on the manner, timescale and terms on which that crucial objective is attained. In other words, the objective can be achieved at the ideal level or on a spectrum ranging all the way to the minimum level of achievement. For example, nuclear weapons must be removed the day after independence (unrealistic) or within ten years of independence (a betrayal!)

3. The American Presidential election will take place on Tuesday, November 6, 2012. The Oval Office will be occupied by either Barack Obama or Mitt Romney for the next four years, which will carry Scotland past the Referendum and up to a possible independence date. Exactly how either possible incumbent will view NATO is impossible to determine, but it is safe to say that neither will be happy about a non-nuclear Scotland and the loss of the weapons bases and Trident, and they will be even less happy about an rUK forced to abandon the nuclear deterrent. A Scottish commitment to membership of NATO could mitigate US hostility in the lead-up to independence and thereafter.

The possible attitudes of the US to Scotland’s non-nuclear stance and its membership status in relation to NATO could range along a spectrum from American isolationism and abandonment of the US role as Defender of the West to rampant, aggressive interventionist militarism, and either extreme could be espoused by either Obama or Romney, either one of whom may prove to be a weak President in the new Administration, vulnerable to extremist within both parties.

4. NATO has 28 member countries – United States, Canada and 26 European countries.

The UK is a NATO member and rUK is likely to remain a member, Norway is a member - a Scandinavian country and near neighbour of Scotland, much admired and frequently cited by the SNP as a model of what independence can achieve economically and socially - and most European states, including the largest are members.

Partnership for Peace (PfP) is a NATO program, formed in 1993 by an American initiative to attempt to create trust between NATO and other non-NATO states in Europe and the former Soviet Union. It currently has 22 member states, 12 of which are former parts of the Soviet Union, 4 states from the former Yugoslavia, EU states Austria, Finland, Malta and Ireland, Sweden and Switzerland.

Looking at the above list, leaving aside any defence or nuclear factors, a body of opinion within the SNP sees NATO as the preferred choice, partly based on economic and trading considerations and partly on just propinquity – most of them are either near to us, or countries such as the US and Canada where there are strong Scottish links in addition to trading factors. And I believe some see it as providing the seeds of a future abandonment of the non-nuclear policy. (Screams of horror and indignation from naive supporters!)

Since an independent Scotland clearly (except to the tiny, but vocal isolationist fringe among SNP supporters who would build a wall at the border and refuse to be a member of anything not wearing a kilt) has to be a member of a defence alliance then, given the above consideration, NATO seems the obvious choice.


A key negotiating consideration is that a valuable trading concession, i.e. a bargaining chip, is one that does not cost much to concede, but which is highly prized by the other party to the negotiations. NATO membership can be seen from the perspective of the above arguments as just that.

Consider the UK perspective as it is now, and as it will be post-independence to rUK and crucially, to NATO.

Scotland has always been the postern gate of Great Britain – seen as a point of maximum vulnerability in the defence of the UK, and therefore strategically vital to control and defend. Since a nuclear-armed UK is a critical component of NATO, it is also vital to the NATO defence concept. (One key problem that this analysis ignores is that NATO was formed as a cold war defence alliance against the Soviet Union and the Eastern bloc. There is considerable doubt, not least in NATO, about exactly what its present role is.)

There is another view, one expressed by Dr. Phillips O’Brien last night on Newsnight Scotland to Isabel Fraser, namely that rUK and NATO would not give a damn about whether an independent Scotland was a member or not. On this analysis, far from NATO membership being a bargaining chip, it would be a negotiating objective for Scotland from a vulnerable opening position, requiring concessions from Scotland to achieve it.

Dr. O’Brien is a respected academic and historian at Glasgow University. I can therefore only offer the perspective of a reasonably well-informed member of the electorate, with no claim to special expertise on defence matters. Lest this seem an unequal contest, let me say that our democracy demands that individual voters like me form a judgement on the pronouncements of experts and politicians, decide who they believe, then cast their votes accordingly.

