Monday 23 January 2012

Scotland and Security

Sophie Stewart

The looming, increasingly probable referendum on Scottish independence could have profound consequences for the defence capabilities and long term security of the UK, not least because without Scotland the very existence of the United Kingdom might be called into question. 

The loss of one third of the territory of what is currently the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland would present a myriad of security concerns and problems: from the structure of the armed forces, the location of the nuclear deterrent, membership of international organisations and the risk of inspiring greater separatist violence for example in Northern Ireland; if Scotland is opting out of this union the logic of Northern Ireland seems even more tenuous. Taking each of these potentially damaging consequences in turn, it will become clear that it is not economics, party politics or Scottish patriotism that ought to define the debate on Scottish Independence, but the possibility of the domino effect of such a cataclysm on the long term future of the UK. 

David Cameron is to tell Alex Salmond he can have a referendum on Scottish independence – but only in the next 18 months. David Moir/Reuters Guardian

The SNP have tentatively suggested that they would share armed forces and foreign policy with the UK, in something short of the devo-max option. However this would cause significant problems for the future of military action and foreign policy decisions. The SNP have been against the UK involvement in both Iraq and Kosovo and are committed to moving Trident out of Scottish territory.  The existence of two parliaments whose consent would be required and uncertainty about whether Scottish forces would be available would severely complicate military planning. Ultimately the military training grounds, bases, facilities and equipment, not to mention the people, currently based in Scotland would have to form some part of a partition deal probably being either purchased or leased by the new Scottish Military. Those of Scottish nationality would then be forced to choose between continuing to serve in the British army or serving in the Scottish forces; and the British army would certainly loose a large number of personnel as a result of losing Scottish regiments. This would be somewhat similar to Ireland’s model, whereby it controls its security apparatus with military activity limited to UN peacekeeping. In this scenario the UK would be in the position of desperately trying to re-orientate the armed forces around England and Wales, by increasing recruitment in these regions as well as expanding the RAF bases to offset the loss of the strategic depth that Scotland affords. The cost of expanding and building extensively in England and Wales to compensate for the loss of Scottish facilities would be astronomical with the result that the British Armed forces would be both a smaller and less effective military force.  

Perhaps the most pressing concern relates to the future of the Trident Nuclear Deterrent. which is currently based entirely in Scotland at Faslane and Coulport. The SNP has long opposed the Trident-equipped submarines being based in Scotland and presumably would campaign vigorously in any separation negotiations for relocation south of the border. The problem with such a scenario is that re-location is highly undesirable, as the site at Faslane has evolved over time to meet the demands of the submarines and their associated support network. In addition geographically it is ideal; a deep water estuary with direct access to the Atlantic. Another option would be to replace the submarine based deterrent with one orientated around the air-force. However, given Britain’s commitment to Non-Proliferation, as well as being financially unfeasible, there is little chance of switching to an air based nuclear deterrent. Given that the SNP explicitly commit in their manifesto that the nuclear deterrent must not remain in Scottish territory and the fact that it is currently prohibitively expensive to move the capacity elsewhere, there is the very real possibility that the UK would find itself in doubt - in the event of Scottish Independence - as to whether it could continue to maintain the ultimate deterrent. 

Scottish independence: what is the future for the UK? Photo: Murdo Macleod. Guardian

The future of the UK on the international stage would be significantly hampered as a result of Scottish Independence. The potential loss or reduction of the nuclear deterrent calls into question especially membership of the United Nations Security Council (UNSC). Scottish independence would fundamentally alter the idea of the United Kingdom as a coherent state. As a consequence would both Scotland and the UK or Britain have to re-apply to join NATO and the UN or the EU? The UK would be losing approximately one third of its territory and coastline, a substantial loss of an already small Island nation. In addition, with regard to historically originating positions such as the seat of the UNSC, such a dramatic change and moment of weakness for the Government in London is the perfect opportunity for those who seek to reform the SC to reflect 21st century realities. 

Another direct risk of Scottish independence is that it could inspire other separatist movements. Given the troubled and bloody history of separatist violence in Northern Ireland, the independence of Scotland could only realistically serve as a spur for increasing pressure for complete devolution from the Union. While it is far from certain whether the Good Friday Agreements would collapse in such an eventuality, the recent surge in violence in Northern Ireland does not bode well. The worst case scenario would be that Scottish independence spurred on difficult campaigns for a similarly independent Wales and Northern Ireland, which whether they were managed peacefully or violently would radically alter the very nature of the UK. England alone, while still the richest of the nations, would on the international stage look radically different in the aftermath of the total collapse of the Union.  

