From National to Human to Social Security and Back Again

banksy-cnd-soldiersDuring Indyref 1 the parameters of the discourse on Scotland’s national security requirements was quite narrow. For some particularly those on the political right who were mainly, though not exclusively in the no camp, such narrowness had utility. However in my view, this narrow narrative restricted the potential vision for Scotland and ensured most of the debate in this issue was on territory that was within the No camps conceptual comfort zone.

I am not saying that the debates around the removal of nuclear weapons and NATO were not important, of course they were and of course they will be again as we begin to prepare the case for Scottish statehood in the run up to Indyref II, but Scotland’s inherent geopolitical security was grossly understated.

The starting point for a discussion around Scotland’s security needs should be quite literally, Scotland’s place in the world. The starting point for Scotland’s security priorities should be determined by the people who live in Scotland.

Even today, the parameters are still set by the same opinion formers, though the stance of the Scottish Bloc in the current Westminster parliament on matters of war and peace is implicitly though maybe not yet explicitly challenging those parameters. Next time, in the run up to Indyref II the parameters need to be widened and the work needs to start now well before the publication, if there is to be a publication, of a Scottish Government White Paper Mark II.

According to Wikipedia  Geopolitics is a method of studying foreign policy to understand, explain and predict international political behaviour through geographical variables. These include area studies, climate, topography, demography, natural resources, and applied science of the region being evaluated.

As a definition, it has its strengths and its weakness but for my purpose it will do fine because as with the rest of this article, my intention is to foster some debate around the issue, not necessarily, at this stage anyway, to arrive at a conclusion.

If Scotland’s position in relation to currency needs to be ironed out for Indyref 2 , so too does the insecurity around the geopolitics of an independent Scotland.

In the geopolitical stakes at one end of the spectrum some countries have all the luck others, probably most, are in the middle while others have little or no lucky at all. Geopolitical advantage and disadvantage is to extent like perceptions of physical beauty. Think of the media constructs of Brad and Angelina on the one hand and Rab C and Mary Doll on the other.

During Indyref 1 there was hardly any discussion of the geopolitics of an independent Scotland but it was implied that Scotland was more at the Rab C Nesbitt and Mary Doll, end of the spectrum.

Scotland the too wee and too stupid was also implicitly portrayed as too “geopolitically” ugly as well.

Interestingly the official YES campaign bought into the image of Scotland as geopolitically insecure. It led to the SNP debate on NATO and even after that, when the issue was supposedly “parked” it was not. Perfectly understandably the NO campaign could smell the geopolitical fear and never let up.

If Scotland’s position in relation to currency needs to be ironed out for Indyref 2 , so too does the insecurity around the geopolitics of an independent Scotland.

Scotland finds itself in a stable prosperous part of the world, tucked away from the world’s geopolitical hot spots. Palestine, you could argue has the geopolitical luck of the Nesbitts, situated as it is slap bang in the charnel house that is the current Middle East and if that were not bad enough it has to “share” a “border” with Israel, a country that’s seems to exist in a state of perpetual geopolitical paranoia.

Very little debate around Scotland’s geopolitical characteristics seemed to take place during Indyref I. I managed to raise it twice, once during a Newsnight interview and again during a seminar at Glasgow University when I asked, tongue in cheek, if the distinctive feature of Scotland’s geopolitics was that it had none. The students in the audience were amused, the panellists less so. On the other hand I’m sure the issue of the geopolitics of Scotland must have come up in other events during the campaign. If any reader knows of such I am all ears.

There is of course, more to the geopolitics of a country than the luck of geographical position. There is the resource issue, human, animal and mineral, but luck is a factor. We should not get hung up about it and it should be embraced and unapologetically promoted during Indyref II.

