A devastating assessment of SNP defence policy

Professor Malcolm Chalmers, policy director at the Royal United Services Institute, today warns that “in a world in which the security of states is increasingly interdependent, it is hard to imagine why the prospect of having independent armed forces could, in itself, be a good reason to support independence”. He says that in a separate Scotland, the defence budget would be “significantly less than those of neighbours such as Denmark and Norway”, countries frequently cited by the SNP as exemplars for a separate Scotland. He warns that “much of Scotland’s defence industry could, over time, migrate southwards in order to service the much larger UK market”, and that a decision to withdraw from NATO would impact negatively on foreign alliances and potentially EU membership.

Labour’s Shadow Defence Secretary, Rt Hon Jim Murphy MP, said:

“This is a devastating, game-changing report that ends once and for all any idea that independence would be good for Scotland’s defence.

“This objective assessment by one of the world’s most respected experts proves what Scotland already felt, which is that the SNP don’t understand defence and that independence would damage Scotland’s defence communities.

“For the first time we have the truth about the size of a separate Navy and Air Force and it’s worse than most people would have thought.”

Ends

Notes

The report, ‘From Darien to Faslane’ by Malcolm Chalmers, can be found here: http://www.scotsman.com/news/scottish-independence-from-darien-to-faslane-1-2223180

Key extracts

Defence cannot be considered ‘a good reason for independence’

 “A Scottish decision in favour of independence, moreover, cannot simply be about the next ten or twenty years…In a world in which the security of states is increasingly interdependent, it is hard to imagine why the prospect of having independent armed forces could, in itself, be a good reason to support independence.”

The costs of disruption would be ‘significant’

“The separation of the UK’s armed forces into two distinct entities would require Scotland to spend a significant amount on one-off set up costs.”

Independent Navy would have no modern submarines as it ‘could not afford to maintain any of the seven Astute class nuclear-powered submarines’

“The UK still maintains a range of cutting-edge military capabilities…A country with a GDP only a twelfth as large, by contrast, would not be able to play in this game. An independent Scotland could not afford to maintain any of the seven ‘Astute’ class nuclear-powered submarines.”

Scotland wouldn’t buy any of the new Type 26 Frigates being built on the Clyde

“Nor would it make sense for Scotland to acquire any of the dozen or so new globally-capable Type 26 frigates that are due to enter service in the 2020s as the backbone of the Royal Navy’s surface fleet, and most of which could, on current plans, be built on the Clyde.”

“Once Scotland is independent, there will not be many in London who speak up for maintaining contracts with shipyards on the Clyde rather than in Portsmouth.”

A very uncertain future for any independent Air Force

“Given the costs involved, there will be severe limits on Scotland’s ability to buy or maintain high-end aircraft… countries with significantly larger defence budgets than Scotland is likely to have – such as Belgium – are beginning to contemplate getting out of the combat aircraft business altogether… Scotland might also find itself going down a similar route.”

Real worries about Scotland playing its part

“In relation to Europe’s wider responsibilities – for example contributing to ‘Responsibility to Protect’ missions such as Libya and Sierra Leone – such a Scotland would have to free ride on the efforts that other NATO member states were making.”

A NATO policy that none of Scotland’s closest friends in the world ‘would understand’

“Close historic and personal links with Australia, Canada and the United States could be an important asset for the new state, helping it consolidate its place in the international order. None of these countries would understand what message Scotland was seeking to send by opting out of an alliance that has been the central player in Atlantic security for the last six decades.”

NATO withdrawal may have implications for Scotland’s application to join the EU

“A decision not to join NATO would be seen as a signal that the new Scotland was stepping out of the European mainstream…It might even raise questions about an independent Scotland’s application for EU membership, the success of which will be critical for its economic prospects.”

A comparison with Denmark and Norway is inaccurate

“It would not be realistic for Scotland’s Defence Forces to expect an annual budget of more than around £2 billion. This would leave it with a defence budget that was significantly less than those of neighbours such as Denmark and Norway”.

SNP comparisons with other countries ‘over-optimistic’

“None of these states [Denmark, Belgium, Norway] are facing the considerable start-up costs that Scotland would have to incur in order to pay for new headquarter and other facilities…Expectations that Scotland could quickly obtain military capabilities on a par with those of other north European states, therefore, are likely to be over-optimistic.”

Independence would be a real blow to Scottish defence industries

“High technology is not cheap. And the limited size of Scotland’s defence market means that it would usually have to buy such equipment ‘off the shelf’ from foreign suppliers.”

“Much of Scotland’s defence industry could, over time, migrate southwards in order to service the much larger UK market.”

There will be a disincentive to invest in UK Defence structures in Scotland

“Nor, even if some of their forces remain in Scotland, will any of the UK services want to invest more resources in fixed infrastructure there, given the expectation of future repatriation.”

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