(Title Image: thejournal.ie)

You can’t ignore defence when it comes to foreign policy. They’re ultimately two sides of the same coin when projecting national influence – whether that’s using the military for primarily peaceful means (like disaster relief) or rampant interventionalism.

For a more detailed look at Defence Policy check out the Defending Wales series.

Defence Considerations & Welsh Foreign Policy

Economics/trade/investment and soft power are just two pillars of foreign policy; the use of force, international security (“defence diplomacy”) and international aid are three other pillars.Although aid and trade might seem strange bedfellows to the use of force, they all have to be linked to a nation’s foreign policy and can’t be treated in isolation.This means there are several key foreign policy considerations to factor in when developing a defence policy (and vice versa): 

What role should Wales play in the world? (Part X) – This could change from government-to-government; one government might want to play a more active part in peacekeeping in Africa to meet aid commitments, another might want to focus solely on regional/European duties through targeted missions like those in the Balkans; another might want to play a full part in NATO (I come back to that later).One thing you can say with some certainty is an independent Wales would be no longer be able play a part in actions like Iraq. The plus side is fewer needless deaths and less diplomatic baggage. The minus side is a loss of influence and favour amongst the “great liberal powers” (US, England, perhaps France, Australia, Canada too).

How does Wales want to be seen by the rest of the world? – The use of the military is one of the foremost symbols of a state’s power – even for small countries like Wales. When, where and for what reasons Welsh service personnel are sent into action will determine how Wales “looks”internationally. Will we be a tin-pot dictatorship? Will we be an aspiring regional power (like Denmark or Sweden)? Will we be seen as peaceniks, or viewed similarly to slightly insular neutral countries such as Switzerland and Finland?

Who are our friends? – It’s one of the basic questions that needs an answer. The post-Cold War world isn’t as binary/ternary as “First, Second and Third World”, and alliances are a lot more complicated nowadays. Which nations and international organisations would Wales, or Welsh citizens, be able to count upon when in trouble? What would they expect from us in return? Who would be open to sharing data and information with us (and likewise the other way around)? Wales would almost certainly still be part of the American and Western European sphere of influence; would that mean Wales would form a part of the UK-led Joint Expeditionary Force?

What external threats face Wales? – This requires an assessment of long-term threats to Welsh national security from other nation states, non-state players (like terrorist organisations) and non-diplomatic threats (like climate change and resource depletion). Such an assessment would again influence decisions on : defence spending, where Wales’ most intense diplomatic efforts should be focused on, the arms trade, security co-operation and contributions to international agreements on things like climate change.

A policy on ransoms – Aside from a government decision to put Welsh troops in harms way, the most likely scenarios whereby Welsh interests are threatened at the end of a gun are hostage-taking or terrorist attacks in tourism destinations (like the recent Tunisia and Thailand attacks). The United States recently lifted a ban on individuals paying ransoms. The UK doesn’t pay ransoms directly, but allows individuals and companies to do so. Other European countries often do pay hostage-takers directly.

The UN Security Council (Part VI)


As mentioned previously, the Security Council is the UN’s most powerful organ and the most influential political body on international relations. It’s made up of 15 members – the 5 permanent members (USA, Russia, China, UK, France), and 10 members elected for two year terms by the General Assembly. Permanent members have a veto on any Security Council decision.

The Security Council’s main responsibilities include assessing/approving prospective UN members, recommending appointments to the International Court of Justice (ICJ), maintaining international peace, working to prevent conflicts and investigating threats which could lead to war.

Its most important function in foreign policy terms is the issuing of resolutions – which are binding to UN members. To date, over 2,200 UN Security Council resolutions have been issued. Resolutions can include simple statements of opinion, economic sanctions, social sanctions and can also call for UN members to take military action against a aggressive state.

Resolution 82 called for “Member States to render every assistance to the United Nations in the execution of this resolution (which called for North Korea to withdraw to the 38thparallel)” and resulted in the Korean War (1950-1953).

Resolution 678 gave UN members authority to “use all necessary means” to uphold previous resolutions implementing economic sanctions against Saddam Hussain’s Iraq, and calling for Iraq to withdraw from Kuwait – the result, the First Gulf War (1990-1991).

There’ve been many failures of the resolutions system, perhaps the most notable being the events leading to the 1995 Srebrenica massacre.