I have not read Dr. O’Brien’s books, nor am I likely to, and therefore can only base my assessment of him and what he says on various appearance on television and on articles such as that in the Scotsman today. My feelings about Dr. O’Brien are that he exhibits a marked tendency, displayed by many academics who operate in the area of defence, namely to almost, by a process of osmosis, absorb the values systems and core assumptions of the major military alliances and the foreign policies of the dominant countries and macro political systems they are supposed to be commenting objectively on.

There seems to be a quite remarkable correspondence between Dr. O’Brien’s views and those of NATO and the US/UK military/industrial complex, which of course may have been arrived at by totally objective academic consideration and expertise. What I am saying is that I don’t share his most of his views nor do I accept his analysis of what might be in Scotland’s best interest.

I also challenge his view that rUK wouldn’t care a damn about Scotland after independence, especially if it maintained a non-nuclear policy. If he is right, to date, the UK and one of its former luminaries, Lord George Robertson of Port Ellen have been behaving rather oddly, as has Lord West, et al, displaying near hysteria at the prospect on a non-nuclear, non-NATO Scotland aligned with Partnership for Peace.

The idea that England – as Dr. O’Brien rightly identifies the real identity of rUK – would be relaxed about an independent country of 5 million people with its own defence force, and extensive coastline, major oil fields and major natural resources, non-nuclear sitting on the northern end of the mainland of Britain – the postern gate – that had not reached any form of understanding on mutual defence priorities, on access to crucial areas of vulnerability is just nonsense.

The idea that rUK – England – and NATO would walk away in a sulk, abandoning Faslane and the nuclear submarines and weapons system to Scotland to do with what they willed, is frankly risible.

In or out of NATO, in or out of Partnership for Peace, England and NATO would have to reach some understanding on defence and nuclear issues with Scotland, and the problem is theirs, not Scotland’s.

One key idea in negotiation that has to be grasped early and firmly is that negotiating advantage and negotiating power does not lie in relative size, strength and visible power of the parties – it lies in the capacity to strategically deploy power at the right time and in the right circumstances. The harsh fact for England and NATO is that in vital strategic areas they need Scotland more than Scotland needs them – and they know it. Hence the panic over the defence implications of independence.


Defence was always going to be the issue for Scotland and for the UK, but it has not so far been the issue for the electorate, nor was NATO membership, or so it appeared from the recent survey of 7112 SNP members by Professor James Mitchel. where they were spilt fairly evenly on the issue, but all fairly relaxed about it. Well, they ain’t relaxed anymore.

I think it was Aldous Huxley (an almost forgotten name) who said that at the very top and at the very heart of every major religion is a tight group of people who believe exactly the reverse of the main dogma of the creed, as fed to the masses. While this is not quite true of political parties, there is an element of it in the SNP’s present posture on nuclear issues and defence.

I know that as a negotiator, when one gets close to clinching a difficult deal a kind of terror grips the negotiating team – a fear that all will be lost if key compromises are not made. This is a point of maximum vulnerability, especially when the negotiators have a large constituency standing behind them with a highly developed expectancy based on earlier negotiating objectives and strategy.

So here’s is what I believe -

The SNP, nuclear weapons and NATO

Independence is within the Party’s grasp in a way that it never has been in its history. The SNP are in power with a dominant majority, the reality of the referendum has been grudgingly accepted by the opposition, the date and timescale are known, the real arguments are well-ventilated, the unionist parties are uncoordinated and electorally threatened, whereas the independence campaign is well-organised, resourced and funded.

But the electorate, if opinion polls are to be believed, is a long way from having made their minds up, and no one can be certain just what issues are vital to them, despite repeated polls, claiming to have the answer. One thing seems clear – defence issues only matter to the electorate in relation to jobs, and perhaps vague feelings about security. Otherwise there is apathy, except among core groups who see their personal interests affected by defence matters. The nuclear issue, despite polls showing a majority of Scots being anti-nuclear weapons, is not an intense one.

