Tuesday, 17 July 2012

Scotland is a maritime nation - how do we look after it?


"Scotland is a maritime nation with more than 11,000 miles of coastline, including nearly 800 islands, critical under-sea and offshore infrastructure and an area of responsibility extending far into the North Sea and Atlantic Ocean"

SNP Resolution on Defence, published 16 July 2012

SNP: Scotland needs mutual defence

"While conventional military threats to Scotland are low, it is important to maintain appropriate security and defence arrangements and capabilities."

Putting to one side the talk of in/out NATO, Trident leaving Scotland slowly or quickly, the facts of Scotland's geography and the nature of the surrounding nations does not change (quickly anyway). 

rUK, Ireland, Norway, Iceland, Denmark & Faroes & Greenland, Canada as we look out and North are not likely to cause Scotland problems of state-on-state aggression. Seabed demarcation lines between us don't move (or shouldn't) - talk of what happens in the High Arctic, with melting ice-caps and and finding more oil there is not for Scotland directly, but maybe for Norway, Denmark & Greenland and Canada, and not immediately at that.

In working out our defence needs, and who we might partner with, we need to separate classic state-on-state armed aggression from dealing with lower-level disputes on natural resources sharing, and international terrorism. 

Today, as you read this post, foreigners are free to come into our territory to take our resources - the fishing fleets of any other maritime nation: England, Russia, Spain. Rules of course apply, and are enforced by Marine Scotland, the Royal Navy having withdrawn fishery protection south of the Border as long ago as 1994. 

Whether we are in/out of NATO though we still need to deal with our own territorial integrity, and deal with the environmental risks of moving large quantities of oil around our coasts. 

No-one will do this for us (not even Westminster on fishing rights). Indeed with the recent Westminster driven cuts (to rescue Coastguard co-ordination centres, emergency tugs and maritime patrol aircraft) we have a real marine protection problem today. 

SNP: Scotland will contribute to world peace

"An independent Scotland will be an outward-looking nation which is open, fair and tolerant, contributing to peace, justice and equality. By mobilising our assets and the goodwill and recognition that Scotland enjoys in the world, we will provide sustainable access to natural resources to tackle need and prevent insecurity in the world for this and future generations"

NATO represents a mutual defence pact, it also allows groups of nations to take collective action, piggybacking on the US, they could not otherwise undertake on their own, such as in Afghanistan. 

Eastwards expansion is also a running theme with NATO - it effectively increases the size of the Western bloc by drawing former communist states into the mutual defence arrangement, and gets them to go fight in NATO's wars.

Costs of membership of this insurance club are not high (a commitment to spend 0.5% of GDP on defence), but once you've joined it, you'll be expected to join in the club's activities. 

As a UN member, but outwith NATO, Ireland has sent peacekeeping troops overseas for years. Scotland's consideration is: if we are not to be isolationist, which overseas conflicts and wars will we be involved in? - and if so would we rather send the Scots Army to fight under NATO command or under UN? Given the higher levels of professionalism in the former and a duty of care to our troops, we may not be left with many options.

"The Multi Role Brigade structure and interoperable air and sea assets will provide deployable capabilities for United Nations sanctioned missions and support of humanitarian, peacekeeping and peace-making ‘Petersberg Tasks’'"

To send troops overseas requires at least the following, beyond combat:
  1. training facilities pre-deployment
  2. logistics bridge back to equipment base (to support ever more complex weapons)
  3. equipment maintenance in theatre (routine and deeper level maintenance)
  4. HQ base in theatre for communications & accommodation
  5. medical support (different "echelons" or levels of care)
  6. post-deployment support
The latest round of UK defence cuts anticipate further outsourcing to contractors - if you count reserve forces as part of the contractor pool, then all of the above can be delivered this way - but the unglamourous basics of foreign wars cost money regardless of how you staff them.  In multi-national operations most individual nations don't bring an entire independent base structure - instead they will contribute resources to common-use facilities.

In the list above though, points 3-5 can be addressed by sea-basing: using a large base ship, such as an assault ship or a supply ship with a helipad. Importantly this gives individual nations greater national control over how their forces are employed and sustained. Anything land-based by definition needs the consent of / payment to the land-owner. Check the map for why Afghanistan is a logistical headache. Even Afghanistan though is only 2 hours flight time from a US Navy carrier in the Gulf of Oman, and different studies suggest 40-60% of world population live within 100 miles of the sea. 

What is the relevance for Scotland here? If we want to retain a degree of independence when acting overseas then building our forces with a maritime centre makes sense. You need big ships with a hangar for helicopters, workshops and office space for HQ staff. They don't have to be expensive either. Steel is cheap and space is cheap, we don't have to fall into the fallacy that there's such a thing as a ship that's physically "too big for a small country". In terms of soft power and a positive foreign policy influence such vessels don't have to be called warships either.

Independence "So Whats?"
1) Westminster doesn't protect our fishermen and is cutting Coastguard protection - we have to deal with this problem with or without NATO
2) Recognising that Scotland does not face conventional military attack, SNP want Scots Army to be able to fight overseas
3) Only from the sea can nations offer truly independent contributions to multi-national efforts - Scotland can govern its degree of involvement in this way

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