AS the world at last fixed its gaze firmly on climate change this past month thanks to COP26, we’ve allowed another existential threat to grow and metastasise with little or no real public discussion: war. It is humanity’s curse, after all, to be unable to hold more than one large idea in our collective mind at any one time.

Over recent weeks we’ve seen tensions around the planet ratchet up considerably. There’s the weaponisation of space; Cold War in the Pacific threatening to turn hot; and tensions along Europe’s eastern frontier.

How does the SNP’s foreign and defence policy fit into this rapidly changing spectrum of threats? It’s an important question to ask. If the SNP wants to lead this country to independence then the party needs to make sure it comes bearing policies and doctrines that fit this new world.

The 21st century, whether we like it or not, pits the west against Russia, and to a greater extent against China. This is the ‘Chinese Century’ after all. As one power rises, others fall, and that inevitably brings conflict.

READ MORE: Would an independent Scotland be vulnerable? Not necessarily

Crudely, the SNP’s foreign and defence policy is that in the event of independence the nation will get rid of Trident and seek membership of Nato. Setting aside the divorce row this would cause with England, it’s a perfectly moral position to take but is it the right position?

This approach seeks to remove Scotland from any association with nuclear arms. Laudable for sure but doable? Nato, especially given the current global threat level, isn’t well disposed to this idea. That may well see one policy undermine the other.

Would an independent Scotland have to swallow Trident in order to gain accession to Nato? Would an independent Scotland see rejection by Nato as a price worth paying to rid the land of nuclear weapons? Or could we become a neutral power like Ireland, playing the honest international broker?

The problem is that while the SNP has good and smart people in its foreign and defence wings, the party – as on so many subjects connected to independence, not least borders and currency – is loath to have an open discussion about this with the Scottish people. This is no longer tenable given the world we now inhabit.

Let’s turn to China first. Beijing recently test fired a hypersonic missile. The test stunned the US military, which has referred to the event as close to a ‘Sputnik moment’ – in other words, a juncture when China, like Russia during the early days of the Space Race, superseded America.

READ MORE: Threat of Russian disinformation

Hypersonic nuclear missiles evade air defence interception. After the Chinese test, the US conducted three hypersonic tests of its own. Queue another arms race like the old ‘Star Wars’ stand-off between Ronnie Reagan and the Soviet Union in the 1980s.

During this week’s talks between Xi Jinping and Joe Biden, China’s president – or dictator if we’re being honest – warned America that it was “playing with fire” if Washington thought to encourage independence for Taiwan. China is making repeated warplane incursions into Taiwan’s air defence zones.

America has been goading China too. Biden indicated America would come to Taiwan’s defence if China invaded, and his pick for US ambassador to Beijing described China as aggressive and untrustworthy, insisting that boosting Taiwan’s defences against the threat of invasion should be a top priority.

There’s been foolish speculation that this week’s talks between Xi and Biden represented a thaw. That’s just diplomatic nicety. In effect, China’s pointed message to America remains ‘back off and back down’.

Inevitably – and this plays into the SNP and its concept of foreign and defence policy for an independent Scotland – the UK has stuck its nose into this hornets’ nest. The Aukus deal – which sees Britain and America helping Australia build a nuclear submarine fleet – is clearly viewed by China as a threat in its own backyard.

READ MORE: Sturgeon warned over Russian hack 

China has a predatory, expansionist view of the Pacific. Queue another impetus for an arms race. The head of the International Atomic Energy Agency fears other states may also start to follow Australia and seek nuclear fleets.

China is now a space power too. Not so long ago, Chinese astronauts performed the country’s first tandem spacewalk outside its Tiangong space station. Russia is buddying up in space with Beijing, planning a joint moonbase.

Yes, you read that correctly. Moscow and Beijing want the International Lunar Research Station ready by 2036.

Russia, ever the agent of chaos, conducted a missile test in space this week which threatened the crew of the International Space Station. However, Russia is much more of a concern down here on Earth. There’s a Russian troop build up that threatens an invasion of Ukraine. Russia already feels itself technically ‘at war’ with the west.

Britain is sabre-rattling with Russia too. The outgoing head of the UK’s armed forces, General Sir Nick Carter, says Britain must be ready for war with Russia. Moscow is also suspending its diplomatic mission to Nato. Cutting contact when tensions hot up is not a recipe for peaceful outcomes.

Moscow continues to ratchet up pressure on Europe by orchestrating a migrant crisis on the EU’s eastern frontier. Belarus dictator Alexander Lukashenko – Moscow’s puppet – has been doing the bidding of Vladimir Putin and sending migrants to the borders of Poland, Lithuania and Latvia. The migrants – fleeing violence in the Middle East – risk dying of cold as they’re cruelly used as pawns.

The head of Poland's national security department, Stanislaw Zaryn, said the migrants were under the control of Belarusian armed units. “Belarus wants to cause a major incident, preferably with shots fired and casualties,” deputy foreign minister Piotr Wawrzyk said. How easily could this dark game turn nasty and draw Russia into a European conflict?

The notion of an independent Scotland is a 21st century project. However, it feels that no matter how well intentioned the SNP’s foreign and defence policies may be for a new Scottish nation on the world’s stage, the intellectual underpinnings remain very much in the 20th century. A conversation must be had so that Scotland can properly position itself strategically and internationally should the day come when the nation is indeed independent.

Our columns are a platform for writers to express their opinions. They do not necessarily represent the views of The Herald