The right decision on NATO

The Scottish National Party's conference is taking place this weekend, and it has proved to be quite significant. The big issue to be decided was the SNP's position on NATO, and I was very impressed with Friday's debate about it. The end result was quite close, and it was political drama of the highest order. The full debate is here, though it was rather spoilt at the beginning by the BBC's comments drowning out what Angus Robertson had to say. For those with less time, the report is here.

The resolution delegates were asked to vote in favour of was:

"On independence, Scotland will inherit its treaty obligations with NATO. An SNP government will maintain NATO membership subject to an agreement that Scotland will not host nuclear weapons and NATO continues to respect the right of members to only take part in UN-sanctioned operations."

Although this was amended (amendment B) to:

"On independence, Scotland will inherit its treaty obligations with NATO. An SNP government will maintain NATO membership subject to an agreement that Scotland will not host nuclear weapons and NATO takes all possible steps to bring about nuclear disarmament as required by the Nuclear Non Proliferation Treaty of which all its members are signatories, and further that NATO continues to respect the right of members to only take part in UN-sanctioned operations."

Two other amendments were rejected, as was a vote to remit the motion for further consideration. Sadly that's a device that Plaid Cymru have used rather too often for my liking in the past few years, and as events unfolded (I was watching it as it happened) I began to think it likely that the SNP would do the same. But I'm very pleased that they came to a firm decision ... though no-one could be quite as pleased, or relieved, as Angus Robertson was.


I think what the SNP have decided substantially answers the concerns I raised about NATO membership in this post in August. If I were nit-picking, the only problem I have with the resolution is that it might, in very rare circumstances, be right to make a military intervention that is not sanctioned by the UN; for example when there is widespread consensus that action needs to be taken, but one permanent member of the UN Security Council has exercised their veto.


That all took place on Friday, leaving Saturday free for hard-hitting, rousing speeches in the style we would expect from a televised party conference. Alex Salmond is a master of that art, and once again lived up to expectations. Enjoy.


A written version of the speech is here.

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Owen said...

It's good that the SNP are closing out some unionist arguments before the referendum. NATO membership for Scotland does make sense in a lot of respects. I'm on the fence with regard Wales - and I said that back in August - seeing NATO membership post-independence as a "long term goal" rather than a more immediate concern. Obviously Scotland has more pressing defence issues, such as larger territorial waters and airpace.

I think they're overplaying their hand in thinking that Scotland would have that much sway in bringing about nuclear disarmament. Are any other NATO members big on it? I doubt former Warsaw Pact members are. But Trident will be one of the issues in the referendum debates I'd imagine, so once again they're setting their stall out.

The danger is that the no-side might make out that Scotland would be piggy-backing on a nuclear umbrella they don't support.

Unknown said...

The biggest military threat to a newly independent Scotland will come from England, who have some record of invading oil-rich countries. And threats have already been made (albeit by a quisling Scottish Lord) that England will bomb Scotland's civilian airports following independence.

Anonymous said...

I get quite annoyed that these issues are discussed as if they will happen post independence. The elected government of Scotland (whichever that party may be) will decide this issue. Who knows, a pro trident party may become the first government of the Scottish Free State.

However like the SNP I too would have stayed in NATO, keep the Royal Family, keep the pound and stay out of Schengen for the time being. Just to stop unionists arguing about it. So this is the right thing to do for the SNP in the short term.

Anonymous said...

im not a supporter of this decision as such....and gave my reasons in the discussion thread back in august...but i think what is interesting about this decision is that it strongly challenges the narrative that will be played by the unionists (and they peddle the same line about wales too) that an independent scotland will be 'going it alone' and become 'isolated' in the world if scotland leaves the union....cue references to north korea etc

but clearly if an independent scotland does join various international alliances..such as NATO and the EU demonstrates that far from becoming isolated following independence an independent scotland would actually be joining the international community - in effect scotland will be less isolated and more a part of the world community than it is now....

