Wales & The World IV: Diplomatic Relations

Diplomacy is the art of negotiation and exchange of views in international affairs. It’s not just about properly representing the interests of your own state, but striking deals, gaining strategic advantages, softening up governments and even issuing threats.

Diplomatic Tactics

There are several different “types” of diplomacy: 

  • Hard power – The use of the strength and resources available to one state to alter the behaviour of, or draw concessions from, other states. This can include the use of formal sanctions via international bodies like the UN or EU.
    • Gunboat diplomacy – Displays of military strength, minor incursions into foreign territory, the arms trade or even the outright threat of war. A famous example would be the Cuban Missile Crisis of 1963 which eventually led to concessions from NATO and the Soviet Union on nuclear weapons sites. Nuclear weapons could even be considered a diplomatic tool in their own right.
    • Economic/Chequebook diplomacy – Using the economic might of a state to buy concessions or change behaviour. This doesn’t necessarily mean cash, but could include natural resource rights, the promise of aid or guaranteeing loans. North Korea has often attempted to use sabre-rattling to draw aid concessions from the United States and others in exchange for curbing its nuclear weapons programme (with mixed success).
  • Soft power – Using persuasion and co-operation instead of strength. Influence doesn’t automatically mean needing a large military or a booming economy. The UK is able to use a lot of soft power through the Commonwealth, English language and culture, ditto the United States and (in Francophone countries) France. This means stable democracies are often able to get what they want without having to resort to threats.
    • Informal (Tract II) diplomacy – Instead of diplomacy being carried out on behalf of governments by professional diplomats, it’s carried out by NGOs, universities and private citizens. This can be as simple as two people from two different countries meeting each other. School and university exchanges, or schemes like ERASMUS, could be considered examples of informal diplomacy.
    • Cultural diplomacy – Self-explanatory; using the arts and culture to generate influence. This can be pure propaganda – like Russia Today, the BBC World Service and Voice of America– or it can be something more prestigious like hosting a major sporting event – which is why the race to host the football World Cup and Olympics are often so heated. This is arguably the main way Wales carries out diplomacy as a stateless nation when you consider the International Eisteddfod, arts and sport. Within cultural diplomacy you can include major commercial brands (i.e. Coca Cola and McDonald’s are synonymous with the United States), sponsored tours of major works of art and museum exhibits, as well as things like the film, television and music industry.
    • Preventive diplomacy – Trying to influence foreign policy through pro-active conflict resolution, mainly to prevent wars breaking out or economic sanctions being used. It usually involves high-level meetings between diplomats and envoys, up to and including using international organisations like the UN Security Council. Measures include the use of peacekeeping forces, the creation of demilitarised zones, the use of safe corridors and the involvement of NGOs. A more recent high-profile example is the deal over Iran’s nuclear energy programme.

Does Wales have “diplomatic relations”with nations already?

Sort of.There are a number of honorary consuls in Wales, or consular officers/consular teams dealing specifically with Wales. Many are represented by the Consular Association in Wales, though it appears one or two of the consuls are vacant at present.There are 29 honorary consuls.These aren’t embassies, but some provide genuine consular services – like emergency passports to tourists or foreign students. A travel agent in Cowbridge serves as the honorary Dutch, Norwegian and Tunisian consulate, for example.

Some official consulates have been victims of cuts. The Irish consulate in Cardiff closed in 2009 as part of a cost-cutting exercise by the Irish Government. The United States also used to maintain a full consulate in Cardiff, but that’s since been scaled back to a virtual consulate and Welsh Affairs Office at the US embassy in London.

Independence would certainly bring them back as full embassies, and you can’t underestimate the value of having direct access to diplomats.

Other consuls have developed as a result of NGOs. Wales maintains good relations with the African kingdom of Lesotho thanks to the work of Dolen Cymru, which has a 30 year track record of educational and cultural exchanges – such as teacher placements. The King of Lesotho, Letsie III, visited the National Assembly in 2008 – described as a “state visit” by some quarters.

A Welsh Diplomatic Service

Diplomatic relations are normally maintained through embassies and ambassadors supported by trained diplomatic staff. Wales would be starting from scratch.

Staff in the UK’s current diplomatic service are usually recruited the same way as other graduate-entry positions in the civil service, and training takes up to 2 years. Presumably, a similar system would continue (perhaps via a public service academy).

As for the question of where they would come from, Aberystwyth University has its renowned international relations department, Swansea and Cardiff universities offer similar undergraduate and postgraduate courses, while the University of South Wales offers a respected Masters degree in Global Governance.

