Wales & The World X: What’s Wales For?

(Title Image: ITV Wales)

And so this series draws to a close with the most important post of all – What’s Wales for? What could, or would, be different about foreign policy in Wales post-independence?

Where do we want Wales to be?

Where a nation stands in global terms usually comes down to the amount of influence it wields. That influence could be economic, military, resources, cultural/linguistic or political. This applies equally to non-state bodies like multinational corporations, NGOs, organisations like NATO, EU and UN and even organised religions like the Catholic Church. This results in a natural stratification.

  • Superpower – At, or near, the top in nearly all measures of power, with a unique ability to influence events globally. Realistically, the only true superpower is the United States, though other superpowers have existed in the past, like the Spanish Empire, British Empire and the USSR. Despite their present economic problems, China is probably the closest to becoming a superpower but currently lacks true global projection despite making inroads into Africa, perhaps because of linguistic barriers and a less advanced military than the US/NATO.
  • Great power – Many great powers will be former imperial states, like the UK, France, Germany and Japan. These states have global levels of influence, but not to the universal extent of a superpower; they might be considered a superpower in a single aspect (i.e UK – financial services, language; Germany – manufacturing), but no better than a regional power in others (UK – infrastructure, housing; Germany – military power).
  • Emerging power – Nations with the potential of becoming a great power or superpower having rapidly expanded their international influence or economy. The talk is of the BRICS (Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa) and the MINTs (Mexico, Indonesia, Nigeria, Turkey).
  • Middle/Regional power – Not classed as great powers, or emerging powers, but still wield fairly considerable influence globally or regionally. They’re key players in international movements and will help shift opinion, but will be expected to fall in line with the consensus set by great powers. Examples include Spain, Portugal, Malaysia, Denmark, Vietnam, Switzerland, Israel, Saudi Arabia, Argentina, Australia and Egypt.
  • Small power – Based on research by Asle Toje, these are nations which wield little influence on their own but can be influential as a bloc. They can’t project themselves globally and take a more defensive stance on security matters, but can become key partners in alliances – whether that’s through strategic location or economic specialisation. They exert their power through international organisations alone and try to avoid confrontation due to the risks posed by larger neighbours; so they’re more inclined towards neutrality. Examples include the Republic of Ireland, Iceland, Estonia, Jordan and Croatia; the original paper by Asle Toje argued that the EU itself is a small power.
  • Rogue State – Hostile and dysfunctional states which lack the ability to force themselves on the rest of the world by themselves. They might be state sponsors of terrorism or have catalogued violations of international law but are (usually) politically stable – probably through a dictatorial government. North Korea is the obvious example, but you could include (to varying degrees), Syria and Sudan. Some might consider either Israel or Palestine, or both, to be rogue states too.
    • Pariah State – A rogue state that isn’t considered a perceivable threat to global or regional security i.e. Myanmar, Zimbabwe, Cuba (though to a lesser extent since a thawing of relations with the US).
  • Failed/Fragile State – States where the basic structures of government have collapsed and where human development is stunted. It’s objectively measured via the Fragile States Index (FSI), which in 2013 included most of sub-Saharan Africa (Somalia, Niger, Central African Republic, DR Congo), Haiti (which was already under-developed but crippled by the 2010 earthquake) and Yemen.

Realistically, an independent Wales would be a small power. The aim would be to eventually become a regional power in areas of economic strength which aren’t reliant on finite resources and are (mostly) immovable – in the same way Estonia is one of Europe’s most advanced IT nations, while Ireland is a major player in the pharmaceutical industry. In Wales’ case this might include:


  • Renewable energy – There’s the well trotted out figure that Wales could produce twice its own energy needs from renewables alone. With the future development of tidal power, Wales could – like Scotland – become a clean energy producer for north western Europe.
  • Insurance – Financial services are considered a key sector, but insurance in particular offers some of the best prospects. For one it’s something people need, there’s often very little risk involved (other than fraud) so it’s not as prone to big crashes like banking, and it’s currently considered an under-developed market in Europe with serious potential for growth. With Admiral, Zurich and Legal & General being amongst Wales’ most important anchor companies, Wales could become to insurance what Switzerland is to banking.
  • Life sciences – This doesn’t just include pharmaceuticals, but medical technologies, new medical treatments and bioengineering – all cutting edge stuff, the demand for which likely to increase over the coming decades. We already have a sizable biotechnology presence in Wales, but the real opportunities lie in….
  • Higher education– There’s a “market” in higher education since the introduction of tuition fees, but if our best universities properly joined up their R&D programmes with existing businesses – and build upon their good record of spin-out companies – this is another source of long-term growth. Doubly so if there were a concerted effort to push Cardiff and Swansea universities up global rankings to become world-class centres of research and attract the best academics.
  • Materials engineering – Demand will grow for more environmentally-friendly buildings and “smart materials”for emerging technologies like commercial spaceflight. Aerospace and the car industry are already significant parts of the Welsh economy.