So far there is little indication that the SNP will achieve a ‘yes’ vote in any referendum and I would argue then in such a referendum it is not just Scottish voters who ought to have a say; we are all members of the Union and would all be affected. This is not just a question of Scottish national identity but a much bigger question of the nature and future of the UK as a whole. 

Smaller, Smarter Defence Policy

Ryan O'Sullivan

Baghdad, April 6, 2003.  TIME Franco Pagetti.

Many governments across the world are having to reign-in their spending in an effort to get to grips with their public finances. This is true for Britain and its defence budget which is set to fall by 8% over the next four years. Financially speaking, it is therefore a relief that the UK’s missions in Iraq and Libya are over and that the Afghanistan operation is due to reduce in size. It is widely accepted that the outcome in Iraq and the current situation in Afghanistan is tenuous and fragile and that similar future commitments, in the short-term at least, are now out of our reach and unsustainable in terms of available resources. It is rather worrying then that the past year has provided several unique and challenging security situations: in 2011 alone we have seen and continue to see huge uprisings in the Middle East, grave tensions in the Korean peninsula, a nuclear motivated Iran, threatened shipping lanes, turmoil in the global economy and continued uncertainty in Iraq and Afghanistan. All of these issues persist at a time of falling defence budgets. Clearly, a new approach is needed. Smaller budgets? Yes. Smaller defence policy? Not necessarily.

British troops on IED training at Camp Bastion, Helmand. Guardian Lewis Whyld/PA
The UK, along with many other nations, entered Afghanistan in 2001 for counter-terrorism purposes, to root out al-Qaeda and their sympathisers and deny them a ‘safe haven’. Shortly after, their aims had multiplied into a complex state of challenging policies. From counter-terrorism to counter-insurgency and from counter-narcotics to improving human rights and building a more centralised government: in short - ‘nation-building’. In Iraq, the coalition aimed to topple Saddam Hussein’s regime and secure the Weapons of Mass Destruction that it was thought he possessed. 

This quickly turned into a costly quagmire where the coalition underestimated the challenge at hand and did not put enough thought into post-war governance and the ramifications of sectarian violence. 

Indeed, Major General Tim Cross, the most senior UK officer involved in post-war planning, gave evidence to the Chilcott Inquiry into the 2003 Iraq War and concluded that he saw ‘no evidence of a (relatively) clear Strategic Level ‘End State’ for post-war Iraq, or an overall Campaign Plan for how we would get to that ‘End State’. All such debates seemingly ended with the military defeat of Saddam’s Forces’. These two wars alone demonstrate a myopic strategy which led to a snowballing effect in terms of the policies pursued and the intended ‘end state’ envisaged. 

A mixture of over-ambitious and somewhat na├»ve aims given by our politicians combined with a lack of cultural and political understanding of our area of operations makes for an expensive and drawn-out war. If we look to Iraq, it is now evident that our combined effort lacked vital knowledge of Iraqi geography, history, language and human terrain. It has been argued by Ahmed Hashim, a specialist on Middle Eastern strategic issues, that the coalition effort in Iraq lacked basic knowledge of ‘societal networks, relations between tribes and within tribes’ which helped fuel the insurgency.

 British soldiers set off on an operation in Helmand province. Photo Omar Sobhani /Reuters. Guardian
Similarly in Afghanistan, hundreds of millions of dollars have been spent on introducing a westernized government and judicial system in a country which historically governs at a local level through shuras and through the wisdom and authority of local elders. Eight years into the conflict in Afghanistan, the British Foreign and Commonwealth Office had no Pashto speakers. How can we then expect to have a long-term detailed knowledge of Helmand Province with a lack of such vital skills and cultural awareness? 

Dr Jonathan Eyal, Director of International Security Studies at the Royal United Services Institute, stated last year that the British Foreign Office in conjunction with other foreign ministries around the world ‘lack institutional memory, it deals with one story to the next, it stumbles from one crisis to the next. It never seems to afford the resources to think foreign in a long perspective’. Dr Eyal added that ‘the situation is getting worse’ as the number of research analysts, whose job it is to look at long-term planning have been and continue to be cut which has ‘immediate consequences’. 

What is quite clearly needed therefore is more emphasis on the long-term. By creating a ‘civilian army’ equipped with a greater array of cultural, historical and linguistic skills related to areas of strategic interest, we will be better informed and more able to defuse dangerous situations early on. Through greater acquired long-term knowledge of areas of strategic interest, we are likely to reduce the future financial and human costs of war and it will enable us to be more realistic in terms of what type of ‘end state’ is achievable. If diplomatic relations fail to work with a greater acquired knowledge and long-term approach, we will at least have a better understanding of our conflict zones, thus reducing the failures we have already seen this century. 

