Tuesday 27 March 2007

2. How Many Aircraft Carriers? - Sion Jobbins

In an article in the current issue of the Cambria magazine, Sion Jobbins tries to answer David Williams' question put to Plaid Cymru Candidate Bethan Jenkins on BBC Wales' Dragon's Eye program "how many aircraft carriers would an independent Wales have". We are grateful to Cambria and to Sion Jobbins for allowing us to reproduce this slightly extended article.

The article has been broken into 5 segments. This is the 2nd instalment. The first may be viewed here.

by SiƓn Jobbins


Those questions which Plaid needs to be able to answer:
  1. What would an independent Wales do to the existing military bases and regiments in Wales?
  2. Would it have an armed force and how much would it cost?
  3. Would Wales still be a member of NATO?
The answer to the first question is, that yes, a Welsh state would presumable keep the structure and infrastructure but it would come under Welsh control. This would be a bigger change in attitude than any thing else. That’s not to belittle a totally new change of command, philosophy and war aims. But it’s not rocket science either. Armies go through revision and reorganisation continuously, the British Army itself recently published Delivering Security in a Changing World in 2004 which itself was built on 1998’s Strategic Defence Review. Bringing the military in Wales under a Welsh line of command and Chief of Staff would be another revision and reorganisation in the history of the military of Wales. And heavens, if it couldn’t cope with that then what hope and confidence would the Welsh public have in the military defending Welsh interests and sovereignty?

The military structure in Wales is minimal, independence would by all accounts mean a need to strengthen its structure not diminish it. Presently there is no naval facility here and Wales is used as not much more than training ground. When the new facility is opened in St Athan there would be one of three or a combination of three options to take:

a) keep the facility as an international training facility for friendly forces
b) develop St Athan as the centre for Welsh military HQ, combining ground, air and naval command (St Athan is about five miles from Barry docks and 15 miles from Cardiff).
c) The third option, or an added option, would be to lease the facility out to another country as Iceland does at Keflavik to NATO or as the Russian navy still does with some ports in Ukraine. Wales could even decide to go under joint command with London – as the Belgians and French proposed (but failed to implement) in the 1930s.

And so on to the second question – would Wales have an armed force and how much would it cost?

Wales could of course choose to be unique and make a virtue of being a state with no monopoly of terror over its land. By doing so it would be the only state (excluding the microstates) that didn’t have a force other than the police force which would defend and promote the democratic will of its elected politicians.

This could lead to four scenarios – the state is open to internal (armed) forces which could destabilise the whole state making it a failed state like Somalia. Part of the state’s territory could be beyond its control - the UK’s lack of control over South Armagh during the Troubles, parts of Columbia, Georgia, Azerbaijan, Sri Lanka today. A state could keep its territory intact but that a sector of the state’s workings is beyond the state’s control - corruption and mafia in many East European states or even Italy. No armed force also means the state could be destabilised or conquered by another state.

Now all the above scenarios are unlikely in the current climate (as is independence) but a politician and a political party’s job is to prepare for unlikely situations. Our low birth-rate will create a need for outside labour which may (or may not) cause internal tensions; conflicts could arise over resources like water; what are the implications of the rise in Chinese power? Who knows – as late as 1987 nobody in the intelligence service foresaw the USSR collapsing in 1991 and who would guess that English-born Muslims would bomb London buses? The difficulty with not having a military capability is that it would be very difficult and expensive to build one from scratch and in the time it would take, it could be too late for the state. In many respects the debate for an independent military capability is like that for sustaining an agricultural sector – things may be good today and it more cost-effective today to forefeit parts of the agricultural sector, but what of tomorrow?

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