In academic terms, everything’s already in place to train future diplomats, up to and including future ambassadors and high commissioners. I’d imagine this would be an attractive career path for many ambitious Welsh people who currently have to go to London.

In terms of the specific skills you would look for in a diplomat, and the functions you would expect diplomatic missions to perform, based on what was outlined in Scotland’s Future (pdf p192):

  • Trade & Investment – As the Welsh Government currently do : encourage investment into Wales, market Wales to key players in local and regional economies, build up networks of clients, market Welsh exports, sell Wales as a tourist destination.
  • International development – Work with NGOs to ensure Wales is meeting its international development obligations, co-ordinate emergency aid, work with the Welsh military on disaster relief etc.
  • Inter-governmental relations – Ensure Wales has good ties with foreign governments and heads of state, seeking out bi-lateral or multi-lateral agreements that benefit both sides, make sure Welsh interests are being taken into account at an international level. This includes keeping ministers in Wales aprised of major political and economic events in other countries via diplomatic cables.
  • Cultural exchange – Promote Wales in the arts, sport and through education, plus ensuring other countries have a way to promote their own cultures in Wales.
  • Consular services – The basics : emergency passports, issuing visas, asylum applications, dealing with Welsh citizens who get into trouble abroad, intervening in disputes, registering births, deaths etc.

Staff requirements depend on the number of diplomatic missions and how well-staffed a Welsh Foreign Office would be (Part III). What you would expect though is that specialists, ambassadors and high commissioners would be relatively well paid. In 2011 most UK ambassadors earned between £82,000 and £170,000 depending on where they were posted.

In addition, you would expect diplomatic missions in important markets – or those that deal with high amounts of consular work (i.e. destinations popular with Welsh tourists) to have more staff than quieter outposts. Ideally, the diplomatic service would be flexible enough to move staff around when needed (something already recommended to the Welsh Government and I’ll come back to this later).

Based on figures in Scotland’s Future – and the diplomatic services of similarly-sized nations – you would expect a Welsh Diplomatic Service to employ ~350-400 people and cost somewhere around £40-50million to run each year (not including the cost of international aid or consular services and not taking into account the value of a Welsh share of present UK assets).

For want of comparison, in 2014 Irish embassies, consulates and other diplomatic missions cost a combined €50million to run (£36million at current prices).

Where should Wales have diplomatic missions?

There’s some work on this already out there. Even though it was done primarily as a review of the Welsh Government’s existing overseas presence (to attract inward investment), it can equally apply to foreign missions generally.

The Public Policy Institute published two reports in October 2014:

  • Decisions, Decisions : How should the Welsh Government decide where to locate its overseas offices? (pdf)
  • Punching Our Weight : International Comparisons on Location and Staffing of Overseas Offices (pdf)

The main conclusions from both reports were:

  • The value of overseas offices/overseas presence is difficult to ascertain, but “soft intelligence” and building up local contacts are important for marketing Wales.
  • Most countries of a similar size to Wales (Scotland, Rep. Ireland, Portugal) maintain “only small offices, except in locations where there are strong economic opportunities for them” – in particular those nations with pre-existing ties, historical relationships, common language etc.
  • IT improvements mean you don’t necessarily need a physical presence to promote the country; a strong web presence is more important than ever.
  • Multiple criteria should be used when evaluating where to base an overseas office, such as: location to major multinational headquarters, existing levels of trade and inward investment, existing Welsh representation, costs of maintaining the office itself and the political stability of the host country/risk.
  • The Welsh Government should consider using “roving teams of specialist marketing personnel”. This means smaller offices would call in this expertise as and when required (presumably for things like trade fairs).

This is heavily-focused on inward investment and trade – which is what you would expect Welsh embassies to focus on anyway. When you factor in the diplomatic and consular role of embassies, the criteria the Welsh Government would use to assess locations would change to factor in:

  • access to political power/legislatures/governments (regional/state and national)
  • the number and frequency of Welsh tourists visiting the host country (and in need of consular services)
  • the number of permanent residents who are/were Welsh citizens living in the host country
  • security at the chosen site
  • whether other embassies are close by/diplomatic district
  • pre-existing ties and relationships (cultural, economic/trade)

In Scotland’s Future (pdf p178), the SNP planned for Scotland to have “a network of 70-90 overseas offices” to make up its diplomatic estate. The UK currently has more than 5,000 diplomatic properties abroad.

Upon independence, Scotland and Wales would be entitled to a share of these properties or their approximate value. In 2014, these estates were worth £1.9billion, so a Welsh share would be around £95million. That should be more than enough to cover setting up a rudimentary network of embassies and High Commissions – notwithstanding existing Welsh Government properties abroad.

