Malta Report



In analysing Malta’s case, one must unfortunately start by noting that there is neither a WGA strategy nor a permanent structure for assuming a WGA to international crises. However, on closer inspection, one can conclude that WGA-like structures and approaches do, in fact, exist. What’s more, as discussed with the case of the 2011 civil war in Libya, the country also has experience at quickly and successfully setting up ad hoc WGA-like structures.
Looking forward, the factors (or ‘enablers’) that could lead to a more permanent and explicit WGA are the following: First, the fact that Malta has already had positive experiences with inter-ministerial cooperation may make it more likely to embrace the approach on a more permanent basis. Second, the relatively small size of Malta’s bureaucracy would make it easier to establish an explicit WGA. Indeed, this works in both a horizontal and vertical fashion in Malta, as upper-level politicians and government officials are already used to exercising hands-on leadership on crucial issues, and most public officials already have personal ties to their counterparts both within and among ministries, agencies and other bodies.
The main disablers include the facts that international crises are all unique in their own way and often require types of specialised knowledge which are hard to obtain in small states, and that the information-gathering capabilities of small states are relatively meagre despite the importance of having such information. What’s more, small states also suffer from a lack of resources and may also encounter difficulties in the implementation and follow-up stages.
As discussed above, an example of a WGA applied to international crisis is Malta’s handling of the 2011 civil war in Libya. There are various positive factors that help explain the successful management of this crisis at the national level: First, public servants in small countries tend to have to be generalists rather than specialists in order to be able to grapple with a broad array of circumstances and decisions. Since they are not normally restricted to specialised silos and can therefore take a bird’s-eye view of events, they tend to cultivate a much broader view of how to act in certain circumstances as well as to have the needed range of tools and services at their disposal. Second, Malta’s smallness results in few bureaucratic layers, facilitating ease of communication. Indeed, if Maltese public servants opt not to use modern systems of instantaneous communication, they usually only have to walk a short distance to meet face-to-face with their counterparts in other parts of the government apparatus. Third, the proximity that political decision-makers enjoy in terms of both physical space and bureaucratic layers helps them to project their leadership more easily and directly. In fact, seeing and meeting with their minister on a regular or even daily basis is nothing out of the ordinary for most senior officials, and politicians at the highest level of government often participate in deliberations and decision-making with the lower-level officials who are directly responsible for the issue at hand. Fourth, even though this is not the case for other areas of governance, when it comes to responding to international crises, there has consistently been the horizontal and vertical consultation – among political elites, between the government and parliament, and between the government and the opposition – needed to secure the necessary political consensus. This, in turn, helps in efforts to mobilise public support for the approach agreed for responding to the particular crisis.
Despite these advantages, small states like Malta also face several challenges to responding to international crises. First, though they may have a voice in decision-making and access to information (e.g. through EU institutions), they have limited resources and ‘punching weight’ to influence proceedings in international fora, organisations and institutions. Second, they are often reliant on external sources to provide the information they need to take good decisions. Third, the fact that small states have fewer diplomats, embassies and consulates overseas makes it more difficult to nurture contacts and gather information. Fourth, smallness also often results in a lack of expertise in some situations and a reliance on generalists (or external resources). Fifth, despite what many might (perhaps romantically) imagine, small states are not immune to the internal political and societal cleavages of larger states. In fact, party politics, political competition and bureaucratic rivalries are often just as present and crucial in small states as in large ones.
In the case of small states like Malta, it is fairly reasonable to expect that they will be more interested in crises which are closest to them in a regional context and which could have a strong negative spillover effect on their societies, and that distant crises will appear remoter to them than for larger states, especially if the benefit of resolving such a crisis is relatively smaller for them in any case. However, if the distant threat (e.g. piracy in the Persian Gulf) could impact their trade or economic well-being or if they are viewed as potentially leading to some other negative trends (e.g. mass emigration) that could directly impact them, they are naturally more interested in them. Furthermore, smaller states often have greater incentives (and needs) than larger states to work through multilateral institutions or organisations, such as the EU, the UN and the OSCE.
Lastly, it should be noted that, despite their small size and limited resources, states like Malta can nevertheless supply invaluable assets to international crisis management.
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