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Scottish Independence and the Question of Transatlantic and European Security

University of Glasgow International Lecture Series - 21 mars, 2013
Seminar and conference
Hajnalka Vincze

The special position of the UK in the European and transatlantic security field will be one of the key defining elements both for the attitude of other States vis-a-vis a possible Scottish independence (would or would not they prefer to see London weakened even if just temporarily), and for their appreciation of the policies pursued by an independent Scotland (would they be in line with, or different from, those of Whitehall). Looking at the possibility of Scottish independence from a transatlantic-European security perspective implies examining three different albeit closely related subjects:

1. The attitude of the main actors towards the prospect of possible independence  will predominantly be guided by whether they want or not the UK (and everything it embodies in the “euro-atlantic” security field) to receive an (at least temporary) blow. London and not Edinburgh will be the reference point.

2. The hard choices an independent Scotland would have to make on a day-to-day basis would often stem from seemingly innocuous issues, but given the overly tension-filled transatlantic and European ambiance, everything is necessarily connoted. Even the most mundane questions might involve the highest stakes. It remains to be seen how fast a future Scottish government would learn to tiptoe within this political-strategic minefield.

3. The UK’s special standing with regard to the EU (semi-detachment cultivated ever since the accession), and to the United States (extraordinary military dependence leading to US national interests basically being interiorised as own) redefines the framework in which to look at the sovereignty issue. If it is seen as actual freedom of decision, even a 5-million Scotland would have a hard time to underperform, compared to London.

Preliminary summary

The European and transatlantic security system is at crunch time. The combination of the economic and financial crisis, the marked uncertainties in UK-EU relations, and the announcement of the US Asian “pivot” offers a moment of truth as rare as precious in order to accurately measure the real intentions of different actors. The Scottish independence referendum will act, if not as a direct catalyser but certainly a valuable revelator of this rapidly evolving context. One that is characterised by the grand debate on European and transatlantic security, opposing more and more openly two options/visions. Simply put, it is about whether we consider European defence as NATO’s appendage confined to auxiliary or subcontracting roles or, on the contrary, it is supposed to embody a policy of strategic autonomy for Europe (the basis of all political credibility on the international scene, as well as a sort of life insurance in case the interests on the two sides of the Atlantic would not always automatically coincide). The UK is the European leader for the first option, followed by a majority of Member States, though not for the same reasons. For some it is about ideological Atlanticism (or a budget-driven one: it is cheaper, at least initially, to rely on someone else), for others about ideological pacifism (or a budget-driven version: if one does not want to spend money on defence, they try to make a virtue out of it), in most cases a (sometimes uncanny) mixture of these factors.

The special position of the UK in the European and transatlantic security field will be one of the key defining elements both for the attitude of other States vis-a-vis a possible Scottish independence (would or would not they prefer to see London weakened even if just temporarily), and for their appreciation of the policies pursued by an independent Scotland (would they be in line with, or different from, those of Whitehall). In both cases, London, and not Edinburgh, would be the reference point. Given London’s key role, the issues of the grand debate constitute one of the main lenses through which other countries will look at the possibility of Scottish independence. France and Germany, for instance, will certainly have mixed feelings about it: France would win by the weakening of its Atlanticist "opponent", but lose by seeing the only other “military-minded” European country weakened. In contrast, Germany would lose with the weakening of the Atlanticist leader, but would hope to get more influence for its pacifist views. As for the United States, they are likely to lose both ways. Without prejudice to an independent Scotland’s policies, it is difficult to imagine that they would match those of London, whether in military activism or in fervent Atlanticism.

This leads us to concrete issues, on which an independent Scotland would have to determine itself - and its position on each one of them would necessarily be sounded in the light of the major debate. Indeed, whether in NATO or in CSDP (the EU’s “defence” policy), all questions are connoted. From the number of stars to appear on a flag, up to the exact punctuation in a press release (sometimes deliberately different in French and English), through ballistic missile defense, the "Smart defense " capability sharing initiative, the launch of an operation (NATO or EU, often both), the budget of an agency (1 or 3-year framework), the procurement (or the non-procurement) of certain military assets, and of course everything related to nuclear policy. All these decisions have great impact on the debate, and the positions are interpreted accordingly from the outset.

European and transatlantic partners would be interested primarily in comparing the positions of an independent Scotland with those of the rest of the United Kingdom, and grant them greater importance than the sheer numbers would warrant. In the defence and security field, there would be issues on which Edinburgh would differentiate itself on the basis of its size (in terms of common financing of capabilities, for example, where the battle is fought, more or less, between "small” and “big” countries). But whenever Edinburgh’s different position would be a matter of political choice, this distancing would mean more than just the voting counts. In contrast, on subjects where Scotland would continue the traditional British approach, this latter would be particularly strengthened for two reasons. First, this would give it a legitimacy boost, and second, as these are areas where decisions are taken unanimously by the States, it would add a valuable new voice.

Finally, the paradoxical concept of sovereignty by which London defines itself in the European and transatlantic context, implies that the question of a possible separation arises in different terms than it would for any other country of comparable size, France for instance. On the European side, due to the UK’s reluctance and uncertainties, the path of separation might be the only chance for the Scots to stay in (or rather to finally really enter) Europe, including its “defence” dimension. On the Atlantic side, the UK’s almost dogmatic dependence vis-à-vis America somewhat reduces the relevance of a few often heard arguments. At the risk of sounding provocative, one might assert that whether in terms of the defence industry, external military interventions, or intelligence, it is difficult, even for a "small" country of 5 million people, to see its actual freedom of decision reduced, compared to the situation in which London has been locking itself for a long time now.


royaume-uni, relations transatlantiques

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