Scotland would be as safe with its own Defence Force

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By Russell Bruce  

Dr Azeem Ibrahim, Chair of The Scotland Institute, at the launch of Defence and Security in an Independent Scotland on Monday posed two questions at the start of his presentation –

‘Would an Independent Scotland be able to provide for its own defence?’

‘Is this something we can realistically afford?’

‘The answer to both questions is a resounding YES’ emphasised Azeem Ibrahim

Speaking after the event with Cllr Alasdair Rankin from Edinburgh, a former Whitehall Ministry of Defence employee he noted dryly ‘That really summed things up and we could all have gone home at that point’.

Dr Ibrahim is certainly a high flyer. A third generation immigrant from the Pakistani community, he grew up in a council estate in Glasgow going on to obtain an MBA, an M.Sc. (Econ) in Strategic Studies followed by a PhD at Cambridge on Geopolitical Strategy. He was a research scholar on the International Security Program at Harvard’s JFK School of Government.

Beside his considerable academic achievements, Azeem Ibrahim, still in his 30s, is described by Asian Enterprise ‘as a man of many dimensions’ with widespread business interests, political involvement and charity work.

By any measure, Azeem’s story is one of remarkable success and the report from his Institute deserves to be taken seriously. On a personal level I have nothing but admiration for what he has achieved and admit to being proud that Scotland can nourish and produce people of Azeem Ibrahim’s calibre.

It just so happens that I have different political perspectives that influence my writing on political matters and views on the future government of Scotland. In his interview with Asian Enterprise in 2008 Azeem Ibrahim lists one of his proudest moments as having dinner with President George Bush. He has been a regular contributor to Conservative Home in recent years and writes for The Huffington Post on a range of international geopolitical issues.

The strongly ‘Better Together’ tone of the Institute’s press releases provoked questioning from the audience about the predominance of military establishment figures consulted which questioners suggested cast doubt on the unbiased nature of the report’s detailed conclusions.

One of these conclusions was that Scotland would have difficulty in recruiting. This focused on the army role in a future Scottish Defence Force. The limited evidence for this assertion was based on reported difficulties in recruitment to the Regiment of Scotland. That responsibility currently lies with the MOD. If there is a failure, it rests with the present UK defence structure and probably has more to do with the changes and uncertainty brought about by the present downsizing of UK armed forces.

I asked whether it was not also arguable that the setting up of a Scottish Defence Force could be seen as attractive to the best and ablest in getting in on the ground floor in its establishment. The response was that this was untested and there were no comparative examples to study. It may be untested, but the prediction of recruitment difficulties is also a future speculation. There are quite a few NATO members that were previously part of larger states so some comparative analysis is possible.

There was much talk from the panel on the various reasons why young people joined the forces, but no empirical evidence underpinning the speculation as to why the SDA would encounter recruitment difficulties. Dr Ibrahim has confirmed their sample questionnaire on this was too small to provide definitive explanation of soldier’s motivation for joining the forces.

It was suggested that the non-expeditionary nature of the SDA would be less attractive to recruits seeking excitement.  The SNP have said that an Independent Scotland would wish to support UN peacekeeping, disaster relief operations and work in partnership with other nations to help prevent and resolve conflicts anywhere in the world.

That is not a passive agenda and offers opportunity over and above the core role of protecting Scotland’s security on land, sea and in the air.

Little attention was paid to the necessity of collaboration in northern Europe where Scotland’s defence interests predominate. It was acknowledged that the SNP proposed budget was entirely compatible with that of Denmark, Norway and Sweden.

In response to questions on northern European comparisons, Mark Webber, Professor of International Politics at the University of Birmingham said a focus on Scotland’s International environment as a more Northern dimension was in line with NATO thinking and entirely credible.

Professor Webber also said that Scotland would be starting from scratch whereas Norway, Denmark and Sweden had built up military resources and infrastructure over many years. The inheritance from MOD holdings in Scotland will be considerable and this was ignored, as was the apportionment of military hardware.

This would be a part of negotiations following a Yes vote. These will undoubtedly be robust on both sides, but there is mutual advantage in coming to a sensible resolution that provides for the security of both countries and would surely include an accord to continue to work together in those interests.

In an email just received, Azeem has argued that Defence budget comparisons with Norway and Denmark are misleading as both these countries have significant sunk investments in defence infrastructure, which was very high during the Cold War. He notes that Norway has 58 F16s and Denmark 30. Also that Norway has just ordered 52 F35 Joint Strike Fighters at a cost of 10.6 billion dollars.

This is a perfectly valid point, but cold war infrastructure is getting a little old by now and has resulted in a reorientation of strategic direction in the Nordic countries. Increasing inter nation collaboration has mutual benefits and cost synergies making it unthinkable that Scotland and the rest of the UK would not actively engage in similar collaboration.

Nordic countries have a combined joint plan for military training and exercises with the current agreement running up until 2017. An independent Scotland might well seek to join the next Nordic country agreement given the all round consensus that a northern dimension is ‘entirely credible’.

So such collaboration does take place between countries with different NATO relationships. Denmark and Norway are NATO members, Sweden and Finland are associated members of the Partners for Peace programme.

Sweden flew reconnaissance missions using 8 JAS planes in the Libya campaign, took 40,000 pictures and filed 150 intelligence reports. Denmark took part in 595 missions and 923 precision bomber strikes – just a few short of the UK total.

In a related point he said ‘All military assets in Scotland legally belong to the UK government and what Scotland can secure is purely down to negotiations. With defence cuts and an over stretched military, Westminster is hardly likely to give away its prized assets very easily.’

There are established procedures in international law for the split of assets, no matter how robust the negotiations. RUK would not have to apply those resources to the defence of an independent Scotland. That is rUKs independence bonus. But, the implication here is that those UK overstretched resources are inadequate, or barely capable of meeting present needs, and they would not be able to release anything for the defence of Scotland following independence.

In another of the points summarised in his email he said – ‘NATO and EU officials we spoke to at the highest level clearly indicated they are not interested in “free-riders”. They need net contributors to their missions in Balkans, Africa and the Middle East).’

This is not verifiable as Dr Simon Smith refused to identify these sources at the launch on Monday. Therefore the term “free-riders”, we must presume, was used consistently by many different NATO and EU officials.

Intending no disrespect to Albania, Estonia (lovely country), Croatia, Czech Republic, Iceland, Latvia, Lithuania or Slovenia, (all small countries that are full members of NATO)  it is not credible that a country with Scotland’s resources, skills and strategic position would not wish to play a responsible role in operations that met its strategic objectives and contributed to a safer world.