In addition, we must limit and concentrate our aims and avoid ‘mission creep’ by establishing a more effective communication channel that connects our senior military personnel and our politicians. This is not so the military can dictate what we must achieve, but to get a much more realistic sense and balance between what we want to achieve, what we believe is achievable, how we are going to achieve it and the resources needed to do so. A smaller budget does not necessarily equate to a smaller defence policy, but what is certainly required, especially in times of austerity, is a smarter defence policy.

Sunday 22 January 2012

We cannot go on like this: British Grand Strategy 2012

James Cameron

What is Britain’s place in the world now? wiki

Britain is in the midst of one of its periodic bouts of self-doubt regarding its role on the world stage. It may not seem that way: our leadership postures in Europe and it dispatches warships to distant shores in order to fly the ensign in the world's trouble spots. But in the background there is the anaemic economy, urban unrest and a sense that Britain is not quite the country it was a few years ago. As many editorials gloomily informed their readers as the New Year dawned and the National Archives released a new stash of materials under the thirty-year rule, it feels a lot like 1981. The parallels are particularly resonant when it comes to British grand strategy.

Grand strategy, in the words of historian John Lewis Gaddis, 'is the calculated relationship of means to large ends. It’s about how one uses whatever one has to get to wherever it is one wants to go'. It is more capacious and holistic than mere foreign policy, encompassing domestic factors such as economic prosperity as well as traditional metrics such as relations between governments and military strength. Summing up on this basis, our situation is probably as bad as it was thirty years ago, if not worse. In the 1970s and early eighties it was the economic powerhouses of West Germany and Japan that left Britain for dust; now Germany is joined by China and Brazil in making UK plc look like an underperformer. Our former assets now appear liabilities: just as British industry was stuttering under the weight of exorbitant union pay demands, so now bankers threaten to move to Switzerland at the slightest sign of regulation. We are locked in another interminable counter-insurgency campaign with intractable politics – not in Northern Ireland this time, but Afghanistan. One hears Defence Secretary John Nott's words to the House of Commons echoing down through the decades: 'We cannot go on like this'.

Firstly, we have to recognise our failings. The Thatcher government identified key weaknesses in Britain's position: a slow-growth economy based on an uncompetitive manufacturing base and a foreign policy that had vacillated between Europe and the United States, trying to please both but satisfying neither. We have been operating within the Thatcherite solution to these problems for the last three decades: the deregulation of finance with the proceeds redistributed through government spending, whilst hugging the US close in its drive to spread the Washington consensus beyond North America and Western Europe. There was the sense that this combination could allow us to 'punch above our weight' and 'remain at the top table' despite the diminution of our great-power status. This strategy has run its course. As Nott went on to say, 'We have no choice, in the longer term, but to move towards a better balance between the various components of our effort'.

Rebalancing the economy has to be a priority. Since the 1980s, we allowed it to become dangerously dependent on London, the financial sector and its attendant services. As a result, we suffered more than any other large developed economy after the financial crisis. One lesson from this experience is that we should not throw the baby out with the bathwater: we moved too fast towards services and finance at the cost of our manufacturing base. Today we cannot afford to gut our strength in this area. But at the same time, we cannot allow bankers to behave – in Nick Clegg's resonant terms – like 'Arthur Scargill in pinstripes'. To allow special interests from a sector that has so obviously failed to dictate government strategy as a whole would be as foolish now as it was then. A rebalancing towards high-end manufacturing may not produce the stellar growth that characterised British performance after Thatcher and will take longer to achieve, but hopefully it will not bring the huge systemic risks that made us so vulnerable to the economic headwinds of 2008.

Has the UK been overly influenced by the US on its foreign policy? Eric Draper/ The White House / AP Time Magazine

We have a lot to be grateful to America for – particularly its commitment to European security since the Second World War. The ties in language, culture, political values and interests run deep.  But in the past decade our priorities became dangerously skewed. At best, the British government allowed its desire for a hearing in Washington to lead it towards an overly optimistic view of the outcome for success in both Iraq and Afghanistan; at worst, the messianic tendencies of some of our leaders led them to spin the available evidence to the detriment of parliamentary democracy. In either case, we blundered badly in both conflicts in a way that diminished our standing with emerging powers – and ultimately, in promising too much and delivering too little, within the U.S. government. This can never happen again. We must be a critical friend to the United States, be honest about our limitations, and realise that Europe's diminishing importance in America's grand design cannot be wholly compensated for by ever greater British tribute in blood and treasure.

There are no easy options for a middling power like the United Kingdom. The road ahead is more difficult than it has been since 1981: we will have to forego a quick buck of the next Big Bang, as well as the cheap thrill of the odd Oval Office meeting. We may, however, emerge a more balanced country as a result.