With the exception of elements of Scotland’s new alternative media, preparation for the Indeyref II is, or at least seems to be, at an early stage. On the other hand others close to if not actually in the NO camp are already at work.  It is no coincidence that the Royal United Services Institute’s first post referendum foray north, out of its Whitehall home in early December had as its title “Security and The High North”. Whether this was a recognisance in force to scope out the political temperature on these issues or an attempt to ensure that the SNP, post a successful referendum sticks with the NATO position might become clearer when RUSI , as was declared conduct further forays north.

Defence and foreign policy is always too important an issue to have it exposed to an open, frank and above all, public discourse. There are, from the point of view of the policy makers, sound reasons why the discourse should be restricted in its scope, both in terms of its ideas and the level of participation.

The normal parameters, though not necessarily , in my view, the tools of analysis, need to be widened and the starting point should be the perspective of ordinary people. This is not a parochial approach, though it might be portrayed as such by those who fear a wider and more open debate, it is the starting point in setting priorities that have relevance to the lives of ordinary people. Indeed in being seen as relevant it has the additional factor of being seen as electorally salient something not to be frowned upon when developing a winning as opposed to a losing referendum strategy.

In widening the debate it is important to open up the language. One of the most important tasks in this area in my view to first of all tease out the difference between the separate though related concepts of National Security and National Interest. Both need to be looked at and discussed as opposed to the usual tactic of the political elite who, with the active willing cooperation of the so called unbiased broadcast media conflate the concepts of national security and national interest.

National Security is perceived as securing the integrity of the state, ensuring the state’s sovereign power is maintained. If that sovereign power is unwillingly subordinated to another sovereign power then that state’s national security has been compromised. This is why, supposedly, states go to war.

National Interest on the other hand is about the protection of economic interests. States certainly go to war to protect those interests. However democracies that enjoy modern media and social media connectivity face particular challenges in mobilising their publics for “war” that is not quite war over issues of National Interest.

For instance most of the military counterproductive responses to 9/11 are tholed by the publics of the democracies involved. If they ever were enthusiastically supported by those publics they no longer are. Sending servicemen and women into harm’s way, particularly if they are members of the armed forces of a democracy in defence or pursuit of a perceived National Interest can be very tricky.

This is why, time and again, pursuit of a perceived National Interest goal is conflated with the defence of our National Security. The campaign to secure the consent or at least the acquiescence of the public in a democracy is absolutely critical to wage a war that does not present an existential threat. This modern militaries in democratic societies well understand. For them the output of the BBC and other media outlets is as critical as what might be recognised as military developments in the actual battle space.

There is of course the issue of whether the National Interest goal is really “national”. In other words is war to be waged for the “benefit” of “all” or is war to be waged for the economic benefit of certain groups within the “nation” or more likely, is war to be waged for the benefit of certain corporate interests. In other words, in certain contexts, as Clausewitz actually put it, though using other words, is war merely commercial activity pursued by violent means.  Such a conclusion is of course not new.

Of course you could argue if a democracy goes to war to protect or secure a perceived national interest, rather than in defence against an existential threat, and the public are fully engaged and understand and support the action, it could have a legitimacy of sorts.

The prospect of serious illness, disablement and death tends to focus the mind as does penury, but these issues are very rarely part of the discourse around a national security strategy. The United Nations did try and the concept of Human Security was conceded. The discipline of Human Security has been developed and has its proponents but they are kept to the margins of discourses around National Security.

Human Security is, literally and metaphorically a very poor relation of National Security. Indeed, the popular perception of the Human Security concept is that it has a role to play in a consideration of poor people in poor countries. What it is most certainly not meant to be about is a consideration of poor people in powerful countries. Indeed it is not at all unusual some elites to view attempts to widen the National Security paradigm to include issues of Human Security as a National Security threat.

This is precisely what Indyref 2 needs to do, but and it is a big but, unless those of us who are prepared to engage in the debate and the language of National Security then the national security institutions will portray in the mainstream media these real credible alternatives as pacifism.

