Wales & The World VI: The Global Community

(Title Image: UK Government)

One of the signs you’ve “made it” as an independent nation is United Nations membership. The UN isn’t the be all and end all, but a Welsh seat at the top table of these organisations (and numerous ones I haven’t listed) would be an unprecedented opportunity.

The United Nations (UN)

The UN was created in 1945 as an organisation committed to international co-operation as set out in the UN Charter. The UN currently has 193 member states and 2 observers (Vatican City and Palestine). The main UN bodies are based in New York, with major campuses in Geneva, Vienna and Nairobi.The UN Charter is one of the most important documents in human history, outlining not only the functions of the UN itself, but being the first attempt to create a lasting foundation for international law and human rights after the failure of the League of Nations.Whether any of that has actually worked is a matter of opinion, and you can argue that despite its high ideals, the UN has failed to act quickly enough on humanitarian catastrophes, or is “too soft” for its own good – examples including its response (or lack of) to the Rwandan genocide, Second Congo War and the Yugoslav Wars.

The UN has six main organs:


  • General Assembly – The deliberative chamber of the UN, made up of all member states voting on a “one-member, one-vote” basis. The General Assembly appoints members to its respective committees, debates key global issues and determines policy.
  • Security Council (more in Part VII) – The most powerful organ in terms of international politics. The 15-member body is responsible for maintaining peace and global security, usually through passing resolutions. Five permanent members (USA, Russia, China, UK, France) cannot be removed and have a power to veto any Security Council decision. The other 10 members are elected by the General Assembly for fixed terms.
  • Economic & Social Council (ECOSOC) – A 54-member committee dedicated to social policy, international development, environmental and sustainable development issues.
  • Trusteeship Council A body that oversees de-colonisation and issues from dependent territories. It now only meets as and when required.
  • International Court of Justice (ICJ) – Established under Chapter XIV of the UN Charter, the ICJ administers justice under international law (i.e. border disputes).
  • UN Secretariat – Consists of a Secretary-General who is nominated by the Security Council and appointed by the General Assembly, as well as the staff responsible for the UN’s day-to-day operations.

The UN also runs a number of programmes which deliver its objectives, and some of these organisations are perhaps – aside from the Security Council – what people immediately think of when they hear “UN”. The more prominent ones include:

  • UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) – Based in New York – Provides development assistance to children and mothers.
  • World Food Programme (WFP)– Rome – Aims to end global hunger and provide emergency food aid to stricken nations and peoples.
  • UN Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) – Amman, 27 member advisory council & 3 observers – A specialist agency focusing on the needs of Palestinian refugees, including education, finance, health care and emergency assistance.
  • UN-Habitat – Nairobi, 58 members elected from ECOSOC – A programme working towards better housing in urban areas of the developing world.
  • UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) – Geneva, 98 members – Co-ordinates international action to protect refugees and resolve refugee problems (more in Part IX).
  • UN “Human Rights” Council (UNHRC) – Geneva, 47 members – Responsible for promoting and protecting human rights. Has been roundly criticised for being dominated by bloc votes from African and Middle Eastern members with their own poor human rights records. That bastion of  human rights and personal freedoms, Saudi Arabia, is considering a bid to chair it.
UN programmes are funded through voluntary contributions beyond those made to cover the costs of running the UN itself. This includes donations from governments, corporate sponsorship and individual/fundraising donations. These donations may count towards a nation’s foreign aid budget.

