How the future may hinge on what happens in … Scotland

"Yes And "No" Campaigners Ahead Of The Scottish Referendum Vote

If you’re not paying attention to what is unfolding in Scotland this week, you should be. It’s a safe bet it’s being watched in a lot of places by a lot of people who wish the U.S. harm.

On Thursday, Scots will vote in a referendum on their independence from the United Kingdom after spending more than 300 years as a part of it. The notion they would vote “aye” was unthinkable for months — even years; the prospect was discussed when I worked in Europe from 2004-2009 but wasn’t considered a truly serious possibility. Yet, opinion polls show those just now making up their minds are leaning toward independence. It appears the vote will be a close one.

If the Scots go through with it, there could be a number of consequences for Americans. At the top of the list is what it would mean for NATO.

Already, the U.K. is one of just four of NATO’s 28 members that spends the required 2 percent of annual GDP on its military. Given that the others are Greece and Estonia, that means the U.K. is one of the few NATO allies besides the U.S. that can contribute to the alliance with the robustness originally envisioned. But Scottish independence would reduce the British military’s ranks by an estimated 1 in 10, and the new nation’s military would have its hands full trying to provide for its own defense, much less contribute to international alliances.

I would imagine Vladimir Putin, who has been testing NATO’s reflexes for some time now, is keenly interested in whether the U.K. breaks apart in this way. One of NATO’s most critical members would no doubt lose itself in a bout of navel-gazing just when Russia may feel emboldened to make more mischief in Ukraine, or worse, in one of the Baltic countries that actually belong to NATO.

There could be a spillover effect as well. There are restive regions in France, Spain, Italy and Belgium that have long talked about secession as well. If they see Scotland do it — and particularly if they see Edinburgh negotiate continued inclusion in institutions such as the European Union — they may move from talk to action.

This could have consequences whether they actually secede or not, and whether any newly independent nations, including Scotland, remain in the EU or NATO. A government trying to keep from losing important regions will not be as attentive to international affairs. The potential for exploitation by Putin or anyone else who wishes the West harm is great.

Even if the Putins of the world don’t change course, there could be great consequences to America of a balkanization of Europe beyond the Balkans. This appears to be further evidence the world order that has prevailed since the end of World War II is breaking apart. (If you haven’t read it yet, I highly recommend this piece by the New York Times’ Roger Cohen on this subject.)

It would appear neither President Obama nor any senior member of his administration, past or present, has an answer as to what succeeds the present world order. But in their defense, who does? Who among the possible contenders in 2016 has been thinking deeply about what the currents of history around the world, including in places like Scotland we believed to be settled, mean for the future? Or how America might shape them going forward in a way that serves our interests? (To those tempted to answer, “Hillary Clinton,” by all means, tell us what she accomplished as secretary of state to make the situation better rather than worse.)

These questions may seem out of place in an America that wants to focus on, as Cohen puts it, having “bridges to build and education systems to fix.” But if the questions are not answered satisfactorily, we may well return to one of those periods of history where bridges and schools are the least of anyone’s worries.

Reader Comments 0

103 comments
MarkVV
MarkVV

What happened to the "no wandering off the topic" policy, Kyle?

Kyle_Wingfield
Kyle_Wingfield moderator

@MarkVV It is, like the post, generally about U.S. commitments overseas. Given the outcry about off-topic posting, I thought I'd try to be lenient wherever there was a vague connection. Particularly when the post has been online for a while.

MHSmith
MHSmith

I really question the wisdom of Obama's latest military commitment to put 3,000 American boots on the ground, to fight Ebola.

I understand the humanitarian effort behind this but with the political up-evil in the world presently and given the terminal nature that surrounds this deployment I believe it is a very very bad decision. 


At what point do we finally decide to take care of our own healthcare crisis and let the world do the same? 

Dusty2
Dusty2

@MHSmith 

I do not like the idea of sending American troops into the midst of an Ebola epidemic either.  Civilian volunteers that want to go get my admiration but commanding someone to go is different.


Our troops are our country's protective forces  They are not trained professionals to fight epidemics in faraway places.  To use them as a promotion that the USA is doing something against Ebola is a thoughtless misguided effort.  Congress should remind our president that the human element of  our ;armed forces is for the  protection of Americans, not disease fighters at risk  in foreign countries.  




