Carol Fox delivered this fantastic speech at a ‘People’s Forum on Ireland’s Neutrality’ in Liberty Hall Dublin on the 19/6/2023 before the government’s ‘Consultative Forum on International Security Policy’ began in Cork, Galway, and Dublin.
An edited version of this speech was published in the Irish Examiner ‘Irish reputation as peacekeepers will be damaged by ties to nuclear-armed Nato’ on Saturday 24/6/2023.
Carol Fox, Peace and Neutrality Alliance (PANA) and Swords to Ploughshares (STOP)
The Forum Road Show is about to begin…or should we say, the Government’s Spring Offensive. We kind of know what’s going to happen. The only thing the Forums might affect is:
- The pace of implementing decisions on defence already made;
- The manner in which the Government will try to sell them to the Irish people. [Although President Michael D Higgins has thrown quite a spanner in the works!]
We’ll be told there’s no question of us joining NATO (at least ‘not any time soon’ as Micheal Martin put it). But our neutrality has to be ‘re-defined’ – and part of that ‘re-defining’ is an ever-closer Partnership with nuclear-armed NATO through the Partnership for Peace (PfP). We’ll cooperate with a nuclear military alliance, make our defence forces and military weapons interoperable with that military alliance, conduct exercises with that alliance (sure, we already supply an airport at Shannon to the US military) but we will still call ourselves ‘neutral’.
Many of us – opinion polls indicate about 60-70% of us – thought and think that Irish Neutrality doesn’t include partnership with a nuclear alliance. Our neutrality has always involved a partnership with the United Nations. We’re the Blue-helmeted UN peacekeepers. Ireland is highly respected as an initiator and supporter of disarmament. Our NGOs are highly regarded for their humanitarian work abroad. The fact that we are Neutral --and not regarded as anyone’s enemy – we don’t generally threaten or invade other countries-- has always aided Ireland’s diplomacy. The Government – and its Forums – are on a Fool’s Mission. Why would it throw away a unique and influential status that other States envy? There’s a reason that Irish passports are one of the most coveted in the world. Our track record in promoting disarmament: the landmark Irish initiated Non-Proliferation Treaty, NFZs. the recent 6-nation initiative – including Ireland -- that resulted in the UN Treaty for the Prohibition of Nuclear weapons. The 2008 Treaty prohibiting cluster bombs was negotiated in Dublin.
Our partner NATO believes in nuclear weapons and uses cluster bombs in warfare. The US is about to join the UK in exporting cancer-inducing depleted Uranium weapons to Ukraine and is considering sending cluster bombs (partly because, as one Senior US politician put, We have a big stockpile of them) It doesn’t like – or sign – the UN Treaties we recently championed. It plays wargames that run counter to all our disarmament work. One example: A few months ago – in the midst of the war in Ukraine – NATO held a 2-week tactical nuclear weapon exercise in Europe, Steadfast Noon, to train non-nuclear NATO aircrews to carry out nuclear strikes. There are currently about 100 US nuclear weapons installed in 6 NATO countries. This runs counter to the NPT.
But our NATO partnership progresses:
- Ireland has fulfilled many of its PfP interoperability and equipment goals.
- Last month in Cork, Ireland hosted the Chiefs of European Navies (CHENS) conference, to discuss military challenges facing NATO and European navies. Attendance included: European Military Staff (EUMS), NATO’s Allied Maritime Command (MARCOM), and United States Navy personnel. The theme of the Conference was Naval Implementation of Emergent and Disruptive Technologies.
- Ireland recently chaired PIAG the Partner Interoperability Advocacy Group for strengthening cooperation between NATO and partner nations.
- Next year, Irish defence forces will travel to Indiana to participate in the NATO exercise Thor’s Hammer. Countering IEDs (Improvised Explosive Device) and drones.
- The Irish military top brass often attend NATO meetings. Partner States are invited by the North Atlantic Council to participate in political and military bodies at NATO Headquarters and in a separate Partnership Co-ordination Cell at Mons (Belgium) [A lot of this activity can be followed on a twitter account: @irishmilrep Official account of the Irish Military Representative to the European Union & Partnership for Peace]
EU Defence and Security
OK, so we’re not joining NATO. But how do we square this with what is developing in the EU – nearly all of whose members are in NATO. (and as President Higgins recently said, ‘fading imperial powers’ whose ‘shadows we shouldn’t be in’). The various EU treaties as you know have brought closer coordination in defence and security policies, including even a mutual defence pact. Ireland has managed – thanks to the Irish people voting down two EU treaties because of their military provisions --to get special dispensation from some EU military matters.