There are also a number of autonomous organisations which work closely with the UN:
UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO) – Paris, 195 members – Specialises in cultural, education and scientific co-operation; the most famous being the Millennium Development Goals and the protection of World Heritage Sites. Funded by a mix of assessed member contributions and voluntary donations. Based on UK contributions in 2014-15 (pdf), Wales’ would be around ~£1.06million.
International Labor Organisation (ILO) – Geneva, 185 members – Focuses on issues such as safety at work, child labour, workers’ rights and creating opportunities for decent employment. It’s one of the world’s leading authorities on work-related statistics. A Welsh contribution to its budget would be around £800,000 based on UK contributions in 2014-15 (pdf).
World Trade Organisation (WTO) – Geneva, 161 members (including dual-representation by the EU for EU member states) – Regulates and monitors international trade and offers dispute resolution. Requires all members to publish trade regulations, but also provides avenues for member states to protect themselves through limited trade restrictions.
Contributions from member states are based on their share of international trade, with a minimum contribution of 0.015% of the total budget. Based on the total value of Welsh exports and imports (xls) in 2014 – which was £20.43billion ($30.91billion) – Wales made up 0.130% of international trade, equating to 254,000 CHF (£180,000) in membership contributions when compared to the UK. Contributions are likely to be higher once trade with the (former) UK is included.

International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA)
– Vienna, 164 members – Promotes the peaceful use of nuclear energy, monitors and responds to nuclear accidents and works to prevent the proliferation of nuclear weapons. Funded by member contributions, with Wales’ being (based on UK contributions of £15.7million in 2015 [pdf]) around £750,000. Wales would be obligated to join due to Wylfa and Trawsfynnydd.

World Health Organisation (WHO) – Geneva, 194 members – One of the best known and important international organisations, it monitors global health issues, disseminates research and sets standards for global health. It also undertakes vaccination programmes and monitors global pandemics.

The WHO has a secretariat and a World Health Assembly made up of delegations from member states (you presume Wales’ would be the Chief Medical Officer), with a week-long summit held annually at its headquarters in Geneva. The proposed budget for 2016-17 is just over $4.4billion. A Welsh contribution, based on UK’s assessed contributions in 2014 (pdf), would be around £600,000, with perhaps up to an extra £1million in voluntary contributions.

So the total membership costs to Wales of all of these autonomous organisations listed above would be about £4.6million per year at current prices.

The World Bank & IMF

The World Bank and International Monetary Fund (IMF) are two interlinked organisations formed at the Bretton Woods Conference in 1944 as part of rebuilding efforts following the Second World War.

Member states can’t be a member of the World Bank without being a member of the IMF, however both organisations perform very different roles.

World Bank Group – Washington D.C, 172-188 members – An umbrella of five different organisations. Its goal is to end “extreme poverty”.It does this by working to grow the incomes of the world’s poorest 40% through zero, or near zero, interest loans and grants to develop infrastructure, in particular education. It’s essentially a way to redistribute wealth from richer nations to poorer nations.

IMF – Washington D.C, 188 members – Its main aims are to support international trade whilst ensuring global financial and monetary stability. It’s one of the world’s leading monitoring organisations for state finances (as providing accurate information is a condition of membership) and also provides emergency finance and technical assistance to governments in financial trouble – the most high-profile present example being Greece. Interestingly, IMF membership is open to non-sovereign states.

When it comes to finances and voting power of members, that’s where things get complicated.

World Bank (International Bank for Reconstruction & Development) members have a different number of votes, generally based on the size of their contributions to the bank’s capital funds, which as far as I know are built up over time and will change from year to year. You would expect a country of Wales’ size (based on Ireland’s figures) to invest on average somewhere between $20-30million a year (£13.1-19.7million) – which would count towards Welsh foreign aid contributions.

The IMF too sets members a quota based on the size of their economy, international reserves, economic variability and economic openness. This quota determines both the amount of money they pay as a subscription to the IMF and their voting power. Quotas are issued in Special Drawing Rights (SDRs) which are used to determine things like loan interest. At of May 2015, 1 SDR is worth $0.71.

It’s unclear what a Welsh quota would be, but there’s a good way to guess. Based on the UK’s quota (10.79billion SDR), a proportional Welsh share would be 389.4million SDR after the relative understrength of the Welsh economy is taken into account (75% of the UK average). Its approximate value in 2015 is £360million – and it would have to be paid upfront. Up to 25% of that has to be paid in a widely-accepted currency” (i.e $) and the rest in the nation’s own currency.

