Q&A: Malcolm Rifkind Sees Little Chance of Israel Discussing a Mideast WMD Ban

Former U.K. Foreign Secretary Malcolm Rifkind, seen in London in April, said in a recent interview that Israel's continued public silence about its nuclear arsenal makes it unlikely that the country would take part in any formal conference about banning weapons of mass destruction from the Middle East.
National Journal
Elaine M. Grossman, Global Security Newswire
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Elaine M. Grossman, Global Security Newswire
Nov. 27, 2013, 10:02 a.m.

WASH­ING­TON — A lead­ing mem­ber of the U.K. Par­lia­ment, Sir Mal­colm Ri­f­kind, said Is­rael would be un­likely to par­ti­cip­ate in a pro­posed con­fer­ence to dis­cuss an even­tu­al Middle East ban on weapons of mass de­struc­tion, giv­en its con­tin­ued re­fus­al to pub­licly ac­know­ledge its own nuc­le­ar ar­sen­al and con­cerns about be­ing singled out for cri­ti­cism.

“The fact [is] that Is­rael has nuc­le­ar weapons. She’s had them for about 30 years,” the Con­ser­vat­ive mem­ber of Par­lia­ment said in a late-Septem­ber in­ter­view in his Lon­don of­fice.

Ri­f­kind said, though, that he does not be­lieve Is­rael’s atom­ic arms pose a ser­i­ous threat to its neigh­bors.

“They have not destabil­ized the Middle East, be­cause it is well known that the Is­rael­is have them as an ul­ti­mate means of their own de­fense,” he said.

Is­rael is widely be­lieved to main­tain the re­gion’s only nuc­le­ar ar­sen­al, num­ber­ing an es­tim­ated 80 or more war­heads. Mean­while, many sus­pect that Ir­an has sought to de­vel­op its own atom­ic-arms cap­ab­il­ity, a pro­spect that has alarmed much of the world and led to a new in­ter­im ac­cord aimed at di­al­ing back Tehran’s nuc­le­ar po­ten­tial.

The idea of cre­at­ing a spe­cial WMD-free zone in the Middle East would also ex­tend to a re­gion­al ban on chem­ic­al and bio­lo­gic­al arms. A num­ber of Mideast na­tions are be­lieved to have car­ried out chem­ic­al and bio­lo­gic­al arms de­vel­op­ment over the past sev­er­al dec­ades.

A con­fer­ence to dis­cuss a po­ten­tial WMD ban could be held in Hel­sinki as early as Decem­ber, after be­ing post­poned in late 2012. Ri­f­kind said, though, that any such gath­er­ing could simply col­lapse in­to coun­ter­pro­duct­ive fin­ger-point­ing.

“If there’s one thing that unites the Ar­abs and the Ir­a­ni­ans, it is to be anti-Is­raeli,” Ri­f­kind told Glob­al Se­cur­ity News­wire. “So the whole fo­cus of the con­fer­ence would take the heat off the Ir­a­ni­ans and put it on the Is­rael­is, with not the re­motest pos­sib­il­ity that the Is­rael­is are go­ing to say “¦ ‘We have them and if you’d like to come and col­lect them.’”

For now, he said, “the Is­rael­is are play­ing along, which is hop­ing it will go away. And for the mean­time, they don’t want to make a drama out of a crisis.”

The law­maker noted that in ad­dress­ing the pro­spects for an Is­raeli role in the pos­sible con­fer­ence, he was speak­ing more from his mid-1990s ex­per­i­ence as for­eign sec­ret­ary in then-Prime Min­is­ter John Ma­jor’s gov­ern­ment, rather than in his cur­rent role as chair­man of the Par­lia­ment’s In­tel­li­gence and Se­cur­ity Com­mit­tee.

Pri­or to his turn as top en­voy, Ri­f­kind served un­der Ma­jor as de­fense sec­ret­ary. Dur­ing a nearly 35 years in na­tion­al polit­ics, he has also held a vari­ety of oth­er lead­er­ship posts.

Dur­ing the wide-ran­ging in­ter­view, the 67-year-old Con­ser­vat­ive Party mem­ber rep­res­ent­ing the west Lon­don area of Kens­ing­ton ad­dressed ques­tions about the U.K. nuc­le­ar pos­ture, as well as se­cur­ity chal­lenges posed by Ir­an and Syr­ia.

