By a Newsnet reader
One of the original sins of our species is its inability to live in peace. The result is that much of what is written in human history is simply a history of warfare.
The disdain for war was held by our great intellectual predecessors, yet for such a supposed abomination we sure do seem to be obsessed with war.
Furthermore, warfare appears in many more guises than the destruction and waste of human talent as we know it, and it has granted credit for all sorts of great social change and then depicted as immoral.
Humanity has always found out-clauses to explain its necessity and celebration and this paradox continues, as it always has, in American and British politics today. If humanity’s fascination comes down to how war somehow reveals its best and worst qualities, this friendly letter touches upon Scotland’s need for adequate security in the event of independence.
It does so to promote greater interest in the various defence and security issues that often come with an independent state. Now that I have established myself as a brilliant critical thinker (that is sarcasm my friends), one will notice that the following is purely an opinion piece. Sent from southwest Asia, it is delivered with the best of intent.
From an economic perspective Unionists often maintain that Scotland is incapable of standing on its own two feet. However, if we apply this questionable sentiment to the context of national defence and security, they just might have a case. I base my current opinion purely on what I have seen, and not seen, from the SNP.
It has been argued that independence for Scotland could leave the remainder of the UK (RUK) more vulnerable to terrorist attack due to the risk of communication failure between the network of UK and international intelligence services. Furthermore, according to a 24 June article in The Herald, Tom Gordon wrote that,”Ministers explained ‘National Security’ was an area reserved to the UK Government … [and] therefore, there had been no need to create documentation”.
Moreover, Gordon states that it was only last year when the SNP’s majority win “necessitated the consideration of policies in a number of reserved areas” for the first time.
Various criticisms continue to surface. In defence of the SNP Angus Robertson, SNP Leader in Westminster and Scottish Shadow Minister for Defence and Foreign Affairs, has been a longstanding watchdog over the UK defence footprint in Scotland. His attention to detail is well noted and his record speaks for itself.
However, with an autumn 2014 Scottish independence referendum on the foreseeable horizon, and the SNP restrained by limitations reinforced by the Scotland Act, Schedule 5, Part I, Paragraph 9 (1), a definitive and all-encompassing defence and national security policy for Scotland has failed to surface.
When considering the independent state’s future security requirements one might place blame on Scotland’s current constitutional status in regards to the lack of groundwork, but that, as we all know, is ridiculous. Various party manifestos have delved into the subject matter to a disturbingly limited extent, and while these documents are intended to provide general views of the perceived future, my highly limited experience with the SNP “defence working group”, and with others within the party structure, has lead to serious questions and concerns.
I also would argue that, given my own experience, the current SNP government does not yet understand American, British or NATO military structure and/or protocol given its more recent request to visit Ramstein Air Base. I will provide no further description about these assertions unless forced to do so.
The vast majority of the Scottish electorate is well aware of the SNP’s staunch opposition to nuclear weapons on the Clyde and its increasing flirtation (if national media outlets are to be trusted) with NATO. Arguably the Trident and Trident replacement nuclear issue, as well as ongoing UK military defence spending reductions, have distracted party leadership from addressing Scotland’s future security commitments, its relationship with the remainder of the United Kingdom (RUK) and the international community as well.
With a massive plate of political issues set before the party, one could argue that non-security/defence related interests have allowed for the survival of the SNP’s dated, self-centred and incomplete defence theories. Ultimately, the perceived “enslavement” to British nuclear defence policy and Scottish submission to distant NATO/American masters must be reconsidered, while realistic designs for Scottish defence and international cooperation are brought to the fore.
For whatever reasons a fool argues that Scotland is unworthy of independence, but the SNP does itself no favours when it has not yet mended together a coherent and sensible defence policy that not only caters to the needs of an independent Scotland, but to the wider security needs of the international community.
Taking a moment to set aside the overarching economic issue of constructing a Scottish Defence Service (SDS), perhaps this void also stems from the lack of input from current or former military leadership. A Scottish service member I have spoken with regarding the security issue expressed concern about what the SDS might actually represent: “my uniform is not for parades”.
This statement, of course, stems from the pride one takes in his or her UK/NATO based responsibilities, though a skeptic might argue that such resentment stems from career preservation. Yet one must understand that these individuals give their respect, service and lives to their country and they do not take this commitment lightly.
This is not something easily dismissed. Given its aspirations the SNP is currently responsible for providing a service where Scottish officers and enlisted are willing to serve with dedication and pride. The SNP is responsible for providing a service that will allow Scottish officers and enlisted to perform their responsibilities to perfection.
