The next section and concluding part will be published tomorrow. This is valuable work formulating future policies and positions for discussion in an Independent Scotland. Written by Isobel Lindsay.
Select Category Convention Events Newsletter Referendum UK politics Uncategorized
TRANSITIONS PAPER – SCOTLAND’S SECURITY
Scotland must be guided by a clear and realistic assessment of the security challenges it might face as an independent state. This is not only important in choosing the basic structures and the resources required to address risks, it is also essential to have clarity on this for the process of negotiations with the rest of the UK (rUK) – England, Wales and Northern Ireland. Decisions about hardware, real estate, workforce/personnel capacity and cooperation could leave us with completely inappropriate resources for our needs if we are not strongly focused. We need to avoid being trapped in “inheritance”. We do not want a damaging and expensive disjuncture between inherited infrastructure and personnel from the UK and the security needs and objectives appropriate for the next few decades in an independent Scotland.
The UK Security Context
The UK recognizes, in theory, that a security risk assessment should be the framework for resource priorities and defence services. But the last five-year UK Strategic Defence and Security Review in 2015 produced a risk assessment which does not appear closely-aligned with the pattern of UK Defence planning and expenditure. The six main suggested threats in the Security Review were:
- Increasing threat of terrorism, extremism and instability.
- The resurgence of state-based threats and intensifying wider state competition.
- The attack on the rules-based international order, making it harder to build consensus or tackle global threats.
- The importance of technology, especially cyber-threats.
- The ongoing growth of serious organized crime (costing the UK at least 37 billion pounds a year).
- Diseases and natural hazards (climate change, floods and fires).
Two of these (terrorism and organized crime) are clearly policing responsibilities. One is a public health/economic policy area (diseases and natural hazards). One is a technological and security service problem (cyber-threats). And one is a core diplomacy/soft power task (coalition and consensus building). Even the “intensifying wider state competition” appears to have a stronger economic dimension than a traditional military aspect. You cannot have more of everything. This illustrates very clearly what a security strategy should do – help governments decide whether it is better to spend more on police than on the army, more on aircraft or on diplomacy and foreign aid, more on submarines or on cyber security expertise. Aircraft carriers, nuclear weapons, fast jets and tanks all seem rather marginal, if not superfluous, to the perceived security threats. This is in the context of the UK with its strong aspirations to have an independent global role.
Perceived UK security threats and UK defence priorities do not appear to be a close fit. UK defence policy and procurement continues to be almost entirely configured not only for expeditionary warfare but to furnish an auxiliary capability in another state’s expeditionary wars. For almost two decades these interventions have been destabilising and ultimately unsuccessful in their stated aims. This expeditionary global role at the tail-end of empire is largely illusory. The UK’s nuclear capacity is entirely dependent on the US. Britain can make the warheads but the US supplies and services the delivery system and in doing so keeps control over targeting. The overseas interventionist role also depends on the US and in NATO the UK is very much within the close US sphere of influence.
Even a decade ago some US thinking was emphasising the change in threats. The head of the CIA forecast (in 2011) that “The next Pearl Harbour that we confront could well be cyber-attack that cripples our power stations, our grid, our security systems, our financial systems, our government systems”.1
The UK Government’s new Integrated Review of Security, Defence, Development and Foreign Policy initiated a request for submission of views in August 2020,2 with the stated goal to “set the long-term strategic aims of our international policy and national security”. The “key trends and drivers of change over the next decade” they suggested are:
- Intensified great power competition, shift in economic power towards Asia, decline in G7s share of international GDP.
- The effect of climate change.
- Deterioration of natural environment, unprecedented loss of bio-diversity.
- Impact of technology, increased power of non-state actors (Apple, Microsoft, Google).
- Increasing challenge to global governance, highest number of state-based conflicts.
In particular they seek submissions on cyber technology, on developing soft power and on effective resilience to natural hazards and malicious threats. UK Government briefings suggest a shift in security threat assessments away from the traditional military focus. Officials are quoted as saying that the UK should be prepared for a different type of conflict to counter what they see as China’s political and economic aggression, including cyber-attacks.3 The briefing suggested that they did not expect a military attack.
All of this emphasizes the importance of fresh thinking and the opportunity that independence will give Scotland to shape a security policy that is appropriate to 21st century challenges and our geographical position and aspirations. We cannot allow traditional approaches and vested interests to bias the decisions that will have to be taken in transition planning.
