Five key facts -
1. NATO is firmly committed to nuclear weapons and the concept of nuclear deterrence, and only a unanimous vote by all 28 member states can change that policy (29 member states if rUK remains a member and Scotland becomes a member after independence.) In other words, the three nuclear member states can veto any attempt to abandon nuclear weapons.
2. From NATO site: "Whilst the North Atlantic Council (NAC) is the ultimate authority within NATO, the Nuclear Planning Group (NPG) which meets annually in Defence Ministers format is the ultimate authority within NATO with regard to nuclear policy issues."
3. A democratic vote or consent to use nuclear weapons by the member states is not required to launch a nuclear strike. (The authorisation of the Kosovo bombing provides a salutary example of how things might work. Effectively, the USA military decides, supported by UK and France)
4. The situation of Scotland is fundamentally different from that of any other member state - it hosts the UK nuclear deterrent, and if it insists on the removal of nuclear weapons from Scotland, rUK cannot host them and will cease to be a nuclear power. This poses a threat to NATO's nuclear stance that is posed by no other member state.
Although Scotland will reiterate its non-nuclear policy after independence, it must negotiate the manner and timescale of the removal of Trident and nuclear-armed submarines from Scottish waters.
5. The 25 non-nuclear member states are members of a defence alliance that can - and would - launch a nuclear strike in their name without their authority. The 25 non-nuclear states cannot vote to remove nuclear weapons from NATO or make any changes to its policy because of the veto power of the three nuclear states.
What is the SNP proposing on NATO membership and why?
I posted the full Newsnight Scotland interview between Angus Robertson MP and Isabel Fraser, incl. the short but useful analysis that preceded it. In total it lasted 6m 40 secs, with the interview section being only 5m 10 secs. (For that edition of Newsnight Scotland, the producers clearly though same sex marriage was a much bigger topic than membership of a nuclear alliance that has the capacity to exterminate millions. But I believe they have a longer, more in-depth analysis planned of the SNP’s defence policy. God knows, such a programme is overdue – and vital.)
However, I have split the vital content up in edits to point up the individual contribution. Nothing has been edited out of these sections. Here is Angus Robertson’s full contribution – 3m 45 secs - minus Isabel Fraser.
Here is Isabel Fraser asking all of her five questions -
Here are the five questions individually -
Angus Robertson answered none of them to my satisfaction. His approach was what I call the torrent of words approach – a kind of mini-filibuster style adopted by politicians when they don’t want to be pinned down. It was partially effective, and perhaps understandable, given the ridiculously short time available, but to me it was consistent with the half-truths and evasions that have characterised the lead-up to this revelation of the SNP leadership’s real intentions on NATO membership.
But the questions still hang there, waiting for an answer.
Since Angus Robertson’s contribution did not fully answer my question above - What is the SNP proposing on NATO membership and why? – I must try to fill the gaps myself.
WHAT IS THE SNP PROPOSING?
“Scotland will inherit its international treaty obligations including those with the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO) and will remain a member, subject to agreement on withdrawal of Trident from Scotland.”
“With agreement on the withdrawal of Trident and retaining the important role of the UN, Scotland can continue working with neighbours and allies within NATO.”
“ … An SNP Government will maintain NATO membership subject to an agreement that Scotland will not host nuclear weapons and NATO continues to respect the right of members only to take part in UN-sanctioned operations. In the absence of such an agreement, Scotland will work with NATO as a member of the Partnership for Peace programme, like Sweden, Finland, Austria and Ireland. …”
The Faslane base will remain, as Joint Forces Headquarters, and will be central to the SNP’s defence structure.
I believe that summarises the essence of the SNP’s NATO position – the full defence paper contains a great deal more than this about other aspect of Scotland’s defence plans.
Before looking at why the SNP are doing this (and I believe that they are being disingenuous about at least some of their reasons for abandoning a long-held anti-NATO policy) let’s examine the feasibility of them achieving membership of NATO while removing Trident and maintaining a non-nuclear policy.
“Scotland will inherit its international treaty obligations including those with the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO)”
Well, will it? On what is this assumption based? One would assume that it is legal advice based on examination of international law on newly independent countries.
I’m no lawyer, but the Vienna Convention on Succession of States in respect of Treaties must be relevant here, however it is a deeply controversial document in its relevant clauses. (I am indebted to a Danish contact, Troels, for much information. Troels is interested in Scottish affairs but does not take a position on them, feeling that it is Scotland’s business.)
Article 16 states that newly independent states receive a "clean slate", whereas article 34(1) states that all other new states remain bound by the treaty obligations of the state from which they separated. Moreover, article 17 states that newly independent states may join multilateral treaties to which their former colonizers were a party without the consent of the other parties in most circumstances, whereas article 9 states that all other new states may only join multilateral treaties to which their predecessor states were a part with the consent of the other parties.
Scotland, in separating from the UK, would seem to come under article 34(1) and article 9. Among the many perceptions of this must be the possibility that Scotland would be bound to NATO obligations under article 34(1) but could be turfed out under article 9. If so, they presumably cease to be bound by NATO obligations.
