Wednesday, 6 November 2013

How many submarines?

One of the most cringe-worthy moments prior to the 2007 assembly election was when David Williams asked Bethan Jenkins how many aircraft carriers an independent Wales would have.  To be fair, there are few people involved in politics who haven’t given an interview at some stage which they later regretted (and I certainly include myself in that), and the question itself was one of the silliest I’ve ever seen put to a politician; but the episode was, nevertheless, something of an embarrassment.
It led some to the view that since we didn’t have properly worked out answers to such silly questions we should simply avoid raising the question of independence at all.  That seemed to me to be something of a ‘baby and bathwater’ response.  It was precisely the lack of debate around independence and its consequences which led to the situation of candidates not being able to answer the question, rather than the other way around.
Whatever, the episode was brought to mind again recently when I read through the report of the House of Commons defence committee (available here) on the implications of Scottish independence on defence.  This time, however, the question seems to be about how many submarines and fast jets Scotland would need, where it would get them, and how it would pay for them.  On a per head basis, a split of UK military assets would apparently give Scotland 0.7 of an Astute class submarine and 1.6 frigates and destroyers.  As for fast jets, well perhaps around 10 -12 on my reading of the figures.  Not enough, say the MPs and military experts, to provide a “credible” defence for Scotland.
My first reaction was simply to dismiss this as yet another silly question, albeit not being asked by a journalist this time.  However, on reading the report, it became clear that it was not, after all, such a silly question – because the SNP’s defence policy does indeed call for Scotland to possess a fleet (size unspecified) of submarines and a fleet (size unspecified) of fast jets.  They have, in short, invited the question.
Whether Scotland actually needs submarines and fast jets is another question entirely.  It all boils down to what it is that Scotland needs to defend itself from and which countries are used as comparators.
For years, decades even, before some of the party’s leading figures got cold feet about discussing the issue at all, Plaid used to compare Wales with the Republic of Ireland, drawing on that country’s experience.  Ireland spends a low proportion of its GDP on defence, as a purely defensive capability which can also be deployed in support of the civil authorities and the Republic has long had a clear commitment to support UN peacekeeping activities.  Its policy is not predicated on the assumption that the rest of the world is just waiting to invade and conquer it at any sign of weakness.  And it doesn't go round the rest of the world pursuing a foreign policy likely to make it a target.
Contrast that with the UK stance.  Much of the UK’s armed forces constitute an offensive rather than defensive capability (aircraft carriers, for instance); and UK policy is indeed predicated on an almost paranoid assumption about everybody else’s intentions.
Faced with that contrasting scenario it is pretty clear to me which stance makes most sense from a Welsh – or Scottish – viewpoint.  The surprise and disappointment to me is that the SNP’s policy was recently changed to align itself much more clearly with the UK rather than Republic of Ireland view of the world.  This even extends to an expressed wish to join NATO – a nuclear armed alliance.  On that specific, I find it hard, no matter how much I might want to, to disagree with the House of Commons committee’s point that there’s more than a tiny inconsistency between the rejection of stationing nuclear weapons on Scottish soil and the embracing of membership of a nuclear alliance.
I can understand why the SNP wants to make independence look less of a risk, to be less of a major step, to be less different, in order to win the referendum.  But for me, being different and taking a different worldview is part of the point of independence.  Moving away from the imperial mind-set of the past is key to developing a different world order, and breaking up one of the old imperial powers is part of the route to doing that.  Replicating it on a smaller scale undermines what is for me a major plank of the case.
The answer to the question about submarines should surely be the same as the answer which should have been given about Welsh aircraft carriers – ‘why on earth would we want any of those?’.  It’s disappointing that that is not the answer being given - and they can't plead youth and inexperience either.

16 comments:

Anonymous said...

Oh, for such naivety and selfishness. No, you are not representative of your true countrymen!

Defence is the price we all have to pay for wanting to live in a civilised world.


Gwyn Jones said...

