Bill Ramsay: 4 reasons the SNP should reconsider its Nato relationship at annual conference

SNP CND convener Bill Ramsay urges SNP members to raise the issue of Nato membership at the autumn conference - with a stipulation

THE outcome of the General Election suggests that an explicit approach to politics beats the implicit. 

From an SNP perspective, a few declaratory statements around the immorality and costs to the public purse of nuclear weapons wont be enough in my view to see off the Corbyn challenge. Rather, what the SNP requires is a clearly laid out road map of Trident removal.

The political landscape, both at home and abroad, has been transformed since the SNP last considered Nato membership at the 2012 annual conference. In my view, it is appropriate that the matter of Nato membership be reconsidered with a view to putting it aside until at least a time when Scotland is nuclear free.

SNP policy on the Nato-nuke relationship was last examined a political lifetime ago, at the annual conference in 2012 when the current pro-Nato position prevailed by only 15 votes.

SNP branches have until later this month to submit motions for debate at the 2017 annual conference, which takes place in the autumn. I would invite SNP members who agree with the thinking laid out in this article to consider submitting this motion for consideration at their July SNP branch meeting.

Model resolution

Conference resolves that an SNP government in an independent Scotland will only consider membership of Nato when all nuclear weapons have been removed from Scottish soil.

SNP policy on the Nato-nuke relationship was last examined a political lifetime ago, at the annual conference in 2012 when the current pro-Nato position prevailed by only 15 votes.

Here I will outline four reasons why a reconsideration of the SNP Nato policy needs to be taken.

Firstly, there is the 2017 General Election outcome. Secondly, the utility of the Swedish/Finnish model of non-Nato collective defence as a lever for Trident removal. Thirdly, how enhanced cyber capabilities have almost certainly ripped away the last vestige of the fig leaf covering the concept of an "independent" British "deterrent". Fourthly, the advent of the Trump presidency - the current
commander in chief of the planet’s military hegemon is widely seen as one of the worlds most unpredictable and unstable political actors.

1.) The General Election

So firstly, there is the advent of a Jeremy Corbyn-led Labour party. Seen from an SNP perspective, this at one and the same time presents a threat and an opportunity.

In terms of threat there is Corbyn’s longstanding and authoritative critique of the constant expeditionary war mode that has been at the heart of UK defence and foreign policy since the Blair years. The constant expeditionary warfare mode is highly unlikely to be put aside as post-Brexit Britain will inevitably cleave even closer, if that is possible, to future US foreign policy in general and new military adventures in particular. 

If there are to be no British boots on the ground to assist US forces then there will be no preferential trade deals.

One has only to watch Corbyn’s highly assured recent Chatham House address where his command of the detail went well beyond that of capable politician in control of his brief. If Trump decides to unravel the Iran nuclear deal or go back into Afghanistan in significant numbers, or decides to turn seriously against Assad, the standard of the critique from the dispatch box of the leader of the
opposition will be impressive.

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This means that if the SNP's own anti-foreign adventure critique of the UK’s constant expeditionary warfare mode is to remain relevant, said critique will have to move from the implicit to the more explicit. 

This shift appeared to be underway when Alex Salmond took up the foreign affairs brief. Stephen Gethins will have to continue in a similar vein if the SNP is to remain relevant in this area.

On the other hand, Corbyn’s Faustian pact with the Labour nuclear interest presents the SNP with an opportunity. One should not forget that despite Corbyn’s lifelong CND membership, the concept of a British bomb is hard wired into the institutional DNA of the Labour party. 

The SNP quite rightly talks up various Scottish assets, bar one - Scotlands place in the world.

It is conveniently forgotten that it was post-war Labour, the same Labour that the likes of Momentum views through sepia-tinted glasses, that built the British bomb. As I explained in an earlier critique of Paul Mason's conversion to unilateralism, Corbyn Labour’s party has no intention of getting rid of the bomb.

Moreover, on the conventional defence front Labour has pledged much more than the Tories. Here again the SNP has to be careful. Much has been made by SNP spokespersons of what I will call the "fur coat and no knickers" critique of current Tory conventional procurement policy. 

To a degree this has been understandable, however it contains the implicationthat a resurgent Russia is a threat to the territorial integrity of the UK. This is an exaggeration both in the British and the Scottish geopolitical context.

Certainly, Putin will ensure the Russian bear continues to roar until it is hoarse, and will assuredly use and invent every opportunity to continue to do so. However, the realty is, in terms of conventional blue water naval capability, the Russian bear is a mangy beast, as its soon to be published forces review will reveal when cuts to the Russian naval conventional building programme is announced.

The SNP quite rightly talks up various Scottish assets, bar one - Scotlands place in the world. We exist in one of the most stable geopolitical regions on the planet, its time the SNP started to talk up that asset instead of gloom mongering as if Scotland were a Latvia and Estonia or a Lithuania.

2.) Trident removal

Getting rid of nuclear weapons continues to be the central plank of SNP security policy; that an independent sovereign Scottish state will ensure nuclear weapons are removed from its soil.