Seeking Opportunities: Who’s on the way up?
Maintaining strong diplomatic relations with the major nations of the West is a no-brainer, but we need to know which nations to build brand new relationships, widen the choice of tourist destinations and provide new opportunities for Welsh companies in order for Wales to prosper.?

Wales should have a strategy to develop relations with “rising stars”. In 1999, the Republic of Ireland launched an Asia strategy in order to improve on underdeveloped ties – particularly with China. The strategy focused on improving trade links, and trade between Ireland and China was said to be worth $8billion in 2014. Welsh exports to China over the same period (discounting Hong Kong) were just £191.2million (€269.6million).

There are three groups of nations widely-considered to be “rising stars” :


  • BRICS– As mentioned earlier : Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa. All seen as potential great powers.
  • “The Next Eleven” – Identified by Goldman Sachs (pdf) as nations with the potential to be amongst the world’s top 20 economies by 2050. Some have particular risks – like political instability, large levels of poverty or poor infrastructure – others are already considered major economies.
  • Pre-emerging markets/Frontier Markets – Nations which are more developed than the world’s least developed economies, but have the potential of becoming emerging markets in the medium-term. This includes small countries with high levels of development (meaning Wales would probably be considered a “frontier market” by other nations), and more populous countries which haven’t advanced as far as emerging markets.

Most of them have a few things in common:
  • Favourable demographics (neither ageing nor supporting unsustainable family sizes).
  • A growing middle class.
  • Economies that are currently reliant on natural resources, but are seeking to diversify.
  • Relatively low corruption and/or stable governments (with exceptions).

It’s not all about Asia. Several sub-Saharan economies are amongst the fastest growing in the world, and many of their capitals are indistinguishable from western cities.

Because of the English language and the Commonwealth, you would expect Wales to focus its attention on those countries which have historic ties to the British Empire – Nigeria, Egypt, Mauritius, Botswana, India – in addition to EU or prospective EU members (former Yugoslavia, Romania, Bulgaria and Turkey). China and Brazil stand apart in their own right.

Making Friends

An independent Wales would be leaving the protective umbrella and influence of one of the world’s great powers but gaining something different. We wouldn’t be alone for one – countless nations of a similar size to Wales have become independent.

A few of them, like Singapore, have become influential in their own right while others, like Luxembourg and the Republic of Ireland, have become wealthy off the back of international co-operation, full access to international investment mechanisms, developing core economic niches or just sheer good luck.

Membership of international organisations would allow us to use our influence in other ways, or pool influence with countries beyond the UK – 20 or 30 voices with 20 or 30 votes carries more weight than one great power. Smaller countries, when they work together, do wield considerable influence and have four innate strengths; citing The Flotilla Effect:


  • Increased openness to trade Export-oriented economies that lead to globally-significant specialisation.
  • Greater social cohesion Are better at integrating minorities, more effective governance and higher quality of democratic decision-making.
  • Adaptability – ….in the face of economic shocks, and more innovation economically and socially.
  • Big governments in small countries acting as a stabiliser – No need for Keynesian-style fiscal stimulus as there’s a socially inclusive supply-side economics (i.e. The Nordic model). There are also advantages within the EU (Part V), which has “favoured small countries” in macroeconomic policy since the Lisbon treaty.

One of the first things an independent Wales would need to do – akin to a first day of school – is seek out nations we have common ground with (New Zealand, Finland, Scotland and the Republic of Ireland are obvious ones).

Within Europe, Wales has a natural similarity with the other Celtic nations and the Nordic countries. This isn’t the ill-fated “arc of prosperity”, but an arc of “frontier social democracies” – we don’t have an affinity because of positive traits, but because we all share similar problems we have to overcome:


  • Proportionally higher state spending levels.
  • Aging populations.
  • High suicide rates.
  • Dealing with immigration in ethnically homogeneous societies.
  • Protection of minority languages (Sami, Faroese, Livonian).
  • Rural sparsity.

I’m not advocating that Wales joins the Nordic Council. What I would say is that within Europe in particular, there’s the potential to create a “frontier Europe bloc” to act as a counterweight to the “Big Four” (England, Germany, France, Italy) and work in each other’s interests. Doing this within the European Union would be easier, but it’s possible to do it outside as well.

The same goes globally. Wales won’t join the G-20, but Wales could play a part in establishing a formal organisation for small and medium-sized countries – an FSB equivalent for international affairs (with the G-20 being the CBI). Semi-formal groupings, such as the UN’s Forum of Small States (FOSS) and the Singapore-backed Global Governance Group (3G) already exist.

Finding a Niche

If the last section focused on who our friends should be, we need to ask “What role can Wales play on the world stage?” It brings us, in many ways, back to Part I.

“Soft power” over “Hard power”
– I mentioned sport and the arts in
Part I. This is Wales’ biggest diplomatic strength. The first thing that comes to mind when people think “New Zealand” are the All Blacks and the Maori. Similarly, with Wales it’s probably a Welsh celebrity or the Millennium Stadium/Cardiff – perhaps even the Welsh language. Wales is never going to be a military or economic heavyweight, but making the most of soft power can often open more doors than an aircraft carrier or nuclear submarine ever would.