A Human Security Approach
Traditional models of defence have been based on the concept of protecting state boundaries and access to economic resources. There is still an assumption that defence organization and procurement should be based on the belief that the main purpose is preventing attack from opposing armed forces or protecting overseas interests. But ideas of security shaped by 20thcentury European wars, cold wars and lingering echoes of empire are inappropriate as the guiding framework for contemporary challenges.4 The perspective of human security has developed out of the experience of many of the poorer countries, particularly in the global south, whose citizens face serious deprivation, internal violence and lack of any legal protection.5But the existential threats of climate change and global pandemics affecting all of humanity make a human security approach just as relevant to more economically developed states. Its advantages for developed countries is in providing a framework to evaluate serious threats that could undermine the viability of the structures that play a fundamental role in sustaining the core essentials of community and personal safety and survival. It provides a holistic threat assessment model rather than one driven by the interests of the military-industrial complex.
Using the term “security” on its own can be too closely identified with the existing “security services”. Using the concepts and language of human security enables us to rationally prioritize, to integrate flexibly with other state services and to respond rapidly to changing situations. The traditional defence approach has tended to compartmentalise, to solidify and to tie us into technologies and organisational structures that are determined by the past rather than the needs of the future. Which, to take just one recent example, is why the UK ended up with highly vulnerable and massively expensive aircraft carriers.
Ireland provides a useful example of alternative security approaches. It has focused mainly on “soft power” that builds international cooperation, respect and reputation. It has recently been elected as one of the rotating members of the United Nations Security Council and the Irish Minister for Finance has been elected as president of the Eurogroup of finance ministers. As well as years of participation in United Nations peacekeeping missions it has played a significant role along with Norway in rescuing the Cluster Bomb Treaty.6 Ireland spends around 0.3 percent of Gross Domestic Product (GDP) on military expenditure.7 While this might be low for Scotland, it illustrates the choices independent states have in choosing priorities for security and international objectives.
The problem of a human security approach is, of course, that it risks becoming a catch-all for every desirable social policy and in so doing loses its analytical value. This can best be addressed by having a “Secure Scotland Commission” as an integral part of Scottish state structures comprising government and its agencies, parliamentary and civil society representatives. This commission should produce bi-annual reports which assess developments in the risk environment and the effectiveness of responses. The areas of policy that are appropriate will evolve from this. As we have seen from UK Security Reviews, perceived risks are now far removed from the traditional military risks. The military forces and hardware which will be required by an independent Scotland must be subordinate to a broadly-based assessment of the existential risks we might face.
Transition issue: A Secure Scotland Commission can be established now with existing Holyrood powers. The importance of advance contingency planning has been particularly highlighted during the COVID-19 emergency.
Scotland’s Security Risks
Scotland is particularly fortunate in that it is in one of the geopolitically stable regions in the world. As indeed is the present UK. We are not surrounded by boundary disputes (although post-Brexit may see some related to fishing rights). Scottish borders are clearly legally defined. We are distant from the worst conflict areas in the world (some of which we have helped to create and sustain). Hostile state invasion would not be in the significant risk category (similar to the current UK risk assessments). And Scotland is unlikely to be engaged in future expeditionary warfare projects that have characterized much of UK policy. However, there are serious contemporary risks to which Scotland, similar to other states, might be exposed to. In addition, Scotland currently has one exceptional major risk factor as the site of the largest European concentration of nuclear fire-power.
This has become a top-tier risk in all states and the more developed the state, the greater the risk. Cyber dependency has increased and is set to increase more. The COVID-19 pandemic has illustrated this. Every aspect of our society could suffer serious collapse if the systems failed, but even if it only affected one sector like finance or energy the impact would be major. A non-nuclear Scotland would not be the most likely target for a deliberate attack by a state actor unless there were particular competitive economic interests involved. This also applies to cyber terrorism unless our foreign and military policy positions become interventionist. But any sector in any country is a potential target for organized crime, including Scotland with its substantial financial sector. However, the main risks by far are technical failures and this points to the importance of new IT systems which need to be introduced. The most appropriate base for the forensic technology expertise we may need is to build on Police Scotland’s cybercrime expertise. However, it should be made quite clear that Scotland’s interest is in developing cyber security expertise for defensive purposes not for offensive interventions.
Transition issue: Establish a Scottish Security and Intelligence Agency. Expertise needs to be concentrated not dispersed in different agencies. Much is already devolved in Police Scotland but we need to transform this into a Scottish Security and Intelligence Agency (see below).