The question now is where should they be? The UK, as a former colonial power, has diplomatic missions everywhere except parts of Africa and Central America. There are between 190-195 sovereign states, and around 16 with disputed sovereignty (like Palestine, Abkhazia, Taiwan) as of March 2015.

It’s safe to say Wales wouldn’t need full-time diplomatic representation in every single country. I’d pity the poor soul manning the Welsh embassy in the Central African Republic or Tajikistan – come to think of it, that might be a good way to punish retire AMs!

Using the Public Policy Institute recommendations (and ones I suggest), you would expect Wales to have a full-time presence in nations which meet one or more of the following criteria:

  • The rest of the former UK, and Commonwealth nations with a population of at least 3 million and/or a large expat community in Wales.
  • EU and EFTA member states with a population of at least 3 million.
  • G20 Members.
  • Emerging economies (Part X) and any other nation where Wales has strong bi-lateral ties or a large expat community in Wales (i.e. Lesotho, Uganda, Nepal, Philippines).

Based on that, you’re looking at around 80 nations Wales could realistically have effective bilateral relations with – which is in line with Scotland’s Future.
This doesn’t mean Wales would have to open that number of diplomatic missions. The Republic of Ireland uses embassies in neighbouring countries as a base of representation, and likewise other countries represent themselves in Ireland through London embassies. You could have a single Welsh embassy in the UAE covering all of the Middle East and North Africa, or two or three embassies in eastern Europe to cover representation of nations there. So in practical terms, Wales might only require as few as 40 full-time diplomatic missions to cover most of the world.If the technology is appropriate, Wales might not even need a full-time physical presence in every country, and a system could be developed where Welsh citizens would be able to access consular services over the internet (or, for example, a hotel which has an agreement with the Welsh Government) via an Estonian-style e-citizenship service. As explained earlier, this is a service some honorary consulates based in Wales already provide their citizens.

There’s also scope to have regional consulates in big markets (United States, Germany, China, India) and consulates in non-sovereign states like the Channel Islands, Isle of Man, Hong Kong, Taiwan etc.

Finally, there’s the option of running joint British embassies in pre-existing buildings along the same lines as the Nordic Embassy (Denmark, Norway, Iceland, Sweden, Finland) in Berlin.This would result in massively reduced running costs for all involved.

The Nordic countries also have an agreement whereby citizens can receive consular help from each other’s respective embassies – the Commonweath also has a similar arrangement (Part VI). However, if Wales were to rejoin the EU (Part V), citizens would have a right to diplomatic protection via any other EU member state embassy.

Summits & State Visits

Hosting a major international summit is the political equivalent of hosting a World Cup or Olympics. They normally attract significant media attention and can be used to promote the host nation/city. If a major international agreement is signed, then the host city could be remembered permanently – think Liston treaty, Kyoto summit or Copenhagen agreement.After the relatively successful Newport/Cardiff NATO summit in 2014, conference facilities in south east Wales are set to be drastically improved through private investment. By being “out of the way”, an independent Wales could carve out a niche for itself as a host of these major events.

These events have a down side, obviously. They tend to be costly and disruptive. The Welsh Government spent £3million on the 2014 NATO summit, mainly in promotional work, while the total cost of the summit (in terms of security, policing etc.) was around £50million. It’s still unclear how much the summit boosted the Welsh economy, though it’s worth pointing out that a NATO summit is at the extreme end of the market in terms of upfront costs and most summits will be cheaper to host.

If an independent Wales were weighing up whether to host such events, it would have to make sure that the returns from investment are worth it, not just bid to host any and all such summits – though the decision would be ours to make.

The NATO summit could also be considered a very effective “dry run” for official state visits. State visits are vitally important in diplomacy and are the highest form of expressions of friendship/bi-lateral ties and reciprocity.The UK currently hosts no more than two state visits a year, and such visits are managed by the Royal Household. Invitations are normally sent out by the head of state, but in practical terms the government calls the shots.

In terms of what a state visit to an independent Wales would look like, it’s likely to be similar to what we saw at the NATO summit – there would probably be some sort of state dinner/reception at Cardiff Castle and some sort of political/economic conference at Celtic Manor.

State visits would, generally, require less security (US Presidents are an exception to this) and would have a lengthier itinerary – including taking the guest of honour outside south east Wales and visiting/addressing the National Assembly.

State visits are likely to be cheaper to host than a full-blown summit, but they should be reserved for remarkable guests. It would make sense for Wales to follow the UK’s lead in only hosting 1 or 2 a year.

Part V looks at Wales’ position within Europe, covering issues surrounding EU membership, the future of the British-Irish Council and other pan-European organisations.