Although often repeated by SNP spokespersons, like Labour's pro-nuclear heritage, the SNP’s anti-nuclear heritage is part of the SNP’s institutional DNA. Not nearly enough is made of this.

Moreover, it was crucial in winning over a key section of younger Labour activists to the SNP in the 1960s. This is often overlooked. It was that influx of young left activists at that time, that ensured the transformation of the SNP into a social democratic party.

It’s time, therefore, for the SNP’s anti-nuclear policy to develop beyond the totemic. It's time to develop a serious road map for Trident removal. Too many voters, perhaps unfairly, see opposition to nuclear weapons as a moral issue rather than a security issue - a position, in my view, that means nuclear weapons are of marginal salience in the voting behaviour of the Scottish public.

Too many voters, perhaps unfairly, see opposition to nuclear weapons as a moral issue rather than a security issue.

The internationally renowned late John Anslie of Scottish CND did much of the heavy lifting in this area. However, John is sadly is no longer with us and I see no sign of the SNP commissioning work to pick up where he left off. This deficit, in my view, needs to be addressed.

Although Scottish CND remains committed to Scottish independence, its resources are limited. Internal communication resources in kind could be committed by the SNP to allow Scottish CND to overtake a membership drive from among the expanded post-2014 SNP membership. 

Bear in mind that a similar exercise was successfully overtaken during the SNP’s pre-2014 period, when SNP membership was less than a quarter of where it is today.

However, for this road map of Trident removal to be credible, real international leverage has to be applied. In my view, a deal-no-deal on Nato membership based upon Trident removal provides that leverage.

It is important to understand that other states use the prospect, or otherwise, of Nato membership as leverage. I see no reason why Scotland can't join that particular club.

It is important to understand that other states use the prospect, or otherwise, of Nato membership as leverage. I see no reason why Scotland can't join that particular club.

Two examples are Finland and Sweden. Working together, they are quite prepared to show the West some diplomatic ankle over the prospect of possible Nato membership. The clear corollary of that is the implied threat to their Eastern neighbour, Russia.

The Scottish Nato paradigm I am outlining is, of course, a quite different set of threats and rewards. As I said at the end of my contribution to the debate at the 2012 party conference, "let’s consider Nato membership when the last Trident boat sails down the Clyde". 

It was a popular position that contributed to a close result, losing by only 15 votes to a leadership which had to turn the Nato issue into a vote of confidence. Adoption of this position will, like recent explicit statements around renationalisation of our railways, contribute towards galvanising activism among the wider party membership.

3.) Cyberspace

Returning to the third reason why I think the Nato debate should be revisited, is the advent of enhanced US cyber capabilities. These capabilities further undermine the already threadbare argument that Britain's nukes are independent of US control.

The submarines that carry Britain's share of the common US/UK pool of Trident missiles, the vanguard-class submarines, may not be carbon copies of the US Navy’s equivalent, the Ohio class. 

However, the Trident missiles they carry are carbon copies. The missiles are stored together and reconditioned together at the home port of the US Navy's ballistic missile submarine fleet in Kings Bay, Georgia.

I would argue that advances in cyber warfare capability means that it is virtually certain that US cyber command can override a UK Trident launch.

I would argue that advances in cyber warfare capability means that it is virtually certain that US cyber command, budget $8bn and growing, can override a UK Trident launch if a US president wishes so do so.

Again, John Ainslie, late organiser of Scottish CND, revealed that it is a matter of record that the United States navy and the Royal navy share the same serial numbered missiles. John concluded that a particular missile with a particular serial number, would be on a Royal Navy vanguard sub on one tour.

Later on, after re-fit, the same serial numbered missile would be on a US Navy Ohio class submarine.

4.) The Trump presidency

This brings me to the fourth new factor: President Donald "America First" Trump. It is simply incredible that the United States navy lacks the ability to develop the cyber wherewithal to embed a US 'fail safe' in the missiles that end up aboard vanguard submarines. 

The issue is whether or not they will deploy such a capability. Of course, it may well be the case that the United States has chosen not to introduce such a cyber capability into the software of the most recently reconditioned missiles.

On the other hand, in my opinion, there is no credible political impediment to introducing an 'America first' fail safe.

The issue of whether or not Trident is independent of US control has been contested over many years. Moreover, these contestations have by no means been confined to the anti-nuclear movement. Many senior military figures have raised doubt about how "independent" the so-called deterrent actually is. There is no need in this article to revisit these arguments as they are well known.

However, even if, until now, the United States has decided not to introduce this cyber capability there are two recent developments that make it much more likely.

However, even if, until now, the United States has decided not to introduce this cyber capability there are two recent developments that make it much more likely. First of all it is incontrovertibly in line with President Trump’s overarching 'America first' policy. 

Secondly, there is the new, enhanced reliance that post-Brexit Britain will have in its relationship to the USA. Of course, no British prime minster would welcome such a development, but they could not publicly challenge it. 

To do so would be an incalculable body blow to what is left of "British" prestige and "British" identity.

Picture courtesy of Defence Images

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Comments

MauriceBishop

Tue, 07/11/2017 - 13:01

If nuclear weapons are "immoral" than why would the CND want NATO membership to be on the table at all?

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