Just one of the many critical ‘discussions’ to be had in the event of a ‘Yes’ vote, and possibly even a part of the super devolution max offered to the Scottish electorate, is the future of The UK’s nuclear defence capability.
The SNP arguments are well known and in a way understandable yet contrary to how the rest of the world sees this issue. The ‘Yes’ campaign and the SNP, holding true to long held beliefs, argue against a nuclear capability but with a confused ideology. The principle argument appears to be cost, mixed up with morality and safety. Nuclear weapons cost a lot of money and if they didn’t have them the money could be spent on other things. However, part of the Scottish argument against the nuclear deterrent uses the concept of morality by referring to the nuclear capability as an obscenity as opposed to, perhaps, a simple cost/effect calculation. Much of the latter seems to be predicated upon a belief that they will never be used and therefore they have no value and consequently we don’t need to have them. However the use of the term ‘obscenity’ and a declaration that nuclear weapons are immoral introduces an additional dimension to the argument which is quite different to a cost-based argument and they are not mutually supportive.
I suspect the reasoning is along the lines of: “If they don’t buy the immoral argument perhaps we can sway them with the cost one.” However, both arguments are critically flawed.
If we firstly take the immoral obscenity argument one might be forgiven for wondering what weapons of mass destruction are moral? Is it ok to have moral methods of killing people but not ok to have immoral ones? The classification of a group of weaponry as immoral forces a conclusion that some weapons, therefore, must be moral unless, of course one regards all weaponry as immoral or indeed moral. Either of these latter positions would have the benefit of being, at least, consistent though probably the former might be a harder concept to sell to a, then defenceless, population in an increasingly dangerous world.
The argument, therefore, that nuclear weapons are immoral has no standing all the while other conventional weaponry remains. Simply because a weapon has greater potential to kill cannot in itself make that weapon immoral unless there exists some definition of how many people is it moral to kill. Nuclear weapons simply kill more people and cause greater and longer term destruction with less effort. That in itself directly contradicts the cost argument because as described they are clearly much more efficient than conventional armaments.
As for the simple cost element one has to ask how much is defence worth? Having no serious military capability may be cheaper in the short term but most western nations look at it differently. Once conquered all is lost, so how much is the protection of a way of life worth? A weapon that is never used may well be more valuable than one which is because deployment isn’t really the point; deterrent is. Better to be armed to the teeth and never have to fight than rely upon the unpredictability of others’ national self interest and the pursuit of empire.
The Scottish position, though, goes much further by its insistence of the removal of all nuclear weapons from Faslane and out of Scotland. Simply if the Scots didn’t want to be a part of a nuclear coalition they could abstain. Were the costs of the nuclear capability to be met without the need for the Scottish ‘pound’ the cost argument goes up in flames. In fact, Faslane would be a generator of net revenue if leased to those countries which wanted to retain this facility.
But no! Nuclear weapons have to be removed. This adds yet another dimension to the mix. Is the position then “we don’t want them because they are immoral” or “we don’t want them because that increases the likelihood that Scotland would be a principle target”? The second of these superficially appears to make sense, but does it?
I’m not a military strategist but I don’t think I would be contradicted by many were I to suggest that having bigger and better weapons than your potential enemies was a good thing. Firstly it does deter the likelihood of an attack and secondly, in the event of one, better weapons usually confers an advantage. I’m also not convinced by the argument that because a nation is effectively defenceless nobody will attack us. Just looking at the difficulties of the Ukraine (and the history of the world ad-infinitum) shows what can happen if you are unable to resist armed aggression.
Human history is littered with examples of military aggression toward poorly defended countries. A little over 74 years ago this happened again in Europe and it is highly optimistic to base a defence strategy on the hope that such a thing could never happen again. Armed capability is unfortunately a necessity and weakness in this area often invites speculative military posturing. Perhaps the underlying intellectual thinking may be that, in the event of an armed conflict, the western nations would rally and defend Scotland. I hope not as it would be a disingenuous and possibly offensive suggestion that the Scots would allow others to do their fighting for them and is contrary to the long history of brave engagement by the Scottish people. However, dismissing from your shores the most effective and powerful weaponry in existence doesn’t fit well with this scenario. It’s also worth pointing out that the cavalry doesn’t come free so the cost of others military capability will attract an unsustainable cost.
It remains to be seen if England or America will allow their collective nuclear capability to be undermined by an act of political expediency so I expect this to be a subject that presents the greatest of difficulties for the future.