Defending Wales II: Our Military Role

(Title Image: The Telegraph)

This next part in my look at defence and independence sets out what a Welsh defence policy would mean in practical terms, giving an idea of what a Welsh military would actually be expected to do.

“The most important responsibility of any government….”

“….is to protect the country.”
This is the ultimate aim of defence policy – to resist attack or any threat to life and property. The “resist” bit is important because a state’s definition of “resistance” could be very narrow or very wide-ranging depending on how that state sees itself and/or its position in the world. Paraphrasing what I said in Wales & The World X, you can broadly group states into several categories.

  • Superpower – At, or near, the top in nearly all measures of power, with a unique ability to launch a “full spectrum” (land, sea and air) military offensive against any enemy within short notice and quickly achieve dominance. 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. China is perhaps the closest to becoming a superpower but currently lacks true global projection, perhaps because of linguistic barriers and a (presently) less advanced military than the US/NATO.
  • Great power – Many great powers will be former imperial states/superpowers, like the UK and France. These states have global levels of military influence – such as an ocean-going “blue water” navy, or even nuclear weapons – but not to the universal reach of a superpower. Great powers certainly would be able to launch a major full spectrum offensive by themselves, but not without difficulty and they would be unable to fight another great power by themselves.
  • Emerging power – Nations with the potential to become a great power or superpower having rapidly expanded their international influence, accompanied by a rapidly-expanding economy and investment in military equipment. 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 considerable influence globally or regionally. They’ll have a military capable of providing a key support role within multi-national alliances, but will be expected to fall in line with the consensus set by great powers or are otherwise “kept in a box”. Examples include Spain, Denmark, Israel, Iran, Saudi Arabia and Australia.
  • Small power – These nations wield little influence on their own but can be influential in ways other than hard power, such as culture or economics. They can’t project themselves globally and take a more defensive stance on security matters but can become key partners in alliances. 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 – but that doesn’t mean “weak”. Examples include the Republic of Ireland, Estonia, Jordan, Croatia, Slovenia.
  • Rogue State – Hostile and dysfunctional/failed states which lack an ability to force themselves on the rest of the world so often do it by proxy. They could be state sponsors of terrorism or states that have violated international law but are (usually) politically stable – often through a dictatorial or totalitarian government. North Korea is the obvious example, but you could include (to varying degrees), Syria and Sudan. Venezuela is well on the way to becoming one at present.
    • Pariah State – A rogue state that’s effectively an outcast in the international community and isn’t considered a perceivable threat to global or regional security because it lacks both soft and hard power i.e. Zimbabwe during the height of the economic and constitutional crisis there, Israel in most of the Arab world.

A great power or superpower would be more likely to see offensive capability– the ability to launch a military attack on another state or group at short notice – as a matter of domestic defence due to the amount of influence, assets or interests they have around the world. Also, they have an image as “one of the big boys” to maintain as it brings clear advantages in foreign affairs. Being able to “strike first” and maintain those efforts for as long as necessary is a key tenet of “hard power” in diplomacy (Wales & The World IV) and will often, but not always, discourage organised resistance.

Wales will never be a global power or a superpower, and based on what our defence needs are (Part I), Wales can afford not to have a massive offensive military capability. It’s not in our national interest – as a small power with the potential of becoming a middle power – to do so.

Based on what our foreign policy could be, and what our tangible defence needs are, Wales cannot justify having or developing: weapons of mass destruction (WMDs), ballistic missiles, aircraft carriers, squadrons of fighter jets or a large ocean-going blue water navy. It probably means Wales needn’t become a member of military alliances such as NATO either (or at least not urgently). It also means a Welsh military is likely to be much, much smaller than our current contribution to the British armed forces and much less “adventurous”. In fact, many threats to Welsh security could probably be dealt with by civil authorities such as the police or security services, bringing into question the need for a Welsh military in the first place (discussed further in Part III).

Civil Defence (Part VIII)


The original definition of civil defence used to mean protecting noncombatants from a military attack during a state of “total war”. With the chances of air raids etc. now diminished, the emphasis at present is on responding to civil emergencies – which could include major accidents, natural disasters – supported by high-level emergency planning and emergency powers legislation.

The civil defence functions of a Welsh military could include:

  • Search and rescue; whether at sea, difficult terrain (caves, mines, mountains) or in otherwise difficult to reach locations, such as collapsed buildings or wreckage.
  • Emergency medical evacuation – such as the existing EMRTS and air ambulance services.
  • Emergency flood protection – sandbagging, constructing temporary flood defences, coordinating evacuations with civil authorities.
  • Radiation monitoring.
  • Auxiliary fire services – Working alongside full-time firefighters on a relief or retained basis.
  • Auxiliary ambulance services – St John’s Ambulance, providing services for major events, temporary mortuaries etc.
  • Bomb disposal (currently the responsibility of the Royal Logistics Corps).

