Opinion

Personal views from University of Bath researchers on the news of the day

Tagged: military

Is the EU anywhere near getting its own army?

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📥  EU Referendum, Heath Science & Technology

David J Galbreath, University of Bath and Simon J Smith, Staffordshire University

As part of a warning by a group of former military officers that the European Union undermines the UK’s military effectiveness, former General Sir Michael Rose expressed concern at the EU’s plan to set up its own army.

But in a speech on May 9 outlining why the UK would be more secure if it remained in the EU, Prime Minister David Cameron said suggestions of an EU army were “fanciful” and that the UK would veto any suggestion of it.

As Cameron pointed out, there is a significant gap between the rhetoric and reality of the establishment of a fully functional European army.

The creation of a European army is a long way off and by no means inevitable. Even the most supportive nations, such as Germany, would acknowledge this reality.

As defence falls within the intergovernmental sphere of EU law, any single member state can veto its creation ensuring that the prospect of the UK getting dragged into an EU army against its will is zero. In fact, one could argue that the UK remaining inside the EU would do more to prevent an EU army than a Brexit would.

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Tory defence policy talks tough but cuts deep

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📥  Election 2015, The Conversation

Dr Simon Smith is from the University's Department of Politics, Languages & International Studies.

While the hallmark of Labour’s defence manifesto was brevity, the same cannot be said of the Conservative manifesto’s line on defence. Although it contains its fair share of rhetoric as well, the manifesto devotes considerably more space to these issues than its Labour equivalent.

This may not be that surprising given the primacy the Conservatives have traditionally given to these matters, and their disdain for Labour’s record. The party never misses an opportunity to remind the voting public that Labour’s Great Recession (often emphasised with capital letters) weakened Britain on the world stage – and the 2015 manifesto is a case in point.

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Labour leaves the door open to downscale Trident

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📥  Election 2015, The Conversation

Dr Simon Smith is from the University's Department of Politics, Languages & International Studies.

The most noticeable aspect of the defence and the armed forces section of Labour’s manifesto is its brevity, especially given the current level of instability in the international environment. The section is overwhelmingly rhetorical, and there is hardly any mention of real policy – bar a few exceptions.

Labour indicates a desire to balance fiscal responsibility with a strong defence strategy for the UK; but this is a fraught task. The renewal of Trident is a cornerstone issue within the wider debate on defence spending. The SNP has already opposed the move, claiming that it would cost £100 billion, which could be better spent.

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What would be the impact of a Scottish ‘Yes’ vote for the rest of the UK?

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📥  Public Policy

This week voters north of the border get to have their say in a landmark referendum on whether Scotland should stay part of the United Kingdom.

With latest opinion polls indicating that the campaigns for and against are neck-and-neck, what are the prospects for the rest of UK if Scotland says ‘yes’ to independence?

We asked researchers from the University’s Department of Politics, Languages & International Studies and Department of Economics for their take on what’s at stake and the potential political and economic fallout for the rest of the UK in the event of a yes vote. We also headed into the Bath to find out what local Bathonians and tourists in the City thought about independence and what impact, if any, it could have on their lives.

Dr David Moon - Department of Politics, Languages & International Studies: The impact on UK politics

"The major focus at present is understandably on what the result of the forthcoming referendum on independence itself will be. That outcome, however, will also have a huge impact on next year's General Election, defining, as it will, the very terms of engagement for all parties. While it is often noted that Labour and Liberals will be hit disproportionately hard by the loss of their seats at Westminster in Scotland, in the event of a ‘Yes’ vote, it is possible that the 2015 general election could see a resultant swing to the right even before these seats disappear.

"This is because the election would be transformed, in England specifically, from a campaign focused on living standards and coalition failures, into a campaign on the question ‘who do you want to negotiate the independence deal with the Scots?’ That could be good news for the Conservatives and UKIP. Portraying Labour and Liberals as 'soft touches' when it comes to Scotland, both parties would be better positioned to draw upon the wellspring of nationalist resentment among a spurned and rejected public in England which may develop, to win support for a programme based around austerity, not only in public spending in the UK, but in what is offered to a departing Scotland as well. For those within England, Wales and Northern Ireland, who are already looking forward to or fearing the promise of a post-election referendum on leaving the EU, there are additional reasons to pay attention to the referendum on Scotland leaving the UK."

(Read David's recent Conversation article: How Scottish referendum could push English politics to the right. Also listen to David's recent radio interviews on the topic with BBC Bristol and BBC Somerset).

