Friday, October 19, 2012

The price of NATO membership for an independent Scotland would be being involved in unwinnable wars like Afghanistan ; and continuing to pay for Trident nuclear weapons and upgrades which we wouldn't need any more than Norway does ‏‏

First Minister Alex Salmond, writing in the Sunday Herald (‘Why we can ban nuclear weapons and stay in Nato’ Sunday Herald 14th October) gives welcome assurances that an independent Scotland in NATO wouldn’t take military action without UN authorisation and a Scottish parliament vote, mentioning Iraq (1). He doesn’t mention NATO’s UN backed war in Afghanistan though. NATO membership could draw an independent Scotland into similar unwinnable wars, fought for dubious motives and with dubious methods, in future.

Nor does he explain how we could persuade the UK government, let alone the US, the most influential member of NATO, to allow us full membership while costing the UK a fortune to move it’s submarine bases, especially when Trident contracts are going to English and US based firms with (excessively) close links to the British and American governments.

Even UK Ministry of Defence base maintenance and submarine refit contract work on Trident submarines has gone to a British subsidiary of the US Defence firm Lockheed Martin, the English based company Babcock and AWE plc (based in Reading, England and two-thirds owned by US based Lockheed Martin and Jacobs Engineering, with the rest owned by the UK government and English based firm Serco (2) – (3).  The first £350 million of Trident upgrade contracts went to Lockheed Martin, English based Rolls-Royce and English based firm BAE, which also has a large arm in the US (4).  BAE is expected to get most of the rest of the upgrade contracts too (5).

The Campaign Against the Arms Trade in the UK has also shown dozens of instances of the revolving door between these arms manufacturers and the MoD, the British government and senior positions in the British military (6).

According to the MoD building another base suitable for the UK’s nuclear submarine fleet in England, Wales or Northern Ireland could take up to a decade (7).

So why would the remaining UK government support NATO membership for an Independent Scotland except on the condition that we allowed it to keep its nuclear submarine fleet and it’s only base capable of repairing, maintaining and refitting that fleet in Scotland?

A nuclear free independent Scotland might even result in the UK dropping it’s Trident upgrade altogether and going for a joint nuclear deterrent, or at the least temporary base sharing, with France, preliminary negotiations on which took place both under the last Labour government and under the current Conservative-Lib Dem Coalition (though the French government seems keener than the British) (8) – (9).

That would mean the UK’s military co-operation with France would become closer, reducing US influence with the UK. US firms would be likely to lose out even if this didn’t happen. Either way the US government would not be happy.

So a nuclear free Independent Scotland and NATO membership are simply not compatible with each other. We need to choose one or the other ; and if we want to avoid paying for maintenance , running costs and upgrades of the UK nuclear deterrent, we need to choose being nuclear weapons free.

Why NATO or Partnership for Peace membership could draw an Independent Scotland into more wars like Afghanistan
– and why the war is as ineffective in achieving it’s stated aims as it is morally dubious and unwinnable

Nor does the First Minister offer any guarantee of a referendum on any decision to go to war that would give the Scottish people the final decision on an issue of many lives and deaths ; nor any guarantee that backbenchers or the opposition in an independent Scottish parliament could  initiate a vote (or a vote to have a referendum) on withdrawing our troops from a war they had previously voted to approve sending troops to.

The Afghanistan war has pulled in the UK as a NATO member; and even those members of NATO (e.g Canada and Poland and even Norway which sent special forces to the initial US led invasion and then over 500 troops to the ISAF force which are only now leaving) and its joint-training associated arm Partnership for Peace (e.g Ukraine), ended up sending significant numbers of troops either to the initial invasion or as part of the UN approved but NATO (and effectively US) led ISAF force, or both.

Hundreds of British troops, including Scots, have been killed in the war, which has lasted over 11 years and counting, twice as long as World War One, coming up twice as long as World War Two; and over half way to being as long as the Vietnam war (10).

It has also involved not only the notorious killings and suicide bombing attacks on civilians by the Taliban, but also torture of Afghans by US, NATO and Afghan government forces, including civilians with no involvement in terrorism, sometimes to death; and many thousands of civilians killed by air strikes under Bush, as well as by air strikes and night raids (often targeting teenagers who turn out to be innocent) under Obama. Civilian deaths from US air strikes actually increased under Obama compared to under Bush and torture has continued at secret ‘black sites’ in Afghanistan under Obama (11) – (19).  

US intelligence estimate 90% of Afghan insurgents are neither Taliban nor motivated by religion, but by opposing foreign military presence, or revenge for the injury or deaths of members of their family, village or tribe by NATO forces (20). So this is not primarily a war against the Taliban at all, but one which turns the majority of Afghans against NATO countries and the Afghan government.

