Tuesday, 5 February 2008

Scotland's place in the world

I haven’t blogged on anything… substantial… in recent posts, but reading the First Minister’s comments on Scotland’s place in the world post-independence (and some of the responses to it) made me think I ought to use the two degrees I studied for to comment on something non-partisan.

The First Minister suggests that when independent, Scotland would be ideally placed to act as a global peacekeeper. He cites global goodwill towards Scotland as a reason for this and you can see where he’s going with it. Although somewhat tainted by being part of an illegal invasion of Iraq, the Scottish population was avidly against the war, and demonstrated this on a number of occasions.

Of course, conflict resolution is a somewhat tricky process. Just ask the Americans, who’ve struggled in Vietnam, Korea and, presently, in Iraq. But that is a symptom more of the attitude to conflict in the beginning. Europeans – and for this I defer to Robert Kagan – are “from Venus”, focusing more on the diplomatic and democratic methods to resolve conflicts while the American way tends to focus primarily on military tactics. This is not a criticism of what has come to be perceived as “the American way”, merely a recognition of what has become the art of the possible. You do what you can with your capability.

And that is what the FM is indicating. Scotland will not be placed to dominate the world militarily the way the US does or the way the British Empire did in the past. What it will be able to do is offer its position as the recipient of global goodwill in the hope that it can aid in conflict resolution in the same way that Norway has done in the Middle East and, to a lesser extent, in Sri Lanka.

And this suggestion is not without merit, for we do have some experience in that field. Lord Robertson, from his time as head of NATO, was at the centre of conflict and resolution in many different places.

The responses to the First Minister’s comments have emphasised the inherent difficulties in what he proposes. And that is true – there is nothing about conflict resolution that is easy – look to examples in Northern Ireland, in the Basque Country and in Kenya to note both historical and current examples. But no one has suggested it would be easy.


What the FM is proposing is a bold position. It shows ambition for Scotland. And I, for one, would be proud to see Scotland take on this mantle as a beacon for peace in the world.

4 comments:

Huw 5 February 2008 at 21:13  

I'm loving the (MScEcon) I must say. However, I've got to raise issue with your agreement with Kagan. Sure, at the moment America has greater capability than Europe, but that is not to say that Europeans do not recognise the necessity of hard power. Furthermore, eschewing hard power in favour of soft power, as you're suggesting an independent Scotland should do, removes both Scotland's right and ability to complain about any future American 'illegal' wars, namely because it would be entirely dependent on the US for its security. European countires certainly have the potential to play an equal globabl role to the US, but it can only do so if it strives towards closer union. Burying your head in the sand (as many Plaid Cymru pacificists in Wales would do, incidentally), is an option of weakness...Methinks...

Malcolm Harvey 5 February 2008 at 22:16  

It will come as no surprise Huw, that I think your wrong. I agree with Kagan's analysis because he's right. There is a division of Labour that is akin to the US making the dinner and Europe washing up afterwards. I'm not saying Europe does not recognise the value of "hard power". What I am saying is that they recognise that their strength is in what is widely recognised as "soft power" - diplomacy, sanctions etc.

But I don't think that either exist in a vacuum. This is why the EU and the US need each other - each reinforces the other. All I'm arguing is that we recognise where our strength lies. An independent Scotland will never be a massive military power, I think on that all can agree. It can however - and this is the FM's point - play a role in peacekeeping and conflict resolution.

Sam 8 February 2008 at 18:48  

Interesting idea, very ambitious from Salmond. And interesting that he seems to see Scottish independence as a done deal!
But like the Prof in the article says, there are one or two barriers which a small & newly-independent country would find hard to overcome. A tradition of neutrality or experience is obviously helpful, & with other players like Norway available its not clear there would be a need for another actor. Even if there was, Scotland would need the civil servants, diplomats etc to give them the expertise. Norway also has an academic tradition of conflict resolution studies which Scotland lacks.

Also don't you have to be the kind of model of social perfection that everyone thinks of Norway as? No offense to Scotland but its identity is probably too tied to the UK's as a whole for many people. Like Huw said, Scotland has to depend on others for its security, whether thats NATO, EU, US, UK whatever, & those actors will dwarf it in terms of military, hard or soft power.

It is a laudable goal, and something I would be delighted to hear from the British PM. But given the massive gap between what Salmond proposes & the current reality of Scotlands place in the world, and the huge time-frame required to bridge that gap, comments like that seem more like FM propoganda than any realistic policy aim. & we are well used to politicians trying to distract us from mundane reality with unlikely dreams.

Malcolm Harvey 12 February 2008 at 13:03  

I've already dealt with Huw's comment regarding depending on others for security, so I won't dwell on it, except to say this. All of Europe depends on each other within the EU and NATO, the US and (to a lesser extent) the UN for security. So why would Scotland be looked upon as a less valuable actor in such matters?

On Sam's other point - about expertise. I don't want to disagree too much - making Scotland a credible actor in terms of dplomacy will take time. But it is not as if Scotland lacks anything in the way of academia - some of the oldest institutions in Britain if not the world are in Scotland - and many, including St Andrews, put a premium on studies of global issues and conflict resolution. And as I mentioned in my post above, guys like Lord Robertson - with experience as the head of NATO - as well as most of the previous 2 UK Cabinets suggest that Scots have the capablitiies necessary to do something like this.

As you say Sam, it's a laudable goal. But something most of the media in Scotland - and indeed you in this post - have attacked as pie in the sky. This is the difference between what Jack McConnell aimed for - "the best small country in the world" - and the rather loftier goals of the SNP.

All work and too much negativity makes Jack a dull boy.

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