The Ed­in­burgh nat­ive also touched on Scot­land’s up­com­ing ref­er­en­dum for in­de­pend­ence — an idea he op­poses — and ex­plored its po­ten­tial im­plic­a­tions for Brit­ish se­cur­ity.

Ed­ited ex­cerpts of the Sept. 26 in­ter­view fol­low:

GSN: Is it ne­ces­sary for the United King­dom to con­tin­ue its so-called “CASD” policy, which al­lows “con­tinu­ous at-sea de­terrence” by keep­ing at least one nuc­le­ar-armed sub­mar­ine on patrol at all times? Some ar­gue that the nuc­le­ar um­brella provided by the United States — Bri­tain’s closest ally — in­stead could al­low the United King­dom to field few­er sub­mar­ines and re­lax the need for 24/7 patrols.

Ri­f­kind: I think we should con­tin­ue with con­tinu­ous at-sea de­terrence, [or] CASD. “¦ We have as a mat­ter of policy over the last 25 years re­duced our nuc­le­ar weapons to the ab­so­lute min­im­um re­quired. “¦

If we were mov­ing away from CASD, by defin­i­tion that means that for sig­ni­fic­ant peri­ods of time, there would be no ef­fect­ive de­terrent in the event of a sud­den emer­gency.

Now people might say, “˜Well, you’re not go­ing to get a sud­den emer­gency and a crisis would build up.’ Prob­ably that’s right. But [in the event of ten­sions] “¦ your sub­mar­ine which was based in its home berth would be seen mov­ing out, thereby es­cal­at­ing what was already a crisis.

So there’s a whole series of con­sid­er­a­tions. The ad­di­tion­al cost of CASD is in­sig­ni­fic­ant. “¦

GSN: The ju­ni­or mem­ber of the U.K. gov­ern­ing co­ali­tion, the Lib­er­al Demo­crats, are say­ing that the world en­vir­on­ment has changed, and it’s time to ad­just the U.K. nuc­le­ar pos­ture ac­cord­ingly.

Ri­f­kind: I don’t ques­tion their good faith. But they ig­nore two fun­da­ment­al con­sid­er­a­tions. “¦ I was de­fense sec­ret­ary from 1992 to 1995, so I was part of [the post-Cold War nuc­le­ar re­duc­tions] pro­cess. Since the end of the Cold War, we have already made very ma­jor re­duc­tions in our nuc­le­ar-weapon cap­ab­il­ity to re­flect that new situ­ation.

In the 1990s, we had nuc­le­ar ar­til­lery, nuc­le­ar tac­tic­al weaponry. We got rid of them all. We had free-fall nuc­le­ar bombs from air­craft; we’ve got rid of that. “¦

Not just the gov­ern­ment I was part of, [but also] the suc­cess­ive gov­ern­ments of both Labor and Con­ser­vat­ive, have re­duced the num­ber of war­heads that are car­ried in the Tri­dent sub­mar­ines.

So we have already gone about as far as you can go. So the ar­gu­ment that nobody’s been tak­ing no­tice of what’s changed [in the] in­ter­na­tion­al en­vir­on­ment simply isn’t true. The United King­dom [has re­duced per­cent­age-wise] more than Rus­sia, France or the United States, in terms of com­pared to where we star­ted; we’ve done that in each case.

GSN: What do you see as the es­sen­tial role of the Brit­ish nuc­le­ar de­terrent, as dis­tinct from the nuc­le­ar um­brella that the United States con­tin­ues to ap­ply to many NATO mem­ber na­tions without nuc­le­ar weapons?

Ri­f­kind: It’s a fair ques­tion. “¦ Whatever de­cision we take has got to be [ap­plic­able] for 40 to 50 years. So no one knows what’s go­ing to hap­pen in the next 40 years.

And that’s not just a flip point or a de­bat­ing point; [what] is fun­da­ment­al to your de­fense cap­ab­il­ity is the un­known. And you can’t de­cide to get rid of nuc­le­ar weapons and then change your mind and ex­pect 12 months later to have rees­tab­lished them.

