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British Defense Nuclear Update

The United Kingdom has developed a secret contingency plan to transfer its Trident nuclear submarine base from Scotland to the United States or France when Scotland becomes independent.

Another option under consideration is for the UK to seek long-term leases of the Royal Navy’s nuclear bases in Fassland and Culport on the west coast of Scotland. People familiar with the matter said this would create a British territory within the newly separated Scottish borders.

The British government strongly opposes the independence of Scotland, but the prospect of a possible disintegration of the Commonwealth worries Whitehall. The ruling Scottish National Party returned to power in May and promised to ban all nuclear weapons in independent Scotland.

Several senior officials told the Financial Times that the contingency plan for the transfer of submarines highlighted that after Scotland may leave the British nuclear program, ministers will have to make difficult choices for the British nuclear program.

People familiar with the plan said that the exercise was conducted recently, although a senior government official disputed the timing.

The exercise concluded that after the formation of an anti-nuclear independent Scottish state, the Trident plan will have three options. The first is to relocate the base to other parts of the British Isles. The Devonport base of the Royal Navy is considered to be the most likely place to replace Faslan.

An analysis report prepared by the think tank of the Royal United Services Institute before the 2014 Scottish independence referendum estimated that the cost of relocation was £3 billion to £4 billion.

HMS Vengeance leaves the port in Devonport, Plymouth © Ben Birchall/PA

The second option is to transfer the British nuclear base to the United States and other allies. A defense expert mentioned that Kings Bay, Georgia, is the base of the U.S. Navy’s Atlantic Trident submarine fleet. Officials are also considering moving the British submarine base to Long Island in Brittany, France.

Officials said that relocating the base to the United States is the first choice of the British Treasury Department because it requires the least capital investment. But it may be politically difficult to locate the Trident outside the UK, because it may be seen as a threat to national defense sovereignty.

The third option is to negotiate a new British Overseas Territory within an independent Scottish country, which will contain the Faslane and Coulport bases, and is referred to as “nuclear Gibraltar” by an insider.

According to officials, Whitehall hopes to lease the land for “decades” after Scotland withdraws from negotiations in the UK.

The Ministry of Defence stated that there was “no plan” to remove the nuclear deterrent from Scotland and pointed out its contribution to the safety and economy of communities in Scotland and across the United Kingdom.

A spokeswoman said: “The UK is firmly committed to maintaining its credible and independent nuclear deterrent at the Clyde Naval Base, which exists to prevent the most extreme threats to the UK and our NATO allies.”

The Ministry of Defence declined to comment on Scotland’s contingency plan for secession.

When asked about the UK’s emergency plan, the Scottish government expressed its firm opposition to the possession, threat and use of nuclear weapons and was “committed to the safe and complete withdrawal of the Trident from Scotland.”

Tom Plant, Rusi’s director of nuclear proliferation and nuclear policy, described this contingency plan as “wise,” but said that all options have “significant flaws.” Moving the base to another country, such as the United States, will also have an impact on operations.

“If we share the infrastructure [with the US] Then there may be an overlap with the US submarine patrol time,” Plante said, explaining that the logistics of deploying deterrents must be negotiated with the host country. “Once the ships go to sea, they will still be as independent as they are now. But once they are tied together, they are no longer independent. “

The “nuclear Gibraltar” option—that is, the base is kept in independent Scotland but leased back by the United Kingdom—is considered by some in Whitehall to be the most realistic because it does not require immediate changes to the Trident plan after Scotland’s independence.

But any negotiations to keep the base long after independence may face strong opposition from the Scottish National Party, which has made nuclear disarmament one of its core policies for decades.

In 2016, the leader of the Scottish National Party and Scottish Chief Minister Nicolas Sturgeon (center) spoke at a rally against the renewal of the Trident nuclear deterrent. © Niklas Helle’n/AFP/Getty Images

Before the 2014 referendum, the Scottish National Party stated that an independent Scotland would prioritize the safe removal of nuclear weapons as quickly as possible. “This will be to dismantle the trident in the first term of the Scottish Parliament after independence,” it said.

Experts suggest that this timetable can be relaxed as part of a broader discussion between independent Scotland and the United Kingdom on currency arrangements, national debt obligations, and the management of the new border between England and Scotland.

However, a long-term or extraterritorial compromise with the Trident would violate the basic principles of Scotland’s Chief Minister Nicolas Sturgeon, who joined the nuclear disarmament movement as a teenager before joining the Scottish National Party.

“Like many other Scots, I have always been shocked that the British nuclear arsenal has been kept in my backyard,” Sturgeon wrote In 2019.

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