24 October 2012
The SNP and
its leadership are
taking us for fools
• 'We are being deceived into thinking that we are safe with NATO-friendly nationalists when instead we have a disgraceful pretence'
• The former secretary-general of NATO, Lord Robertson of Port Ellen, attacks Scotland's governing party for its disingenuous commitment to the Alliance
Last weekend the SNP did the right thing and said that after secession Scotland should be in NATO. But far from resolving this important issue, the nationalists have alighted on a policy position that is plainly dishonest. The party leadership, including half of its conference delegates, are taking us for fools.
Ten years ago as secretary-general, I welcomed into NATO seven new countries. Four had been in the Warsaw Pact and three had actually been Soviet states. When I hammered down the gavel presented to me by Czech President Havel, I hammered down another nail in the Cold War coffin. But the route to that decision was not an easy one for these countries.
They had to work hard at both their military reforms and their civic reconstruction. They were constantly reminded by me that to benefit from the invaluable collective defence offered by the Alliance, they had to contribute to it too. They had to work on a whole series of standards both democratic and in their armed forces before they got admitted to the most successful defence alliance in world history.
Not one of them laid down conditions but they accepted many. Not one of them dreamed of contradicting the alliance's strategic concept – that declaration of the purpose agreed every 10 years. None of them rejected the nuclear umbrella which has, in a world where nuclear weapons and nuclear blackmail still exist, underpinned the collective defence of all the allies.
The SNP, by a whisker of 29 votes, thinks it can do all of these things. But it actually knows it can't. As a Scotsman correspondent said this week, it's like applying to join a golf club with the objective of preventing golf being played.
So, let me remind that slender majority of what they have to sign up to if they want to be in the grown-up world of collective defence. This is what the NATO strategic concept, agreed only last year, says:
Deterrence, based on an appropriate mix of nuclear and conventional capabilities, remains a core element of our overall strategy. The circumstances in which any use of nuclear weapons might have to be contemplated are extremely remote. As long as nuclear weapons exist, NATO will remain a nuclear alliance.
The supreme guarantee of the security of the Allies is provided by the strategic nuclear forces of the Alliance, particularly those of the United States; the independent strategic nuclear forces of the United Kingdom and France, which have a deterrent role of their own, contribute to the overall deterrence and security of the allies.
We will ensure that NATO has the full range of capabilities necessary to deter and defend against any threat to the safety and security of our populations. Therefore we will
- ensure an appropriate mix of nuclear and conventional forces
- ensure the broadest possible participation of Allies in collective defence planning on nuclear roles, in peacetime basing of nuclear forces [my emphasis] and in command, control and consultation arrangements.
I watched the whole SNP conference debate on NATO. 'Sad bugger' was the reaction of one of my friends (who, incidentally, voted SNP) but I did so because I care deeply about my country and its defence and this was a momentous debate for the present party of power in the Scottish Parliament.
I heard no one in the hall in Perth saying that they would accept the strategic concept with these paragraphs and these obligations. What I did hear, over and over again, from the pro-change brigade was a cynical call for a new policy because the existing one was unpopular. 'Change or we'll lose the referendum' was the brave, principled battle cry. 'Please pretend we love NATO and what it stands for', was the message, 'because the Scottish people think our existing, long held policy is disastrous'.
And that indeed is the saddest part of this episode in Scottish politics. We, the Scottish people, are being deceived into thinking that we are safe with NATO-friendly nationalists when instead we have a disgraceful pretence. And it is a pretence about something vital to every one of us.
Now I know the cybernats and their apologists out there will say that I too once was a unilateralist, marching in my teens at the Holy Loch. True enough, but I changed my mind over the years as I saw that the slogans of unilateralism and neutralism were irrelevant in a world where only multilateral nuclear disarmament would make us safe. Labour too abandoned unilateralism because it did not work, and not just because it was an electoral albatross.
And of course in addition I will be reminded of a speech I once made in Moscow quoting the NATO-Russia founding act, which stated that nuclear weapons would not be deployed to the new applicant states. An idiotic debating point. That was an assurance given to Russia in relation to the former Soviet satellite countries. Does Alex Salmond count Scotland among them?
The nationalist leadership will have some heavy explaining to do in the next 100 weeks. One question, among many others, which they need to be relentlessly asked is whether, given that 29-vote majority, they will now subscribe to NATO's strategic concept. Answering that, I reckon, will be more difficult than bullying half a conference plus 29 into submission.
George Robertson (Lord Robertson of Port Ellen) was secretary-general of NATO, 1999-2003