Category Archives: military

Short-termism and a lack of introspection

RAF Regiment Casualty Evacuation Training Cyprus
RAF Regiment Casualty Evacuation Training Cyprus.
Like practically all independence supporters, I'm deeply unhappy about the Syria bombings. My concerns are two-fold:

Firstly, I believe bombings without ground forces are directly linked to suicide bombings and the rise of Daesh. I have no evidence for this other than introspection. Basically, I was wondering of how I'd feel if a soldier from another country walked up to my house and killed my kids. I'd want to shoot back, and if I couldn't do that in any other way, I'd join my country's army. If they were shot by a tank driving past, I'd want to become a tank operator. But if they were shot by a fighter jet (or worse still, by a drone) and I couldn't do anything about it, I'd be a ready target for radicalisation.

(I'd hope it'd turn me into a pacifist instead, like my uncle who at the age of 10 was shot at by an RAF plane while walking along the road carrying a bucket full of milk for the family, but I can completely understand why some people will conclude that blowing themselves up is the best way forward.)

In other words, I think it's incredibly dangerous for us to conduct a war in a foreign country without providing people there with something or somebody to shoot back at. And if we aren't willing to commit plenty of ground troops (and willing to pay for the care of the physically and mentally wounded veterans afterwards), we should never engage in the war in the first place.

Secondly, does nobody pay any value to strategy and long-term planning any more? The way I see it, we should start out by discussing what we want the Middle East to look like in the long term (e.g.: Should Iraq remain as one country, or should it be divided into two or three states? Would Saudi Arabia remain a source of money for fundamentalist groups in this set-up? And what about Israel?); we should reach an agreement with the other great powers of the World whether they'd accept this outcome (and if not, we should revise it). We should then figure out a sequence of events that would lead to this preferred scenario, and we should then act of them. If it then turned out that bombing Raqqa was a necessary stepping stone, I can imagine supporting it.

I guess the current bombing campaign has been started out of a desire to do something, but I fear it'll lead to more suicide bombings in the West, not fewer.

Fisking Lord Robertson’s cataclysmic speech

Gustave Doré's illustration of Lord Robertson's preparations for the cataclysmic events he has predicted.
Gustave Doré's illustration of Lord Robertson's preparations for the cataclysmic events he has predicted.
I thought I would do a quick fisk of Lord Robertson's Brookings speech. The following is based on the partial transcript supplied by Brookings. (I haven't corrected the typos.)

The loudest cheers for the breakup of Britain would be from our adversaries and from our enemies.

This is an interesting use of 'our', because it makes it sound like they're the same for everybody. But are America's enemies always the same as the UK's, and are Britain's enemies also Scotland's?

For the second military power in the West to shatter this year would be cataclysmic in geopolitical terms.

I think the noble lord might be overestimating the UK's military might somewhat here. If this list is correct, the US spent $732bn on their military in 2011, while the UK spent $64bn and France $53bn. Given that the rest of NATO will still be able to act normally while the rUK and Scotland divide the UK military, I would have thought Scottish independence would feel more like a mild annoyance to NATO than a cataclysmic event. What exactly is it that Lord Robertson expects that the West won't be able to do without the British PM jumping up and down with excitement next to the American president?

If the United Kingdom was to face a split at this of all times and find itself embroiled for several years in a torrid, complex, difficult and debilitating divorce, it would rob the West of a serious partner just when solidity and cool nerves are going to be vital.

Although he says 'the West' again here, this time he must mean 'the US' for the sentence to make any sense. In other words, he's warning the American establishment that their British poodle might be less keen to take part in military adventures for a while. Sounds good to me.

Nobody should underestimate the effect all of that would have on existing global balances and the forces of darkness would simply love it.

I had no idea that the global balance was dependent on the UK to such an extent. I would have thought rogue states were more afraid of the US, or of the combined military might of NATO, or of the EU's soft power, but it turns out I was wrong all along. Silly me!

The geostrategic consequences don’t stop with what happens in the United Kingdom on the 19th of September.

The 18th, Lord Robertson, not the 19th.

The ripple effects will go much wider than our own shores. The United Kingdom is not alone in having separatist movements.

True, and they're likely to continue their fights whether Scotland votes Yes or No.

