Nukes in a independent Scotland

nuclearexplosionI thought I’d take a look at the draft Independence Bill, and I will try to go through some of the more interesting aspects of it over the next few weeks.

I’m starting with the nuclear question.

Section 23 of the draft Independence Bill says:

Nuclear disarmament

The Scottish Government must pursue negotiations with a view to securing-

(a) nuclear disarmament in accordance with international law; and

(b) the safe and expeditious removal from the territory of Scotland of nuclear weapons based there.

Now, the first thing to say is that these two parts, (a) and (b) are not the same thing.  Disarmament is the act of reducing, limiting or abolishing weapons.  Simply removing weapons from one state to another is, as Iain Gray, has pointed out “not disarmament, that’s redeployment”.  When South Africa went through the process of nuclear disarmament in the 1990’s, that process was monitored by the UN.  They would not have been satisfied if RSA had simply decided to sell the nukes to the highest bidder.

In terms of the United Nations Model Nuclear Weapons Convention, there are several distinct phases to disarmament:

  1. taking nuclear weapons off alert,
  2. removing weapons from deployment,
  3. removing nuclear warheads from their delivery vehicles,
  4. disabling the warheads,
  5. removing the triggers (or pits),
  6. and placing the fissile material under international control.

Shipping them off to England might be of benefit to Devonport, and allow an independent Scotland to boast of being “nuclear free” – but it does not contribute to international disarmament.

It has always struck me that the wording used is flexible enough to allow a fudge of designating the base at Faslane as technically rUK (or even American) territory and allowing the WMD to stay while satisfying the letter of the commitment.  Even the Green’s proposed constitutional ban could be overcome in this way. Perhaps that’s just the cynic in me?

Delving deeper, in the event of an independence vote, the question arises – who gets the nukes anyway.  The House of Commons Defence Select Committee, during a discussion on the division of assets in the event of a Yes vote in September 2013, noted:

Examination of the experience of the division of military assets between the Czech Republic and Slovakia, following the dissolution of Czechoslovakia, suggested to us that an appropriate starting point for the negotiation might well be a population based share of existing assets taking into account the location of fixed assets such as military bases.

Clearly, this will be the subject of negotiation, but based on location alone, Scotland might well inherit the UK’s nuclear arsenal (or at least a proportion of it).  Then the Scottish Government could begin some serious disarmament.

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