An independent Wales may not need submarines or aircraft carriers but would need a self defence force. The best example of this is the Swiss military citizen soldier. They serve from the age of 19 until 35 but some up to 50. Their equipment, including weapons are kept at home. This includes automatic pistols and fully automatic rifles. The persons who are found unsuitable, except for the disabled, pay 3% extra taxes until they are 30. Afterall all our historic enemies and invaders came by land from the east.
This requires a change of mindset from our political masters who pass disarming laws because they do not trust us.
Even the plaid MP's want us disarmed and helpless. During my conversation with Wigley at the time of the pistol ban heclaimed that it was legal because it was "copmpulsory Purchase". It was a newon on me that they could compulsory purchase my civil rights as enshrined in nthe 1688/89 Bill of Rights. Even the serial speeder, Elfyn Llwyd, wanted to ban all guns at this time and punish thousands of law-abiding citizens. Later he was in court having ammassed over 12 motoring points but he escaped a driving ban. A few months later he was caught again but only received a few weeks ban. So innocent persons should be punished while guilty go free.
I do not think that these so called natioalist know what laws they are passing. Even the detested East German government did not ban pistol shooting.So what makes these MP's think that they are bastions of liberty.

Gwyn Jones

Anonymous said...

And defence also means rushing to the aid of others who are in urgent need.

Even if we don't have the ability or equipment ourselves, we will always have to pay others to perform the duties that we cannot.

Price of freedom, price of democracy, price of order, price of civilisation.

John Dixon said...

Both Anons seem to be responding to a point which was never raised. The post didn't say that defence was unnecessary, it argued that there are different models for what 'defence' is required. The UK model - which is in essence about having an offensive capability - isn't the only one, nor do I believe that it's the best one for an independent Wales (or Scotland). That is a very different proposition.

Whether at some point in the future humanity might get to the point of realising that there's a better way of organising relationships is another question; I believe that we can - but that isn't what this post was about.

glynbeddau said...

It would be surely the case that an independent Wales would cut the number of potential "enemies" at a stroke.
I would like to see have a defence force but one who role includes defence a against natural or man made disasters both here and aiding other in the world

No Aircraft Carriers or Submarines but men and women who have the respect of the world when they turn up to aid in a the aftermath of a earthquake for example,

Anonymous said...

Sorry Mr Dixon, but it is you who make the mistake.

Defence does not just mean defence. It also means the exact opposite, attack. Helping to attack those forces that wish to bring harm upon us, or more likely one of our allies.

England has no more need of a 'defence' system than Wales, no-one is likely to ever attack England again. But assume Indonesia attacks Australia. Do you not consider it is our moral responsibility to do something. Or to support those other nations that are willing to do something. And whatever we 'do' will have a 'cost'! A cost as high if not considerably higher than any savings savings your idea envisages!

Gwyn Jones said...

The people need a citizen army as a defence against their own government. Most governments today regard themselves as "progressives". Their aim is the "improvement of the species" and to have a class of professional politicians. The flavour of the month are the so called "green issues". A green administration must be by its very nature a totalitarian one."I must put my pyjamas in the drawr marked pyjamas. I must eat my charcoal buscuit which is good for me".
The older amongst us may recall that over 100 years ago the contemporary spiffing wheeze was eugenics subscribed to by leading intellectuals of the day and elements of both the left and right.
That road lead us straight to the gates of Auschwitz.
In a Tribune article in 1942 George Orwell wrote " The totalitarian states can do great things but one thing that they cannot do is to give the working man a rifle and tell him to take it home and keep it there. That rifle standing in the corner of the factory worker's flat or hanging on the wall of the labourer's cottage is a symbol of liberty. It is our job to see that it stays there."
As amember of Plaid I did not expect the MP's to vote to deprive the citizens of their arms. This other quote from Orwell summed up my feelings. "The animals looked from pig to man and from man to pig and back again. But already it was impossible to tell which was which".
Gwyn Jones

John Dixon said...

Gwyn,

Certainly, I can remember discussions around the Swiss model in the 1970s, but I'm not sure that it ever became formal policy. And to be honest, even it it was appropriate in the 1950s and 1960s, I'm not convinced that it would be an appropriate policy for the 21st century. More significantly, in terms of your comments on this thread, I don't really see that thee is any direct relationship between such a policy and the possession of weaponry by the population at large - they are entirely separate matters.