Once you give them up, it takes years — if it’s pos­sible at all, it would take a dec­ade to re­cre­ate a nuc­le­ar-weapons cap­ab­il­ity. “¦

GSN: What do you see as the most ser­i­ous fu­ture threats that jus­ti­fy Bri­tain’s con­tin­ued re­quire­ment for its own nuc­le­ar ar­sen­al?

Be­ing real­ist­ic “¦ the only pos­sible ag­gressor with nuc­le­ar weapons over the short to me­di­um term would [be Rus­sia, though it would] not be the present Rus­si­an gov­ern­ment. “¦ We have prob­lems with [Rus­si­an Pres­id­ent Vladi­mir] Putin, but not in that sense.

But Rus­sia is not a demo­crat­ic coun­try. It’s gone back­wards over the last 20 years. It’s an au­thor­it­ari­an so­ci­ety. Mr. Putin wants to it re­main that way. He doesn’t know any more than the rest of us who might rule Rus­sia [in] 10, 20 years’ time. “¦

I’m not mak­ing a pre­dic­tion, [but] I’m say­ing po­ten­tially it could be some xeno­phobic Rus­si­an na­tion­al­ist who uses their nuc­le­ar weapons as a means of try­ing to dom­in­ate the coun­tries around them. That’s been his­tor­ic­ally [the case] — Rus­sia has al­ways felt it can only guar­an­tee its own se­cur­ity by con­trolling the ter­rit­ory around it. “¦

I’m not say­ing that will hap­pen, but we don’t know what will hap­pen. And there­fore [it is un­wise] to aban­don something you’ve already got. “¦

Now “¦ my an­swer comes to the U.S. di­men­sion. “¦ I have no reas­on to be­lieve that NATO will not be around in 40 years’ time. I have no reas­on to be­lieve that the United States will no longer be as com­mit­ted to the de­fense of West­ern Europe as it’s been in the past.

However “¦ I can’t be cer­tain of that. Amer­ica has had isol­a­tion­ist peri­ods in its his­tory. There are many in Con­gress that are say­ing, “˜What the heck are we do­ing de­fend­ing West­ern Europe? These are rich, de­veloped coun­tries that are per­fectly cap­able of de­fend­ing them­selves. You know, this is not the Cold War. This is not a Europe which was re­cently oc­cu­pied by the Ger­mans, by Hitler, and un­able to have all of the eco­nom­ic wealth to de­fend them­selves.’

I’m not say­ing that’s go­ing to hap­pen, but I can’t ex­clude it.

[Ad­di­tion­ally] why should we as­sume that the United States would be will­ing to con­tin­ue to guar­an­tee by its own nuc­le­ar weapons — at risk to its own se­cur­ity — the se­cur­ity if those coun­tries in Europe that have nuc­le­ar weapons uni­lat­er­ally give them up?

[It would be wrong to] say, “˜To save money, be­cause we don’t think they’re ne­ces­sary, we’re go­ing to give up our nuc­le­ar weapons. But Amer­ica, will you please con­tin­ue to provide us with the same guar­an­tee?’

GSN: Even though the United States has con­tin­ued to provide that se­cur­ity pledge to all NATO na­tions, re­gard­less of wheth­er they host or field nuc­le­ar weapons?

Ri­f­kind: No, no. That was in every­one’s in­terests. Nobody wanted pro­lif­er­a­tion. “¦ Be­cause we were a single al­li­ance and nuc­le­ar weapons un­der­pin that al­li­ance, the un­der­stand­ing is we don’t need to have 28 coun­tries all with nuc­le­ar weapons. “¦

The idea that we should [dis­arm] uni­lat­er­ally but still ex­pect the Amer­ic­ans to risk their own se­cur­ity in or­der to pro­tect us would be a gift to the isol­a­tion­ists. “¦

GSN: Turn­ing to Ir­an, what signs are you look­ing for that would give you con­fid­ence that Tehran has turned its sights away from de­vel­op­ing a nuc­le­ar-weapons cap­ab­il­ity?

Ri­f­kind: “¦ What would be real evid­ence of a will­ing­ness to make the ne­ces­sary com­prom­ises and con­ces­sions would be, first of all, to ac­know­ledge that they all have com­plete trans­par­ency and veri­fic­a­tion pro­ced­ures: Open ac­cess to in­spect­ors and not the con­straints that have been im­posed upon [in­spec­tions], that they should have no reas­on to re­fuse un­less they have something to hide.

