An independent Scottish foreign policy

If Scotland votes to become independent and applies for EU membership, a key new issue would be the role would it seek to play in the EU’s Common Foreign and Security Policy (CFSP)  and Common Security and Defence Policy (CSDP).

Under the CFSP, Member States must be able to conduct political dialogue in the framework of CFSP, to align with EU statements (for example in the UN), to take part in EU actions and to apply agreed sanctions and restrictive measures. The CDSP aims towards the progressive framing of a common Union defence policy.

The EU has no standing army, although there is a Military Committee of Member States supported by a Military Staff within the European External Action Service (EEAS). Instead it relies on ad hoc forces contributed by EU countries for operations such as humanitarian & rescue tasks and crisis management, e.g. peacemaking & post-conflict stabilisation. Since 2003 the EU has carried out some 30 civilian missions and military operations on three continents.

In the 2014 White Paper on Independence the Scottish Government set out a key aim of contributing to international peace and stability This would have included applying to become a non-nuclear member of NATO, maintaining the commitment to a budget for defence and security in an independent Scotland of £2.5 billion (approx. 2% of GDP in 2016), building a focus on maritime capabilities, such as air and sea-based patrol and contributing to collective security in the North Atlantic, and progressively building to a total of 15,000 regular and 5,000 reserve personnel over the 10 years following independence.

NATO and the European Union (EU) cooperate on issues of common interest and are working side by side in crisis management, capability development and political consultations. At the NATO Summit in Warsaw in July 2016, the two organisations outlined areas for strengthened cooperation in light of common challenges to the East and South, including countering hybrid threats, enhancing resilience, defence capacity building, cyber defence, maritime security, and exercises. Given this we can expect a newly independent Scotland to want to contribute to both organisations in a cost-effective way, depending on the nature of the crises and task facing the West.

Europe’s global vision

In foreign and security policy the EU has recently (December 2016) approved a Global Strategy setting out its overall vision for global peace and stability. Given majority political attitudes in Scotland to issues such as the new US administration, human rights and climate change and the importance of a rule based approach to international diplomacy, we can expect Scotland to want to position itself within the overall EU approach and seek some distance from the emerging UK foreign policy posture as Brexit takes hold.

As a large and relatively structured diplomatic coalition the EU can bring to bear a range of instruments to exert its influence, including punitive measures such as sanctions; note that the EU has managed to maintain its position on sanctions against Russia over its annexation of Crimea in 2014 despite the complexity of EU/ Russia relations. It also provides substantial support packages in the form of funding, cooperation and trade access to its partners in the European neighbourhoods (Eastern and Mediterranean).

Moreover, the security aspects of the migration crisis of recent years, including the violent collapse of the post-Ottoman order in the Middle East, especially the civil war in Syria, have raised acute issues: humanitarian rescue, border control, and the prevention of jihadist terrorism are at the top of the agenda in many Member States.  A striking feature of these challenges is that they blur conventional intellectual and bureaucratic distinctions between ‘internal’ or ‘homeland’ security (the domain of police forces and judicial systems) and ‘external’ security (the domain of diplomacy and armed forces). The EU is unique as an international organisation in covering both dimensions.

What are the choices facing Scotland?

Scotland would be likely to focus its early activities on learning about the range of EU activities in CFSP, by twinning or other forms of partnerships with like-minded countries and by encouraging Scots in the European External Action Service to work with them. We would not expect Scotland to take many initiatives itself, but where Scotland has developed expertise on issues (such as  human rights, climate change and the role of women in peace keeping) it might be asked to make a contribution.

Scotland’s respective roles in NATO on the one hand, and CSDP on the other, would need careful planning. In preparation for the 2014 referendum, when there were a range of domestic concerns about how to substitute for the substantial UK defence industry in Scotland, the focus was firmly on demonstrating Scotland’s commitment to a substantial conventional defence posture committed as a non-nuclear state to NATO. In preparing for a future role as an independent country there are a number of dimensions Scotland would have to prepare for.