Visual_Cortex
Visual_Cortex

I do wonder if somewhat similarly dire predictions were made in 1993, when the Czech and Slovak republics peacefully went their separate ways. 


(Can't recall any. Obviously, smaller country, albeit in a more hotly contested part of the globe.)

IReportYouWhine
IReportYouWhine

But it is not only secessionism that imperils the One Europe of Jean Monnet and Robert Schuman and their historic achievement, the EU. In Britain, France, Holland, Switzerland, Austria, Hungary and most of the countries of Europe, populist parties have arisen to liberate their nations from what they see as the soft dictatorship of the EU.


What assures the growth of these parties is what engendered them – mass immigration from the Third World and the attendant rise in crime, Islamism and social disorder. - Buchanan


If the UK won't take care of the problems, the Scottish will.



Visual_Cortex
Visual_Cortex

And I caught grief for trusting in the observations of John Oliver. Geez.

Finn-McCool
Finn-McCool

Is Wales next?


Then Germany will break up again into Silesia, Hanover, Bavaria, Westphalia, Pomerania, etc.

Then France can break apart.

Then states can start breaking off from the Federal Government.


Bye Texas. Don't let the door hit you on the way out.


No, we should sell Texas to Mexico. Let's make some money on this.

Dusty2
Dusty2

@Finn-McCool 

Let's not wail about Wales!  But sell TEXAS?  Home of some of our greatest leaders like the Bush family and stalwart Gov. Perry?  Those are dependable people and that is what we need in  these days of dalliance and dreadful (D) direction. 


Besides that, I like cowboy movies made in Texas.  Yahoo, Silver!  Texas is tops!  

dcdcdc
dcdcdc

My main concern is how this will impact the price of Scotch.  Actually....it's my only concern.

DontTread
DontTread

If the British were to lose 10% of their military personnel because of Scottish independence, they could recover that without too much drama.  30% would be a different matter.


Of course, if Putin decides to channel his inner Stalin and start taking over other countries, the world is immediately a much different place regardless of what Scotland does.

Dusty2
Dusty2

Well, I am late to the debate here.  Been having a bonnie time  playing my" bagpipes"!  Yep, my ancestors were Scots and by all indications, they were a conservative bunch.  Never let a penny slip through their fingers!


I think they will stick with the UK  and not become a puny peninsular nation among hundreds of other such little countries.  The cry for more freedom is always  a grand thing until the bells stop ringing and  the bills come in.  I think they will see the practical side of this after some thought.


As to us, we should mind our own business until the smoke clears, if there is any.  Please don't let us send  Kerry to the "rescue". They will make Haggis out of him and send NATO a farewell card.  Let auld acquaintance stay auld until the new one comes. .  .   .  . 

MarkVV
MarkVV

A vote in favor of independence of Scotland may be regarded as a tragedy, the consequences of which may indeed be detrimental to Europe and in the end to the world, as Kyle suggested. On the other hand, it might also be considered a victory for a nation which has a glorious history of independence and some rightful grievances against the UK government. What makes the referendum rather dubious in my view is that the eligibility to vote is based on residence, and thus includes citizens of other Commonwealth and EU countries, rather than Scots only, but that was perhaps the only feasible way to hold it.

I hope the vote will go against independence, not so much for the above consequences for the world – the world would just have to deal with them – but because the consequences for the people in Scotland seem almost impossible to predict. Other countries have split successfully, of course, but such experiences are hardly transferrable.

MHSmith
MHSmith

@Finn-McCool 

WW1 and The Treaty of Versailles is the reason why there was a WW2 in the opinion of many.

Point
Point

I thought you would be writing about southern states trying to secede from the union as a comparison.

Jefferson1776
Jefferson1776

You are just throwing spit balls,  the young Scotts will know social pain if they run from daddy.

MHSmith
MHSmith

I do agree with your assessment of what this could mean to NATO Kyle. Obama better have a plan B in hand. 

RafeHollister
RafeHollister

@MHSmith Obama and a plan, much less a plan B?  He might have one of those birth control plan B's in his hand, but that would be the only plan B in his possession.


As with ISIS, he will develop his plan, two months after NATO has dissolved and Russia is in control of the much of Eastern Europe.  We have to have the speech, before we get the plan.  The speech will be a rerun of " there will be consequences" and maybe a redline drawn at the German border.

