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Don’t vote against NATO. Vote for something better.

So the motion to the SNP conference calling for a reversal in NATO policy has been made public. Those who have moved it have built principle into the heart of it. All the rest of the SNP has to do is build in a little more principle.

NATO again. What is left to write? I’ve been over much of this ground before and nothing has changed since then (other than the indication that there will definitely be a show-down at the SNP conference on the issue as confirmed today). But where my previous comments have been focussed on the simple reasons for rejecting NATO, let me instead propose some positive principles which could steer international relations if Scotland was to be independent. After all, the pro-NATO motion has at its heart conditions based on principle. It’s just that there are a couple missing. Add those, start from there and then think again. It’s not a big step. There are only four.

So let’s start with principle number one – a strategy for ‘national security’ must be based on a clear definition of what national security actually means. Projecting power overseas or deploying the military in aid of commercial interests has nothing to do with security. Scotland should define its international relations simply on the basis of protecting territorial boundaries from acts of aggression and (possibly) contributing to international peace-keeping operations. Pre-emptive war and low-level international military operations (drone attacks, special forces operations, so-called psych-ops and so on) have no place in this. An offensive army is unnecessary.

Principle two – all weapons of mass destruction are inherently illegal as in their deployment it is always impossible to differentiate between combatants and non-combatants. This is not speculative or interpretative but is a simple statement of international law. Scotland should have no part in any form of deployment of weapons of mass destruction, including nuclear weapons. That means no housing of WDM, no ‘staging post’ status for the launching of WDM, no blind eye policy to WDM passing through our territory and no support for infrastructure linked to the preparation or management of the use of WDM (including radar support etc.).

Principle three – Scotland should never and under no circumstances become involved in any military action not sanctioned by the United Nations. Moreover, it should not become involved in any military action which is not conducted according to norms of international law whether sanctioned by the UN or not. So while the Afghan debacle was UN-sanctioned, still there is much in the conduct of that war which is questionable in terms of international law. And certainly there should be no circumstance in which Scotland is compelled to become involved in military actions.

Principle four – Scotland should simply not form military alliances with any militaries which are not in full compliance with their international treaty obligations. That includes Article Six of the Treaty on the Non-Priliferation of Nuclear Weapons which states: “Each of the Parties to the Treaty undertakes to pursue negotiations in good faith on effective measures relating to cessation of the nuclear arms race at an early date and to nuclear disarmament, and on a Treaty on general and complete disarmament under strict and effective international control”.

There we are, four simple principles which are surely unarguable by anyone with any respect for law – and sanity:

  • Scotland should never be a military agressor
  • Scotland should never facilitate the use or maintenance of Weapons of Mass Destruction
  • Scotland should never engage in any military action which would place it in breach of international law
  • Scotland should never form military alliances with foreign nations who are not also in full compliance with international law and treaty obligations

Simple as that. Don’t pick a fight, don’t break the law and don’t support those who do. Much as people like to pretend that ‘defence of the realm’ is somehow ‘different’ from other moral matters, it isn’t. What works as a moral guide for going to the pub or doing your shopping works equally well to guide the behaviours of the nation state. Indeed, what is the argument against these? That sometimes we need to be evil so that we can ultimately be good? Should we support criminals if it is convenient? Should we become the bully if it is in our interests? What kind of nation is that? If Scotland becomes independent I would like to see these principles enshrined forever in the constitution. That would clear up all those moral grey areas for generations to come. Make no mistake, lots of nations don’t have an offensive army and none of them have been invaded.

So back to the SNP and NATO. Let the onus be put back on those who want to see a shift in policy. To their credit they have attached conditions to NATO membership, roughly equating to the middle two conditions above. But it still leaves the door open to being the military aggressor, a position that seems utterly wrong for Scotland. And it allows Scotland to facilitate, be complicit in, the illegal acts of others. The US and Britain are in clear breach of Article Six of the Non-Proliferation Treaty and are making absolutely no efforts to move towards disarmament. This is a breach every bit as clear as the allegations of breach being made about Iran – but unlike Iran (where there is very clear doubt about whether they are in breach) in the case of the US and Britain there is not uncertainty.

Delegates at the SNP conference should focus on the criteria on which a foreign policy should be based rather than beginning from an assumption of one outcome. Begin with these four simple and reasonable principles. If they make sense, adopt them. It would then be for those who propose one set of alliances or another to argue for those alliances on the basis of that set of principles.

I can only repeat that I see zero need for getting in tow with NATO. Scotland faces no credible military threat either as an independent nation or as part of Britain. Even the idea that NATO membership would be tactically wise because ‘it’s what voters want’ is utterly unpersuasive. After all, Iraq and Afghanistan are hardly popular enterprises with the public and other than scaring the wits out of them with apocalyptic tales of invasions and wars on our shores, there is very little evidence whatsoever that the public spends a lot of time worrying about all-out assault on our beaches or in our skies. The only threats suggested so far is that Scotland might have to fight Russia on behalf of US and Canadian oil companies. This cannot be stated clearly enough – Scotland will never ‘have’ to fight on behalf of American corporate interests and it never should. That is a NATO interest, not a Scottish interest, not even an interest of the people of the countries who are members of NATO.

However, if that is what some people want to pursue, ask the difficult questions not of Scotland but of NATO. Does NATO meet these four basic criteria? I find it very hard to see that they do, but that’s not my case to argue. So this is a very simple plea; to members of the SNP who want to see Scotland born as a new country there will be plenty time for grubby compromises in the decades ahead. Don’t begin in a grubby compromise before even thinking about your principles. Don’t let the birth of the nation be tainted by expedience. Begin with a simple statement of the country you want to be – and then fail to be it (because none of us can be as good as we’d like to be, in our little ways we always fail). But don’t begin in failure. Don’t start out as a new country already as tainted and cynical as the old ones. Don’t start out fighting wars for American corporations. Those who have moved the SNP motion have shown principle in making nuclear disarmament for Scotland a condition. The other members of the SNP should simply take that lead and show more principle again. There is plenty of time to add two simple amendments to the motion.

To members of the SNP: don’t vote against NATO. Vote for something better.

Robin McAlpine