The fact is that upon independence Wales is unlikely to have £360million down the back of the sofa. This means that unless the IMF accepts a proportional Welsh share of the UK’s current quota as payment of its subscription (following negotiations), IMF and World Bank membership might have to be delayed – the risk being that Wales would be unable to access emergency finance.

Welsh membership of the UN

The UN is usually the first international organisation newly-independent nations join and the process is speedy. It took Montenegro 23 days to join the UN upon independence in 2006, and South Sudan just 6 days in 2011.

Prospective members require three things as outlined in the UN’s rules: a written declaration to the Secretary-General accepting the UN Charter, UN Security Council acceptance that the prospective member is a “peace-loving state” and approval by a two-thirds majority of those present in the General Assembly.

UN members send a Permanent Representative to New York and Geneva to act as ambassadors to the main UN institutions (some also send representatives to Nairobi and Vienna). Heads of government and heads of state also take part in certain meetings of the General Assembly.

Once in, Wales can be nominated to join the UN’s committees and councils (mentioned earlier). Regional blocs are used to ensure a geographical spread of members : for example, 10 members are elected to the UN Security Council on two year terms, with two spaces on the Council available to the Western Europe and Others Bloc.

Contributions to the UN’s operating budget are based on the size of the economy. In 2015 (pdf), the UK’s contribution to the UN budget was $140.1million (£92.1million) once staffing costs are discounted. You would therefore expect a Welsh figure to be about $5.25million (~$6.25million once staffing costs are added) or around £3.5million in today’s prices. This doesn’t include voluntary contributions to UN programmes.

In case you were wondering, member states take their seat in the General Assembly with the English translation of their name; so “Wales” would be seated between Vietnam and Yemen.

Other Key International Organisations

International Criminal Court (ICC) – The Hague, 123 members (signatories to the Rome Statute) – Although the ICJ is also based in The Hague, this is “The Hague”people often refer to. It’s independent of the UN and so a separate organisation in its own right. Its primary function is to investigate and preside over court cases relating to war crimes, human rights abuses and crimes against humanity. The ICC has has the power to issue arrest warrants. Some member states have, therefore, not ratified the ICC treaty – the highest profile ones being the United States, Iran and Russia.Contributions towards its costs are based on ability to pay, and Wales’ would be ~£240,000 per year.

Interpol – Lyon, 190 members – A network to enable police co-operation across borders. Issues notices to warn all member law enforcement agencies about potential threats or organised crime (described as the closest thing to an international arrest warrant), and special notices in relation to UN Security Council resolutions. About 70% of the budget comes from member contributions, and based on Irish contributions in 2015 (pdf), you would expect a Welsh contribution to be ~€200,000 (£148,000).

International Olympic Committee (IOC) – Lausanne, 105 full members; 32 honorary – Full membership of the IOC would enable Wales to compete as a separate nation in the Olympic Games and continental championships like the European Games and European Athletics Championships. It would also enable Wales to have a say in the hosting of major events. Membership would necessitate the creation of a National Olympic Committee (NOC). Around 90% of the IOC’s budget (mostly raised from sponsorship, ticketing, broadcasting etc.) is redistributed to the NOCs, which would provide an avenue of funding for Welsh athletes.

International Organisation of Migration (IOM) – Geneva, 157 members; 10 observers – Promotes “humane and orderly migration for the benefit of all”, international co-operation and assistance on migration issues, and provides humanitarian assistance to refugees. Has become one of the leading world authorities on migration issues. Based on the UK contribution of £1.9million, you would expect a Welsh contribution of around £100,000.

World Customs Organisation (WCO) – Brussels, 180 members – Supports and advises customs organisations (UK – HMRC) to improve their efficiency and effectiveness. It’s passed and approved some very technical, but essential, codes and legal instruments to standardise customs practices globally.

Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) – Paris, 34 members – Essentially an organisation for developed free-market democracies. Perhaps most famous for its socio-economic and tax research, in particular the (controversial) PISA tests which compare education systems of member states. There’s an OECD Council made up of delegations from member states and a permanent secretariat. Its budget in 2014 was €357million, and contributions are based on the size of member states economies – you would therefore expect a Welsh contribution to be around €2.8million (£2million).

Wales & The Commonwealth

The Commonwealth of Nations was established in 1949 as a free association of former British colonies, many of which subsequently gained independence over the proceeding decades.

The British monarch is the titular Head of the Commonwealth, and some members maintain the British monarch as their head of state. The majority of members, however – including India and South Africa – are republics. Other member states (there are currently 53 in total) have their own monarchies. The Commonwealth contains about 2.4billion citizens – around a third of the world’s population.

Since 2007, prospective members generally have to:

  • be sovereign states
  • have some sort of connection or association with a current Commonwealth member (effectively meaning a former British colony, crown territory or dominion [or territory of a dominion])
  • accept the British monarch as Head of the Commonwealth
  • accept principles of democracy, rule of law and good governance

These expanded rules have meant nations like Cameroon (a former French, German and partial British colony) and Mozambique (a former Portuguese colony) have successfully joined the Commonwealth. Meanwhile, membership could theoretically be extended to Israel, Palestine, France, United States, Qatar, UAE, Iraq, Myanmar and the Republic of Ireland (which left the Commonwealth in 1949).

It’s presumably a given that Wales would join the Commonwealth upon independence. There are a number of advantages to membership. Trade is generally higher between Commonwealth members for one – research from 1997 found that the cost of doing trade between members was up to 15% less, while the Commonwealth economy makes up about 20% of global GDP. Some even advocate turning the Commonwealth into a free trade zone. There are also numerous pan-Commonwealth professional organisations under the umbrella of the Commonwealth Foundation, while the National Assembly is already an active member of the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association.

Migration between Commonwealth states is generally a bit easier; within the UK alone Commonwealth citizens have enhanced immigration and nationality privileges (visas, right to vote, right to emergency travel documents etc.). The Commonwealth Games could also be considered a significant, if increasingly sidelined, sports event (Could Wales host a Commonwealth Games?).

There’s a dark side too. Although respect for human rights is a condition for new applicants, the Commonwealth’s track record when it comes to speaking out on human rights issues within member states has been terrible – Uganda’s (currently struck-down) anti-LGBT laws (though many other Commonwealth states are no better) and Pakistan’s record on forced marriage being just two examples. The Gambia threw a huff over condemnation of their use of the death penalty and left the Commonwealth voluntarily in 2013, while Robert Mugabe’s basket case Zimbabwe left in 2003.

Some member states have also held “unfair” elections or endured electoral violence (notably Kenya and even the relatively developed Malaysia), which flies in the face of Commonwealth values of democracy.

In all these serious issues, The Commonwealth has been nowhere to be seen and verges on being useless.

The Commonwealth, with the best of intentions, clearly has a reluctance to appear “colonial”. It perhaps shouldn’t, in the 21st Century, be seen as the remnants of the British Empire, but an association of (predominantly) Anglophone states.

One remedy would be to scrap the monarch’s title as Head of the Commonwealth and replace him/her with the Secretary-General (who can come from any member state). Although the monarch can, and probably should, remain a symbolic and important figurehead (without a title), the Commonwealth has to formally break any and all links with “Britain” even if it’s already gone some way towards doing so.

The Commonwealth Secretariat’s budget is about £50million a year and around 70% of that is said to come from the UK, Australia and Canada. The Commonwealth Games’ costs are borne by host nations.

Part VII looks at foreign policy in relation to defence, including whether Wales should join NATO and the legal justifications for use of force.