But secondly, what should be done with all the urani­um that has been en­riched bey­ond the ci­vil­ian re­quire­ments? That should be handed over. [For] what pos­sible reas­on should they [re­tain it]? They say they need it for med­ic­al iso­topes. Well, I’m not an ex­pert but my un­der­stand­ing is that med­ic­al iso­topes re­quire a tiny amount — noth­ing re­motely com­par­able to what is [be­lieved] be­ing pro­cessed. “¦

The real sus­pi­cion is that the most likely in­ten­tion of the Ir­a­ni­ans — at least up till now — has not been to de­vel­op nuc­le­ar weapons but to de­vel­op the cap­ab­il­ity to build nuc­le­ar weapons, but to stop just short of it. [They could do so] in a way that would en­able them at a time of their own choos­ing to go that last stage in a very short peri­od of weeks or months.

And now from the point of view of sta­bil­ity of the re­gion, that would be just as dan­ger­ous a po­s­i­tion for them to ad­opt as ac­tu­ally hav­ing the weapons them­selves. “¦ Oth­er coun­tries will not be re­laxed simply be­cause they have ad­op­ted a self-im­posed de­cision not to go the fi­nal step at this par­tic­u­lar mo­ment in time, when they could change that view at a time of their choos­ing. “¦

GSN: Over what peri­od of time do you think it may be­come clear wheth­er or not Ir­a­ni­an su­preme lead­er Ali Khame­nei in­tends to re­lin­quish any ca­pa­city to de­vel­op nuc­le­ar arms?

Ri­f­kind: “¦ It is per­fectly pos­sible [for Ir­an] to say, “˜If we were sat­is­fied that our en­ti­tle­ment to en­rich for civil nuc­le­ar pur­poses and our vari­ous oth­er fun­da­ment­al in­terests would be re­spec­ted, then we would be pre­pared to do XYZ.’

There are vari­ous ways, when there’s a polit­ic­al will, you can do that.

When people are try­ing to find a solu­tion, they find a solu­tion. When they’re try­ing to find prob­lems, they find prob­lems.

And up till now, they’ve been try­ing to find prob­lems. The only ques­tion is wheth­er we’ve moved on from that.

Just to give an ex­ample: On the chem­ic­al weapons in Syr­ia, the Rus­si­ans sud­denly de­cide for whatever their reas­ons, that they want to de­liv­er the dis­mant­ling and re­mov­al of chem­ic­al weapons.

What hap­pens? With­in 24 hours, As­sad is say­ing, “˜Yes, Mr. Putin. Yes, I have chem­ic­al weapons. Yes, I will provide a full list to the in­spect­ors with­in a week. “¦ We’ll have to wait and see what he de­liv­ers.

But even in the words he chooses, he’s con­firmed more in the space of a week and a half than he has in five years. “¦

GSN: In agree­ing with the Syr­i­an re­gime about the de­tails of dis­arm­ing its chem­ic­al stock­pile, have the United States and its part­ners erred by re­cog­niz­ing the cur­rent Syr­i­an gov­ern­ment as the le­git­im­ate rep­res­ent­at­ive of the Syr­i­an people?

Ri­f­kind: No, cer­tainly not. Why?

GSN: Last year, France, the United King­dom and United States all de­clared that the op­pos­i­tion was the le­git­im­ate rep­res­ent­at­ive of the Syr­i­an people. The United States has since signed an agree­ment in which the re­gime acts on be­half of Syr­ia, and some say As­sad is now in a stronger po­s­i­tion go­ing in­to peace talks.

Ri­f­kind: No, the cru­cial word is ‘le­git­im­ate.’ No, they’re not.

We re­cog­nize facts. We re­cog­nize the fact that there is a re­gime in power in Dam­as­cus, which con­trols a sub­stan­tial part of the coun­try and which con­trols the chem­ic­al weapons.