IReportYouWhine
IReportYouWhine

Another technical question, where's the "my account" homepage been moved to? The place where you can go change your avatar? It used to be up at the top right hand corner.

MHSmith
MHSmith

Back during the '60s when JFK was President do you know how close the world came to the to start a nuclear war,  if it were not for one complete unknown lone Soviet submariner? 

You toss known names around as though they will make the difference Kyle. Fact is, they probably don't. 

It doesn't matter who we think has the answer to the world order or to its salvation. More than likely it will be someone unheard of, totally off anyone's radar screen, like Vasili Alexandrovich Arkhipov.     

HeadleyLamar
HeadleyLamar

@MHSmith The captain of the submarine, Valentin Grigorievitch Savitsky, believing that a war might already have started, wanted to launch a nuclear torpedo.

Three officers on board the submarine had to agree unanimously to authorize the launch: Captain Savitsky; the political officer Ivan Semonovich Maslennikov; and the second-in-command Arkhipov. An argument broke out among the three, in which only Arkhipov was against the launch


In Aleksandr Mozgovoy's 2002 book, Kubinskaya Samba Kvarteta Fokstrotov (Cuban Samba of the Foxtrot Quartet), retired Commander Vadim Pavlovich Orlov, a participant in the events, presents them less dramatically, saying that Captain Savitsky had merely lost his temper, but eventually calmed down


Always heard that was a bit overstated. They had been running so deep that they had not received orders and American destroyers were trying to surface the sub. Eventually they did surface and received orders to sail back to the USSR.

MHSmith
MHSmith

@HeadleyLamar @MHSmith PBS has shown a documentary of the entire Cuban Missile crisis. 

I recall those days of our nation seating on the edge of its seat. From my eyes view at the time how little did I know then, how much I had to thank a lone enemy who was probably the greatest friend humanity ever had that said no to ending the world and life on. 

Wascatlady
Wascatlady

Why is there no opportunity to comment on the previous blog topic?

DawgDadII
DawgDadII

"World Order" - Begs the question of "Who's order?"


Our military presence and spending enabled an unprecedented period of Western European peace which has enabled a period of unprecedented entitlements. I see little harm in giving the Scots their independence, at least until they become a security threat.

IReportYouWhine
IReportYouWhine

It's always about oil, ain't it?


In 1974 the English government had received a secret study conducted by economics professor Gavin McCrone. Nearly all that North Sea oil is Scottish, Professor McCrone wrote. The oil reserves were far bigger than most people realized, he said. An independent Scotland would become one of the most prosperous countries in the world, comparable to Switzerland or Norway, he wrote. Its coffers would overflow.  The biggest problem the country might face would be dealing with its massive balance of payments surplus. - Guardian


I thought we didn't need that stuff anymore? Why can't the British just build a bunch of solar panels and be done with bagpipers?

HeadleyLamar
HeadleyLamar

@IReportYouWhine " I thought we didn't need that stuff anymore? "


We wont eventually. Demand is certainly way way down.


Newer technology will eventually take over. There is only a finite amount of fossil fuels anyway. 



MHSmith
MHSmith

Contagion Kyle? Appears we have our own resistive groups here as well. 

IReportYouWhine
IReportYouWhine

Matter of fact, we could carve out a big Red Chunk, right in the middle, low taxes, hardly any government spending save for our massive military, all of the industrial heartland would be ours. 


Let the coasts build a tunnel underneath us so they can visit themselves when ever they want. They love big government boondoggles and that one would keep them busy for ages. 


Everybody'd be happy.

HeadleyLamar
HeadleyLamar

@IReportYouWhine Last time the red states became traitors left the union it didn't work out so well for them.


Nothing would change this time around.

Red_GA
Red_GA

@IReportYouWhine Yankees were Republican. And Republicans at their founding were chummy with Marx and Engels. Did you know Engels ghost wrote for Marx's pieces in a Republican paper in NYC?

HeadleyLamar
HeadleyLamar

Hopefully they vote for what is in their own best interests.


As long as this doesn't effect Dewars from ending up on shelves near me i'm fine with it.

HeadleyLamar
HeadleyLamar

@IReportYouWhine


1. There is already a Texas independent movement that is going nowhere


2. Scotland isn't Texas by a long shot. Apples to Oranges comparison.