All of the evidence suggests the accelerating risk of major changes in weather patterns and related environmental change. While Scotland may be fortunate in not being among the most vulnerable countries, rising sea levels suggest extensive flooding, coastal erosion, high rainfall and temperature change leading to serious economic and social disruption. But the most significant problems may be the outcome of severe changes in other countries, which could result in large population movements, increasing conflicts over land and water resources and global economic disruption following COVID-19. Scotland’s response needs effective border protection, economic resilience strategies, flood prevention programmes as well as support for international carbon-reduction initiatives. Flood prevention, some economic powers and political support for international action are already devolved to the Scottish Parliament.
Transition issue: Some of the important powers required to increase resilience are devolved and action could be taken now to strengthen planning policies, building standards, reform land use and develop green energy. A Secure Scotland Commission could currently become operational to plan and promote change. Other factors requiring economic, trade and industry and foreign policy powers could be highlighted as reasons for independence.
Protection of Marine Resources
Protection of marine resources is a much higher priority for Scotland than the rest of the UK. North Sea oil extraction is declining and for environmental reasons there may not be much exploration for new reserves, although it will continue to be a significant asset for a number of years.
Scottish waters are a rich source of fish and, depending on the relationship with the European Union (EU), may be a source of future conflict. It will undoubtedly be a transition negotiation issue.
Off-shore wind-turbines, future tidal energy technology and the under-water grid connections will be key energy sources.
Scotland’s islands and long coastline (11,602 miles/4,905 kilometres) require safe marine transport. There is an existing international legal maritime framework and Scottish waters are legally defined, but we do not know whether independence negotiations will take place in the context of a stable fishing access system or a contested one. We must assume that this will require protecting/policing (including ensuring Scottish vessels obey international rules). Oil companies (all private) have resources to protect their own assets but there are issues around their compliance and that of others with environmental regulations. Off-shore energy could be the target of sabotage/terrorism.
Transition issue: It is a high priority for Scotland to develop a substantial and well-equipped coastguard service, which we currently do not have. The increase in customs and excise income generated by this will make a significant contribution to cover the cost of this service.
Although the likelihood of health pandemics is mentioned in the 2015 UK Security Review and both the rUK and Scottish governments have had planning exercises for responding to pandemics, it has become clear during the COVID-19 crisis that these exercises were not taken seriously and we were quite unprepared. Even though vaccinations are now being rolled out, this lack of preparedness should be a salutary lesson on our serious vulnerability to new infectious diseases. Changes arising from climate change and environmental degradation may increase the risks of new and even more serious infections as a result of new environmental conditions and mass migrations of humans and animals.
Transition issue: Most of the relevant powers are already devolved but independence would clarify border control powers. The Scottish Government must engage in serious disaster preparedness and pandemic exercises and this should be done through the new Secure Scotland Commission.
Terrorist attacks in the UK over the past two decades have mainly been related to conflicts in the Middle East, although the attackers have mostly been British. More recently, there have been attacks from far-right white supremacists (major examples in Norway and New Zealand are a salutatory warning). The preferred targets in the UK in recent years have been individual killings rather than infrastructure attacks, but terrorist fashions can change. Scotland has been fortunate so far in having few incidents. Even during the 1970s/80s peak of the Irish “troubles” when, for historical and cultural reasons attacks in Scotland might have been expected, major ones did not occur. We may not always be so fortunate.
Transition issue: Relevant powers are already devolved – policing, education and community services. Education should play a significant role in countering terrorist recruitment. The development of the Scottish Security and Intelligence Agency will enhance existing powers. But cooperative relationships with other police forces may have to be redeveloped depending on post-Brexit outcomes.
Serious Organized Crime
The security aspects of organized crime are mainly focused on the very substantial economic cost in terms of lost revenues and the social cost of illegal drugs, weapons and people smuggling/trafficking. There are also international implications in the policing of arms trade exports. Scotland is especially vulnerable with 11,602 miles of coastline, which requires a strong borders protection service, especially a coastguard. There can also be a narrow line between the legal and illegal in financial services, VAT, excise duties and tax avoidance, which could have significant implications for the Scottish Government.
Transition issue: Combatting organized crime is Police Scotland’s responsibility and therefore the structures and much of the resourcing is already in place. However, it also involves Customs and Excise and the taxation system
Section two, the final section will be published on this site tomorrow. I know this paper is longer than a normal post but it deals with important issues and I believe will be of interest to many of the visitors to this site.