So ob­vi­ously they must be in­volved in get­ting rid of these chem­ic­al weapons. But ques­tions of le­git­im­acy don’t come in­to it. “¦

GSN: What do you ima­gine the U.K. role will be go­ing for­ward re­gard­ing Syr­ia, fol­low­ing the late-Au­gust par­lia­ment­ary vote that denied Prime Min­is­ter Dav­id Camer­on’s bid to par­ti­cip­ate in a mil­it­ary strike against the As­sad re­gime? Go­ing for­ward, do you an­ti­cip­ate Lon­don’s role will be es­sen­tially dip­lo­mat­ic, or could the U.K. mil­it­ary still play a sup­port­ing role if the in­ter­na­tion­al com­munity at some point re­turns to the idea of armed in­ter­ven­tion?

Ri­f­kind: The vote doesn’t rep­res­ent any fun­da­ment­al change in the United King­dom’s for­eign policy or will­ing­ness to have an act of for­eign policy. “¦

I sup­por­ted the gov­ern­ment, as it hap­pens, on this par­tic­u­lar vote. But even those who did not sup­port the gov­ern­ment were not call­ing for an isol­a­tion­ist United King­dom.

There were two groups of people who voted against the gov­ern­ment.

There were those who said at the time of the vote, ‘We are not yet sat­is­fied the As­sad re­gime were re­spons­ible for the chem­ic­al weapons [at­tack in Au­gust just out­side Dam­as­cus]. We haven’t seen enough evid­ence that points in that dir­ec­tion.’

And this is all part of the leg­acy of Ir­aq — you know, the dis­trust of as­sump­tions that are be­ing made.

But there [was] also a group of MPs — quite sig­ni­fic­ant num­ber — who said, ‘Even if we were sat­is­fied that it was the As­sad re­gime that was re­spons­ible, we do not be­lieve that a mil­it­ary strike by the United States, with or without the United King­dom, is the prop­er re­sponse.’

And either be­cause they were con­cerned it would suck us in­to the con­flict far more than we should be sucked in, or be­cause they thought it would have a destabil­iz­ing im­pact bey­ond Syr­ia — in re­la­tions with Rus­sia and oth­er coun­tries — they had vari­ous reas­ons.

So oc­ca­sion­ally the United King­dom and the United States dis­agree. It doesn’t hap­pen very of­ten, but it hap­pens more of­ten than people real­ize without dam­aging the fun­da­ment­al re­la­tion­ship. “¦

GSN: How do you as­sess the pro­spects for U.N.-sponsored ef­forts to con­vene an in­ter­na­tion­al con­fer­ence in Hel­sinki to ex­plore the idea of es­tab­lish­ing a ban on weapons of mass de­struc­tion in the Middle East?

Ri­f­kind: “¦ What this is really about is: Are we en­titled to put pres­sure on Ir­an while Is­rael has nuc­le­ar weapons? “¦

The real­ity is that if Is­rael has them — we all know Is­rael does have them, though she doesn’t ad­mit it. The fact [is] that Is­rael has nuc­le­ar weapons. She’s had them for about 30 years and they have not destabil­ized the Middle East, be­cause it is well known that the Is­rael­is have them as an ul­ti­mate means of their own de­fense.

Be­ing a tiny coun­try, if they were faced with a suc­cess­ful con­ven­tion­al at­tack, that is their ul­ti­mate line of de­fense. And the Ar­ab states all re­cog­nize that. And al­though they don’t like it, it’s nev­er been a gut is­sue.

It’s only be­come an is­sue when Ir­an — or people who are sup­port­ive of Ir­an — have used it as a quid pro quo type ar­gu­ment.

And the con­cern about Ir­an’s nuc­le­ar weapons is nobody be­lieves that the Ir­a­ni­ans want nuc­le­ar weapons purely to de­fend them­selves.

The fear — not so much of the Is­rael­is [but] the fear of the Ar­abs, the Saudis, the [Per­sian] Gulf states — is Ir­an wants nuc­le­ar weapons in or­der to have geo­pol­it­ic­al su­prem­acy in the Gulf, to be able to push around the Ar­abs on is­sues where they are in dis­agree­ment, by be­ing the ob­vi­ous su­per­power in the re­gion.

Now, there [are] huge prob­lems between Is­rael and the Ar­abs, but that’s not one of them. “¦

GSN: So this raises an in­ter­est­ing conun­drum —

Ri­f­kind: What is the point of a con­fer­ence — if you had a con­fer­ence — first of all, the Is­rael­is are in a quandary: Do they at­tend or do they boy­cott? And are you go­ing to be hanged or shot?

