Neither Scotland nor the independence movement should buy the idea that Nato membership would make us safer. It would not – and there is an alternative.
Robin McAlpine is the director of the Scottish think and do tank Common Weal
Cross-posted from Robin’s website
Perimeter fence and buildings at RNAD Coulport, Loch Long, Scotland Wikimedia commons: CC BY 2.0
If you are afraid you should look your fear in the eye. If you are offered a simple solution you should examine that even closer. After Ukraine, what is Scotland afraid of? Knowing that fear, ask who is offering a remedy and what will it mean if we swallow it?
The story we are offered is, as always, a simple tale of good and evil. The remedy that is proposed is, as always, a simple act of power. We are afraid that we may not be secure because Russia invaded Ukraine. This is unsettling because so many of the major invasion since the Second World War has be perpetrated by us or one of our allies we are unaccustomed to not being in control.
So let us look closely into the eyes of that fear and give it a shape. Russia has hardly found it easy to conquer a country which is right on its border where it can roll in miles upon miles of tanks and deploy thousands of soldiers quickly. If we are afraid we might want to ask how they are to reach our shores. How many ships would Russia need to send to have a chance of invading Scotland?
What would those ships need to carry? When they land, where from then? How do they proceed with their invasion? Having pictured that, now take a minute or two to think about how you could prevent it – strong coastal defences, drones quickly able to disable hostile ships, a Scottish Defence Force actually in Scotland, not deployed in conflict zones we created.
It just isn’t as scary when you say it like that. Now let me put the fear of god into you – Europe’s number one strategic target in the event of a nuclear conflict is just outside Glasgow. (It is not Faslane where the subs dock but Coulport which is where the vast collection of nuclear warheads is actually stored.)
In Part One we heard the Story of Mr Tanimoto, voyaging round the devastation of his home city seeking the horrible damaged bodies of those not already dead. That could be you Glasgow. You’re the target.
During the independence referendum when the SNP was saying it would join Nato but get rid of nuclear weapons it was called hypocritical, hiding under a nuclear umbrella it refused to host. The only sane response to this is ‘fuck off the lot of you – you’ve been hiding under the nuclear umbrella that Scotland provide you so if you’re that brave, get them moved to your house’.
The number one threat to Scotland is climate change. The number two threat is global economic disorder. The number three threat is organised crime and smuggling. The number four threat is cyber attacks. At number five is the worst of them all – being the target of a nuclear strike. Invasion probably doesn’t make the top ten. Nato membership would save us from nothing.
But it is condemning us to that most awful of threats, nuclear holocaust. Which means Scotland’s security rests on a single question – could we get rid of nuclear weapons and still join Nato? The answer to that is simple; not a snowball’s chance in hell. You all realise that the UK would have a veto over us joining don’t you? So does the US.
And you are aware that there is no viable location for British nuclear weapons outside of Scotland, right? So ask yourself whether the UK is going to allow Scotland to unilaterally disarm it and then straight afterwards welcome us with open arms into Nato. Do you really believe that?
If you do you should look at recent history. Sweden and Finland were among the countries involved in the development of the UN Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons. It was assumed that like Ireland and Austria, they would ratify it. But they didn’t because of very strong pressure from Nato which has been actively enlisting them for years, long before the Ukraine war.
Because Sweden and Finland are the kinds of place through whose territory Nato would like to be free to move its nuclear weapons (mostly in submarines) and so they had to be prevented from making that illegal. Those who are telling you Scotland can both ratify the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons and join Nato are lying to you and they know they’re lying to you.
Which is precisely why they are slowly unveiling the truth – that the SNP will soon drop its policy to sign the Treaty and instead sign a 30-year deal to keep Trident on our soil. The UK will probably go along with the joint pretence that it is only a 10-year deal but it will be no such thing. If you’re Scottish and you want security, Nato is the last thing you should consider joining.
But it does not even nearly end there. Among the other lies being peddled is that Scotland can join Nato but somehow not align almost completely with US foreign policy. This too is garbage – that’s what joining Nato means.
In fact go back and look at what happened after France and Germany refused to join the invasion of Iraq. The US spent five years seeking to make sure that never happened again. Remember ‘Freedom Fries’? Remember Donald Rumsfeld’s ‘New Europe, Old Europe‘ where Western Europe was basically threatened with being usurped in America’s affections by Eastern Europe (which was much more pliant).