Resolution 819 established Srebrenica as a demilitarised “safe area” during the Bosnian War (1992-1995). Serbian and Bosnian-Serb forces began to entrench themselves in the area surrounding the town, which was being protected by Dutch troops operating under a UN mandate.

The Serbs gradually took control of the area, prompting Dutch troops to withdraw to a compound after requests for air support (nominally from the French, but the UK and USA too) were ignored. Subsequently, the Serbs massacred more than 8,000 Bosniak men and boys. Former UN Secretary-General, Kofi Annan, and both the Dutch and French governments, accepted at least partial responsibility for what happened. One of the main instigators of the massacre – Radovan Karadžić – is still on trial for war crimes at The Hague.

The failure to use force when necessary dented the UN’s credibility when leading “liberal interventionist” missions in situations where many hostile actors are at play – because Srebrenica may have taught NATO, and the United States in particular,  that it’s better to act quickly in these situations than become slaves to process and bureaucracy at the UN.

This questioning of the UN’s ability to deliver when it counts could’ve led NATO to take up the mantle of these “interventionist” missions instead, examples of which include the Kosovo War in 1999 and Libya in 2011; the problem there being that NATO has its own strategic interests and can’t be considered to be carrying out these missions for “humanitarian” reasons alone.

The UN’s failure on Srebrenica could also have laid the foundations for the Iraq War (2003-2011).

A number of UN resolutions had been passed aiming to restrict or destroy Saddam Hussain’s ability to develop weapons of mass destruction (WMDs), culminating with Resolution 1441 – presenting Iraq with ” a final opportunity to comply with its disarmament obligations under relevant resolutions of the Council”.

The Coalition of the Willing openly-assembled prior to the March 2003 invasion never sought a UN resolution to authorise use of force (“any means necessary”) to uphold Iraq’s WMD disarmament obligations. It was argued by the US and its allies that (supposed) breaches of resolutions on WMDs “reactivated”a previous resolution authorising the use of force. With hindsight, we know Iraq didn’t have any WMDs.

It’s a worldview that might is right, and on our side” – regardless of international law and process. That may be an attitude fitting for world powers who can throw their muscle around, but less so for smaller allies which get dragged into these adventures – like the Baltic states, Denmark, Romania, Bulgaria etc.

Independence would give Wales an opportunity to be elected to the UN Security Council and then have influence on these resolutions.

As England is likely to be/will be considered the“successor state” to the UK, England would retain a permanent seat on the Security Council and can’t be removed because of the permanent member veto. To lose the seat, England would effectively have to vote itself off.

EU Common Security & Defence Policy (Part V)

Prior to the Lisbon Treaty, the EU’s “security policy” – under the umbrella of the post-war Western European Union – focused on reacting to destabilisation in eastern Europe as a result of the collapse of Communism. There’s also an agreement – known as Berlin Plus – whereby the EU can use NATO assets in Europe in situations where NATO has declined to intervene.

The European Defence Agency (EDA) was established in 2004 to aid military cooperation between EU members (especially on equipment). In addition, the Organisation for Security & Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), which has 57 member states – including non-EU members like the US, Canada and Russia – focuses on issues such as arms controls, conflict prevention & resolution and border management/human trafficking.

Post-Lisbon Treaty (2009), many of these things have been wrapped up in a single pan-European defence policy (though “policy” is stretching it a bit), embodied by the position of EU High Representative. The EU’s Common Security & Defence Policy is primarily focused on peace-keeping, humanitarian relief, disarmament programmes, post-conflict stabilisation and crisis management.

The EU doesn’t have a standing military. However it does have a “rapid reaction force” and much smaller maritime and gendarme (paramilitary police) elements.

The first element is EUFOR which has participated in five peace-keeping missions in Africa and the Balkans since 2003. It’s under the direct supervision of the EU, and reports indirectly to the High Representative.

The second main element are EU Battlegroups consisting of 18 regional battlegroups (~31,000 troops in total) which would be deployed within 5-10 days notice from the European Council (heads of government of EU member states). Each battlegroup is headed up by a lead nation, and two battlegroups are expected to be ready for deployment at any one time as part of a standby roster.

