On War – Scotland, NATO and the use of Force

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By R.J.MacAskill
 
Speculation that the SNP may be reconsidering its policy on NATO membership got me thinking about a few things.
 
At the heart of the NATO issue, to me, seems to be the ability of the Scottish state to decide on matters of war and peace.  Becoming a NATO member would tie us to an alliance whose recent history, Afghanistan, has not covered all in glory.

By R.J.MacAskill
 
Speculation that the SNP may be reconsidering its policy on NATO membership got me thinking about a few things.
 
At the heart of the NATO issue, to me, seems to be the ability of the Scottish state to decide on matters of war and peace.  Becoming a NATO member would tie us to an alliance whose recent history, Afghanistan, has not covered all in glory.

However, the debate, or lack thereof, seems a little narrow.

The constitutional decision-making processes that states follow when deciding on the use of force against external actors is very varied.  Moreover, foreign policy should be more than about being in NATO or not.

I want to outline three possible constitutional positions in a post-independence Scotland with regards to the decision making on war.

NATO represent 70% of the world’s defence spending, it’s not just a super power, in most regards it’s the only power.  That’s not to say it’s invincible or all powerful, but being a member of the organisation would bring with it benefits. 

Firstly, article 5, that an attack on one is considered an attack on all.  There is a serious and very large security benefit when your ally is the US.  While the international sphere remains one characterised by anarchy, Scotland should give very serious consideration to this.

As well as security, NATO membership might also bring technological and intelligence benefits through our close cooperation with other member states.  We may want to consider what impact losing this would have on our ability to act in the international sphere.

However this is based on a number of unanswered questions.  For example in an age of international terrorism, would being a NATO member enhance our ability to detect and foil any potential acts of terrorism on Scottish soil?  Would the possible denial of military technology and hardware seriously impede the Scottish states ability to provide security or harm us economically?

Given Scotland’s geographical position we have to ask the question, threat from whom?  Scotland’s security in conventional military matters is characterised by a large absence of obvious threat.  As for terrorism, it would be bizarre for another NATO member state to withhold information relating to a possible terrorist attack.  Furthermore we would still be part of Interpol and presumable the EU CFSP.

NATO membership is a legitimate and perfectly sensible option, but it would bind us to an alliance whose moral principles may not always be our own.  While we would not be automatically compelled to follow the alliance on another Afghan style mission, say to Somalia, the diplomatic pressure would be immense.  At the very least the alliance would insist on being able to use our airports and military bases for logistical purposes, but would this be any different outside NATO?

If we choose to be part of NATO the constitutional apparatus for authorising the use of violence would have to reflect it, but it seems largely unnecessary. 

The next two positions both involve being outside NATO, but in two different way.

The second, is a policy of ‘strict’ neutrality, probably best characterised by Switzerland or possibly Sweden as well.  This would mean Scotland may retain a defence force, but would be constitutional forbidden from deploying troops overseas in military combat operations. 

They might for example, as Sweden does, release troops to help train foreign armed forces but keep them out of the line of fire.

I have serious moral and philosophical issues with this position.  To me this position seeks to reap the benefits, without having to be responsible for war.  Currently, our wars our expensive, but other peoples are profitable. 

This may seem harsh, but I would urge you to consider the often under remarked capacity of Sweden’s defence industry (something that they are rarely challenged on).  Or Switzerland’s provision of financial and banking services to dictators.

A policy of neutrality can have benefits for a nation’s soft-power, its prestige and standing in the world, it can though also invoke suspicion, vis-à-vis Switzerland. 

Keep in mind however both countries still maintain armed forces, and in many cases non-NATO European countries have relied on a system of conscription, though this is being phased out in most.

The third position and the second of our non-NATO options is something I will call ‘special’ neutrality.

This would involve being a Non-NATO, neutral state, but with the constitutional provision for the deployment of armed forces overseas in special circumstances.  The model for this would be Ireland, which has the so called triple-lock system.  Ireland is currently a participant in the EU Nordic battle group, a possible home for Scottish defence force.

This requires firstly that the UN issue a request for troops in military or peacekeeping operations.  This is then approved by the Government and the Dail [Irish Principal Chamber], before forces can be released.

Although ninety Irish service personnel have died while on service with the UN, this seems the most moral and sound system to use.

Maintaining a policy of neutrality, I believe, best reflects what we as a nation aspire to be.  By binding our use of force to UN we can best ensure that when are required to make a sacrifice, it is more likely to be a) a just war (if there is ever such a thing); b) one recognised as legitimate by both our own population and the world in general.

The decision to make war is one of the most important and profound that a nation can be faced with; it involves not only the likelihood of our own young men and women being killed, but also the fact that our own sons and daughters may have to use lethal force against other human beings.

The debate surrounding the SNP’s reconsideration of its policy on NATO membership gives Scotland an opportunity to discuss wider issues.  However the debate must go beyond just ‘NATO or not NATO’.

I have tried to give three different possible positions Scotland may wish to explore.  There are other options of course, we may decide to do as Costa Rico has done, and abolish the military all together; or simply retain a small force for coastal and fisheries protection like New Zealand.

The choice will be ours to make only if we opt for independence.