Let’s look at what Lord (George) Robertson, a former general secretary of NATO says in today’s Herald. Under the headline Nationalists’ Nato policy shift branded a ‘cynical’ ploy the noble Lord of Islay is quoted as follows -
Lord Robertson, former secretary-general of Nato, was contemptuous of the SNP leadership's planned policy shift, saying: "This is a cynical exercise to get rid of another electoral albatross. Membership of Nato involves accepting its Strategic Concept, which clearly sets out a position and policy on nuclear defence, so countries in Nato will greet the Nationalist approach with derision."
Angus MacNeil, the co-signatory of the SNP NATO proposal has today reminded George Robertson of his remarks during a speech to the Moscow State Institute of Foreign Relations in 2001 - "In the Founding Act, NATO committed itself to the famous three nuclear "no's" - no intention, no plan and no reason to establish nuclear weapon storage sites on the territory of the new members - a commitment still valid."
I think, Angus, that the wee Lord of Islay will speedily invoke the Vienna convention relevant articles (above) to refute that one – but we’ll see …
NATO’s strategic concept includes the possession and use of nuclear weapons of mass destruction, and any member state signs up to that, even if they are non-nuclear. They cannot amend that, nor can they veto their use. NATO is not a democracy – it is a military alliance dominated by three nuclear states.
A real question exists over whether NATO could demand that Scotland honour aspect of its treaty obligations, e.g. provision of safe havens to nuclear-armed NATO submarines, while refusing to allow an independent Scotland to join or remain in NATO. (Angus Robertson conspicuously avoided answering Isabel Fraser’s question on that topic.)
“An SNP Government will maintain NATO membership subject to an agreement that Scotland will not host nuclear weapons and NATO continues to respect the right of members only to take part in UN-sanctioned operations.”
I can see no problem with the second half of that, the right of Scotland to refuse to take part in non UN-sanctioned operations, but the first part – the key part – sure as hell does pose problems. The difficult question to address is the negotiating dynamics of such a negotiating objective – for that is what it is.
Put bluntly, the SNP leadership want to maintain their nuclear virginity by getting rid of Trident while joining a nuclear alliance committed to retaining and using it without Scotland’s permission, or that of the other 25 non-nuclear member countries. Bear in mind that if Scotland is successful in removing Trident, the high probability is that the rUK would cease to be a nuclear power. Angus Robertson stated on Newsnight Scotland, “nuclear weapons being stationed in another country is a matter of bi-lateral arrangements between the two countries concerned – it doesn’t involve NATO at all, and in this case, that would be the relationship between Scotland and the United Kingdom – it’s not a matter for NATO at all …”
That is either naive or disingenuous. The idea that NATO would not have a significant influence on the rUK Ministry of Defence, and on any negotiations over Scotland’s NATO membership and Trident doesn’t stand up for a moment – in my view.
In essence, if we take the SNP’s negotiating stance at face value (I don’t) they will be saying to NATO – “Let us remain under the NATO defence umbrella and in return we will destroy rUK’s status as a nuclear power and remove at a stroke a major part of NATO European nuclear strike capacity.”
That is how it is being presented to the membership – it is how it will be presented at conference on October – a nice, clean-cut offer – or take-it-or-leave-it ultimatum, depending on your viewpoint. And from my Twitter exchanges, that is exactly the simplistic interpretation placed on it by many SNP supporters – Trident out and we’re in NATO – say no, and Trident goes anyway and Scotland joins Partnership for Peace (an organisation founded by NATO, incidentally).
My belief is that the SNP strategists’ position is far more complex than that – if it was not, they would be eaten alive in the negotiations. What I believe it really is disturbs me deeply, but whether it is or isn’t right now, here is my scenario of where we will wind up if we do go down this deeply misconceived route.
We will wind up in NATO, with at best, a token disarming of Trident warheads - something that can happen quickly and be reversed just as quickly – a commitment to a long period of theoretical decommissioning of ten to twenty years, and will be committed provide ‘safe haven’ to NATO nuclear-armed submarines. The high likelihood is that if a deeply unstable world survives 10/20 years without a nuclear war, the vaporisation of Faslane and a large part of the West of Scotland and permanent pollution of the rest of it, the decommissioning will never happen, and Scotland will remain home to WMDs and Trident.
It is believed by many commentators that the SNP is going down this route solely because they believe that it will play well with a sector of the electorate for a YES vote in the referendum, and those opposed to NATO membership but supporting independence (like me) will still vote yes. They are right on the second assumption but perhaps not on the first. While I believe the referendum vote is part of the SNP’s rationale, I don’t believe it is anything like the prime reason. If I did, I would resign right now at such cynical expediency.
There is a lot more I could do – and may well do – on examining the negotiating strategy on defence, but for the moment I’ll wind up.
Here is the total Angus Robertson/Isabel Fraser interview -