National Security (Part VII)


The broad concept underpinning “national security” is continuity of the state by intercepting or eliminating lower-level threats that often don’t warrant formal military action. Civil defence is just one part of that, but it also includes surveillance powers, emergency powers (during national emergencies) and the use of the criminal justice system to eliminate or neutralise threats.
The military in an independent Wales would still have a role to play – as the British armed forces do now – but most national security issues are dealt with by civil authorities like the police, or the security services (in the UK’s case the National Crime Agency, MI5 and SIS/MI6).

  • Protecting key national infrastructure – The basic things: electricity generation, ports, airports, major transport routes, railways, gas supplies, fuel supplies for essential industries and key workers.
  • Counter-terrorism – Largely self-explanatory: surveillance, interrogation and – in some cases – elimination of suspected terrorist threats to the state or its interests abroad.
  • Counter-intelligence – Using information and both military and human intelligence to deter espionage/spying and sabotage threats from state and non-state players.
  • Cyber-security– An emerging theatre of conflict where nation states and non-state players use the internet and computer knowledge to launch sabotage or espionage operations on governments or major companies. Considering how integrated computer systems are in everyday functions of the state, this is an increasingly high priority for governments around the world.
  • Civil functions – This could probably be undertaken by the police in the main, but the Irish Defence Forces are routinely used to escort dangerous prisoners and large amounts of cash. Other civil functions where the military would be more appropriate to use than the police (during peacetime at least) include emergency check-points and border/immigration controls.
  • Military aid to the the civil power (MACP/MACC) – Like civil functions, but specifically requested by another authority. This has a whole host of meanings and interpretations but includes: enforcing curfews, assisting the police to maintain law and order during periods of civil unrest and taking control of infrastructure during a national emergency. The UK military’s current obligations here are outlined in Joint Doctrine Publication 02 (pdf). Authorities such as councils are usually charged to use the military (or covered by insurance), but these charges can be waived during serious life-threatening emergencies.

Supporting Foreign Policy Objectives

  • Peacekeeping – Acting under an international (usually United Nations) mandate to ensure internationally-agreed peace and disarmament processes are adhered to by all parties. This includes ordnance disposal, reconstruction and a general duty to “keep the peace” where civil authorities have failed or are expected to fail.
  • Disaster relief – Providing emergency assistance to other nation states during natural or man-made disasters, whether formally requested or as part of coordinated international efforts. This would include the evacuation of Welsh citizens from danger zones.
  • Security during official visits – Coordinating efforts with the police and the military/security services of foreign nations in preparation for official visits, international summits etc.
  • Ministerial and official state transport (Part V) – This would include ministerial cars (where appropriate) as well as travel abroad for official functions. A proper protocol would be needed to determine who can use the services and under what circumstances.
  • Training with/of other armed forces – Wales is one of the pre-eminent military training environments in western Europe and there’s no reason why that couldn’t continue (within reason). There would also be opportunities to be trained by, or alongside, armed forces from other nations – whether as part of military alliances such as NATO or under peacekeeping mandates.

Treaty Obligations & Combat Operations

  • Repelling and deterring any attack on Wales or Welsh interests at home and abroad – The primary combat role of any military. This has to be weighed against the relative threats facing Wales and our foreign policy objectives. For the foreseeable future, an independent Welsh military would be more likely to be engaged in combat abroad than at home, but that’s no reason to be complacent, and a certain level of military preparedness would be required even during peacetime. I return to that in more detail in later parts.
  • Common Defence & Security Policy (as an EU Member) – As mentioned in Wales & The World VII, if an independent Wales rejoins the European Union in future we would be bound by the Common Defence & Security Policy, effectively meaning Wales would be obliged to come to the aid of any EU member state when attacked, and also participate in things like the EU Battlegroups. Primarily, these mechanisms have been used to coordinate peacekeeping operations under the EUFOR banner.
  • Preventing smuggling of drugs and contraband – This would mainly be carried out at sea and coordinated at a high level via the likes of the Maritime Analysis and Operations Centre (MAOC) based in Lisbon. This can continue even if Wales changes its drugs policy towards decriminalisation or legalisation.
  • Fisheries Protection – Wales would have a responsibility to protect and patrol its own Fisheries Zone, which covers chunks of the Irish Sea and the Celtic Sea. Current patrols are carried out by the Royal Navy, though the Welsh Government are directly responsible for inshore patrols and have their own inshore fisheries protection vessels.
  • Chapter V (as a NATO member) – If an independent Wales joins NATO it would be obliged to provide military assistance to any other NATO member if Chapter V of the treaty is activated. There are also unofficial obligations, such as a commitment to spending 2% of GDP on defence (at least £1.09billion in 2014), accepting the principle of nuclear deterrence and coordinating on issues like command structures.

Ceremonial Duties

The military is heavily involved in state events within the UK, and within most countries, Wales would be no different:

  • Guard of honour during state visits.
  • Help organise, and participate in, state funerals and military funerals.
  • Investitures (if Wales becomes a republic or elected monarchy).
  • Military bands/music for national events.
  • Sentry/provost duties outside key national buildings – of all ceremonial military duties this can be ditched.
  • Remembrance events.
  • Recruitment (more in Part IX).
Part III looks at a the possible structures for a Welsh Defence Forces, and how defence policy would be shaped, scrutinised and held accountable.