Hospitality diplomacy – Hosting international summits and conferences not only provides a platform for major international agreements, but promotes Wales itself. Hosts usually play an important part in the actual event when sovereign states – not a glorified back garden for the UK as Wales was during the 2014 NATO summit.

Shuttle diplomacy – A more significant extension of hospitality diplomacy, shuttle diplomacy means acting as an intermediary in international disputes. Swiss embassies have played this role in relations between The West and Iran, while Turkey – as an ally of both Israel and major Middle Eastern states – has played a similar role during the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Perhaps this is something Wales can seek to do too if it became a neutral country.

Become a world leader in two or three economic areas
– As mentioned earlier. If I had to pick three the insurance industry, materials engineering and life sciences would be the best bet. Tourism and agriculture are important, but it shouldn’t be at the expense of year-round industries. Wales is going to struggle to compete for non-UK tourists because we need to….

Gateway to Europe? – A more practical issue, as we require a significant improvement in direct international connections to and from Wales. The main airport in a capital of an independent country will, naturally, be a step up from a provincial airport in a backwater of the UK. It doesn’t send the right message that you can’t fly directly to or from Brussels from Cardiff at present. Also, there’s the potential for developing a western-facing cargo facility of European importance as an alternative to Rotterdam and/or have more Welsh-registered merchant vessels.

Wales as a Neutral Country?

I’ve often talked of Wales possibly being a neutral country, but it’s a very specific thing, and there are different types of neutral states:


  • Armed Neutrality – Will not take part in any military alliances, but has the capability of defending itself when required. Switzerland is the best example. Others, like Moldova, Ghana and Serbia are also officially neutral.
  • EU Neutral – This will no longer apply due to Brexit, but due to the Common Security Policy (Part VII), it’s debatable whether any EU member can truly call itself neutral. The Republic of Ireland, Austria, Sweden, Finland and Malta are all neutral (officially) but are still EU members.
  • De Facto Neutral – Neutral by default due to lack of a standing military (i.e. Costa Rica). You can argue whether Iceland and Mauritius are neutral or not in that they have paramilitary forces but no standing army, navy etc. In Iceland’s case, they’re even a member of NATO. Japan’s military is also confined to self-defence despite Japan not being officially neutral – though highly-controversial recent legislation could change that.

Neutrality, under the Hague Convention, guarantees that belligerents won’t violate their territory. The same works in reverse. It means citizens of a neutral country can’t be recruited by another nation’s military unless they go abroad to enlist. There are also restrictions on the use of military facilities.

A Possible Welsh Foreign Policy: A Summary


  • Effective liberal mulilateralism – play a productive role in international organisations (including the Commonwealth) and act based on consensus.
  • Support rule of law and democracy, support efforts to codify international law, play a full part in human rights institutions. In turn, Wales should aim to have an impeccable human rights record and aim to be in the top 10 for Press Freedom and the Peace Index, whilst making progress on Human Development rankings.
  • Build relations with small and medium-sized countries globally, perhaps as part of a formal G-20 style group (like the 3G).
  • Maintain as many embassies and high commissions as practical, but utilise roving “fixer teams” (with a base in one nation) to provide expert support on a continental basis as and when required (i.e trade marketing, tourism promotion, emergency consular support). Use virtual embassies (or Estonian-style e-citizenship) to provide consular support in tourist destinations.
  • Specialist post-graduate foreign affairs training for diplomats could be provided via a civil service academy.

Secessionism & Disputed Territories

  • Support peaceful self-determination (with no active involvement) and use a diplomatic ranking of “autonomous authority” for stateless nations (with resulting lower-levels of diplomatic recognition). Wales should only recognise newly independent nations that have achieved secession through democratic or peaceful means (i.e. a popular referendum or negotiated international agreement).
  • “Independence” will be defined as full UN membership. Wales should aim to be one of the first countries to recognise newly-independent nations which have achieved independence peacefully.
  • Formally support a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict based on the pre-1967 borders.

Treaties, International Development etc.

  • Non-technical treaties should be ratified by the National Assembly. Treaties which would alter any Welsh Constitution should be approved via a referendum (Part VIII).
  • Support efforts to end extreme poverty through project expertise and practical assistance, working through citizen-led NGOs.
  • Work towards meeting the UN’s 0.7% of GDP aid target ASAP following independence.
  • Comply fully with international agreements on refugees, but not beyond our “fair share”. Develop a full and comprehensive strategy to deal with immigration and the treatment of immigrants within Wales.
  • Engage with the Welsh diaspora to build networks for trade opportunities, bolster Welsh “soft power” and promote a positive image of Wales.
  • Bid to host international events and conferences where cost-effective.

Defence (see also: Defending Wales)

  • Remain outside NATO in a state of “armed neutrality” within the EU.
  • See defence as primarily part of Welsh international development obligations and home defence. Play a full part in UN/“Blue Helmet” missions.
  • Refuse to take part in any military action that lacks an international mandate (except in self-defence or to protect Welsh citzens abroad).
  • Support WMD disarmament and negotiated conflict resolution.