The Party has succeeded, more or less, to defuse certain issues – the monarchy, the currency, social union issues, border issues, EU and UN membership – by a series of small, but significant shifts.

On the nuclear issue and on NATO, I believe they are risking alienating a segment of their core support, but appear willing to do so on the realpolitik calculation that those in favour of a nuclear-free Scotland can only have it delivered by independence and the SNP, so have nowhere else to go. They are only partly right on that, in my view.

I am against NATO membership because I believe that NATO is still dragging the baggage of its cold war role behind it into what should be a new era and a new role for it. I profoundly distrust the people at the head of NATO, their values, their world view, and their judgement. I distrust NATO because, regardless of the policies and the nuclear status of its members, NATO is committed to nuclear weapons, the concept of nuclear deterrence, and the retention of WMDs – Trident - as key strategic weapons.

I reject the argument that says that since a country like Norway can be a member and still maintain a non-nuclear defence and foreign policy stance domestically while retaining its NATO membership, so can Scotland. I think Norway are wrong in this judgment, and that they should not be a member. I think NATO polarises the world into the old East/West cold war mentality, that its current role is ill-defined and ill-thought out, and that any country that remains a member increases the likelihood of nuclear conflict and reduces the chances of nuclear disarmament. I think the most of the members of NATO are in effect pawns of US, UK, French and German foreign policy, and when the chips are down, of US foreign policy.

Dr. O’Brien argues that Russia, a member of Partnership for Peace has a deeply unstable, semi-democracy and could behave unpredictably at any time. Any close observer of the modern United States could reach similar conclusions and make similar predictions, and indeed many already have. In my view, the continued existence of NATO contributes to the instability in Russia, and it is viewed by deep and justifiable suspicion by a large part of the world community. It is a polarising factor.

I also believe that a retreat from the SNP’s NATO policy would open the way for a fudged position on the status of nuclear weapons, Trident, and the submarine bases in an independent Scotland. I believe it would provide a rationale for delay in removing nuclear weapons, or even disarming them, and would lead inevitably to more and more compromises, and in extremis to the effective collapse of the SNP and Scotland’s non-nuclear stance.

I also believe that some in the SNP are in favour of nuclear weapons, of the concept of the nuclear deterrent, and are essentially far right in their core politics. If this debate flushes them into the open, I think that will be a good thing, however dangerous that might be. I think it would be a better thing if they were flushed out of the Party entirely.

Many party members, perhaps most, will not see things in this way, and would abide by a conference resolution that changed the policy on NATO, in fact many have already said as much on Twitter and elsewhere.

My position is that if the Party votes to join NATO, I cannot remain a member. I will continue to vote for the party, campaign for independence and vote YES in the referendum, but I will have to seek out other groups committed to independence and a non-nuclear, non-NATO Scotland.

I reject absolutely the argument that all this can be sorted out after the referendum vote in the negotiations, or indeed after full independence. I believe the Party has to sort it now – and fast. To do that, they have to stop equivocating and hoping it will all go away. It might just do that for the majority – it won’t for me.

If all of the above seems too long, not tightly enough structured, or otherwise less than perfect, I can only say it is a blog, not a doctorate thesis or a submission to a learned journal. It is the thoughts and reflections – and position – of one Scottish voter and one Scottish voice, no more and no less.

Saturday, 21 January 2012

The panic over UK nuclear weapons turns to threats - the UK bombers are now in attack mode

I have complained for three years that defence was the elephant in the room in the great debate, with politicians and media sedulously avoiding the mention of the dread concept - Scotland’s defence position after independence.

But no more - the nukes have hit the fan, so to speak, and today it’s all over the media like a radiation burn, and a nuclear glow hangs over the news. Journalists and television commentators frantically try to get up to speed, and in the absence of any significant commentators within easily whistling distance of Pacific Quay or in Glasgow’s West End watering holes - some say the usual mode of selecting panellists - producers are having to cast their nets in wider and hopefully deeper waters. The usual suspect won’t do as studio guests for this one - it’s a job for the big boys and girls …

Thanks God, there are some big beasts in the press at least, and Ian Bell has weighed in with a classic 1200 words or so.

