As a NATO member state with a strategically important position in the North Atlantic yet essentially no military at all, Iceland represents an intriguing counterpoint to the arguments of the No campaign that an independent Scotland would be somehow dangerously vulnerable to attack from enemies unknown.
Earlier this year, the Icelandic Review of Politics and Administration published a paper looking at the implications of Scottish independence for Scotland, the rUK and the rest of NATO. An alert reader sent it to us a while ago and we’ve just got round to reading it all the way through. (It’s a modest 16 pages, but hey, we’re pretty busy.)
It conclusions are rather less doom-laden than those of the UK government.
We strongly recommend taking 20 minutes to read through the entire document. But we’ve pulled out a few quotes just to give you a flavour.
On the post-independence attitude of the rUK:
“In its given, North-west European and ‘strong state’ context, Scotland’s independence – should it ever happen – would be more of a ‘velvet divorce’ than a violent (conflict-driven) breakaway or radical régime change.
It is hard to build realistic scenarios where London would wish or be able to treat Scotland in a zero-sum, purely hostile and vengeful way – at least on strategic points – when facing an actual split either post-2014 or later in history.
The morning after a ‘Yes’ vote would witness a new situation where the rUK would also be a demandeur and could only hurt itself by casting Scotland into a limbo of indefinite non-membership.”
“NATO’s collective budget is very small and not a significant cost for a nation like Scotland. The latter would more probably have to ‘pay’ by continuing to contribute to NATO-led (as well as EU- or UN-led) military missions abroad; even small states can meet niche requirements in this context, while their presence conveys political solidarity.
One independent study suggests that viable intervention forces as well as basic territorial defence could be provided for little more than half the money Scottish taxpayers currently contribute to UK defence.”
On an independent Scotland expelling nuclear weapons:
“Would NATO itself want to keep Scotland, as a small ‘security importer’ with reduced defence spending and capacity, where – moreover – the dominant political movement proposes to declare itself a non-nuclear state and remove the present Trident nuclear submarine base at Faslane?
The major headaches this poses for the UK government should not obscure the fact that very few NATO states now have other people’s nuclear forces on their territory, and a democratic Alliance could hardly bully a new member to retain nuclear capacity in peacetime against its will.”
On NATO membership generally:
“It would be hard for it to reject Scottish accession on the grounds of military spending or force size, when other recent entrants’ performance has varied considerably and Iceland, a founder Ally, has no forces at all.
What would probably dominate, ultimately also in London’s view, would be the case for maintaining unbroken NATO coverage (with its scope for coherent US reinforcement) across the North Atlantic, and having a Scotland that was a modest contributor rather than a complete free-rider.”
On EU membership:
“The EU faces no obvious strategic danger from leaving Scotland out, and would have alternative ways of working with it (the European Economic Area or a Swiss-type bilateral model.)
Conversely, however, it has nothing to lose from keeping hold of such a prosperous and peaceful territory, once the political after-shocks of secession and procedural costs of transition were absorbed. Those who agreed to launch accession talks with Iceland in record time in 2009 would have little excuse to go slow on a Scotland already fully compliant.
More broadly and perhaps decisively, the EU as a whole and its territories currently doing most business with Scotland – starting with the rUK – would face huge economic, financial and societal uncertainty if Scotland was no longer to be part of the Single Market, the Four Freedoms of human and capital movement, and the common bedrock of EU regulation.
This makes it likely, all legal debate and rhetoric aside, that the time of grace before actual Scottish separation would in fact be used to devise ways of keeping the EU system provisionally alive in Scotland and (re?-)establishing Scottish membership fast.”
We don’t want to just cut and paste the whole thing, but there’s lots more after that. It appears to be a calm, rational, balanced and sensible appraisal of the realities, free of any vested political agenda. As a guide to how the rest of the world really sees the prospect of an independent Scotland, we suspect it’s pretty much bang on the money.