And on this is­sue, the Ar­abs would com­bine with the Ir­a­ni­ans. So the whole dy­nam­ic of a con­fer­ence would be to put pres­sure on the Is­rael­is.

And Ir­an would be sit­ting back, quite smug, say­ing, ‘Well, you know, if the Is­rael­is con­cede and get rid of everything, then of course every­body else would have to be act­ing sim­il­arly.’

In oth­er words, it’s a tac­tic, not a strategy.

GSN: Egypt has led the Ar­ab League in call­ing for the con­fer­ence, but Cairo has also in­tim­ated that it could de­vel­op nuc­le­ar weapons if Ir­an de­vel­ops a nuc­le­ar-weapons ca­pa­city. How do you read that dy­nam­ic?

Ri­f­kind: The in­ter­est­ing thing is [Egypt] has said that; it has nev­er, in prac­tice, said the same with re­gard to Is­rael.

GSN: Re­cently they have cited Is­rael’s nuc­le­ar arms —

Ri­f­kind: I know they have. And it suits them “¦ in terms of the Is­rael-Palestini­an is­sue.

But the simple polit­ic­al-his­tor­ic­al fact is that for 30 years, Is­rael has had nuc­le­ar weapons and the Egyp­tians haven’t even star­ted [de­vel­op­ing their own]. Be­cause they’ve known per­fectly well that their prob­lem with Is­rael is its con­ven­tion­al strength, not its nuc­le­ar strength.

The Ar­ab prob­lem with Ir­an is dif­fer­ent. That’s a his­tor­ic­al rivalry between the Ir­a­ni­ans — the Per­sians — and the Ar­abs, as to who’s go­ing to be dom­in­ant in their re­gion.

GSN: Can you ima­gine some way in which this pro­posed con­fer­ence could ac­tu­ally ad­vance the idea of Middle East peace? Is­rael has not ruled out that it would at­tend, ar­guing that if the agenda is agree­able, it could take part. Or is that simply a polit­ic­al tac­tic, in your view?

Ri­f­kind: “¦ Be­cause Is­rael doesn’t even ad­mit to hav­ing nuc­le­ar weapons, they can quite hap­pily at­tend on the same basis as Jordan, as Egypt, as a non-nuc­le­ar-weapons state.

GSN: That could get a little un­com­fort­able.

Ri­f­kind: We get in­to ‘Alice in Won­der­land’ ter­rit­ory.

Now my main con­cern — and I sus­pect it’s the Is­rael­is’ main con­cern — is that if there’s one thing that unites the Ar­abs and the Ir­a­ni­ans, it is to be anti-Is­raeli. So the whole fo­cus of the con­fer­ence would take the heat off the Ir­a­ni­ans and put it on the Is­rael­is, with not the re­motest pos­sib­il­ity that the Is­rael­is are go­ing to say, ‘OK, we give in.’

GSN: The Is­rael­is are un­likely to say, ‘We have them and we’ll give them up.’

Ri­f­kind: ‘We have them and if you’d like to come and col­lect them —’ End of story. That’s not go­ing to hap­pen.

So end of con­fer­ence would be: ‘Is­rael re­fuses to budge. Is­rael re­spons­ible for lack of —’ you know.

It’s en­tirely neg­at­ive. There is no way it could have a happy end­ing, from an Is­raeli point of view.

And it’s not just that [it] would up­set the Is­rael­is. The Is­rael­is de­serve to be up­set some of the time; they can do some really dumb things, very stu­pid things.

But on the nuc­le­ar-weapon is­sue, the real is­sue that the Middle East has to face is not Is­rael and nuc­le­ar weapons; it’s Ir­an.

Be­cause if it were truly Is­rael, then the Ar­ab states would be ut­terly re­laxed about Ir­an with a nuc­le­ar weapon. “¦

GSN: So are you say­ing that Is­rael is play­ing a double game by tak­ing part in these con­sulta­tions but with no in­ten­tion of at­tend­ing a Hel­sinki con­fer­ence?

A: The Is­rael­is are play­ing along, which is hop­ing it will go away. And for the mean­time, they don’t want to make a drama out of a crisis “¦

Do I ex­pect any­thing to hap­pen? No, I don’t. I don’t think any­body else does, either.