In Spain, both Catalonia and the Basque country have declared that they want independence. Catalonia where million and a half people marched in the streets demanding independence – and remember that the SNP have never had more than 10,000 people in any demonstration — Catalonia says that it will have its referendum from Spain even if it's in breach of the constitution of its country.

This doesn't sound like he expects Catalonia to back down if Scotland votes No, does it?

The Basque extremist have only in the recent past have backed away from terrorism, but they are watching Catalonia and Scotland with quote undisguised interest.


Then there's Belgium, a country which is held together by a thread. The Flemish nationalists see Scotland as breaking the mold. We're next if Scotland breaks free and becomes a member of the European Union, they quite openly say.

And why would this be such a bad thing, so long as Flemish independence is achieved by peaceful means?

And as if to underline what this means for Europe, despite its manifest claim to nationhood, Kosovo still finds itself unrecognized by a handful of European Union countries worried about the implications of breakaway for their own separatist movements.

Yes, that is true. Just as Catalan independence will probably not be immediately recognised by all other countries. Such is life.

So I contend that it is far from scaremongering to use the term Balkanization to predict what might happen if Scotland were to break from its 300 year old union. The fragmentation of Europe starting on the centenary of the First World War would be both an irony and a tragedy with incalculable consequences.

So long as Scotland, Catalonia, the Basque Countries, Flanders and all the other areas of Europe contemplating sovereignty are allowed to achieve independence through peaceful means (we shouldn't forget that the Spanish military has already been making threatening voices), and so long as the EU adopts a pragmatic approach rather than playing silly buggers, I don't see why these new countries should cause any negative consequences for Europe.

The UK has adopted a sensible approach to Scottish independence, and Lord Robertson should recommend this as the way forward to Spain, Belgium and other countries that might fall apart, rather than trying to insinuate that the UK will go the way of Yugoslavia.

There is some significance in all of we Scots speaking here in Washington and in New York and the major cities of the United States of America. Because the possible independence of Scotland maybe resonates with some who were involved in great battles of the past over here. And some people with no real grasp of history make a tortured comparison with the American bid for independence from Britain in the 1770s. Something that was pioneered by the Scots of course who had a lot to do with that.

Why is this a 'tortured comparison'? Just because Scotland has political representation in Westminster? We also want to create a fairer and more democratic country, just like the American founding fathers did.

but if [those] who make this facile comparison understood the history of this country they might look more relevantly at the Civil War where hundreds of thousands of Americans perished in a war to keep the new Union together. To Lincoln and his compatriots the Union was so precious, so important, and its integrity so valuable that rivers of blood would be split to keep it together.

Is this a thinly veiled threat that Westminster will spill rivers of blood to keep Scotland if we dare vote Yes? Somebody should ask Lord Robertson exactly what he meant by this.

[...] We have, indeed, as Scots, got the best of both worlds.

So what possible justification should there be for breaking up the United Kingdom? What could possibly justify giving the dictators, the persecutors, the oppressors, the annexers, the aggressors and the adventurers across the planet the biggest pre-Christmas present of their lives by tearing the United Kingdom apart? … I fear from time to time that we Scots are living in a veritable bubble in this debate and outside of that increasingly fractious bubble, we're losing sight of the fact that our decision on the 18th of September will have much wider and bigger implications that any of us yet grasp.

Again, Lord Robertson seems to be overestimating the UK's current power. The Empire is no more, and most of the world will probably just shrug their shoulders and get on with other things.

However, I hope that Scottish independence will have much wider and bigger implications that any of us yet grasp. I hope Scotland will become a democratic beacon and become famous for the reinvention of the welfare state (which is under threat in Scandinavia at the moment).

So the next few months, the people of Scotland have to properly and soberly examine the impact of their decision on the stability of the world. And in that time the rest of the ordered world needs to tell us that is actually cares.

Ah, so the world needs to tell the Scots what to vote. In other words, because we've stopped listening to Westminster, Lord Robertson thinks the solution is to get the American government to lecture us on the right way to vote.

I'm sure that would work wonders, because Scots just love to be told what to do, as you would expect from people living in a place that has no language or culture or any of that.

Unexpected anger

HMS Astute Arrives at Faslane for the First Time
HMS Astute Arrives at Faslane for the First Time by UK Ministry of Defence, on Flickr.
I used to think that Coulport/Faslane would be an amazing negotiating chip in the independence negotiations with Westminster.

