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Defence in an Independent Scotland

Malcolm Chalmers
Briefing Papers, 16 April 2012
The debate about an independent Scotland is picking up steam. Defence will present its own set of challenges should the Yes vote prevail

Download the briefing paper here (PDF)

The armed forces are the most Union-focused of all the UK's public services. Unlike health and education, breaking up the UK's military capability in the event of Scotland deciding to leave the union will present many difficult challenges related to both dividing existing assets and also the creation of new, independent structures for Scottish defence - to say nothing of the nuclear question that both Scotland and the rest of the UK would need to settle.

An independent Scotland, if it wished, could maintain small but capable armed forces. And, in time, these forces could make a useful contribution to international efforts to support peace and security.

This briefing paper explores the costs of achieving this transition, arguing that they would be significant: the separation into two militaries would create more organisational disruption than in any other arm of the public services.

And beyond finances, there are also questions over the future of the UK's nuclear deterrent. Stated SNP policy has so far been to reject the stationing of nuclear weapons on Scottish soil in the event of independence. But as Malcolm Chalmers shows, putting this idea into practice carries with it a host of political risks with Scotland's allies.

In a world in which the security of states is increasingly interdependent, it is hard to imagine why the prospect of having independent armed forces would, in itself, be a good reason to support independence. Some might think that the disruption involved in military breakup will just have to be borne in pursuit of other, wider, benefits of independence. Others might feel that such complications strengthen the case for maintaining a defence and security union that has served Scotland well.

Professor Malcolm Chalmers is Director of Research at the Royal United Services Institute for Defence and Security Studies in London. He is co-author (with William Walker) of ‘The United Kingdom, Nuclear Weapons and the Scottish Question’, Nonproliferation Review (Spring 2002).


Watch Professor Chalmers give evidence on this issue at the House of Commons Scottish Affairs Committee.

Malcolm Chalmers
Deputy Director-General

Professor Malcolm Chalmers is Deputy Director-General of RUSI and directs its growing portfolio of research into contemporary... read more

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