An independent Scotland might face a tough battle to become a member of Nato if it insists on removing Trident nuclear weapons, according to a report by the Scotland Institute.
The report, which examines defence issues in a post-independence Scotland, concludes that the new nation could face an “unpalatable dilemma” between keeping Trident submarines on the Clyde and being refused entry to Nato. Membership of Nato requires the unanimous agreement of current members and the UK and US might choose to delay or block Scotland’s entry in the event of opposition to Trident.
Scotland would have to “carefully navigate the diplomatic issues related to joining Nato”, and if negotiations between Scotland and the UK were problematic, Nato could be expected to be wary about importing acrimony into the alliance. A dispute over Trident would make accession “tricky”, even though it would be in the UK’s interests to have Scotland as a member of Nato.
The US would view the Scottish position as weakening Nato’s nuclear stance and as undermining the UK, historically its most important ally in Europe, and thus “eroding US interests”.
The Scotland Institute advocates an arrangement where Faslane naval base would remain sovereign UK territory for a period of time, allowing Trident to continue operating, as the “least worst” option available to both states. This would allow the UK to build a new Trident home within its own borders – a task which could take up to two decades – while supporting Scotland’s case to become a member of Nato. Despite this, the report notes that deterrence “is primarily about signalling”, and questions how credible UK nuclear weapons would be if they could not even be located on home soil.
The Scottish National Party (SNP) has said that Trident would be removed as promptly as possible after independence, although they have not put a timescale on its removal, and Faslane would become a conventional naval base.
The Scotland Institute’s report accepts that the majority of Nato states do not possess nuclear weapons or even have them based on their territory. Norway has refused to have nuclear weapons based on its territory and Canada and Greece have both succeeded in removing US tactical nuclear weapons from their nations. A “vocal group” of Nato states, including Poland and Germany, has used Nato forums to advocate nuclear disarmament.
Major-General Andrew Mackay, the British Army’s former commanding officer in Afghanistan who oversaw the report, conceded that it is “highly unlikely that Scotland will ever come under existential threat of invasion of subjugation”.