The SNP also is responsible for providing a service that Scottish officers and enlisted are willing to fight and die for. Given Scotland’s vastly impressive military history and tradition, it is easy for one to assume that the SNP simply does not understand the military mindset, and has dragged its feet on this issue.
In another conversation with a Scottish pilot downrange it was stated: “the graves of Scottish soldiers and sailors span the world, and I for one (nor my children), will not be part of some inferior product”. I am paraphrasing here, and while the quote is not completely accurate the message I relay to you is flawless and clear.
Scottish academia’s contribution to the formation of national defence can be of immense value to the cause but these offerings do not replace, nor overshadow, the credentials earned through military leadership, deployments, diplomacy and decision-making processes. As a former academic educated in Glasgow, deployed on several occasions and as many locations, stationed in Germany and working closely with command-based leadership (all while currently at the centre of various military operations within southwest Asia)…this thought never rang more true.
The university is the academic’s bubble kingdom, whereas the AOR belongs to the air or battle field commander. Furthermore, the defence laboratory where the academic works to develop new “toys” for the military is often run by a former battlefield commander. And while it is certain that an independent Scotland will not seek to establish an excessive military capability, this does not absolve the government of its responsibility to provide security coverage for its citizens (home or abroad), maintain national sovereignty, defend national economic interests or assist with international security developments.
We all know that Scotland is not Ireland and Scotland has its own unique considerations. If an independent Scotland is to be considered an oil producing nation, and national wealth is largely attributed to this endeavour, someone from beneath the Mason-Dixon line might ask what kind of stupid do you have to be to leave the barn door open?
Taking another impressive maxim from the library of US southern heritage, one might describe current SNP preparations as “shootin’ pool with a rope”. That adage applies to a number of situations but I am sure you understand. Nevertheless, previous offerings by the SNP, including cooperation with the Organisation for Security Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) or the Partnership for Peace Programme, did not offer influential security architecture during periods of regional or global crisis and were incapable of providing a robust military response to state-sponsored military action or terrorist activity.
In fact, the OSCE is an international organisation that serves as a forum for political dialogue, while another previous SNP interest, the Western European Union (WEU), was a dormant European defence and security organisation with a limited Operational Rapid Reaction Force.
On 30 June 2011 the WEU was officially declared defunct, as was the SNP’s potential for investment in this organization. But somehow, the SNP still maintains its distance with NATO.
So one might ask: how will an independent Scotland recover Scots being held hostage in locations across the globe when negotiations have failed? What if the RUK does not grant an independent Scotland its “fair share” of military assets and Scotland is left deprived?
How might the NATO organisation (so long as Scotland is a member) encourage the RUK to “play fair” during negotiations over assets (or the UK nuclear deterrent) if Scotland gains independence? How will the independent state provide humanitarian assistance without the proper airframes (C-17s or C-130s to name a couple), and who will defend/distribute these materials after these items have made their way to their appointed destinations?
What uniquely European defence collective will readily provide KC-135s and airborne refueling operations for these airframes? How does a newly independent Scotland meet a significant proportion of the economic requirements needed to reconstruct, refine and reinforce its own security architecture?
Given my own experience with the U.S. State Department and how it evaluates potential contributions to host-nation projects, does the SNP understand the US en-route (logistics) system and the geostrategic value Scotland may represent to NATO and the U.S.? What should an oil-rich country previously exposed to terrorist attacks over Lockerbie and inside Glasgow International Airport consider to be the preferable security alliance option?
While the contours of an indigenous European security capability remain painfully vague, the independent state has much to gain from full NATO membership. I am not so sure the SNP is fully aware of this, nor am I confident that party leadership understands the far-reaching implications of its decisions when considering NATO.
Having direct experience with anyone from the E-4 sheet metal worker to the upper echelons of NATO/USAFE leadership, the minority view of NATO and its “oppressive agenda” is based on myriad of misinformed and sometimes wildly exaggerated views.
For the misinformed, NATO is an intergovernmental military alliance that constitutes a system of collective defence. Its member states willingly agree to the requirements associated with mutual defense.
To provide some additional “fun facts”, ten years ago NATO and the European Union signed a comprehensive package of arrangements under the Berlin Plus agreement in December 2002, where the EU was given the possibility to use NATO assets in case it wanted to act independently in an international crisis, on the condition that NATO itself did not want to act.
Back to the point, I do understand that NATO’s nuclear capability represents a challenge to the SNP’s moral agenda and nuclear weapons do present serious questions. How does working this issue from outside the NATO structure benefit the SNP? Could the SNP establish greater influence if it worked within the NATO structure?
