MOSCOW, September 18 (RIA Novosti), Alexander Mosesov – Among the many issues surrounding Scotland's independence debate to be decided by a September 18 referendum, the fracture of the British Armed Forces and the creation of an independent Scottish military are one the most important issues for the United Kingdom.
The splitting up of the Royal Navy, Army and Air Force, transferring nuclear weapons from Scottish territory to the United Kingdom, Scotland's membership in NATO and many other issues will be among new Scottish government's tasks should it become independent on March 24, 2016. All these goals seem to be quite achievable, but this is certainly not an easy task.
THE GAME OF NUKES
The United Kingdom is the third country in the world, after the United States and the Soviet Union, to test a nuclear bomb, having done so in 1952. It has 160 active nuclear warheads at its disposal, a very impressive amount of such devastating weaponry.
However, the task of freeing Scotland of its nuclear military potential is somehow facilitated by the absence of the United Kingdom's nuclear triad. The triad is a three-component nuclear arsenal, consisting of strategic bombers, intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs) and submarine-launched ballistic missiles (SLBMs). Countries such as Russia and the United States have all three components in service, thus significantly increasing their chances of a responsive nuclear strike.
The United Kingdom only has SLBMs in its inventory. Strategic bombers and ICBMs are not in the country's nuclear arsenal. The United Kingdom's Trident program, the only British nuclear weapon system in service, consists of four Vanguard-class nuclear-powered ballistic missile submarines. And these subs are based at Faslane Naval Base, just 40 kilometers west of Glasgow. Thus, the whole nuclear arsenal of the United Kingdom is situated in Scotland.
The Scottish position on the Trident program was clearly described by the Scottish Government in the white paper, "Scotland's Future - Your Guide to an Independent Scotland," published on November 26, 2013. "Billions of pounds have been wasted to date on weapons that must never be used … Trident is an affront to basic decency with its indiscriminate and inhumane destructive power," the white paper said.
"Only by voting Yes will Scotland always get the governments we vote for – and never again Tory governments imposed by Westminster, … wasting 100 billion pounds on a new generation of Trident nuclear weapons dumped on the Clyde," the Yes Scotland pro-independence organization commented on the issue Tuesday.
In this view nuclear disarmament could go smoothly as the wishes of the United Kingdom to secure its role as a nuclear power and potentially independent Scotland's wish to become nuclear weapons-free coincide.
The latest example of such mutual intentions which resulted in three countries losing their nuclear status was in the early 1990s, following newly-independent states of Ukraine, Belarus and Kazakhstan signing a corresponding protocol with Russia in Lisbon on May 23, 1992 in which they also agreed to join the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT). Of the three countries, Ukraine agreed to give up its nuclear arsenal to Russia in exchange for guarantees of Ukrainian territorial integrity, which were given in 1994 when Russia, the United States and the United Kingdom signed the Budapest Memorandum on Security Assurances.
As for the case of Scottish independence, the main problem with the United Kingdom is that it has no suitable sites outside Scotland where the nuclear deterrent could be based. That is because safety arrangements for other British ports do not permit the presence of nuclear warhead-carrying submarines.
ARMED FORCES APART
The military forces of an independent Scotland would consist of 15,000 regular personnel, 16 Eurofighter Typhoon jets and four frigates, according to "Scotland's Future." And that is compared to the United Kingdom's current military strength of more than 200,000 active frontline personnel, 900 military-purpose aircraft and 66-unit strong naval power, according to Global Firepower (GFP) data. Obviously, much of the United Kingdom's military bases would not be needed by the Scots.
The most significant Royal Navy bases in Scotland include the above-mentioned HMNB (Her Majesty"s Naval Base) Clyde, HMS Gannet Royal Navy Fleet Air Arm in Prestwick and the RM Condor base for the Royal Marines in East Angus. There are also several Royal Air Force bases and considerable Army units in Scotland.
If troops and aircraft can be relatively easily relocated across the Scottish border with England, the possibility to relocate submarines and large ships is limited. Moreover, the United Kingdom lacks assembly sites for building sophisticated warships outside Scotland. "We also know that there is nowhere in the UK which is currently geared up and ready to build such ships," Yes Scotland said on its website.
As an example, the assembly site for the Royal Navy's newest Queen Elizabeth-class aircraft carriers is located in Rosyth Dockyard on Scottish territory. Similarly, the future of the HMNB Clyde base is as yet undecided.
Despite the fact that many British experts say the closure of the Faslane nuclear submarine base in the Firth of Clyde would cost jobs and ruin the local economy, Vivien Dance, councilor of Helensburgh, a town in Argyll and Bute, Scotland, said it never did contribute to the economy.
"In recent years, I suppose for security reasons, the base has developed internally. That provides all the facilities that the naval personnel and submariners need. It has shops, dry-cleaning, cafes it has just about everything they need and they stay on the base, they are not contributing to the local economy," she said.
29th NATO MEMBER STATE
According to the Scottish White Paper released not long before the referendum, an independent Scotland is a pro-NATO Scotland. "NATO membership is in Scotland's interests, and the interests of our neighbors, because it underpins effective conventional defence and security cooperation," the document states.
However, the political-military alliance is not taking sides with regard to Scotland. "If a new independent state wants to become a member of NATO, it will have to apply for membership of NATO, and such an application will be addressed in exactly the same way as all applications are dealt with. And eventually it will require consensus, unanimity within the alliance to accept a new member," NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen said September 15, commenting the possibility of Scotland's admission to the bloc.
The last part of Rasmussen's comment is of particular importance, as consensus with the United Kingdom should be reached. And that consensus very much depends on the agreements between two sides on the partition of the British Armed Forces. Due to the above-mentioned reasons, the United Kingdom is interested in saving the HMNB Clyde as a Trident base.
That may be the key cornerstone for the potentially independent Scotland and the United Kingdom on both Scotland's NATO membership and the division of the British Armed Forces.