Pacifism has a place in the discourse, but it is in my view marginal and it is peripheral, it certainly does not command a significant following amongst the public. Indeed, though significant numbers oppose Trident renewal, a substantial minority believe that nuclear weapons have some sort of military utility which of course they do not.  I mention this not to take a cheap shot at pacifism, but rather to point out that it will continue to be wilfully misinterpreted and conflated with the concepts of human security and conflict resolution in their entirety to undermine these concepts in the public mind.

As always the case for pacifism will be parked, respectfully of course, in a place badged as philosophically connected but in security terms irrelevant.

I would go further and say that the pacifist case would be electorally counterproductive in terms of an Indyref 2 campaign. This is probably, in my view, why the leadership of Indyref 1 felt so insecure in developing a national security paradigm out with its very tight orthodox boundaries.

In conclusion I will point to the current UK Governments 2015 Strategic Defense and Security Review is as a good starting point as any. It is contradictory, indeed in my view it si quite dysfunctional and delusional.

To deconstruct and expose the contradictions in the SDSR 2015 , even in a UK context, will help tease out credible alternatives both in a UK, though in my view more importantly from a Scottish perspective. I am confident Scottish CND will address this in the near future in relation to Trident renewal and in that regard  it will be interesting to see if Corbyn and his team does the same. However the same task needs to be overtaken in relation to the real national security/human security threats that an independent Scotland might face and the threats that not really that but are really political bogey men put up to scare us and therefore control us.

Comments (4)

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  1. Dave Robb says:

    Scotland faces no immediate military threat from a nearby country – nor, despite what George Robertson says – invasion from outer space. The logistical issues alone would prevent any serious prospect of Russian or Chinese military intervention. North Korea and other so-called “rogue” states lack the capability entirely to project credible global force.

    The most likely issues to face an Independent Scotland – in no particular order – would be Terrorism; access to fishing stocks; access to resources under the sea bed; criminal trade in drugs or people; and economic/political harassment from theoretically friendly, but ideologically opposed trading partners.

    Conventional intelligence, patrol, rescue, police and limited military resources are complementary and affordable to cover our needs and provide sufficient extra deterrent to military adventurism in our immediate area of concern.

    I would suggest additional resourcing to provide an international dimension for security, emergency relief, and limited use of force under UN – or possibly EU or even NATO authority, depending on the choices WE make as a nation.

    The UK’s maritime patrol commitment has been covered by the likes of Norway and Denmark since the Nimrods (rightly?) were scrapped. Scotland requires maritime patrol aircraft for security, rescue fishery and environmental protection, anti-smuggling duties, tracking of potentially hostile foreign naval craft.

    The CASA 295MPA is very cost-effective, readily available, is compatible with both a similar AEWC and basic transport/ training version. It can use short or rough runways. Using outpost basing from Machrihanish, Stornoway and Sumburgh and a patrol radius of 200-400 miles with 6-4 hours on patrol, with a central base for support and training, Scotland’s basic needs would be covered. The transport version is cheaper, provides aircrew training, and can deliver overseas aid packages.

    SAAB will arrange a deal for low-cost high-tec Gripen fighters, with considerable offset/trade benefits. Again, using outpost bases – for which their maintenance is designed, a squadron would provide economic air patrol deterrence. We would not be looking to fight the Russian Airforce single-handed any more than the RAF currently does- just, as now, pick up their “intruding” visitors.

    Both Denmark and Norway can afford 5 or so frigate size vessels(c 5000 tons) roughly equivalent to the Type 26 with AA missiles and ASW helicopters, and another similar number of ocean patrol craft ( c 1500 tons)with limited helicopter facilities – eg Fassmer 80. The UK currently provides no frigates to patrol the North Atlantic. Norway also has 5 conventional patrol submarines – very hard to detect, and effective to keep out seaborne invaders.

    Scotland’s naval requirements could easily be provided by conventional forces like these based at Faslane, replacing the mythical thousands of jobs Jackie Baillie thinks Trident provides to Scots. Also, a fair amount of work for the Clyde.

