An independent Scotland would be "at a deep strategic disadvantage" to Russia in the conflict that is expected to emerge from climate change, according to Icelandic academics.

Scotland would need "shelter" from stronger allies which will "incur costs different from, and not necessarily lesser than" those of contributing to UK defence, legal and political experts from the universities of Iceland and Akureyri have advised.

But small Nordic states have been living with similar risks for decades while independence would allow Scotland to pursue new tactical alliances more suited to its national interests, they argue in the Icelandic Review of Politics and Administration.

First Minister Alex Salmond last week set out his vision for defence in an independent Scotland during a visit to Shetland, which he said would take account of its position, size and future responsibilities as global warming opens up new shipping lanes and energy sources.

The academics said: "Like all Nordic states, Scotland would be at a deep strategic disadvantage vis-a-vis the main potentially problematic actor in the region, namely Russia.

"It would have less than a twelfth of the population of, and far less military strength than, its nearest neighbour - the remaining UK (rUK). It would also be more exposed, geopolitically, than rUK to the wider Arctic zone which is expected to witness rapid development and turbulence - if not actual conflict - because of climate change."

Small states are "disproportionately vulnerable" to external threats such as "powerful crime and terrorism", making them dependent on others "for survival in a hostile international environment", they argue.

The paper states: "In terms both of theory and realpolitik, Scotland as an independent small state would need external shelter in multiple dimensions. Its solutions would incur costs different from, and not necessarily lesser than, those carried by the Scottish people within their present union."

Scotland's security would depend "first and foremost" on maintaining strong ties with rUK and also the USA who, they argue, "does not want an independent Scotland and has made that clear".

It adds: "Should the break-up nevertheless happen, Washington's attitude is foreshadowed by the rumour that it pressed the SNP leadership to switch in favour of Nato membership. Leaving a strategic black hole north of the rUK and losing access to Scottish facilities would be a serious setback even for US defence leaders."

However, the academics argue that independence could allow Scotland to realign its defence to suit its own interests, while its strategic importance would compel rUK, the USA, the EU and its Nordic neighbours to facilitate a swift transition to independence and accession to international treaties.

The paper states: "Scotland would have far fewer representatives and votes and a much smaller voice at the EU table than the UK or rUK, but that would be offset by the freedom to promote its own distinct European interests - which Scottish representatives, unlike genuinely new entrants, could do with skills honed for decades.

"They could freely seek new political/tactical alliances with member states both small and large.

"As with Nato, the cost-benefit balance from the EU's side should be distinguished from what London might think or feel. The EU faces no obvious strategic danger from leaving Scotland out."

It adds: "One might imagine Washington not only strategically underwriting Scottish/British solutions but actively brokering them, as it has done with London and Dublin at crucial turning points."

It concludes: "The five Nordics have lived for decades with the same strategic asymmetry that would face Scotland.

"They have found many-sided shelters while maintaining strong national idiosyncrasies, especially in institutional policy.

"For Scotland they could not replace a good-neighbourly accord with the rUK; but they could both reinforce it politically - in their own interest - and help balance it with a societal/cultural community that fostered Scotland's new small-state values."

Scotland as an Independent Small State: Where would it seek shelter? was written by political scientists Alyson JK Bailes and Baldur Thorhallsson, from the University of Iceland, and Rachael Lorna Johnstone, law lecturer at the University of Akureyri.