The Guardian's recent scoop about a currency union not being ruled out after all reveals a similar stance:

"Of course there would be a currency union," the minister told the Guardian in remarks that will serve as a major boost to the Scottish first minister, Alex Salmond, who accused the UK's three main political parties of "bluff, bluster and bullying" after they all rejected a currency union.

The minister, who would play a central role in the negotiations over the breakup of the UK if there were a yes vote, added: "There would be a highly complex set of negotiations after a yes vote, with many moving pieces. The UK wants to keep Trident nuclear weapons at Faslane and the Scottish government wants a currency union – you can see the outlines of a deal."

Various non-Scots that I've talked to over the past few months also clearly expect that the Yes campaign's insistence that Trident must go is surely just an attempt to build a strong basis for the negotiations.

However, having spoken to many Scots about this topic over the past couple of years, both on social media and in real life, I have to say that all the non-Scots (including my younger self) are mistaken.

Most Scots seem to be so strongly opposed to Trident for various reasons that I don't believe any real negotiations are possible. The nuclear weapons will need to be moved away or destroyed (and most Scots would prefer the latter). The Scottish anger at having these weapons stored on the Clyde, just outside our largest city, is simply too strong.

The Scottish negotiation team might be able to give the rUK five years to remove Trident from Scotland, but I'm doubtful the Scottish public would accept any more than this. Ten years would probably lead to riots.

If Scotland votes Yes, Trident will be gone before 2020. The sooner Westminster get their heads round this fact, the better.

Why is devo-max so popular?

Paul Rogers -- Iraq's Pressure Point
Paul Rogers -- Iraq's Pressure Point, a photo by openDemocracy on Flickr.
According to the Scottish Social Attitudes Survey (PDF), 32% of Scots agree that "the UK government should make decisions about defence and foreign affairs; the Scottish Parliament should decide everything else".

To a naïve observer, that sounds like many Scots aren't too happy with Westminster's social spending policies, but that they think their foreign-policy interests are handled well by the government in London.

However, very few Scots seem to love Trident (located very close to Glasgow), and most think the Iraq war was a disaster. Scots in general don't seem to get excited by the thought of defending the Falklands, either. Furthermore, the instinctive hatred of the EU so common in England is quite unknown in Scotland.

In other words, it seems to me that Scots disagree more with the Westminster consensus with regard to defence and foreign affairs, not less. So why on Earth would a third of Scots want to retain these links?

Could it be that what they actually want is independence with a lifeline? Basically this group of Scots might desire full independence, but they don't trust themselves and their compatriots not to make a mess of it, so they want the UK to stand ready to save them, in the same way a young adult can move back home with their parents if living alone doesn't live up to expectations.

I guess that all these devo-max supporters really want is a guarantee by Westminster than the UK can always be recreated at Scotland's behest. Of course London will never say this, because such a guarantee would be the surest way to ensure a Yes in September.

What we need to do instead is to reassure these voters that Scotland is in a better position than probably any other non-sovereign nation to be a successful independent country, and that an independent Scotland will thus never ever want to recreate the UK. We won't need that lifeline.

How much will England pay for access to Coulport?

Originally uploaded by rojabro

The Telegraph are reporting today that the Westminster government after a Yes vote in the Scottish Independence Referendum will be willing to pay any price to keep Coulport, the navy base where the submarines are loaded with nuclear missiles:

MoD insiders believe that, after an independence vote, ministers in London would have no choice but to strike a deal with Scottish leaders allowing the Navy to go on using Coulport and Faslane until an alternative was ready.

That would give Scotland’s new government bargaining power over other issues like their share of the UK national debt and other financial liabilities.

“Maintaining the deterrent is the first priority for any UK government, so ministers in London would have to pay Salmond any price to ensure we kept access to [the Clyde bases],” said a source. “It would be an unbelievable nightmare.”

I've no doubt that an independent Scotland will want to get rid of the nuclear warheads eventually, but even just delaying the move by ten years might be worth quite a lot when the Scottish and RUK negotiation teams are discussing North Sea oil, the maritime border, ownership of the Bank of Scotland and the Royal Bank of Scotland, and other contentious issues.