'Our defence policy should make us secure, not a threat to others'
Mar 20 2007
Staff Reporter, Western Mail
On the fourth anniversary of the invasion of Iraq, Catherine Jones examines the case for Wales to make its own choices on future world conflicts
EXACTLY four years on from British forces joining their US allies in Iraq, Scotland has put the prospect of forming its own defence policy at the top of the political agenda.
As Wales, like the rest of UK, counts the human and financial cost of the conflict, the Scottish National Party is wooing voters with the promise an independent Scotland would mean their troops being "never again dragged into an illegal war".
While Wales is still a long way from the prospect of its own parliament, the SNP is streets ahead in tapping into the anger felt by many over the Iraq campaign.
Detailed plans include Scotland deciding its own (non-nuclear) defence policy in its National Parliament while being defended by a well-paid, equipped and trained army, and retaining its "historic regiments".
So what might the future hold for a Wales still settling into what some see as the modest powers of the Assembly Government? Might the country one day form its own defence policy and hold its own on the international scene?
As debate rages over the proposal to install a costly new Trident nuclear weapons system on the Clyde - plans opposed by Plaid Cymru MEP Jill Evans who is chairwoman of Wales CND - the SNP has also vowed no nuclear weapons would be based on independent Scottish soil.
Should Wales aim for such an unequivocal say on defence issues? Certainly potent images of death and destruction have, says Ms Evans, prompted many Welsh people to question the involvement of their nation in the conflict.
"There was tremendous opposition in Wales to the invasion of Iraq and that still holds. People are still very angry about the British government backing up the US and that the death and destruction is still going on.
"When people said 'not in my name', I believe that many people here felt that on behalf of Wales.
"Looking towards the future, independence is a very long way off and there are various theories about how Wales' defence would be best served. We would have to look at whether the threats we would face would be those we face now.
"Ultimately it will be up to the people of Wales to decide. It's difficult to talk about future policy when we are only a few steps into having any power.
"But the mainstay would be a defence policy which is what it says - to provide security to the people of Wales, and not a policy that threatens others, as we have seen with the whole experience of Iraq. That is, hundreds of thousands of Iraqis being killed on the basis of the war being a lie."
While many people - perhaps set against increased powers or independence for Wales - may scoff at the notion of a future where Wales forms its own foreign policy, it's a development our Celtic cousin clearly sees as more than a possibility.
SNP plans include the establishment of a peace-keeping Scottish Centre for Reconciliation and Conflict Resolution. The country would "initially" equip its Armed Forces - the Scottish Defence Force to consist of professionals supported by "part-time volunteers" - with "Scotland's share of UK defence resources".
The country would also maintain active defence commitments with its friends and allies through the United Nations, European Union and Partnership for Peace.
"The independence debate is very current in Scotland," says Ms Evans. "In Wales, of course, we are not debating independence at the moment - it's something that Plaid Cymru aspires to as a long-term aim.
"But it isn't the debate taking place in Wales now, around the election, or indeed the defence system, but it is something about which people feel strongly. So many people said no and the government wouldn't listen.
"There are several other models that Plaid looked at and its defence policy would be that we would co-operate with other countries, primarily through the United Nations. We are against membership of Nato because of the nuclear alliance."
Political commentators may advise against putting the milk money on Scotland becoming independent, taking the view such a state of affairs is a long way off - if at all.
But as the Assembly gets more powers, as the process of devolution continues apace, many opposed to the war may feel increasingly enthusiastic about a nation of three million voices that could say "no" to a future unwanted military campaign.
The decision to join US President George Bush's assault on Saddam Hussein split Labour, leading to four ministerial resignations and the largest back bench rebellion of Tony Blair's time in office, as 139 of the party's MPs opposed the Government in the key vote four years ago.
Anger over Iraq was one of the main reasons for the reduction of Labour's majority from 163 to 66 in the 2005 General Election and it caused rifts in the international community, putting Mr Blair and Mr Bush against Nato allies like France and Germany.
Wales' First Minister Rhodri Morgan has remained resolutely ambivalent about his take on the nation's role in the conflict and some seem to take the view that the war will cease to be an issue once Tony Blair is out of power.
But playing prophet, what if Wales - albeit far down the line - became a truly independent state like Ireland? Would it have its own army? How would it be funded?
Should those who believe it is not economically viable for Wales to go it alone look to the likes of Ireland, separate from the UK since the 1920s, and able to take its own position on international defence issues?
Will the issue move beyond a topic of debate for the chattering classes of Cardiff's media and political enclaves?
Will an increasing majority in Wales be moved to support independence in the belief it has been dragged, against its will, into a war waged by an English-centric government that never shed its Empire-happy provenance?
Wednesday 21 March 2007
Jill Evans in the Western Mail
The following article was published in the Western Mail yesterday. The article is rather 'confused' and Plaid Cymru MEP Jill Evans says "In Wales, of course, we are not debating independence at the moment." Well we certainly are on this blog, and it's nice to see the Western Mail giving the issue some attention.
Labels: western mail