NATO says Pakistan’s military intelligence continue aiding the Afghan Taliban , despite now being at war with the Pakistani Taliban (21). Yet the US continues to provide financial aid to Pakistan, some of which will be passed on to the Taliban, because the shortest supply route for NATO forces in Afghanistan is through Pakistan (22) – (24). So NATO has to indirectly fund the Taliban in order to supply it’s troops in Afghanistan – a hopeless situation.

Wars are not effective against Al Qa’ida, a global terrorist organisation which can operate in any country in the world, the 9-11 hijackers having trained in the US and Germany (25) – (27). Intelligence, policing and Special Forces can be.

There are also ulterior motives for the war. The main ulterior motive was to try and get a Turkmenistan-Afghanistan-Pakistan pipeline to export oil and gas from former Soviet republics like Kazakhstan (which has vast oil and gas reserves and where BP, Exxon, Halliburton have had contracts since the 1990s) , Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan (both have significant proven gas reserves). The advantage of this pipeline route would be that it would avoid passing through countries where Russia has significant influence and might be able to cut off exports at will (e.g Georgia – which is on the route of the western oil company AIOC group’s Baku-Ceyhan pipeline route – especially after the Russian-Georgian War in which Russia allowed a secessionist movement to succeed) and Iran. The pipeline route was the reason the US gave political backing to the Taliban at first and quietly approved the Saudis and Pakistanis funding, training and arming them. They couldn't get a deal between UNOCAL and the Taliban at a transit price per barrel that oil firms were willing to pay. (28) – (32)

After the invasionin 2002 the Presidents of Turkmenistan, Pakistan and Afghanistan signed a deal on the pipeline route and in 2010 a deal was made planning to extend it to India (33) – (34)

Salmond’s smooth moves to convince Scottish voters that Independence wouldn’t be a big change ignore the  high costs and risk of much of the Status Quo, including NATO membership

Would backbenchers in the Scottish parliament have the power to initiate a vote on withdrawing troops from wars parliament had previously approved by majority vote? Shouldn’t a referendum also be required before going to war to give everyone a say in a matter of life or death for thousands.

Alec Salmond is certainly making smooth moves by trying to make voters see independence as less of a big risk, by reassuring them that lots of things will remain unchanged – NATO membership, EU membership, our currency, the Queen as head of state, an open border with England etc.

However the status quo carries its own risks. In the case of continued NATO membership the risks are not only that we might be required to keep nuclear weapons on Scottish territory and continue to pay a proportion of the costs of running, maintaining, refitting and upgrading them as a condition of continued membership (despite the fact an independent Scotland would have no more need for a nuclear deterrent than Norway does), but also that we could be drawn by the alliance into more long, bloody, unwinnable wars fought mostly for the benefit of US and British oil and arms companies.

Sign the No to NATO Scotland statement and follow the campaign

You can sign an online statement opposing NATO membership for an independent Scotland on the No to NATO Scotland Coalition website on this link (scroll down the page till you see an orange button with 'Sign the Statement' on it on the right - click it, fill in details and enter them). There's also news and information, including on protests by the campaign that you can take part in, on the website.


 (1) = Sunday Herald 14th October 2012 ‘Why we can ban nuclear weapons and stay in Nato’,

(2) = Ministry of Defence 27 Jul 2012 ‘MOD signs Trident support contract’,

(3) = Trident 30 Jul 2012 ‘bases to be run by private companies’,

(4) = BBC News 22 May 2012 ‘Trident contracts worth £350m unveiled by MoD’,

(5) = CAAT Revolving Door Log,

(6) = Independent 22 May 2012 ‘Government awards contracts worth £350m for new Trident submarines’,

(7) = Telegraph 26 Jan 2012 ‘Nuclear subs will stay in Scotland, Royal Navy chiefs decide’,

(8) = 19 Mar 2010 ‘France offers to join forces with UK's nuclear submarine fleet’ ,

(9) = Independent 30 Sep 2010 ‘Britain and France may share nuclear deterrent’,

(10) = BBC News 24 Sep 2012 ‘UK military deaths in Afghanistan’, , (433 as of 24th September, around 24 Scottish)

(11) Human Rights Watch World Report 2006 ‘Torture and Inhumane Treatment: A Deliberate U.S. Policy’, ; ‘the abuse at Abu Ghraib paralleled similar if not worse abuse in Afghanistan, Guantánamo, elsewhere in Iraq, and in the chain of secret detention facilities where the U.S. government holds its “high value” detainees’

(12) = Human Rights Watch 20 May 2005 - ‘Afghanistan: Killing and Torture by U.S. Predate Abu Ghraib ' -

(13) = NYT 20 May 2005 ‘In U.S. Report, Brutal Details of 2 Afghan Inmates' Deaths’,

