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Defence Committee
Written evidence from Paul Ingram, Executive Director British American Security Information Council


1. Summary

1.1 This submission addresses two subjects relevant to the committee’s inquiry—Scotland’s relationship with NATO and the basing of nuclear facilities on the Clyde. Whilst NATO is an explicitly nuclear alliance and will remain so for the indefinite future, some of its members have been able to pursue a mixed policy, one that supports Alliance nuclear policy whilst at the same time remaining distant from any direct involvement. It may therefore be possible for a newly independent Scotland to become a member of NATO, whilst also itself becoming nuclear free, though this posture may cause some unease with some NATO members.

1.2 If the newly-elected independent government were to insist on the removal of nuclear facilities at Faslane and Coulport, as seems likely, the negotiations with London are likely to revolve around timing. London will seek to delay the move long enough to avoid a requirement for interim facilities. This will be affected by a detailed assessment of the alternatives, one that has not yet been completed in recent times as far as we know. However it seems clear that such a transfer of facilities would be highly costly, adding somewhere in the order of an additional £8-£10 billion to the capital costs of the Trident renewal programme, and possibly a great deal more if the problems faced became significant. It may seem prudent to factor these issues into choices currently facing the government.

2. Basic

2.1 The author of this submission is the Executive Director of BASIC since 2007, and prior to that a staff member since 2002. BASIC is the only peace and security non-governmental organization that is British-American in composition and focus. We work on both sides of the Atlantic to encourage sustainable transatlantic security policies and to develop the strategies that can achieve them. We partner with other international NGOs that share our goals and we promote public understanding of the danger of growing nuclear arsenals. We have charitable status in the United Kingdom and in the United States. We operate with offices in London and Washington, a small but committed staff, and an active network of influential board members and advisers, and patrons on both sides of the Atlantic. 

2.2 BASIC has been conducting a research project these last three years into NATO’s nuclear weapons posture, involving roundtables with officials and stakeholders in NATO capitals throughout Europe. BASIC launched in February 2011 the BASIC Trident Commission here in London, which will report in early 2013. It should be noted that this submission is entirely unconnected with the BASIC Trident commission, and does not reflect any discussions being held within that forum, and certainly not the opinions of any of the Commissioners.

3. NATO—Scotland in NATO but Nuclear-Free?

3.1 In the event of Scotland breaking away from the rest of the United Kingdom, its new government would need to decide its relationship to various international bodies, such as the United Nations, the European Union and NATO. This last is particularly controversial, as the SNP currently has a policy of withdrawal.

3.2 NATO is a collective security Alliance that has been searching for a role ever since the end of the Cold War. While some of its members have been focusing on its traditional article 5 facility that enables its members to collectively protect the territory of all is its members, others have chosen to focus more on the global security responsibilities. This is more than just a matter of resource prioritisation; it goes to the heart of the nature of the Alliance and the sense of threat it faces today. Some countries closer to Russia, and with a history of occupation, see the country as the principal threat, and deterrence as the principal purpose of the Alliance. Others further to the west, led by Germany, tend to see Russia as a strategic partner, if not ally, as well as an important energy source, and believe that engagement will be better in the long run than isolation. This difference goes to the heart of the challenges facing the Alliance today, challenges that have not been resolved by recent summits, or the agreement of the new strategic concept.

3.3 Based upon BASIC’s extensive communications with officials across NATO in the last three years, we would conclude that while the November 2010 summit successfully concluded with an agreed strategic concept, followed in May 2012 with an agreed text for the deterrence and defence posture review, the deep rifts between NATO partners will continue. Principally this is because the world looks very different from the perspective of the Baltic states when compared with, say, Edinburgh. And whilst the Scandinavian countries are in some respects vulnerable strategically to the high North—principally a threat from Russian submarines and bombers—their response is generally one of engagement rather than containment.

3.4 Whilst opinion in Scotland towards NATO may currently be heavily influenced by the domestic perception of the relationship with London, foreign adventures in Iraq and Afghanistan, and perceptions that the Alliance is still caught up in Cold War nuclear legacies, in future such opinion may be more influenced by how the Alliance can facilitate Scotland’s role in the world and its relationship with its near neighbours, much as say Norway does. It is this that may be influencing the SNP leadership to reconsider the party’s policy. Indeed in a recent BBC interview Angus Robertson referred explicitly to Norway.

3.5 Norway appears comfortable to sign up to Alliance policy that supports the continued relevance of nuclear deterrence, whilst at the same time playing a leading role as a non-nuclear weapon state within the NPT that questions the future for nuclear weapons in the international system. Whilst Norway plays a full and loyal role within the Alliance, including on the nuclear planning group, it also bans the deployment and transit of nuclear weapons within its territory in peace time, and its Foreign Ministry funds many groups looking to reduce the salience of nuclear weapons. NATO’s own Secretary General appeared to acknowledge this reality when visiting explicitly nuclear-free New Zealand in June, saying “Actually, we have quite a number of NATO Allies that are also nuclear free… they have exactly the same experience [as New Zealand]…

3.6 The Scandinavian approach of a focus on strong defensive defence capabilities with modest defence budgets, and internationalist engagement through development aid and mediation, may come to be seen as popular in Scotland as an alternative to the current defence relationships within the UK context. Scotland may look to its relationship with Scandinavia as an alternative. If this were the direction that Scotland went, it is likely that NATO membership, on a different basis to that experienced today through London, could be seen as facilitating this transition.

3.7 Of course, such an explicit approach, whereby Scotland seeks to balance NATO membership with becoming nuclear free will not be welcomed by many other members, and could have an impact on the longer term cohesion of the Alliance. There is already some concern that key members of NATO are moving away from a commitment to nuclear deterrence, while others remain strongly of the opinion that it is essential. These differences are likely to increase in time, and a Scottish move seeking non-nuclear status within the Alliance can only exacerbate them.