Or just look out at those in the queue to join now. Sweden and Finland both have sanctions on Turkey for its appalling human rights record and both have Kurdish asylum seekers in their nation. Let’s see how long their independent foreign policy survives now Turkey holds their Nato veto.
Doubt what I’m saying? In 2009 when Denmark joined, Turkey made it a condition that Denmark closed a Kurdish language radio station. Denmark said that was an unacceptable condition for domestic consumption, was admitted to Nato – then quietly closed the radio station the following year like the good puppy dogs they were.
If Scotland joins Nato it will be tantamount to giving up on our own foreign policy. The SNP’s Nato Hawks already talk about the world like that has happened. Please, if you want to make the case that Scotland should join Nato cynically, purely to assuage the fears of voters who might vote yes, at least have the honesty to recognise that we will not be joining Nato cynically, we will be joining wholeheartedly. We will be converging closely with UK foreign policy.
It will harm our international relations. Whether we like it or not it will make us leading players in the new cold war. Sweden and Finland are to be the human barrier, Scotland is to be the weapons dump. We will be pointing weapons of mass destruction directly at Russia and China and all the sophistry in the world will not make that any less true.
We will be no-one’s honest broker. No-one will ever believe that Scotland will ever act independently on the world stage because Scotland will never, ever act independently on the world stage (or at least not twice we won’t after we discover what happens to us after the first time).
We will have chosen independence only to become a vassal state of the American empire, subservient and well down a chain of command which will place the UK (from whom we will just have escaped) above us. We will continue to take our instructions from London which will continue to take its instructions from Washington.
We will have chosen bombs, not bairns, and we will all be lifelong hypocrites, the kind of people you don’t listen to because you know they will dispense with their strongest principles at the drop of a hat. All for what? An imaginary defence against and imaginary enemy which is never coming?
None of this doesn’t mean an independent Scotland wouldn’t work with Nato countries or with Nato itself. Of course it would – Nato is not always evil and many of its members will be close neighbours and friends. There is no hint, no suggestion that Scotland should be neutral, constitutionally obliged not to take a side.
This returns to the earlier point about the difference between neutral and non-aligned. Scotland should become a non-aligned state, not a neutral one. That means that it is free to make up its mind about what is the right thing to do each time a question arises. We can choose to side with Nato where we judge it the right thing to do but not when we don’t.
That’s what joining Nato takes away from us, the right to choose, to think for ourselves. If we join Nato we do as we’re told. If Turkey triggers Article 5 then we are obliged by treaty to join Turkey’s war, send troops, presumably start shooting Kurds.
So to loop back to the beginning, what are Scotland’s real fears? By all means let’s reassure people that Scotland will be a safe and secure nation after independence, but not by keeping nuclear weapons here. I am not a pacifist; I recognise the right to self defence and that there are times when armed liberation is the only option.
(What I am is a ‘deescalator’ – in any given situation if the options are to escalate and increase conflict and tensions or deescalate and reduce conflict and tensions, and if you do the latter consistently then you will almost certainly not need to worry about war.)
I did a fair bit of work on this via Common Weal – I want strong coastal defences and effective patrolling of Scotland’s waters. I want this mostly because of smuggling and organised crime but I want that capacity to be strong and effective if we ever need it. We’re an island; creating effective territorial defence is not difficult. We should do it properly, make sure people understand that we can and will repel invasion.
But that’s just a light on in the bedroom to assuage the fear of monsters under the bed. It is a fall-back just in case something genuinely awful emerges in the future. The idea that it should shape the entirety of our politics is ludicrous.
Scotland can prosper as a non-aligned country on the world stage and still be wholly and completely confident in our own security. From that vantage point, we have the ability to play a role in the world which is constructive, not destructive. We can work tirelessly for the ‘One World not No World’ I set out in Part 4. We can be what we have always promised to be – a beacon to the world.
We cannot do that from inside the murky pockets of Nato. When war comes the warmongers use your fear to make you consent to their power. They always do and they always have. That is why it is so important for others to speak up.
Scotland is better than that and can be better than that. We do not need to sell our soul to be safe or to be a global player. The time is coming when voices of peace must mobilise and take on the SNP’s warmongers, to challenge their cynical use of the suffering of others to pursue a project they have been engaged in for well over a decade.
For now, I hope that these five essays can point to the fact that the future is not a predetermined world, it is many possible worlds between which we must choose. There are better choices that the one choice we are being sold by arms manufacturers, militarists and Nato.
It is with the very most sincerity that I express that my greatest hope is that my children get to grow up happy and safe in one of those worlds, not terrified to the end in the other.
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