Wales & The World III: The State Apparatus

(Title Image: UK Government)

Now we’re starting to get into the details of the precise hows, whats and whys of a Welsh foreign policy. This part looks at what the Welsh state itself will need to have in place to enact foreign policy and, more importantly, allow elected representatives to scrutinise foreign policy.

Developing A Foreign Policy Framework

Foreign policy isn’t as dependent on party politics as other areas of public policy. Except in times of international crisis, it’s never an electoral issue, while it often doesn’t feature at the top of lists of priorities ordinary people have. Despite this, foreign policy is important because it presents a face of the nation to the rest of the world.Faces usually remain permanent! So one feature of foreign policy (especially at a UK level) is that it tends to transfer between governments and is merely tweaked to serve the national interest at that time (Part II). So differences between successive UK Government foreign policies have largely been paper thin – probably because we have a parliamentary system rather than a separate, directly-elected executive to deal with foreign policy like the United States or France.With regard Wales, it might be useful to have a core set of standing foreign policies – what the Americans would call apresidential doctrine.

The UK’s Foreign & Commonwealth Office currently has 22 core policies covering specific priorities such as: counter-terrorism, cyber-security, stability in Afghanistan, maintaining consular services, promoting human rights and addressing climate change in developing countries.

A Welsh foreign policy framework could work along the same lines, containing a list of perhaps 8-10 core priorities of the government. Some would be near permanent features, i.e. :

  • Supporting Welsh citizens abroad (consular services)
  • Protecting Wales and its interests from outside threats
  • Promoting Wales for trade and investment
  • Tourism promotion
  • Promoting human rights and democracy

Others might be more specific and change from year-to-year or from government-to-government, i.e.:
  • Dealing with specific incidents in Europe (i.e a Ukraine or Yugoslavia type crisis)
  • Supporting Welsh bids to host major sporting and cultural events
  • Targeted trade missions
  • Joint military missions
  • Working towards global agreements on terrorism, climate change, human trafficking, cyber-warfare etc.
  • Changes to key European treaties/Welsh relationship with the EU
Who should be responsible for foreign affairs?

Once deciding what the framework for a Welsh foreign policy would be, the next decision would be who, in the government/cabinet, would be responsible for delivering it and subject to scrutiny by elected representatives.There are a few options available, so it’s not always a given that foreign policy will be headed up by a dedicated foreign minister. 

  • Foreign policy controlled by the head of government – Presumably this would be Prime Minister of an independent Wales, or a directly-elected executive President. Over time they might delegate more control over domestic policy to other cabinet members.
  • Ministers share foreign policy duties – This is what Wales does presently (effectively). No single minister would be responsible for foreign policy, and they would represent Welsh interests on a department-by-department basis. A Welsh minister with responsibility for agriculture would deal with the EU on those matters; economic development minister with the likes of the WTO; defence minister with any military alliances etc. The head of government would then act as the most senior representative (when needed).
  • A US-style “Minister of State” – This creates a senior cabinet post responsible for implementing and shaping foreign policy, but they would also have some domestic duties. Those domestic roles could include some currently held by the First Minister, Leader of the House and Lord Chancellor, such as: Keeper of the Seal, handling the publication of legislation, and the administration of things like public appointments and commissions.
  • A separate post of Foreign Minister – Self-explanatory. This is what most nations do, but one disadvantage is that, like the “Minister of State” option above, such a post would require its own department and would expand the size of the cabinet. It’s presumably what would best suit Wales at the start. 

    A Welsh Foreign Office (Part IV)

Because the demands of foreign relations are often complicated and come with their own set of specific responsibilities – just as tax powers require a “Welsh Treasury” – independence and control of foreign affairs would require a “Welsh Foreign Office”.

The Foreign Office/Foreign Affairs Department would (presumably) be responsible for:

  • the diplomatic service
  • maintenance of embassies and consulates
  • membership of international organisations
  • bi-lateral and multi-lateral relations with individual countries
  • trade and treaty negotiations
  • consular services for Welsh citizens
  • tourism and trade promotion
  • arrangements for absentee ballots in elections (if applicable; many countries allow ex-pats to vote in national elections – this will be worth coming to whenever I get around to the constitution)

Some responsibilities might cross over with defence and home affairs: counter-terrorism, intelligence services and issuing passports, for example.

One of the more important functions would be to issue travel advice and warnings to businesses, NGOs and individual citizens to prevent them putting themselves in harm’s way. This is how the UK currently does it. How Wales would do that is up for question, but a simplified colour-coded system could be introduced based on intelligence received from allies, Welsh diplomats, other  “chatter” or even common sense :

  • Red – Immediate risk to life. Don’t travel unless absolutely necessary; seek government advice beforehand. This would include war zones, nations suffering epidemics of communicable diseases or nations undergoing serious political instability.
  • Amber – Monitor events closely and be prepared to leave at short notice. This could include natural disasters, nations which are on unfriendly terms with the West, credible terrorist threats etc.
  • Yellow – Take extra care. This would include predictable events that might cause disruption, like hurricane season in the Caribbean, a spike in crime targeting tourists, serious delays at major ports and airports, strict laws which could catch people out etc.
  • Green – No issues, just take usual travel precautions.

There are already teams within the Welsh Government with responsibility for overseas representation and trade; presumably these would form the backbone of any foreign department – with other posts filled or reassigned as needed.