In all honesty, probability dictates that the SNP will have little influence over NATO nuclear status if working within the security alliance, and have NO influence if left standing outside NATO gates. A bitter pill to swallow, but let us not rehash the same old nuclear debate yet again (years have been dedicated to this issue north of the Border), and let us not lose track of other highly important issues concerning the independent state.
I am under the impression the SNP fears losing a portion of its voting base (and its independent status) should it chose to join the “evil empire”. And if that is the case, and I myself cannot establish this as fact, it is, in my opinion, a simple case of schoolyard popularity over sensible citizenship.
Given my own experience with a multitude of NATO issues I will spare you, the reader, any detailed explanation of the superficial issues covering membership or enlargement as there is a mass of general information readily available on the internet. A certain number of the specific stumbling blocks that do arise during this process are not for the public domain (and each case is country specific), but in actuality, some of these issues may not be very interesting from either a reader or writer’s perspective.
To go into these details merely presents something the Intel community commonly refers to as “data crush”, or an overabundance of information that simply leaves one wading in vast oceans of paper, video-feeds or both. And while the UK nuclear deterrent and Scotland-NATO controversy serves as a barrier to the vast fields of advantage that come with NATO membership, the SNP continues to scratch its head.
As I am currently deployed time does not grant me the opportunity to present issues such as the ongoing Revolution in Military Affairs (RMA), which has presented major shifts in the nature of warfare brought about by the innovative application of new technologies. For those readers who have seen this phenomenon in the field, you are well aware of where this all is going and understand that the new RMA also is linked to current discussions under the label of Transformation and total systems integration in the US and NATO military structure.
Any of Scotland’s politicos who are not aware of the robotics and technology push that is influencing current and future security environments serves as detriment to the so-called Silicon Glenn, and to the independent state’s own national security. Moreover, information warfare is identified as another new warfare area.
Although the critical value of information in warfare has been acknowledged since ancient times, warfare nowadays relies on information systems to an unprecedented degree. Are the SNP defence “experts” aware of the potential for using information systems as a means of disrupting both civil and military information infrastructure, while in open warfare it includes assets employed for physically destructive means?
Does the “defence working group” consider how this might be employed against Scottish industrial, technological and/or financial interests? I myself doubt that they do, and yes, I am very familiar with Christopher Harvie’s No Gods and Precious Few Heroes, so arguing that industry died on the Clyde is missing the point.
How might a Scottish intelligence agency interact within the NATO INTEL community, and is the SNP aware of the various responsibilities that come with collection, analysis, exploitation and dissemination of intelligence information, including human, signal, imagery, and measurement and signature intelligence? Just as important, how will the Scottish Intel community disperse its resources and allow the SDS (and/or other protective services) to execute its responsibilities of protecting its citizens, economy and sovereignty? By the way, Christopher is a brilliant fellow – just thought I would mention that.
I cannot recall who, but a journalist north of the Border recently wrote that “if the Union has been such a blessing for Scotland why do Unionists maintain that Scotland is still too weak to stand on its own two feet?
After three centuries, an answer is overdue.” I have presented my views about Scottish national security (in the event independence) to numerous forums over the past few years (some arenas placed higher than others, and sometimes in places outside what is currently referred to as the United Kingdom). And while I myself have “no dog in this fight” I find myself continuously returning to this issue and expanding upon it for one reason or another.
Given my experiences over the last few years, and the people I regularly engage with, the atmosphere tends to invigorate my interest in the subject. Having lived in Scotland for many years, and still travelling to West Dumbartonshire or Argyll and Bute, given my above mentioned interests it is not uncommon for me to receive odd comments from people on both sides of the pond.
And despite this peculiar place I often find myself in I firmly believe the SNP and its supporters have worked too hard to reach this very special point, only to fail. Of course a “No” vote will not be primarily based on one simple issue, but failing the security interests of the Scottish collective is just another sure fire way to draw the negative response.
Obviously, failure can take the form of numerous metrics depending on how one applies these measurements, and even if the independence referendum leads to an independent state, how successful was that referendum if the country is left vulnerable to various forms of aggression?
Broad interpretations and minimalist planning do not make for national security, and apologies to the SNP collective, but the organisation has not yet demonstrated the capability to lead the nation within an international, or even domestic military context thus far. There are people of importance outside the United Kingdom that share this view.
But Scotland has friends the world over and it might be time for the SNP to take in some of its Canadian, American, Australian and New Zealand friends with real world military and leadership experience. While an efficient and effective SDS is an obvious marketing tool for the SNP, independence is a big boy’s party and achieving the free-state involves immeasurable dedication to the entire subject.
That being said, this Fourth of July I will be eating gumbo under a boiling hot desert sun, enjoying American country music and wearing tartan shorts with my combat boots.
I also will be wondering if Scotland will have its day too.