Independent Scottish Armed Forces reportedly dependent on UK divorce settlement

The Scottish Government’s November 2013 white paper, Scotland’s Future: Your Guide to an Independent Scotland, detailed its defense priorities and position.

Ahead of a new campaign for a new independence referendum in 2023, the Scottish Government is releasing a specific defense document, as part of a series of updated prospectuses for an independent Scotland.

Instead of the latter document, the analysis of the future requirements of the Scottish Defense Force is to rely heavily on the 2013 forecast of its composition and cost to defend its “important strategic position in the North Atlantic”.

However, this strategic position has evolved since 2014 and, in a more contested international environment, the force structure set out in 2013 would likely be an absolute bare minimum for the defense of Scotland and its ambitious international obligations.

The evolution of the geopolitical environment

Euro-Atlantic security is changing rapidly in response to the war in Ukraine and renewed Russian aggression, making Scotland’s geo-strategic position in the North Atlantic critical to UK and NATO security.

Russia has been remilitarizing the Arctic for several years, following a reduction in priority following the Cold War, pushing NATO and the UK to focus more on the region alongside the European Arctic or ” Great North “.

The UK government published its first Arctic Policy Framework in 2013 (revised in 2018 and 2022) and a specific defense document for the High North in 2022 which underline their central role in UK security.

However, an independent Scotland would supplant the rest of the UK as the “nearest neighbour” to the Arctic and inherit the requirement to monitor and control the growing activity of Russian submarines and aircraft. revitalizing its “bastion defense strategy” (Russia’s naval security zone that reaches as far south as the Shetland Islands), and guarding the Greenland-Iceland-UK (GUIK) gap through which Russian submarines must sail to access the North Atlantic.

The separation policy

Tensions within Scotland’s political relationship with Westminster have also increased since the last independence referendum and the political fallout from Brexit, ensuring arrangements are “orderly and securely advanced” more difficult.

Consequently, the status and composition of an independent Scottish army would, to a large extent, be affected by general post-independence negotiation and settlement and heavily influenced by Westminster despite independence.

Indeed, the 2013 white paper includes the caveat to every description of its anticipated air, land and sea component stating “initially equipped from a traded share of current UK assets”.

The political conditions under which this exact distribution of assets and liabilities will have to be negotiated will very closely determine its outcome. The experience of Brexit has shown in Edinburgh and London how difficult this process can be in a wide range of non-defence policy areas.

Additionally, a disagreement over the exact nature of a potential referendum in 2023 will likely strain that relationship even further. In this case, defense negotiations will be bilaterally dominated by the UK’s basic status and nuclear deterrence at Faslane and Coulport, against the backdrop of external negotiations with NATO and the EU over possible membership, to ensure Scotland’s security needs.

Scottish conventional forces

The 2013 white paper pledged to gradually build up a total force of 20,000 men (15,000 regulars and 5,000 reserves) within 10 years of independence and pledged to spend £2.5billion for defense and security.

In terms of comparative size and geographical areas of operation, Norway (23,000 active personnel and a defense budget of £5.8 billion) and Denmark (16,000 active personnel and a defense budget of 4. £3 billion) provide a useful model for assessing Scotland’s defense needs.

While it is difficult to accurately assess the exact cost of conventional forces, the budget forecasts integrating security and defence, it is likely that the actual costs of defense will be significantly higher than the 2013 forecasts.

Moreover, it is “nearly impossible” to calculate the current and projected expenditure of the UK Ministry of Defense in Scotland. Scotland’s position in the North Atlantic as a “sea nation” prioritizes maritime and air patrols to protect Scotland’s coast and maritime resources and contribute to collective security in the North Atlantic.

For air power, maintaining current capabilities at RAF Lossiemouth, the RAF’s main operating base in Scotland, which provides strategic surveillance of northern UK airspace to protect airspace of the United Kingdom and NATO against the incursions, is essential. The base currently hosts four squadrons of Typhoon fighter jets, two Poseidon P-8A maritime patrol squadrons (nine airframes at a total cost of £3bn over a decade) and in 2023 it is expected to add three new aircraft E-7 Wedgetail surveillance camera. (total cost £2.1 billion).

These specialized capabilities are expensive to purchase, operate and maintain and would quickly strain the defense budget, especially in the early years of independence.

Therefore, if the acquisition is not realistic, an agreement must be reached, either for the UK to continue to operate P8s and E7s from Lossiemouth, or with other operators, such as the United States or Norway, to maintain homogeneous coverage.

Naval forces, alongside maritime patrols, should also contribute to intelligence gathering, situational awareness, search and rescue and exercises, and as such should have high levels of interoperability with the Royal Navy.

The existing plan appears to rely heavily on acquiring ships and boats from the current Royal Navy fleet to maintain its capabilities and then procuring new ships from the Scottish Navy.

The naval domain is perhaps most critical to maintaining continuity of capability during the transition to an independent Scotland given the growing Russian threat and a mix of frigates, offshore patrol boats, countermines and support vessels will be required .

Scottish land forces would likely be formed around a deployable brigade (3,500 regulars and 1,200 reserves) initially from a negotiated share of current British assets and gradually upgraded and reinforced to (4,700 regulars and 1,110 reserve).

The deployment of these land forces will be important for Scotland to actively contribute to UN peacekeeping and peacemaking operations and potential future NATO or Common Security and Defense Policy missions. EU.

Alliances and partnerships

An independent Scotland has the ambition to join both NATO and the EU. Therefore, its defense requirements are partly determined by the aspiration to join both organizations.

For NATO, this would require devoting at least 2% of GDP to defence. In response to the war in Ukraine, European defense budgets have increased and NATO has announced significant increases in its Euro-Atlantic military posture, which will entail significant costs.

Therefore, it would be difficult for Scotland, especially in its early years, to contribute significantly less than 2%. However, Scotland, due to its geostrategic position, can be valuable to the UK, NATO and the EU in other ways, such as willingness to contribute to international missions and provide sites for UK bases and training establishments.

This balance will be based on the negotiating skills of the Scottish administration which could guarantee independence in the future.