It’s likely several government-sponsored bodies – like Visit Wales, Just Ask Wales (and any future resurrection of the Welsh Development Agency), passport service etc. – would transfer to the remit of a foreign affairs department.

A Welsh foreign department would create prestigious jobs (at cost, of course) and require highly-skilled, multi-disciplinary staff. It also means roles currently carried out in London on Wales’ behalf would come to Cardiff. I return to this in more detail in Part IV.

The Role of the Legislature

Proper scrutiny of foreign policy will almost certainly require an Assembly committee dedicated to external affairs, which the Assembly re-introduced in 2016.

The Scottish Parliament retains its European & External Affairs Committee, as well as an External Affairs Minister. The remit of the committee includes EU law, EU affairs, pan-EU issues, the Scottish Government’s international activities and links between Scotland and other nations/organisations.

The problem with this would be numbers. It would be one of the most important subject committees and would need a full complement of AMs (10-12), which almost certainly requires a larger Assembly. You presume independence would make the argument for a larger Assembly as conclusive as it can be anyway.

There might be an argument to resurrect the European & External Affairs Committee within the current devolved settlement, but that’s for AMs to decide.

As for what the committee would do, full control over foreign affairs would broaden its remit considerably. Westminster’s Foreign Affairs Select Committee, for example, is one of the more prestigious committees. A Welsh Foreign Affairs Committee would presumably cover everything the old European & External Affairs Committee did, plus subjects like:

  • diplomatic and consular services
  • foreign policy objectives
  • trade and inward investment policy
  • membership of international organisation other than the EU
  • international development/aid
  • some aspects of defence (like intelligence-sharing and military presence abroad)

You could even argue that defence and foreign affairs are so intertwined they should be scrutinised by the same committee.
Of course, the Assembly-at-large will have a role in scrutinising foreign policy, in particular topical issues which are likely to be highly-controversial or highly-charged. Although, as I’ve said, foreign policy has been debated in the Assembly or petitions submitted on foreign policy issues, the Assembly has never had the power to follow things though. Independence would give them that power.This could include:

  • Authorising military action abroad or the use of force generally (Part VII; Defending Wales III)
  • Upholding constitutional clauses relating to foreign affairs
  • Ratifying treaties and international agreements (Part VIII)
  • Debating and approving motions that condemn the actions of other nations and governments
  • Official recognition of other countries
Within the UK, many of these functions are carried out by the UK Government via royal prerogative and are not (officially) subject to parliamentary approval. If, in a Welsh constitution, all of the above were subject to Assembly approval then it would be markedly different from current UK policy and hand more power to AMs as public representatives.

The Role of Civil Society

There’s some debate over how much influence the public have on foreign policy.The main way the public influence foreign policy is either through protest or through involvement with non-governmental organisations (NGOs).The unpopularity of the Vietnam War in the late 60s and early 70s helped prompt US withdrawal. Protests against sporting tours played a key part of the global anti-Apartheid movement and helped turn South Africa into a pariah state – though it wasn’t until economic boycotts began that progress towards reform ramped up.

Protest doesn’t always work. An estimated million people marched through London against the Iraq War, but military action happened anyway. The equivalent figure at a Wales-only level would be around 50,000 people – and 50,000 people marching through Cardiff for political reasons would be more than noticeable when you consider current protests in Wales rarely attract more than 1,000-2,000 at their peak.

Also, various attempts at boycotting Israeli products due to their treatment of the Palestinians have flopped, especially when you consider Israel manufactures many high-end electronics commonly used in computers and mobile phones.

At its heart is a tug-of-war between foreign policy representing the national interest (Part II) or the views of the people. They’re not always mutually compatible with each other.

For example, it was in the UK’s national interest to participate in the Iraq War for the sake of maintaining good relations with the United States due to close working on matters of intelligence and the UK/Tony Blair seeing itself/himself as a valued “bridge” between the USA and EU – which is a status the UK has profited from for decades. However, it was in no way in the interest of ordinary people who were misled into thinking Iraq was an immediate threat to British assets or interests.

As the Welsh political centre of gravity is so shallow – with a smaller civil society and a closer government and legislature – it’s highly likely public opinion in Wales will have a far more significant influence on foreign policy than it would in the UK. This means it would be a lot easier for civic organisations and individuals to shape Welsh relations with other countries.

Smaller countries tend to be more ballsy when it comes to foreign policy statements. For example, in the West, it’s generally smaller countries which have recognised, or are prepared to recognise, Palestine – Iceland, Serbia, Montenegro, Slovakia, Sweden etc. The “big boys” have chickened out, presumably because they have more to lose in terms of relations and trade with Israel.

The other area is NGOs. It’s likely civil society would play a major part in shaping, even running, any Welsh international development programme – presumably a continuation of schemes like Wales for Africa. This “grassroots” approach might be more popular with the public, and if people could see that foreign aid was being overseen by enthusiasts and not by governments which “chuck their money away” they might be more enthusiastic about foreign aid itself.

Letting the Third Sector run things in Wales comes with its own set of issues of course, so it still requires close scrutiny and some sort of government leash.

The public could play a key role in deciding how Welsh foreign aid is structured and where it’s sent. It means an independent Wales might be less likely to send aid to unpopular dictatorships or nations with poor human rights records, especially if enough public pressure is put on the government – which, as said, should be easier to do in Wales compared to the UK.

Part IV looks at the mechanics of diplomacy itself such as embassies, diplomatic services and state visits.