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.


1 comment:

B.Poster said...

"As for the military aspect, neither an independent Scotland nor what constitutes Britain's current government seem overly valuable as allies right now." I agree wholeheartedly. In fact, the same thing generally applies to all of our traditional Western European allies. As an example, given Germany's close business ties to Russia any support they might offer us in countering Russia is going to fickle at best. As for France, at least one report indicates 1/6 of French support ISIS.

It would seem as if the entire concept of NATO itself no longer fits with current geo political realities and new strategies need to be developed. According to some reports a number of Eastern European nations want the US to base military assets there.

If European basing is really needed, then basing in these places and redeploying away from traditional positions may be an option. Of course if we are going to base in Eastern Europe, this is going to further inflame the Russians and place us at even greater risk of conflict with them. In order to handle such a conflict, we are going to need to improve our military capabilities significantly which frankly at 18 trillion or so in debt and a struggling economy I don't see how we can afford!!

As for the notion that having a nuclear deterent is going to place one at greater risk of attack, such thinking is ridiculous. A robust nuclear deterent kept the US and its European allies free from an invasion by vastly superior Soviet and allied conventional forces during the entire Cold War. Nevertheless the Scots may have a point here. If the primary concern is Russia, then 160 or so nuclear weapons are not likely to make much difference against a vastly larger and superior Russian arsenal. As such, the best approach would seem to be expand the arsenal rather than scrap it.

A similar logic applied to missile defense in places like Poland and the Czech Republic. The populaces of these nations rightly opposed these systems because they were/are wholly inadequate to counter Russia and were only serving to agitate the Russians. The best approach here would seem to be scrap the system entirely or to upgrade the system to one that could counter Russian missiles. Since the US does not have the technological capability to do such a thing, it would seem opposition to an inadequate system was/is the correct approach.

Clearly our entire national defense needs to be completely rethought. Unfortunately sound strategic and tactical planning and analysis are completely absent from the US government at this time and seem to be absent from the entire "West" at this time as well.