Chapter 10

Defence

One of the most important functions of government is to defend its citizens. Defence means much more than fighter jets and aircraft carriers. It also means protecting us from harm, in whatever form that harm comes – whether military, man-made disasters or natural disasters. So the first question to ask is what does Wales need defending from?

Wales is in, arguably, one of the safest parts of the world, and the chances of Wales being attacked or invaded by a foreign country are slim. UK foreign policy and our association with it represents the biggest security risk to Wales – independence would make us safer. Other security risks facing Wales post-independence would include climate-related issues like flooding and extreme weather events.

The military also has a role in supporting foreign policy. That includes a combat role, but is just as likely to include peacekeeping missions, disaster relief efforts, search and rescue operations, routine patrols to meet fisheries policy obligations, as well as counter-smuggling and counter-terrorism missions. A “Peace Academy” modelled on those in Flanders and Catalonia has been mooted for Wales before; we could also follow Ireland’s example in becoming a centre of excellence for training military personnel for humanitarian and peacekeeping operations.

It is, of course, entirely possible for a nation to go without an army. Costa Rica, a nation of some 4.5 million people, hasn’t had a standing military since 1949, and neither has Iceland, since 1869. But assuming that Wales does choose to have an army, what might it look like, and how much might it cost?

If we decided to follow the Irish example and establish ‘Welsh Defence Forces’, it would likely have a single command structure and be made up of army, naval and airborne services, with the emphasis on land-based forces. These would be supported by reservists, and ‘Welsh Defence Forces’ would likely be between 5,000-7,000 strong. It’s important to remember that the UK ranks eighth in the world for military spending per head. Despite the fact that not a single regiment is actually based in Wales, the UK government claims that it spends £1.75bn per year on the military in Wales. This is almost as much as we spend on education every year (£1.8 billion in 2018/19). It’s almost five times as much as the total amount spent on the police in Wales (£355 million). By comparison, Ireland spends the equivalent of £140-per-head on defence. If Wales spent a similar amount per head, it would add up to some £430 million a year – much lower than £1.75 billion.

The decision to send troops into combat is the most serious responsibility any politician bears. In the UK, however, the Prime Minister has broad-ranging powers to wage war without parliamentary approval. An independent Wales could place constitutional limits on politicians’ ability to deploy troops.

In terms of internal security, the UK currently subjects its population to greater surveillance than almost any other state. British citizens live their lives in view of more CCTV cameras than any other country in Europe. The Investigatory Powers Act 2016 – the so-called ‘Snooper’s Charter’ – gives the government broad-ranging powers to access our online activities. An independent Wales would be able to write a right to privacy into its constitution, limiting the ability of future governments to intrude into people’s private lives.

 

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