Scotland politics

Scottish independence: How do you defend a small country?

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Media captionRaymond Buchanan reports on how the Danes defend themselves.

When the SNP changed their defence policy to support Nato membership the party leadership visited Denmark to discuss its military role. So what lessons did the Danes offer when it comes to defending small states?

Down at the Copenhagen harbour there is a reminder that this Viking nation remains battle ready.

A large frigate sits in dock - just one of the reasons Denmark spends around £2.5bn a year on its armed services.

That is about the same as the SNP say they would spend on defending an independent Scotland.

It is a lot of money for Denmark's population of five million people.

But not enough to guarantee this country's security.

Image caption One Danish politician said his country had to play its part in operations in Iraq and Afghanistan and not just leave fighting to be done by British and Americans

Ole Kværnø is director of strategy at the Royal Danish Defence College. He told BBC Scotland: "Our vision is by no means to defend ourselves. We, as a state, are no longer able to defend ourselves in military terms."

He says there is no direct threat to Denmark and they can also rely on their partners in Nato.

Mr Kværnø went on: "So our investment is not in our direct and own defence but rather in keeping our preferred partners happy so that they will come to our rescue at the end of the day".

And one way Denmark keeps the US happy is by allowing them access to Greenland whose defence and foreign affairs are controlled in Copenhagen.

Mr Kværnø said: "Greenland is absolutely necessary for the Americans to be able to set up their missile defence shield.

"If they don't have the radar system up at Thule they can't work it and that gives us the reassurance that we can constantly trade with the Americans in terms of security favours."

'A disgrace'

But in recent years Denmark has offered more than just radar facilities.

Danes have fought and died in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Søren Espersen is foreign affairs spokesman for the Danish People's Party.

His party helped support the last Danish government which sent forces into both conflicts.

He told the BBC: "I think we feel that we have to do our bit.

"I can't really see why it should always be British and American soldiers that should die whereas other nations would sit on their hands like indeed many of the European countries do. Members of the EU who don't lift a finger - I think that is a disgrace."

But outside parliament there is a one man anti-war protest. Peter has been demonstrating here since Danish soldiers first entered Afghanistan more than a decade ago.

Image caption Denmark cannot interfere in others' nuclear policy, Dyrby Paulsen says

He said: "Here I am protesting against the war in Afghanistan. Today we can say that the Taliban is nearly just as strong as they were when we started."

Danish soldiers are due to leave Afghanistan next year.

But what of another area of contention - nuclear weapons?

Ole Kværnø says it is "the elephant in the room, we just don't discuss it at the moment."

The Danish government oppose nuclear weapons but do not question whether their Nato allies sail nuclear armed submarines in their waters.

That was one of the controversies at the last SNP conference which saw the party adopt a pro-Nato stance.

Mr Kværnø says that ignoring the issue is a matter of military practicality.

He said: "I can't see a member of Nato taking a firm stance on a nuclear free zone in, for example, the North Atlantic or around Scottish waters. That would be difficult."

John Dyrby Paulsen represents the Social Democrats who lead the current Danish government.

He says Denmark cannot interfere in the nuclear policies of other nations.

He said: "We are a small country. We can't decide what big countries want to do.

"Nuclear disarmament for instance, we have to say that we support it but we can't decide on nuclear policy. Especially not in France, US or England, on what they want to do.

"We have a certain point of view on that one but we don't interfere with big countries."

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