i do hope this is the main reasoning behind alex salmond's volte face on this issue, rather than any naive belief that scotland can reverse nato's policy on nuclear weapons NATO's own mission statement makes clear that NATO is a 'nuclear alliance'....indeed NATO is so aggressive in its support for nuclear weapons that it is not even a signatory to the NO First Use pledge ,which even the much maligned north korea has signed.

on the matter of wales and NATO, well why not discuss this at the next plaid cymru conference? would make an excellent 'fringe' meeting i would have thought. That said im fairly sure that plaid's current leadership would be strongly opposed to such a proposal - given leanne and jill' s strong support for CND and the peace movement. But it would be good to take the temperature of members on this issue...and to try and establish if it has any support among the party membership or is just confined to a handful of individuals....which i think is almost certainly the case.

Leigh Richards

Anonymous said...

An interesting debate and result. I am against NATO membership but the SNP has resolved this democratically. As an outsider to Scotland I can only hope it helps them get a "yes" vote.

I have to say to Leigh I don't really see the point of holding a Plaid debate on NATO membership. I think the only real obstacle to an independent Wales becoming a popular idea is the obvious economic flaw that people perceive.

MH said...

First, I want to add something concerning the UN. Namely to say that just because the UN has sanctioned the use of force in a particular situation, it shouldn't automatically mean that it is wise to use it, or that it continues to be wise to do so. Afghanistan would be a good example.

However the bigger picture is that a member of NATO is only obliged to take military action when another member of NATO is attacked or about to be attacked. In all other circumstances (like Afghanistan or Serbia) the decision whether or not to get involved rests with the member state. Of course we shouldn't be blind to the fact that a member state might be put under a lot of pressure, especially from countries such as the USA, to get involved in an external conflict when they might prefer not to. But that's what it's like in the big bad world out there. Players sometimes play dirty.


As for nuclear disarmament, I thought that was a rather clever thing to add, although it's not strictly true to say that the NPT requires its signatories to "take all possible steps" to bring about nuclear disarmament. They are required to move in good faith towards it ... which is a commitment, but a rather more vague one.

I see that part of the SNP's resolution as a get out clause. For if NATO continues to get involved in aggressive military action that has nothing to do with defence, then not only Scotland but every member state should consider leaving the organization. In fact I think it quite likely that NATO is coming towards the end of its useful life, and that the countries of Europe might well do better to form a new defensive alliance that rejects an agenda dominated by the USA and its poodles. However in such a scenario, the important thing will be to do it together, and I'd ask people to note what Angus Robertson said about his talks with allies such as Norway and Denmark. It's important for a country to work with its friends and allies, and ultimately I think that's why it's best for Scotland (and Wales) to stay within NATO when it becomes independent.


I would challenge Anon 14:37's point about these matters being decided by the next elected Scottish government. I agree that the point is generally true of day to day policy matters, but it won't work that way in terms of international obligations. After a Yes vote in the referendum, it will be for the current Scottish Government (i.e. the SNP) to negotiate Scotland's position with respect to the RUK and membership of international organizations, with the aim of concluding them before Scotland formally becomes independent in 2016. So if the SNP were not minded to remain in NATO, the EU or any other organization, then Scotland would not be in them on the day it becomes independent. But if the SNP government did want to be in them, then Scotland would be in them on the day it becomes independent ... subject to those organizations agreeing, of course.

This means the current SNP government will be in an extraordinarily powerful situation after a Yes vote. The general principle is that newly independent countries have a good deal of latitude to decide which treaties of the former state they want to affirm and which they want to reject; but once they've made a decision to affirm a treaty, it binds future governments to those treaty obligations. It wouldn't be impossible for a future government to get out of such a treaty (no-one doubts that a member state could choose to leave the EU, for example) but it could be a complicated, messy process.

Anonymous said...

just to clarify MH is the position that nations like scotland - and wales - are already members of NATO, presumably as a result of being a part of the uk, and therefore would remain as members of NATO but become full members in their own right following independence?

Or would such nations need to seek membership of such international organisations following independence?....should the people of these nations support such moves of course?