GSN: Fi­nally, turn­ing to Scot­land’s ref­er­en­dum for in­de­pend­ence next fall: How do you ima­gine that could af­fect U.K. se­cur­ity, giv­en that the Scot­tish Na­tion­al Party has vowed to eject Bri­tain’s en­tire fleet of four Tri­dent sub­mar­ines from its sole home port at Faslane if in­de­pend­ence is achieved?

Ri­f­kind: “¦ The Scot­tish na­tion­al­ists say — one of their great ar­gu­ments is in­de­pend­ent Scot­land would get rid of Tri­dent.

But an in­de­pend­ent Scot­land would ap­ply to join NATO. And it’s be­ing made clear to them, ‘Well, come on! NATO is a nuc­le­ar-based al­li­ance. If you think you can make life miser­able for NATO by ex­pelling nuc­le­ar weapons from Faslane, and at the same time be ac­cep­ted as a mem­ber of NATO, you’re liv­ing in Cloud Cuckoo-land.’

Now, in a small way, that is rel­ev­ant to our earli­er dis­cus­sion about what would hap­pen if Bri­tain uni­lat­er­ally gave up its nuc­le­ar weapons.

GSN: Be­cause this would es­sen­tially be a forced dis­arm­a­ment?

Ri­f­kind: Yeah, you know, if the United King­dom gives up its nuc­le­ar weapons, it can’t auto­mat­ic­ally as­sume the United States will take on the bur­den by it­self.

Now, the the­or­et­ic­al, hy­po­thet­ic­al pos­sib­il­ity of an in­de­pend­ent Scot­land ex­pelling Tri­dent while it’s [ap­ply­ing to join NATO]: You don’t ap­ply to join an or­gan­iz­a­tion when you’re sim­ul­tan­eously un­der­min­ing its de­fense cap­ab­il­ity.

GSN: Would the United King­dom ef­fect­ively ex­er­cise veto power over a Scot­tish bid to join NATO if Brit­ish nuc­le­ar arms were evicted from bases in an in­de­pend­ent Scot­land?

Ri­f­kind: We’d just be the U.K. I don’t know — but my guess would be that the U.S. would also say [no]. “¦

The Amer­ic­an gov­ern­ment would be very un­happy for the United King­dom not to have a nuc­le­ar de­terrent. “¦

GSN: What do you think about the pos­sib­il­ity of Bri­tain leas­ing the Faslane home port, as well as the nuc­le­ar-war­head stor­age fa­cil­ity nearby at Coulport?

Ri­f­kind: “¦ Oh, this is the Rus­si­an-Ukrain­i­an Sevastopol op­tion! “¦

Rus­sia still has its main Black Sea nav­al base in what is now an in­de­pend­ent Ukraine. “¦ That’s where the Black Sea fleet was based dur­ing the So­viet days.

And there was a lease, which was due to run out, and the pre­vi­ous Ukrain­i­an gov­ern­ment said you will have to go.

But when [Vikt­or] Ya­nukovych won the [2010 pres­id­en­tial] elec­tion, he was slightly more pro-Rus­si­an, [and] he did a deal with the Rus­si­ans where in ex­change for fa­vor­able pri­cing of gas im­ports, he gave them 20 years or whatever it was [of] leas­ing.

GSN: So could something sim­il­ar hap­pen in Scot­land with the U.K. Tri­dent subs?

Ri­f­kind: Who knows? The whole na­tion­al­ist ar­gu­ment is, ‘We don’t want nuc­le­ar weapons on our ter­rit­ory. And wheth­er you have them leased or in any oth­er way, you still have them on [our] ter­rit­ory.’

So, any­way, this is all hy­po­thet­ic­al.

GSN: Be­cause a vote in fa­vor of in­de­pend­ence prob­ably won’t hap­pen?

Ri­f­kind: It’s not prob­ably. It’s not go­ing to hap­pen.

This art­icle was pub­lished in Glob­al Se­cur­ity News­wire, which is pro­duced in­de­pend­ently by Na­tion­al Journ­al Group un­der con­tract with the Nuc­le­ar Threat Ini­ti­at­ive. NTI is a non­profit, non­par­tis­an group work­ing to re­duce glob­al threats from nuc­le­ar, bio­lo­gic­al, and chem­ic­al weapons.

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