In the early hours of this morning, Russian troops invaded Ukraine from all sides. It began with missile and artillery fire on airports and military infrastructure, followed by ground forces. Europe has not seen warfare on this scale since 1945.
The Ukrainian President Zelenskyy made a moving address to his people where he declared “’We will defend ourselves. When you attack us, you will see our faces, not our backs.” Despite Ukrainian resistance, Russian troops are now almost at the gates of Kyiv, and citizens have been told to flee to bomb shelters as the death toll continues to climb.
But Ukraine and Russia were not always enemies. They were part of the same country – the USSR – until 1991 when Ukraine voted by a margin of 92 per cent for independence. At the time it became independent Ukraine, had over a third of the Soviet nuclear arsenal and large aspects of its design and production capabilities. Ukraine voluntarily gave up these weapons in 1994 after assurance from both Russia and NATO that its national sovereignty and borders would remain in place.
Now, a generation later there are many Ukrainians who wish that decision was never made. Although these weapons display terrifying destruction, they are paradoxically responsible for much of the peace between powerful countries since the end of the Second World War.
Throughout the Cold War, the USSR and the USA only fought through proxy battles, never directly against each other. The cost of such a war was deemed too great by both countries. In fact, throughout world history, no nuclear-armed country has ever been invaded by another. They are the ultimate deterrence from aggressors.
On their website, the SNP outline their policy of scrapping the UK nuclear deterrent Trident, and state that “the biggest threats we face won’t be deterred by new nuclear weapons”. A large portion of the public agree with this sentiment, a YouGov poll last year showed that 22 per cent of British adults thought that the UK should give up nuclear weapons completely.
But this number rises to 42 per cent of Scottish adults. The belief that Scotland will be safe without a nuclear deterrent seems naive after the recent fate of Ukraine. Although the need for such weapons is regrettable and scary, events today have outlined why they are still needed in the 21st century.
The UK’s current use of nuclear weapons is limited to a handful of nuclear submarines, they use the policy of Continuous At-Sea Deterrence, which means that at least one submarine is always in an unknown location on patrol. The other submarines will be undergoing maintenance, training or on leave.
This means that regularly the UK nuclear deterrence comes down to just one submarine. The UK nuclear arsenal is only estimated at 225 warheads, compared to the Russian stockpile of 4,497 warheads.
Still, however, some criticise the programme as a waste of money, they argue the estimated £167bn is far too costly to be worth it. It turns out that this number ignores the fact that this cost is split over 30 years, and as a yearly expense would most likely be around £5bn, which is around 14 per cent of the UK defense budget. The UK defense budget itself is just 2 per cent of total Government expenditure. This seems to be hardly breaking the bank for something so important.
Despite the SNP wanting to ditch Trident, the party now seems mostly behind NATO. In 2012 after 30 years of opposition to the alliance, the party voted in favour of changing the policy by 426 votes to 332. The argument at the time was that by agreeing to stay in NATO it would be easier for the SNP to win the upcoming independence referendum. The commentator Alex Massie wrote in the Times this week, “It was a U-turn of convenience not conviction, and transparently unconvincing”.
There are still many in the party that have never fully gotten behind NATO. The official SNP youth wing ‘Young Scots for Independence’ still have opposition to NATO stated as a policy on their website because of the alliance’s use of nuclear weapons.
However, even if Scotland was to get rid of Trident, the elephant in the room is that membership of Nato means the use of nuclear weapons through the US and France. It seems the SNP is happy to be a member of the alliance, and take the moral high ground as long as other countries are prepared to do the dirty business. Even then, we can not always be sure that they will, President Trump was an open critic of NATO and friendly to Putin, and many of the current potential French presidential candidates are openly calling for France to leave Nato.
Scotland should be prepared to keep the UK’s nuclear deterrent independent and maintain the nuclear submarine base at Faslane, as it is one of the only suitable geographical locations in the British Isles to keep a secret deep-water submarine base.
The people of Scotland need to realise that although war in Europe may seem like something resigned to the history books and no longer part of the public consciousness like it was a generation ago, the events unfolding in Ukraine today show why it is always a possibility.
A nuclear deterrent and membership of NATO are policies that are needed in a dangerous world. Democracies and free nations should be proud that they can work together and form a collective defensive alliance to protect themselves against authoritarian aggressors.
Countries that the SNP often argue that Scotland should aspire to such as Finland and Sweden are now very nervously looking at events in Ukraine and are rethinking about staying out of NATO. They may very well seek membership before it gets too late.
In the coming days, there will be a lot of talk about “punishing” Russia for the invasion of Ukraine with “tough” sanctions. But Putin is prepared for this, the Russian economy is already bare, and the wealthy have got most of their money safely hidden. The regular Russian people are hardy, but the sanctions will hit them the hardest. Many sanctions have already been in place since the invasion of Crimea in 2014. If Putin was affected by them, he would have backed down by now.
Putin is a strongman dictator, sometimes the only way to get the message to someone like him is by speaking his language and showing your own strength.
But Putin is not the only dictator that Scotland and the West should fear. Most people in the world still live under authoritarian regimes, President Xi Jinping of China will be looking closely to see if any cracks appear in NATO over the Ukraine invasion. Today he saw an opportunity in the confusion to test Taiwan by sending nine planes into their airspace.
The Trident renewal that was passed by the UK Government in 2016 – despite SNP voting against it – means that the UK is protected until the 2040s. The world will look drastically different then. Countries will rise and fall, and the threats the UK is facing will have changed. Scotland is only a small place with a tiny population, it would be unwise if we followed the same path that Ukraine did in 1994 and got rid of our nuclear deterrent. It is better to be safe than sorry.
Featured Image Credit: The Scotsman