Professor Chris Martin - Department of Economics: Counting the economic costs

“Although hard facts are scarce in the partisan debate on the economic effects of independence, the costs seem high and the benefits too dependent on a high price for oil. Some argue that independence will lead to a dynamic knowledge driven economy. But although Scotland has a strong science base and has the heritage of the enlightenment, the ‘Scottish tiger’ scenario seems reliant on wishful thinking. Recent evidence on the dominance of non-Scottish companies (accounting for 70 per cent of Scottish GDP and for 83 per cent of larger firms) reinforces the economic argument against independence. It suggests that the Scottish tax base may be quite weak.  This may result in a higher premium on Scottish sovereign debt.  So on narrow economic grounds, I would give a strong "no".

“But the desire for independence seems to be driven by romantic views of a separate Scottish identity and culture rather than by cold economic logic. If Scotland were to become an independent country, I do not think the UK government's position of ruling out a monetary union is in the economic interests of the continuing UK. Economic theory suggests that a currency union benefits both parties so long as labour and capital markets are highly integrated, business cycles are synchronised and there is a mechanism to equalise wealth across areas suffering different short-term economic conditions. The residual UK and an independent Scotland seems as close as anyone to satisfying the first three conditions. No currency union between states has ever satisfied the fourth. At a less abstract level, Scotland would be a significant export market for the UK rump, similar in size to Belgium. Imposing a separate currency would damage this.

“This conclusion is contingent on it being clear that the UK rump is not responsible for the debts of an independent Scotland and on a credible mechanism for the exit of Scotland from the currency union. A Scottish exit would be unfortunate but probably not critical for the rest of the UK.”

Dr Bruce Morley - Department of Economics: Managing monetary union

“The problem that Scotland faces with sharing a currency with the rest of the UK is the same as the current problems in the Eurozone. If Scotland becomes independent it would have its own fiscal policy, in terms of government spending and taxes.

“At the moment, Scotland and the rest of the UK have a common fiscal policy to a large extent, so if there is a problem with the Scottish economy for example, the rest of the UK can come to its aid with fiscal transfers to it. In the event of a much looser fiscal union, this would be more difficult. Scotland would have to issue its own debt to fund increased government spending. As this debt increases it would adversely affect all the other members of the shared currency, i.e. the rest of the UK. In the event of Scotland defaulting on its debt, this would have serious implications for the currency and its other members, so as in the Eurozone with Germany is bailing out Greece, the rest of the UK would be forced to bail them out.

“However if Scotland is forced to leave the pound it would lose the Bank of England acting as the lender of last resort. This ensured the Scottish banks didn't collapse during the financial crisis as the Bank of England provided them with large amounts of liquidity. So it is potentially problematic if they stay in the pound and if they leave, this would mean that trying to join the Euro would be the other main option.”

(Read Bruce's recent article in the Conversation 'Could choppy markets see currency deal done before Scotland independence vote?' . Also listen to Bruce's interview with BBC Bristol on the topic).

Dr Simon Smith - Department of Politics, Languages & International Studies: The nuclear question

“The Naval Base Clyde is home to the four Vanguard-class Trident equipped submarines, at Faslane, as well as the storage depot for the nuclear warheads, at Coulport.  Although all four submarines are based on Scottish territory, one submarine is also on patrol at any one time - referred to as the UK’s Continuous at Sea Deterrence or CASD.  Furthermore, the entire Royal Navy nuclear powered submarine fleet is due to be stationed at Faslane by 2017 and the current Vanguard-class submarines are due for replacement starting in 2028 at an estimated total cost of £20 billion.

“In 2013, the SNP passed a resolution in favour of a constitutional ban on nuclear weapons in an independent Scotland. The desire to rid Scotland of Trident is thus a principled position for the SNP and, according Nicola Sturgeon, one that is ‘not negotiable’. Of course, the position of the UK government is the exact opposite. Therefore, the issue of Trident directly affects the debate over Scottish independence.

“Scottish independence would not only have significant implications for the UK’s current ability to operate CASD.  The relocation of Trident is not a simple matter and should a sovereign Scotland insist on a swift removal there might be no alternative but to decommission.

“The most likely replacements - in a rump UK - for Faslane would be Barrow, Milford Haven or Devonport. However, all of them bring safety, logistical and, therefore, political drawbacks - and replacing Coulport, even more so. Some have suggested that it could take a ‘minimum’ of twenty years to construct replacement facilities. Other options have been proposed including ‘sharing facilities’ either in the United States or France. However, the UK Government is on record as saying that ‘operations from any base in the US or France would greatly compromise the independence of the deterrent and there would be significant political and legal obstacles’.”

(Read Simon's recent article in the Conversation 'An independent Scotland might have to agree a deal on Trident to get into NATO'  . Also listen to Simon talking on the topic to BBC Bristol).