3.8 The recent example of the debate over tactical nuclear weapons in Europe is instructive. The new German government announced its intention to seek the removal of US freefall nuclear weapons from its territory in October 2009, but swiftly clarified that it would not do so unless there was a consensus within the Alliance for such an action. This consensus was not forthcoming, and the accommodating compromise now seeks some kind of reciprocity from Russia. The German government appears willing, for the time being at least, to stick with current arrangements, though the crunch point is likely in future when serious investment is required to replace the dual capable aircraft they deploy. The principal lesson to draw from this experience is that existing NATO members prize the cohesion of the Alliance very highly, and will move more slowly in executing their policy in the interests of bringing the allies with them.

3.9 On the one hand, unless Scotland is willing to be seen as an outlier within the Alliance its new government would need to be cautious in moving too quickly to expel nuclear weapons from its territory. On the other, what may seem to some as contradictory or ambiguous outcomes may be accommodated by the Alliance. This has relevance to the options facing a new Scottish government were it to be negotiating with the rest of the UK on the removal of the nuclear bases on the Clyde.

4. How important is the issue of Trident?

4.1 It seems likely that the issue will feature prominently in the referendum campaigns, not least because the Yes campaign will seek to use it to illustrate their case that Scotland exists under a defence and foreign policy that its population disagrees with. Opinion in Scotland is more clearly opposed to maintaining the nuclear deterrent, and in particular keeping it in Scotland (64% of Scots in a 2007 ICM poll stated their opposition to the maintenance of nuclear weapons there for the next 50 years).

4.2 Those supporting independence will also be seeking to strengthen their negotiating hand in the event of a vote in their favour. Whilst SNP leadership seems to be willing to reconsider its policy on NATO membership, the same would not be true around hosting Trident bases on the Clyde. It would be a strong card to play in negotiations for an independent Scotland, one that it would be difficult to drop in the face of public opinion.

4.3 Even if the referendum concludes with a no vote, the campaign itself will have raised the Trident issue at a sensitive moment, a year before the 2015 general election in which the issue is likely to feature as an issue that separates the two governing parties in London. It may also create long-term uncertainty within the Ministry of Defence around the confidence they need in order to make significant future investments in the facilities. This is not an issue in the short term—the Parliamentary Trident Renewal Initial Gate Report suggested that such investment was quite recent, and there were no plans for further investment in Scotland for some time now.

5. Options around Relocation

5.1 It has been suggested by the Minister of State for the Armed Forces in evidence to the Scottish Affairs Committee in June that finding alternative sites south of the border for the facilities currently at Faslane and Coulport would be challenging and extremely costly. This opinion is shared by a number of analysts who have looked into the details. It would be possible to find alternatives if necessary, though all involve costs and draw-backs, and would take some time to establish. The principal alternative port to Faslane would need accessible facilities and deep water to enable the submarine easily to slip into the ocean without detection, but it is finding a site for the warhead storage and loading facilities at Coulport that would present particular challenges. Prof Malcolm Chalmers of RUSI concludes that the most likely viable site is Falmouth, Cornwall, which has deep water access, but this would require moving a significant number of civilians and the construction of new bunkers and handling facilities, both of which would require complex decision-making and consultation processes, as well as some significant expense, running into several £billions, increasing the current capital cost estimates for the renewal project considerably—a reasonable estimate would be in the order of £8 to £10 billion, or an additional 50%, though the total figure could end up being more if significant obstacles arise that involve major compensation or lengthy inquiries.

5.2 Given the political prominence already given by SNP politicians to the issue, and the positive response to this policy by a majority of the public, it would seem unlikely that in the event of a yes vote and the election of an SNP government that the new government would be in a position to go back on this policy of forcing the bases out of Scotland. Equally, because the new government would generally be in a weak bargaining position with regards to other issues it would be seeking agreement with London upon, it seems unlikely that they would insist upon immediate removal at some considerable cost to the relationship. Demands for an immediate removal may just be an opening gambit.

5.3 Of course, a new Scottish government may not have an SNP majority. But this is hardly cause for comfort in London. The principal reason why the Scottish Labour Party has not itself come out against the continued basing of Trident in Scotland is because of its internal relationship with the rest of the Labour Party. It seems likely this dynamic would change with independence, and the makeup of a new Scottish government may simply influence just how strongly it would negotiate on this matter.

5.4 The principal focus of negotiations around the location of the nuclear bases will therefore likely be on a timetable for relocation out of Scotland. London would of course seek through negotiation to delay such a move, and would bring into play other issues for leverage. They would certainly want a delay long enough to survey, get agreement and construct alternative facilities south of the border, with sufficient leeway for contingencies and unforeseen challenges.

5.5 There is a possibility that London would need to consider transitionary arrangements. It has been suggested that the MoD may even approach France or the United States for basing. While both may have the capacity there must surely be significant complications, not just the obvious political disadvantage of being seen as dependent on another nuclear weapons state, but also the logistical challenge of linking that basing arrangements with the supply of UK warheads, and personnel. The MoD would want to avoid this if at all possible.

5.6 The cabinet office is currently studying alternatives to the current plans for Trident renewal. As far as I am aware they are not factoring into their modelling the uncertainty over the future of Faslane and Coulport. I believe this is unfortunate, particularly in the light of recent awareness of the importance of this issue. Even if the referendum were to return a no vote, this issue is likely to remain a cogent for the foreseeable future, rendering long-term investment at those bases more challenging.

July 2012

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