Read him at Will Salmond go to war in the battle for defence?

He says most of the things I have wanted to say and tried to say, but says them with superb professionalism and economy.

There are other beasts in the defence jungle, with less democratic intent than that of a fine journalist like Bell telling the truth to power, among them George Robertson, a former NATO General Secretary. Having come a long way from Port Ellen, Islay via the Ministry of Defence, NATO and all things bright and nuclear, the Wee Laird of Port Ellen is understandably a fan of NATO and the ‘independent’ nuclear deterrent, i.e the Trident WMD weapons system.

And so we get the unionist bombing litany, familiar from Liam Fox (who he?) and Jim Murphy, etc. There are “gigantic holes in the plan” - aye, a nuclear hole, George - and “The SNP intends to tear Scotland out of NATO”. The wee Laird’s language gets more colourful and violent, as befits a befits someone with a career based on weaponry - the SNP are proposing “surgically amputating” Scottish regiments from the British Army. The FM’s brief outline  of some defence aspects to a journalist are “half-baked proposals”, the SNP is “dogmatically demanding” - Lord Robertson is never dogmatic - and so it goes on.

The SNP is “stretching the tolerance of the Scottish people”. What the **** would you know about the Scottish people, Lord Robertson? It’s a helluva long time since you placed yourself before the will of the Scottish people in a democratic election, but the SNP did, less than a year ago, and got a formidable democratic mandate. What’s your mandate, Geordie boy?

Playing politics with defence is reckless.” Naw, what is reckless is playing career politics with obscene weapons of mass destruction that can kill millions, main millions more, and pollute the planet, Geordie.

The response to the Wee Laird’s excited language from the SNP comes in the calm, measured words of Angus Robertson, MP.

The SNP advocate exactly the same non-nuclear defence policy - including defence cooperation, and membership of  Partnership for Peace - as Sweden, Finland, Austria and Ireland, none of whom are members of NATO.”

Here’s what NATO itself says about Partnership for Peace

The Partnership for Peace (PfP) is a programme of practical bilateral cooperation between individual Euro-Atlantic partner countries and NATO. It allows partners to build up an individual relationship with NATO, choosing their own priorities for cooperation.

Based on a commitment to the democratic principles that underpin the Alliance itself, the purpose of the Partnership for Peace is to increase stability, diminish threats to peace and build strengthened security relationships between individual Euro-Atlantic partners and NATO, as well as among partner countries.

Perhaps you should have taken a look at the NATO website before launching your diatribe, Lord Robertson?

EXTRACT FROM 24th September 2011 BLOG: LORD ROBERTSON et all

But of course, the high road to England has been the glittering prize for ambitious Scottish Labour Party politicians, and indeed all Scottish politicians with the exception of the SNP – a route to Westminster, ministerial office and ultimately the Lords, the final escape from democracy and the tedious need to get elected to make money. They have the shining Labour examples from the past to inspire them – Lord George Foulkes, Lord Martin, the disgraced former Speaker, Lord McConnell, Lord Watson, convicted of fire-raising in a Scottish hotel, Baroness Adams, once distinguished as having the highest expenses of any member of the Lords, despite having spoken in the Upper chamber only once (2009), Lord Reid, Lord Robertson – the list goes on.

However, the last two are interesting, since they were both Scottish Labour MPs who became UK Secretaries of State for Defence, and in Lord Robertson’s case, grasped the even more glittering prize of Secretary General of NATO.

George Islay MacNeill Robertson left Islay as fast as possible, and despite being elected six times as MP for either Hamilton or Hamilton South, moved swiftly to more exalted UK posts, and ultimately to NATO. He now bristles with directorships and consultancies.