    Scotland does not need an army to stand on the frontier with England. It does require flexible mobile forces to support UN security and relief operations. It also requires a mobile disaster and reconstruction force. Given the unpredicability of terrorism or other violent threats, a standing military force is a good idea, in addition to a normal police force. These forces should be to cover a variety of roles, with individual “battalions” specialising in say, mountain and Arctic warfare, urban patrol and counter – terrorism, marines, an air mobile unit, engineers, a commando style assault unit. We should continue to provide an Army, buts its focus is no longer a war against the Soviet Bloc, nor as supporter of “oil wars”.

    All of this is possible for about £1 billion less than Scotland’s contribution to willy-waving Trident, carriers with no planes (but soon to have expensive useless ones!), and a total inability to protect our real interests. It’s not pacifism, and certainly not militarism, but realism. Things that we can do in areas that matter to us, rather than protecting the status of a lost imperial dream.

    1. Muscleguy says:

      An entirely sensible and informed analysis. I put forward much the same things during the indyref on the doorsteps and street whenever the issue arose, which was rarely.

      I grew up in New Zealand which is not as rich as Scotland and has a much larger sea area to patrol which includes responsibility for fisheries protection of a number of Pacific Island states and dependencies. It thus has a fleet of maritime patrol aircraft, largely Andovers which can also participate in search and rescue, disaster relief and anti submarine warfare. As well as IIRC 4 frigates and a multi use support vessel. There are also a number of blue water capable fisheries patrol boats with light armament for firing across the bows of trawlers who won’t stop. The RNZAF currently has no combat aircraft, just the Andovers and some ageing Hercules transports. A single infantry battalion and an SAS completes the picture.

      I agree Scotland in the current environment needs some form of fighter able to intercept and escort foreign patrolling aircraft but also that we can afford it. With a much smaller maritime commitment, much of it in nearshore waters Scotland’s maritime patrol air and sea craft need be no larger than New Zealand’s. Scotland has no need to project forces deep into the Atlantic unlike NZ in the Pacific.

      IF NZ can afford this, Scotland can.

  2. Dougie Blackwood says:

    I ploughed through most of this long and repetitive article but could not make much sense of what conclusions it might have come to. In my view Scotland is very poorly defended within the context of the UK and NATO. Our infrastructure is not patrolled nor adequately monitored. If we have unfriendly visitors into our sea or air space there are insufficient resources to warn or act against them. We might, one day, buy American surveillance planes to replace the scrapped Nimrods and we have no adequate surface ships based anywhere in Scotland to make a timely response.

    We do have the dangerous but inherently useless nuclear submarines that live in Faslane but provide almost no conventional defence. The only reason they are there is because the hazard will not be tolerated further south. Our independent nuclear deterrent is neither independent nor any deterrent to the forces likely to do us harm in any reasonable future timescale.

    The debate has been entirely on Jackie Baillie’s terms; “How many jobs will be lost at Faslane?” She says many thousands while the SNP and MOD say 520. Neither figure is credible and it is the wrong debate. We pay lots of money for each job but gain no protection from any of them. What we need is conventional defence to look after our territorial waters, air space and infrastructure and to get rid of the useless and dangerous floating nuclear reactors and weapons. This conventional defence would provide almost as many Scottish based jobs as we presently have. Instead of mainly drafted sailors and officers that keep a home in the south and travel home each weekend we would have locally based forces and commanders that would more than make up for any loss from losing a useless totem of bygone power and influence.

  3. Murdo MacDonald says:

    Jobs at Faslane is a hideous, false and detestable argument for keeping trident. Therefore, entirely in keeping with Baillie’s politics and nature.

    The keeping of nuclear weapons by the uk is entirely in keeping with the nature of the uk, hideous, false and detestable.

    Of all the countries in the world that would single out Scotland for an attack in the next 20, 50 or 100 years, evidence world wide over the past 100 years would point to our larger neighbour, not North Korea as some would have you believe.

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