Since NATO was founded more than 70 years ago, in the words of NATO itself, nuclear weapons have been “the foundation of the Alliance’s collective security”.
First off I believe it’s important to be transparent. I fully believe that the defence of Scotland is best served as part of the UK. Now with that out of the way, I also believe that if it ever leaves the UK, Scotland should become a NATO member but there are serious hurdles.
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NATO is at heart a nuclear alliance, that is ultimately the point.
Now of course some will, rightfully, point out that most NATO members don’t have nuclear weapons and that’s true. But most NATO members don’t need nuclear weapons, they’re protected by the nuclear weapons of other states.
Many point to Germany as a significant NATO member with no nuclear weapons but most don’t realise that German military aircraft are actually wired to take American nuclear bombs should they be required. Germany has no nuclear weapons of its own, but it stores 20 or fewer U.S. B-61 nuclear gravity bombs at Büchel airbase and maintains a fleet of fighter bombers to deliver them.
Three NATO members – the United States, France and the United Kingdom – have nuclear weapons and form the ‘strategic forces’ of the Alliance, around which the entire security posture of NATO is centred. Once more in the words of NATO itself, the strategic forces of the Alliance “are the supreme guarantee of the Alliance’s security”.
More to the point, a key factor in the strategic utility of the UK’s nuclear weapons is in fact that the submarines that carry them are based in Scotland at HMNB Clyde (commonly called Faslane).
Conspiracy theorists like to claim that’s because ‘Scots are expendable to Westminster’, ignoring that nuclear weapons are also stored just outside of London, the more accurate reason is however that the position of the base provides for rapid and stealthy access through the North Channel to the submarine patrolling areas in the North Atlantic, something that can’t be replicated by a base further south or on another coast. The frequent cloud cover also offers a great advantage for submarines coming and going.
Aside from all that, it was reported recently by a colleague of mine that there was a conference session on defence matters not too long ago in which “a very, very senior American diplomat” stated in his presentation that if an independent Scotland were to insist on the removal of the UK’s nuclear deterrent from its territory then the USA would veto any application by Scotland to join the alliance.
I’m not arguing for or against nuclear weapons here but merely stating the reality that NATO is a nuclear alliance and members are not going to be sympathetic to a nation joining the alliance whilst actively undermining its nuclear capability.
I believe the admittance of Scotland into NATO largely depends on the choices made by Scotland. What I mean by that is that should an independent Scotland pursue a policy that actively undermines and weapons the nuclear security of the Alliance then I genuinely doubt that it would be welcomed into the alliance with open arms, to put it mildly.
I mentioned above that a senior American diplomat stated that if an independent Scotland were to insist on the removal of the UK’s nuclear deterrent from its territory then the USA would veto any application by Scotland to join the alliance and to add to this remark, I would say that I can’t imagine the UK or France reacting positively to that either.
If Scotland were to abandon demands for Trident to be relocated, it would likely be welcomed into the Alliance however current policy would appear to place very significant roadblocks in the way of that plan.
So to recap, First Minister Nicola Sturgeon said an independent Scotland would seek to join NATO and that it would also demand the removal of the UK’s nuclear weapons from Scotland.
To conclude, I am not arguing for or against the independence of Scotland (although as pointed out above, I believe Scotland is better defended in military terms as part of the UK) nor am I arguing for or against nuclear weapons, I simply believe that the position of the Scottish Government against nuclear weapons would make joining NATO very difficult, if not impossible.