Wales will no longer be expected to contribute towards this due to Brexit, and as Wales is unlikely to rejoin the EU as a full member this section is now moot. It’s highly unlikely an independent Wales would be able to commit a full battalion (1,500 troops) to a battlegroup, but two companies (~500 troops) might be doable – Ireland, for example, has about 170 troops in the Nordic Battlegroup.

Defence policy remains primarily the domain of nation states and, where applicable, NATO. Plus, the EU has no power to activate national militaries – the decision to do so remains the power of member states. However, EUFOR and UN missions would probably provide the bulk of opportunities for Welsh personnel to be deployed overseas (in the same way as the Irish Defence Forces).

Wales in NATO?

The North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) is a military alliance formed in 1949 as a US-led faction opposing the Soviet Union-led Warsaw Pact. Based in Brussels, the alliance has grown significantly since the end of the Cold War and now includes many former Warsaw Pact members like Poland, the Baltic states and Romania.

Until the early 1990s, NATO was an extension of the US-UK-France nuclear umbrella, with the main threat being a Soviet invasion of western Europe. Since the end of the Cold War, NATO has subsequently participated in many US-led liberal interventionist campaigns – such as Bosnia (1993-2004), Kosovo (1999-), Afghanistan (2001-) and Libya (2011).

With the alliance expanding so close to what Russia regards as its own sphere of influence (former Soviet Union states), the subsequent frosting of relations has led Russia to become a belligerent opponent to NATO, effectively starting a Second Cold War.

Pros of NATO Membership*

  • Joint exercises – Training exercises would enable a Welsh military to remain on top of technological developments, but it would also provide them with the ability to learn from some of the best trained forces in the world, making it easier to find weaknesses and work on them.
  • Intelligence-sharing – Although there’ve been calls to improve this side of things, good intelligence-sharing would enable Wales to keep an eye on threats we would otherwise have no idea of, and build capacity in Welsh intelligence services. It’s worth remembering some Islamist terrorists have used Wales as a training camp, while others from Wales have gone to fight for ISIS Syria.
  • Article IV & Article V guarantees – Two articles in the Treaty which firstly activate military consultations when a member state is threatened (IV), and, secondly, considers an attack on one member state as an attack on all (V). It’s unlikely Wales would need to activate these articles if it were a NATO member, but it would guarantee protection from any and all foreseeable military threats.
  • US nuclear umbrella – Again, it’s unlikely Wales would ever need it, but Wales would be under the protection of the US nuclear deterrent if threatened with a first strike….not that it’s much of a benefit (See also: No True Welshman – An anniversary nobody wants to remember).

Cons of NATO Membership*
  • 2% of GDP defence spending target – This is the recommended defence budget for NATO members and was (briefly) a campaign issue in the 2015 UK election. In Welsh terms this would’ve amounted to around £1.04billion in 2013, which is almost the same as the current Welsh economy, science and transport budget. I would be surprised if Welsh defence spending were more than £450million a year as an independent nation.
  • Must accept nuclear deterrence principle– It’s a condition of membership that NATO members accept nuclear deterrence as a valid part of the alliance’s defence strategy, and participate in the concurrent responsibilities. That could include hosting US nuclear weapons (“nuclear sharing”) in the same manner as The Netherlands, Belgium and Germany. Therefore it would be impossible to declare Wales an “nuclear weapons free zone” as a NATO member.
  • “Overkill” – An honest assessment of Welsh defence requirements would easily conclude that current resources and spending are much more than what’s necessary. If you want to compare it to insurance, NATO membership would be like paying a £2,000 premium to protect something worth £500. Trident is like a £10,000 premium to protect something worth £100.
  • Curtails some policy independence/neutrality – Like EU membership, NATO membership would mean ceding some decision-making responsibility to the organisation and, effectively, the US military. Wales would be unable to be a neutral country and would be expected to play an active role in NATO expeditionary missions like those in Kosovo and Libya, which are not really in the Welsh national interest (Part II).

* More info here (pdf) and here (pdf).

A post-independence Wales should probably adopt a position I once described as “NATO-friendly” – a stance similar to Sweden and Finland. This means an armed neutrality allied to the Western powers (rather than true neutrality like Switzerland), perhaps with NATO membership as a “long-term goal” that we say we want but don’t make any hard effort to work towards; a bit like Plaid Cymru and independence.

