Scotland as a ‘good bet’ for Nato

Colin Fleming, University of Edinburgh

Colin Fleming, University of Edinburgh

Dr. Colin Fleming writes on the possibility of Nato membership for an independent Scotland, noting that while Scotland could exist outwith Nato, independence outside the strategic alliance would come at a political and financial cost.

This week Nato are conducting joint operational exercises off the Scottish coast, from April 15-29. This comes just after the recent trip by Alex Salmond to America and his lecture to the US think-tank the Brookings Institute where the First Minister said that Scotland’s international partnerships would remain unchanged in the event of independence. The nation’s alliances with the US and other nations would endure while Scotland would become an independent and active member of organisations, ranging from the European Union and the United Nations to Nato.

However, Nato is correct not to publically signal that Scotland would simply join the alliance, not least because to do so would be to undermine the UK state – one of its key members. Rocking the status quo is simply not something the US or Nato will do at this stage. Yet, neither is this somehow an indication that Scotland would have trouble being admitted to the alliance should the Scottish public vote Yes in next year’s referendum.

Nato provides a security guarantee which Scotland could not attain on its own. Membership would also have the added importance of plugging Scotland into regional and international security networks, something that will be expected from us by the majority of European states. Scotland could exist without Nato – there is no immediate territorial threat to the nation – but to do so would be much more costly financially and would make it far harder for Scotland to integrate with its key partners – not least the rest of the UK (RUK).

Integration is important in terms of future defence-sharing prospects with RUK, as it is for its possible future relationship with the Nordic states. Nevertheless, just as there are incentives for Scotland to join Nato, so too are there significant reasons why Nato would want Scotland to become a member of the organisation. Not least, Scotland’s geostrategic position marks it out as a pivotal player with its own strategic interests in the Atlantic.

As Scotland sits in the middle of the North Atlantic it would be odd if it weren’t welcomed into the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation. This area is increasing important when it comes to strategic interests globally due to the potential for security concerns relating to Russia and China. Our joining existing security networks – both transatlantic and regional, such as the Nordic Defence Coperation pact – will therefore be highly desirable to Scotland’s neighbours.

We should also not undervalue the importance of existing Nato infrastructure in Scotland which Nato will want to maintain. However, perhaps more important is Scotland’s ability to fill gaps in the existing security framework. The inclusion of Scotland is more likely to enhance the security of the North Atlantic area, and we would be an important partner for regional allies as well of the Nato alliance.

Put simply, the UK’s focus towards the Middle East has resulted in a security gap in the Atlantic. This security gap has been exacerbated by ongoing MoD austerity measures which have prioritised finances on fighting wars in Iraq and Afghanistan at the cost of a properly maintained readiness for maritime operations in the Atlantic. The early decommissioning of the Nimrod and its cancelled replacement has left a hole in intelligence and surveillance across the region which is easily exploitable for those with the know-how. Scotland could, and should, plug this gap in the event of independence. Indeed, at present this surveillance role is conducted by Nato, which currently operates Maritime Patrol Aircraft from Leuchers and Lossiemouth for this very purpose. It would be highly attractive for Nato to retain these assets post-independence. A properly conducted negotiation between Scotland and RUK, where Scotland does not try to diminish the UK’s current standing, could lead to Scotland filling an important function, which focuses north instead of south.

The SNP position, that an independent Scottish state will ban nuclear weapons from Scottish territory, reflects the mood of the Scottish public in regard its own position on nuclear weapons. However, Scotland being nuclear-free is unlikely to be a serious impediment to Nato membership. Norway and Denmark have also banned nuclear weapons and both are important members of the alliance – fulfilling key tasks in Afghanistan and Libya. Furthermore, Scotland’s refusal to host nuclear weapons on its territory – as long as it acts responsibly to the concerns of RUK – will be balanced by what it can offer elsewhere. In light of changing geopolitical interests to our north as well as south, Scotland would be a good bet for Nato.

Dr Colin Fleming is a Research Fellow in Politics and International Relations at the University of Edinburgh. This piece was originally published in the Sunday Herald on 14 April 2012.

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One Response to Scotland as a ‘good bet’ for Nato

  1. Ian Mackintosh says:

    AT LAST!!!!!! It would appear that we may be about to have a mature debate on this topic.

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