There are several examples of a WGA in the Maltese public service, although they do not go by that particular name. They consist of consistent patterns of action as well as inter-ministerial structures. Some of the latter (e.g. the one related to the EU) are permanent, while others have been set up in an ad hoc manner to implement certain policies or strategies in response to specific challenges, such as tackling poverty, fostering inclusion, combatting climate change and drafting the new version of the security strategy (The Malta Independent 2019). Both formal and informal patterns of interaction are discernible among the main decision-makers in times of crisis. What is important to highlight in the case of a small state like Malta is that decisions during crisis often reach the highest echelons of the political order.
The case of the 2011 Libyan conflict is instructive, as it had many dimensions: a diplomatic/political dimension, as Malta enjoyed strong relations with Libya; an economic dimension due to Maltese investments in the country; and a military/security dimension because of the probability that some military action would also impact Malta and the sovereignty of its territory, including its territorial waters. What’s more, Malta’s only runway and international airport – i.e. its non- maritime lifeline – was also vulnerable to a possible military attack or accident.
In response to the crisis, the director of defence set up a national crisis centre based within the Office of the Prime Minister (OPM), which at the time was responsible for national defence. This centre brought together and networked several ministries and national agencies and services (e.g. transport, trade, the armed forces, and security-service and diplomatic staff) to confront the crisis. At the political level, there were frequent consultations with the parliamentary opposition, and the government made statements in parliament to ensure that it remained apprised of events as they unfolded. This was a de facto WGA, although the national crisis centre gradually stopped operating once the crisis subsided. What’s more, there is no indication that a permanent structure of the same type or a similar WGA strategy is being planned.
Together, the experience gained in handling the Libyan crisis and the public service’s coordinated inter-ministerial cooperation provide a strong basis for the emergence of a Maltese WGA to international crises. Although maintaining a permanent structure might be considered too costly, a strategy for and a protocol on the steps to be taken to set a WGA in motion during times of crisis could serve as a useful alternative.
Given the fact that Malta is a small island country with limited resources and modestly sized armed forces, as well as considering its pacifist foreign policy, it is paradoxical that participation in external crises has almost entirely focused on the deployment of members of the armed forces in CSDP missions even though Malta has a lot of potential for contributing to non-military efforts to respond to international crises (e.g. human rights education, transitional justice, training of border-control officials, civilian control of the military, development assistance, humanitarian assistance and development aid). Granted, the involvement of the Maltese soldiers as peacekeepers does not go against the concept of neutrality or pacifism. But the non-military resources at the disposal of small states can also be mobilised during times of crisis.
The Maltese bodies and resources that can be mobilised in the service of a WGA include: several institutions of learning in the country; medical staff, including paramedics and physicians, to provide health services; several NGOs to assist with migrants and development projects overseas; and legal experts, especially those who have worked in international organisations. The country’s pubic service also employs several engineers and architects as well as an array of other professionals. In short, there are several sectors of Maltese society that – if coordinated, trained and organised to pursue a WGA – could be mobilised in the same manner as the members of the armed forces and deployed in times of crisis. For a small country that is short on trained military resources but rich in civilian assets, this could be an approach for boosting its involvement in responding to crises by participating in multinational missions, such as those led by the EU.