Tuesday, August 26, 2014
How Scottish Independence Could End Britain's Nuclear Deterrent
Scotland will hold a referendum next month on whether to remain part of the UK or become an independent country. While a large number of voters are undecided and the jury's still out on whether the Scots will vote 'yes' on independence, one interesting result of a yes vote could very well be the end of Britain as a nuclear power.
Currently Britain bases all of its arsenal of 58 Trident II D-5 missiles and 160 deployed nuclear warheads in Scotland, along with its four Vanguard-class submarines that can be used to launch them. The subs are based at Faslane, an inlet at the mouth of the River Clyde on Scotland's west coast near Glasgow.
The Scottish National Party(SNP) as well as the other parties pushing for independence have pledged that an independent Scotland would be a nuclear-free zone within four years of breaking off from Great Britain. That position appeals to a large part of the Scottish polity, who feel that the UK basing its nuclear arsenal in Scotland rather than in England or Wales makes Scotland a target in the event of hostilities because it's 'housing England's nukes.'
A “yes” vote would almost certainly force what's left of the United Kingdom to find a new home for the weapons and a new home port for its nuclear subs. The problem is that at this point, that facility simply doesn't exist.Britain might be able to lease the base from Scotland for a couple of years, but that's about it.
To build a new base would cost billions Britain doesn't have and might take close to a decade. It's likely that Britain itself might choose to scrap its nuclear deterrent instead. That's especially true given the state of Britain's military today, including the renowned Royal Navy, which has been downsized almost to the point of being a coastal defense force.
As it is, the UK plans to slash an additional 30,000 personnel from Britain’s already reduced armed forces by 2020, and any kind of military spending is unpopular, particularly among Britain's expanding Muslim electorate. The UK made a point of quickly declining to participate in air strikes on Islamic State President Obama announced earlier this month, limiting their participation to a few humanitarian supply airlifts.
To add to this factor, a vote for Scottish independence would essentially mean a divorce, with the accompanying negotiations over facilities, bases, armaments and personnel. Scotland would need to develop and equip its own defense force, and since Scots are well represented in Britain's military and many would likely want to serve in the newly composed Scottish forces, the attrition in Britain's forces might be even more severe than what's on the drawing board.
Perhaps I should include a personal comment at this point.
There are a great many arguments back and forth about Scottish independence, and frankly I have no particular dog in this fight except that I normally favor people running their own affairs.
As for the military aspect, neither an independent Scotland or what constitutes Britain's current government seem overly valuable as allies just now. But I'm absolutely in favor of the UK scrapping its nuclear deterrent. It's a bad idea to leave nuclear weapons in the hands of who may likely be taking over in a few years.