That means we remain on the diplomatic good side of the US, France etc. but we also stand apart and won’t get caught up in any awkward diplomatic situations or “drafted” by NATO to participate in its campaigns (unless the National Assembly authorises it).

The Legal Status of Military Action

The application of international law has always been erratic, none less so that dealing with issues of states attacking other states or launching other types of military action against state and non-state players.

The gold standard reference for the legality of military action is the UN Charter – specifically Chapter I, Article 2, Paragraph 4:

“All Members shall refrain in their international relations from the threat or use of force against the territorial integrity or political independence of any state, or in any other manner inconsistent with the Purposes of the United Nations.”

That’s the writing, but there’s also what’s been described as “customary international law”, by Georgetown University’s Anthony Clark Arend, which is what states do in practice. In practice, the definition of “threat or use of force” can be fluid with several rational justifications:

  • Self-defence Chapter VII, Article 51 of the UN Charter states, “Nothing….shall impair the inherent right of individual or collective self-defence if an armed attack occurs against a Member of the United Nations, until the Security Council has taken measures necessary to maintain international peace and security.”
  • Pre-emptive action in self-defence – Actions taken by one state/a group of states (“A”) before another state/non-state player (“B”) can attack “A”. Article 51 implies that if “A” is attacked by “B”, only then would self-defence be justified. However, the so-called Caroline test permits pre-emptive actions if: there’s no other choice; the nation faces an “imminent threat” or the attacking force is overwhelming. A good example is the Six Day War, where Israel destroyed Egyptian air defences in the Sinai before Egypt could launch its own air attack (Operation Focus). The Caroline test is also important when weighing up military action against non-state players, like Al-Qaeda and Islamic State.
  • Collective Action – Military action authorised via a UN Security Council resolution (as outlined earlier) due to an immediate threat to international peace. It has to negotiate the hurdle of the five permanent members and their veto first, so resolutions are often deliberately vague. Again, as mentioned earlier, UN resolutions were used as justification for the Iraq War as there’s no “use by date” on any UN resolution unless specifically rescinded.
  • Humanitarian/Liberal intervention – Using force to intervene in situations where a conflict threatens a humanitarian disaster (famine, refugees, disease, ethnic cleansing, genocide) or widespread breaches of human rights. It lacks a formal legal definition, and the banner of “humanitarian intervention” has been used to justify straight up aggression – like Russia in Ukraine. There have been calls for the UN Charter to be amended to include a set of justified causes for humanitarian intervention. Examples include NATO intervention in Kosovo, UK intervention in Sierra Leone (2000) and NATO intervention in Libya.
  • To protect nationals abroad – It’s perhaps a natural response when citizens are in danger, but it isn’t formally justified in international law. Again, this can be used as justification for belligerent aggression, and again an example would include Russia’s action in the Ukraine and, previously, Georgia (2008).

I’ll return to disputes and state responsibility in more detail in Part IX. For the time being these are the main, partially or wholly, legally-recognised justifications for use of force. The use of the military abroad isn’t just confined to threats either, as it can include international peace-keeping missions, disaster relief efforts and training exercises.

The question now is what would a standing doctrine be for the use of the Welsh military in relation to foreign policy?

Considering the likely small size of a Welsh military, putting Welsh troops “in harm’s way” in a foreign theatre should probably be confined to:

  • Self-defence – As defined by the UN Charter.
  • Taking emergency action to protect Welsh nationals abroad – This could include: using special forces to rescue Welsh hostages, counter-terrorism raids, evacuating Welsh nationals from unstable situations and/or disaster zones.
  • Actions backed by an international mandate“International mandate” meaning a UN Security Council resolution. Wales is unlikely to have the resources to take part in the combat side of humanitarian interventions (until defence capabilities are improved post-independence), but could play a role in peace-keeping, disarmament and reconstruction afterwards.
  • Treaty obligations – Such as Article IV and V of the NATO Treaty (if Wales becomes a member) or EU defence obligations (if Wales is an EU member).
All situations which would put Welsh military personnel “in harm’s way” (i.e. deployment with a risk of, or expectation there would be, casualties) should be subject to majority approval by the Senedd.

Part VIII looks at the issue of treaties: Would Wales inherit current UK treaty obligations? How should new treaties be ratified?