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Savage Wars of Peace

Chris Harvie offers a thoughtful take on a future foreign policy for Scotland.

In 1980, established in Tuebingen University, I joined the Social Democrat Party just when it was campaigning against the stationing of US nuclear missiles in Germany. It made no difference: the missiles were stationed anyway, even though the Big Man of the pro-missile German right, Franz-Josef Strauss, was keeping the Stalinist theme park of the German Democratic Republic on its life support machine. In 1976 I had had one brief incursion into the world of NATO when addressing an International Institute of Strategic Studies conference on military elites and new weapons, concluding that Eisenhower got it right when he said that the ‘military-industrial complex’ called the economic shots. My chair, General Steinhoff, was called away to Bonn by the Baader-Meinhoff kidnapping of Hans-Martin Schleyer, the beginning of new ‘suicide tactics’ which were to revolutionise terrorism, climaxing in 9/11. Three years later, when Neil Kinnock reversed Labour’s anti-nuclear stand, I moved to the SNP. My position may go back to the ethical socialism of the Keir Hardie ILP, appealing to German comrades ‘across the thunder of the guns’. But it seems as relevant now as a century ago.

Any approach to the alliance issue must recognise complexity, but the emergencies that are approaching us won’t just be traditional foreign affairs issues, but natural and technological disasters, which have been exponentially increasing, and their impact on the internal and external politics of fragile states. If we add the increasing impact of ‘illegalism’, whether of Somali pirates, drug-, people-, and arms-runners, the forecast of a Scottish Home Department-financed study of 1975 makes good sense. John A Mack and Hans-Juergen Kerner’s The Crime Industry foresaw a rampant black economy through computerisation, multinational enterprises and tax havens. The events of 2001-to-date show this in a frightening degree of interlock between rogue states, out-of-control international finance, and legal and illegal military force.

Scotland has unique advantages in navigating and ameliorating this situation. They range from the variety of the country’s landscape and weather, imitating many world habitats and thus valuable in practical training for police action/intervention, to the throughput of students from a’ the airts at our higher educational establishments. The ability of Scots over the centuries to create networks is almost unparalleled. It was increased by the experience of offshore oil 1970-86, and will be further developed by marine renewables.

This international co-operation can also draw on the legacy of maps and charts from Edinburgh’s great days as cartographic centre of the world. Statistics, topographical and hydrographical data from the epoch of imperial rule produced ‘stupendous’ Gazetteers like J G Lorimer’s 5000-page survey of the Persian Gulf, 1902-8. Involvement of Scots scholars with the world’s great religions – Robertson Smith and Islam, James Legge and Confucianism, rivalled the country’s expertise in international law, from James Lorimer, originator of the concept of Federal Europe in 1884, to the studies of sovereignty of Sir Neil MacCormick MEP.

A Scots foreign policy wouldn’t be a matter of binary choices, but of going out from the best-possible contribution that our institutions can make to resolving the multiple crisis detailed above. Our unique inheritance and its future development must be priorities.

Some factors, such as increased low-carbon-energy links with Norway and Germany, may suggest positive elements in a relationship with NATO. But the Afghan experience stresses the negative: being a subordinate in a mission which may make sense in great-power relations but is impossible to fulfil. Such compulsion can also prejudice Scotland’s positive oil and renewable-energy influence on the Moslem world and the developing industrial power of the BRICs.

More may be gained by a literally clinical approach to peace-keeping: pooling the range of resources specified above with those offered by other European neutral countries – Austria, Ireland, Sweden, Switzerland – prepared to act directly to United Nations mandates and specialising, nation by nation, in serving distinct regional groupings. This could include intervention on a scale ranging from ‘in depth’ watching briefs (researching the economic consequences of communal disorder, criminal/kleptocrat rulers, rogue multinationals, military takeovers, etc.) to determining solutions through arbitration and conciliation, conflict-resolution, international judicial action – not excluding ‘pathfinder’ operations in concert with the UN, involving NATO as instrument.
Such operations must be integrated with two things: involving young Scots in educational and environmental service, a proportion of whom must serve abroad; and appropriate language-acquisition, educational and cultural back-up both of such service and of the care of casualties, whether military, civilian, or refugee.

Without this, off-the-shelf military technology, expanding population and a stricken environment, corporate ‘moral hazard’, and the crime industry will together prove more toxic than any state-enemies faced since 1945 – and that’s without factoring in ‘gizmokillers’ like drones and computer-hacking programmes. A new approach is needed or conventional militarism will finish us off in a couple of decades.

Intriguingly, it has been challenged successfully in the ‘US’s backyard’, where the Pentagon’s militarist buddies have been sidelined by social democratic reformers. Organisations more intelligent than military alliances – with their demand for sophisticated though often useless weaponry – are not just necessary but often quite cheap. Remember that in Vietnam Scotland’s greatest invention, the push-bike, mobilised the Viet Cong. A senior US officer told me at a 1976 IISS conference: ‘These little guys just kept on coming’. A strategy and a brain, a general staff for peace, is needed, which evolves crisis by crisis, otherwise our future will be bleak in the extreme.

See Christopher Harvie, Military Power and Technological Change, International Institute for Strategic Studies, 1977, and Broonland, the Last Days of Gordon Brown, Verso, 2010.