By Alex Robertson
The Unionist press is working itself into a lather over the intention of The SNP to take another look at the policy regarding membership of NATO.
Set up in 1949 after the Second World War, the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation has seen Europe through the dark days of the Cold War but now it is as much in need of reform as The EU and other European Organisations.
It accounts for some 70 percent of the world defence expenditure, and around a third of its expenditure is European, the rest being from the USA.
The question of whether it is fit for purpose begs the core question of what its purpose is these days. It seems as if, for the Scottish media it has become a totem, some sort of icon, either of all things good or of all things bad. Much is made of the fact that three of its members possess nuclear weapons, although the vast majority do not, like Germany or Norway, for example.
But in trying to make sense of the debate, it is essential to try to get the basic facts right. First of all it is not a question of whether an independent Scotland would join NATO – it is already a member and would continue to be so under the terms of the Vienna Convention as a successor state. So the question is whether an independent Scotland would withdraw from NATO. That is an entirely different question and calls into play all sorts of other considerations.
One of the key things about NATO is that it binds Europe and the USA together, and that is important for all sorts of reasons. Secondly, it does provide some sort of collective security under its famous Article 5 which ensures the ‘all for one’ principle, although that proved less than totally solid as a commitment when it came to the Falklands war. Thirdly, although its original purpose was to tie the US into European security in the Cold War, now that the USSR no longer exists, and neither does the Warsaw Pact, so what is the focus nowadays?
Much of the attention that has been paid to the issue in the media concentrates on the military aspects. But NATO has always been, and remains a political organisation. By no means democratic, it is still accountable in member state parliaments and media. And in a world where the superpower membership list has changed, with Europe currently not being one of them, the security risks have also changed. Cyber crime and terrorism now represent the greatest risks.
A further factor in the equation is the role of defence in the EU. The political tectonic plates are shifting in Europe and there is a lot more to come. Over the decades, the idea of a European Defence Force has been raised and set aside several times. But one of the main options facing the EU is a far tighter cohesion and governance, like fiscal policy as well as economic regulation. Who is willing to bet that sooner or later the European Defence Force idea won’t arise again?
So in light of all that, does it make sense for an independent Scotland to pull out of NATO, and thereby lose its voice at the very time when the defence of Europe is being settled for the next 50 years?
There are merits on either side of the question, and it is perfectly proper that it should be discussed and debated calmly and rationally, and it can do without the noisy ignorant posturing of a Unionist media out to score silly party points. Nor should it distract from the main event, which is the referendum on independence. That may be the Unionist intention, but we must all turn our backs firmly against such temptations.
Of course, whether or not an independent Scotland does pull out of NATO will be a matter for the democratically elected government in parliament after the election in 2016. That may or may not be an SNP government, but the current debate has nothing to do with nuclear weapons, and nothing to do either with what the SNP decide is their policy.
What is certain is that there will have to be a Strategic Security and Defence Review by whatever government is in power after independence. That will be the time to consider whether Scotland wants to pull out of NATO or not. And part of that answer will be what NATO has to offer against cyber crime and terrorism.
Just bear in mind, I suggest, that that decision will be as much if not more about political matters than military ones.