But the EU and NATO are quite clear about their special Partnership. In January a Joint Declaration on EU-NATO Cooperation was issued. The Financial Times thought this was a remarkable statement in its openness on NATO domination. Its headlines reported: “Stronger European Armies are to support US-led alliance, not offer an alternative to it”. Point 8 of the Declaration: “NATO remains the foundation of collective defence for its Allies and essential for Euro Atlantic security. We recognise the value of a stronger and more capable European defence that contributes positively to global and transatlantic security and is complementary to, and interoperable with NATO”.
Last month in the Dail, Micheal Martin reassured the Dail that the EU is not being militarised. He spoke strongly against the potential for a European Army being formed but said he would call for greater ‘involvement’ with neighbouring countries. He stressed that there was no international appetite for such a militarisation of the EU.
Given how obviously militarised the EU now is, Micheal Martin’scomments are simply laughable. The EU is now bristling with military committees and agencies, a European Defence Agency, support for arms production and technology, a European Peace Facility (!) (which helps finance EU military activities outside the EU, with a budget of nearly 6 billion euro). And the Irish Government has fully embraced the opportunities for Irish business in arms production and innovation with Simon Coveney hosting an arms fair here last October at the Aviva Stadium, called – wait for it – ‘Building the EcoSystem.’
I think Micheal Martin is being a little precious about when is an army an army.
For its armed wing, the EU already has Battlegroups and the PESCO permanent enhanced security cooperation project. To add to the mix, in May 2021, 14 EU countries proposed a 5000- strong rapid military response force that could intervene early in international crises. Reuters reported that: ‘EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell, had chided the EU for reluctance to intervene more abroad, particularly in failing states such as Libya.”
One of those 14 EU countries was Ireland.
This Rapid Deployment Capacity (RDC) force will be established by 2025 with land, air and maritime component in order to fulfil the plans in the EU’s new Strategic Compass. According to the European Parliamentary Research Service,. April 12, 2023:
The RDC’s purpose will be to respond rapidly to imminent crises, and to be able to be used in different operational scenarios, including ‘initial entry, reinforcement, or as a reserve force to secure an exit’.
The first live exercises will be held in autumn 2023 in the south of Spain (Gulf of Cadiz).
And this brings us directly to the Triple Lock The Government is more upfront about its intentions here. It’s got to go because it’s no longer ‘fit for purpose’. A key question here is: For What Purpose? We all know that Ireland’s role in UN peacekeeping has been a major source of pride in this country.
In 2013, the Government produced a Green Paper on Defence which looked at the Triple Lock and extolled its virtues: The requirement for a UN resolution as part of the “triple lock” reflects the central importance of the UN in granting legitimacy to peace support and crisis management missions. To quote the DFA’s own website in 2023:
Ireland has a proud tradition of participation in UN and UN-supported peacekeeping missions, both civilian and military. Ireland is proud of being the only nation to have a continuous presence on UN and UN-mandated peace support operations since 1958, with Irish peacekeepers highly respected internationally.
We currently have about 550 defence personnel serving abroad, with the bulk of them UN peacekeepers in Lebanon and Syria.
So why do we now want to drop the necessity of a UN mandate? It seems that the Triple Lock has been fit for purpose in that we have continuously been able to deploy UN peacekeepers. The spectre of the Russian and Chinese vetoes in the Security Council are thrown up. But the only example ever given of Irish forces being kept from participating in a PK operation is in Macedonia over 20 years ago when China vetoed the mission.In fact when talking to RTE’s Tony Connelly last year,(March 2022) Simon Coveney said: I can't think of an instance where Ireland has wanted to send troops on a peacekeeping mission to a part of the world and has been prevented from doing so, because of the triple lock, not yet, at least’.
Well the time has come. The new ‘purpose’ that the Triple Lock is no longer fit for is deeper involvement in EU military operations, particularly the new RDC rapid reaction force, which our Government helped to create. These forces will not always be seeking a UN mandate. Fianna Fail’s Barry Andrews MEP, reflecting Government thinking, was quite specific about this last year when he said a European Council decision/mandate should suffice.
Micheal Martin last month also announced that we were withdrawing our UN peacekeepers from the Golan Heights in Syria (UNDOF) in order to participate in an EU Battlegroup.
And so, it goes. We have got to try to counter this at the Forums. As already said, the Government is on a Fool’s Mission. The world doesn’t need another member of NATO. It doesn’t need another country profiting from producing and selling weapons. What it needs is a country pushing for peace and demilitarisation, a country dedicated to the peaceful settlement of international disputes as described so eloquently in Article 29 of the Irish Constitution, a Constitution our Government has pledged to honour and uphold. Let’s hold them to it.