John Dixon said...

Anon,

"But assume Indonesia attacks Australia. Do you not consider it is our moral responsibility to do something"

This may come as a surprise to you, but no, I do not consider that Wales has a moral obligation to join in military action in the circumstances - utterly hypothetical - which you outline.

There are, though, three moral obligations which I think Wales (or any other country come to that) does have which may be relevant here.

The first is that, as a member of the UN, (which I'd certainly like to see), there is an obligation to abide by international law and support resolutions of the UN. As I said in the original post, supplying troops to UN peace-keeping operations is something that I would support.

The second is not to undermine international law (in the way that the UK and US repeatedly do) by taking unilateral or multilateral military action outside, and often in breach of, UN resolutions.

And the third is to work with others to strengthen international organisations such as the UN, and to use them to try and build a world order where we can avoid conflicts in the first place - or at the very least resolve them without resorting to war.

Anonymous said...

Independence in Ireland was not the 'defence policy' jump you assume. From 1922 to 1937 the free state was established and remained a dominion of the British Empire, and from 1937 to 1949, as √Čire, still remained inside the British Commonwealth. Full independent defence policy, the ending of effective bi-lateral defence obligations did not end in 1922, but continued up to the 1931 Statute of Westminster. It was this officially handing over foreign policy, to the 'dominion' that created an independent defence policy in Ireland. You cannot have an independent defence policy without an independent foreign policy. Like Ireland, Scotland proposes a continuation of the 'crown', and Nato. Splitting submarines and Jets is just playing the politics of fear, the referendum on independence as far as defence is concerned is a financial and geo-political treaty. In ten years time, Scotland will have to decide if it needs a gunboat off Aberdeen. This is not as much as a headache as Britain (the remainder) having to decide if it needs, or can afford, an aircraft carrier in the Gulf of Oman.

John Dixon said...

Anon,

I can't quite see where I've assumed that there was a defence policy 'jump' in Ireland; and I'm happy to accept that assumption of control over defence policy was a gradual process. I'd also agree that a separate defence policy without independence and a separate foreign policy would be meaningless.

But Ireland did not go through - and as far as I'm aware, no one ever suggested that it did - an interim period of an independent Ireland aping the defence stance of the UK before settling down to something much more suitable. Yet that is what seems to be being proposed for Scotland.

Gwyn Jones said...

Sorry to return to this John but you seemto be 5totally against the citizen being armed. Orwell (again!) wrote,"Thus for example, tanks, battle ships, bombing planes are inherently tyrranical weapons, while rifles, muskets, longbows and hand grenades are inherently democratic weapons. A complex weapon makes the strong stronger while a simple weapon - so long as there is no answer to it - gives claws to the weak".
Gwyn Jones

John Dixon said...

" you seemto be 5totally against the citizen being armed

Surprising as it may seem, I don't actually see much merit in the idea of an armed citizenry.

Gwyn Jones said...

Of course you do not see much merit in it John because it is inherantly democratic and you cannot order us about. It is the Lady Bountiful syndrome."I will give you the crumbs from my table and you should be grateful.but I don't really trust you. The state should have absolute power over you. For your own good of course". A citizen milita would be an anathema to our masters and would be masters.

Gwyn Jones

John Dixon said...

Gwyn,

You have every right to disagree, of course. But that doesn't extend to assuming that you know my motives better than I do, and criticising me on the basis of what you "know" my motives to be, as in: " ...it is inherently democratic and you cannot order us about". I neither want to order anyone about, nor do I ever expect to be in any position to do so. There are plenty of reasons for opposing widespread possession of firearms which have nothing to do with democracy or masters.

Gwyn Jones said...

Gun control started in the UK in 1921. This was the time "they" told our grandfathers and great grandfathers,"When you are demobed in 1919 don't forget to hand your rifle back. We want to use it against you in 1926."

Cheers, Gwyn