(14) =  Wikipedia Civilian casualties in the War in Afghanistan (2001–present) (This provides estimates of civilian casualties caused by the various forces involved by various sources including Professor Marc Herold of the University of New Hampshire , the United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan  (UNAMA) , Human Rights Watch and The Afghan Independent Human Rights Commission – whichever estimates you take, thousands have been killed by NATO forces before counting the thousands also killed by Taliban and other insurgents. The reports by the sources are also listed and linked to)

(15) = according to The Afghanistan Conflict Monitor of Simon Fraser University in Australia in 2011: “Estimates of the number of civilians killed vary widely and must be treated with caution. Systematic collection of civilian fatality data only began in 2007. The United Nations is creating a civilian casualty database, but is not publicly accessible. Periodic updates can be found in Reports of the Secretary-General on peace and security in Afghanistan. The Afghanistan Independent Human Rights Commission (AIHRC) is also collecting data, but the efforts of both agencies are hampered by insecurity and a lack of resources. As a result, figures released by these agencies likely represent a substantial undercount.

(16) = See this blog post , scrolling down to sub-headings ‘‘Civilian and military deaths caused by both sides in the war – is it necessary or worth it?’ and ‘Night Raids and the El Salvador Option moving from Iraq to Afghanistan’ – as well as the sources listed for each section under the same headings further down the post (they include Human Rights Watch and Afghan Independent Human Rights Watch reports as well as BBC and Times newspaper reports among others )

(17) = See this blog post ‘Have NATO airstrikes killed fewer civilians in Afghanistan under Obama? And have they fallen under McChrystal?’ which is fully sourced with mainstream sources ;

(18) = For more details and sources on torture by US forces in Afghanistan under Bush see the page on this link  ; for torture under both Bush and Obama in Afghanistan see the blog post on this link, scrolling down to the bolded sub-heading ‘Guantanamo to Bagram : extra-ordinary rendition  (kidnapping) and torture’

(19) = Jennifer K Harbury (2005) ‘Truth, Torture and the American Way’, Beacon Press, Boston, 2005 ; Harbury, whose Guatemalan husband Everardo was tortured and then disappeared during CIA led operations by the Guatemalan military, provides masses of evidence that torture by US intelligence and military forces has always happened, even when it was illegal under US law, casting doubt on whether Obama’s formal ban on most forms of torture (except psychological torture and sleep deprivation) will be enough to end it

(20) = Boston Globe 09 Oct 2009 ‘Taliban not main Afghan enemy’,

(21) = BBC News 01 Feb 2012 ‘Pakistan helping Afghan Taliban - Nato’, , ‘The Taliban in Afghanistan are being directly assisted by Pakistani security services, according to a secret Nato report seen by the BBC… the report… exposes…the relationship between the ISI and the Taliban…. based on material from 27,000 interrogations with more than 4,000 captured Taliban, al-Qaeda and other foreign fighters and civilians.’

(22) = Reuters 22 May 2012 ‘U.S. senators vote to tie Pakistan aid to supply routes’,

(23) = CNN 04 Jul 2012 ‘Pakistan reopens NATO supply routes to Afghanistan’, ,
Meanwhile, the U.S. military will now pay Pakistan $1.1 billion it owes as part of the deal struck to reopen the NATO supply lines …The money is part of a U.S. military program …which reimburses the Pakistani military for counterterrorism efforts.

(24) = BBC 03 Jul 2012 ‘Pakistan to reopen supply lines to Nato Afghan forces’, , ‘US officials say the existing charge of $250 (£160) per truck will not change - Washington had baulked at a Pakistani demand for $5,000 per container to let supplies flow again.’

(25) = Minneapolis Star Tribune 20 Dec 2001 ‘Eagan Flight Trainer Wouldn't Let Unease About Moussaoui Rest’,

(26) = USA Today 28 May 2002 ‘Letter shifts heat to FBI’,

(27) = NYT 24 Feb 2004 ‘C.I.A. Was Given Data on Hijacker Long Before 9/11’,

(28) =  Also see this page on my website and sources in it

(29) = Rashid , Ahmed(2001) Taliban Tauris, London , paperback, 2001 – p167, 173

(30) = Guardian 24 Oct 2001, ‘Route to riches’,,1361,579401,00.html (Afghanistan has huge strategic importance for the west as a corridor to the untapped fuel reserves in central Asia, reports Andy Rowell)


(32) = Coll, Steve (2004) 'Ghost Wars : The secret History of the CIA, Afghanistan and Bin Laden' , Penguin paperback, London, 2004, pages 308, 313

(33) = BBC News 27 Dec 2002 , ‘Central Asia pipeline deal signed’,

(34) = BBC News 11 Dec 2010 ‘Turkmen natural gas pipeline Tapi to cross Afghanistan’

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