Leigh Richards

Anonymous said...

its just MH that you use the term 'stay within nato' following independence...implying that wales and scotland are already members of that body...apologies if i have misquoted you.

also a couple of interesting links from the scottish left on the subject of scotland and NATO

Leigh Richards

MH said...

I used the term stay, Leigh, because Wales and Scotland are currently part of NATO's infrastructure. A military alliance is concerned about things like troops, airfields and ports, which are part of their respective territories regardless of which government currently gives orders about how they are used. As Owen said, a very large part of the current UK's ocean and air space will be Scottish. But these are probably already patrolled from Scotland, and continuity of that arrangement will be one less headache in strategic terms.

However in political terms I don't think there's anything automatic about either being in or being out. If the government of Scotland did not want to be part of NATO or the EU, then it's reasonably clear that they would not be members of such organizations from the day they became formally independent.

But if they wanted to be part of such organizations—which they do—there will need to be a process by which they negotiate the terms of their membership, as well as a process by which the RUK renegotiates the terms of its own membership of those organizations. The key point is that there will be plenty of time between knowing the outcome of the referendum and the date on which Scotland becomes officially independent, and all these details can be worked out in that period.

Of course there will be lots of "what if this?" and "what if that?" questions. Most of these will be red herring questions put by Unionists in an attempt to catch the SNP out with "you didn't think of that, did you?" But in real, practical terms both NATO and the EU will want Scotland to be a member, and therefore everything will be worked out one way or another. No-one doubts that sorting out all the details will be complicated, but there shouldn't be any big issues of principle at stake.


However there might be issues of "form" that need to be worked through. In the case of the membership of the UN, for example, Scotland will not be able to apply to be a member until it is officially independent. This is what has happened with other newly independent states. South Sudan became a member five days after it became independent, Montenegro became a member twenty-five days after its independence.

Maybe the same will be true of NATO membership, maybe not. But in practical terms it won't make any real difference whether the official signing ceremony is on the day of independence or a few days or weeks later. It will be in NATO's interests to have got everything sorted out well beforehand, because it can't afford an uncovered "hole" in its defence arrangements.

By far the most complicated membership will be that of the EU, but the same principles will apply. There simply cannot be an uncovered "hole" in respect of issues such as taxation, contributions and rebates, and voting rights – not just from Scotland's point of view, but from the RUK's point of view as well. In fact more so. The current UK is a net contributor to the EU based on the size of its economy, and no Unionist politician will be content for the RUK to continue to make that same contribution when the size of its economy suddenly becomes 10% smaller, not even for a single day. So from the point of view of both Scotland and the RUK, it is essential that there is a seamless transition. It must be that way in real, practical terms.

But in formal terms things might be slightly different. There may well be a short period (similar to that with UN membership) in which transitional arrangements will apply. But one thing is clear: the process of negotiations leading to Scotland becoming a member of the EU in its own right (and of the RUK renegotiating its terms of membership) will not begin on the day Scotland formally becomes independent. It will begin immediately after the referendum result is known.

MH said...

And thanks for the links, Leigh. With regard to the second, I'd quote this from the intro in the top right corner:

"The SNP leadership are proposing to reverse the party's policy of staying out of NATO, a move completely at odds with the SNP's long-standing principled opposition to nuclear weapons and aggressive wars.

I/we want Scotland to be free of nuclear weapons and stay out of foreign wars."

I think it's perfectly clear that the SNP's new policy on NATO will mean Scotland is free of nuclear weapons and can decide to stay out of aggressive foreign wars. The resolution makes Scottish membership of NATO conditional on these two principles.

Anonymous said...

cheers MH


Unknown said...

MH - Vimeo just doesn't work for me. Can you go back to using Youtube pls?

Anonymous said...

looks like there are a few others with misgivings about the SNP's decision to support scottish membership of the nuclear alliance NATO

just hope the fallout from this decision by the leadership of the SNP does not impact on the 2014 yes campaign.

Leigh Richards

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