The first is the complexity of the different relationships European countries have with both organisations. There are 22 joint members, but among Scotland’s close neighbours Denmark (under the Edinburgh agreement of 1992) does not take part in EU defence-related measures and like Norway and Iceland focuses its efforts on support for NATO. On the other hand Sweden, Finland and Ireland have a history of neutrality and only participate in EU CDSP. The Nordic states do, however, cooperate closely on defence matters and may be open to cooperation with Scotland. In the light of growing threats in the Nordic area, Nordic Defence Cooperation (NORDEFCO) has set an Action Plan for 2015-18 which inter alia focuses on deepening  cooperation on capability, with the aim of increasing systems similarity, including armaments, interoperability and shared solutions to identified capability gaps and shortfalls.

Ireland has a developed reputation for its contribution to peacekeeping, first in the UN context and now through the CSDP. Ireland also has an interest in the management of security in the maritime domain, including Fishery protection, rescue services, the interdiction of contraband or human trafficking and the surveillance of illegal overflights, all subjects where collaboration with Scotland could be pursued. It should be noted that in contrast to Scotland’s previous plan to devote 2% of its GDP to defence, in Ireland defence spending represents only 0.49% of GNP, compared with the EU average of 1.3%.

In the NATO context, NATO is actively trying to reduce its reliance on the US for the pool of military forces and capabilities that NATO leaders have agreed the Alliance needs. Given continuing concerns about the Russian presence in Northern Europe, the 2014 proposal that Scotland should concentrate  on the defence of the North Atlantic is likely to be a matter for early discussion. The role of Scottish military units in NATO would also figure in light of the way in which Scottish armed forces are constituted, including the nature of the skills and equipment of the troops and units which transfer from the British Armed Forces. In that context, given the political interest in Scotland in the experience of the Baltic states, it is certainly possible that Scotland may wish to play a role in Nato’s Enhanced Forward Presence battalion deployed in Estonia as well as Lithuania, Latvia and Poland.

In relation to the EU CSDP, given the absence of dedicated units, Scotland would be likely in the early years to focus its attention on participating in the work of the Military Committee, by seconding military personnel to the Military Staff and by doing what work it can to support existing missions. One area it may wish to focus on is support to the candidate countries in the Western Balkans, where for example Montenegro is due to join NATO soon as well as preparing for EU entry at some point after 2020. More broadly we could expect Scottish Ministers, officials and military to take a close interest in the key security challenges facing the EU, in particular how the military dimension is being factored into ways to manage and (hopefully) defuse conflicts in the Eastern Neighbourhood with Russia, in Ukraine and regions such as South Ossetia (Georgia).

Over time, in contrast to the UK where the twin foundations of foreign policy have recently been shaken (its ability to influence policy formulation in Washington and as a leading shaper of EU policy in Brussels), and to Scotland’s neighbours in the Nordic countries and Ireland, Scotland’s position in both the EU and NATO would prove a valuable anchor for stability and influence in a complex world.



  1. Joseph MELLON says

    The biggest threat to peace and security in Europe? The US and its fabulously incompetent and naive foreign policy ‘interventions’. NATO has been re-defined to be an instrument of US hegemony, to conduct disastrous ‘operations’ all over the world in pursuit of nebulous policy choices and half baked strategies concocted in right wing Washington think tanks.

    Ukraine: – 50% ‘Russian’, 50% ‘Ukrainian’ ethnicity. Historical tension. The government passed between these two poles. Required: a cool head and rapprochement. The US spent 5 billion USD to bring it into its sphere of influence, tried to leverage the EU in this, and finally used self proclaimed fascist militias to mount a coup. Result (as always with the US ‘interventions’): a bloody civil war in the middle of Europe on the EU border. Thank you America.

    Georgia /South Ossetia: SO not ethnically Georgian, closer to Russia, historical tension. SO detached from Georgia, UN agreed lightly armed Russian peace keepers in SO. Required: a cool head and rapprochement. The US (Cheney/Rumsfeld) winds up Georgian PM Saakashvili (now wanted in Georgia for serious crimes) to attack SO. SO cilvilians and Russian troops are killed. The Russian army steps in and restores the status quo ante.

    US missile bases in Estonia, Poland and Romania. out MAD (Mutually Assured Destruction) has its own mad imperatives. Which is why the START talks and treaties were created: if we are going to destroy the world, then please not by accident. The US abrogated the START treaties. It has now built missile bases 40 seconds from St. Petersburg. As Putin points out this means he must instruct the Russian control centres to press the button if certain – now very low – criteria are met. “They will not call me, they do not have the time. They have their instructions”. The world – not just Europe – is thus very unsafe.

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