We hear a lot from Alex Salmond about Norway, a founder member of NATO and a country whose resources and disposition he has said he admires. I think everyone would concede that Norway is not an aggressive nation. It hasn’t fired a shot in anger for 70 years. It doesn’t want to, but is ready to do so if it must. It has had many years to study its defence needs, but what price does Norway pay for its defence and national security?
Well, it has a Navy, an Army, an Air Force, Home Guard and Coast Guard. The Home Guard alone musters over 80,000 persons, including its reserves. The Army of 23,000 regulars increases to 83,000 when fully mobilised and the nation provides these reserves from a programme of National Service which in 2012 called 63,841 young people for service. They call both men and women.
The Navy has five frigates, six submarines and a modern and extensive mine hunter and mine disposal force. The air force consists a main arm of 74 Lockheed F-16 fighter jets, currently being upgraded to the F-35A variant, the same as the basic manned aircraft of the US Air Forces. There are also more than 40 helicopters in a range of rôles.
Another wing of the defence forces is the Cyber Force; a facility few European nations can afford. With a host of ancillary and logistic resources, including their own Special Forces, Bomb and Mine disposal and military training, this costs Norway an annual defence budget of £ 4.32 billion. Alex Salmond proposes a Scottish Defence Budget of £ 2.5 billion. This is an annual budget provision, not a start-up cost.
The Norwegian example has been cited as a model for Scotland but a smaller force could not adequately provide all round air and sea defence in the Norwegian model. A smaller force could not sustain a promotion and career pattern for officer and managerial staff. Where would Scotland’s Cranwell, Sandhurst and Dartmouth be sited ? What would each facility cost to build, man and run?
All very well to say we might attain such annual running costs but what would be the start-up cost? Can we afford a dozen new ships and seventy jet fighters. More likely we would be offered the ageing and less desirable equipment, the cast-offs and hand-me-downs of the UK Defence Force. And where would we find the trained personnel to staff our defences ? Salmond has not mentioned National Service. Are there many Scots out there that can handle anti-armour guided missiles, military air traffic and submarine warfare ?
The present circumstances prevailing in areas of the Middle East, rank with uncertainty and potential long term threat from invasion of fanatics and radicals, must give us pause, serious pause, as to how we might combat such intrusion, without any semblance of a defence force, or budget. Equally, without the umbrella of security that NATO provides, an independent Scotland would be desperately vulnerable.
It is not cheap to live in Norway. A glass of beer in Oslo might cost you £ 8. They pay high taxes in order to be secure and in the knowledge that they are paying their full share of NATO’s defence alliance. They pay the tax and they do their National Service.