Alan Shatter, in his capacity as Minister for Defence, has produced a Green Paper in anticipation of a “White Paper on Defence [which] will be completed early in 2014 and will set out Ireland’s Defence policy framework for the next decade.”
The Green Paper explicitly claims to “give expression to an active vision of our neutrality” (section 1) entailing “a willingness to project Irish values and priorities including the promotion and preservation of peace, disarmament, human rights, and support for humanitarian operations through the development and deployment of the Defence Forces…” However, this unexceptionable statement is followed by a less reassuring one: “Ireland’s approach to security is underlined by its engagement in EU Common Security and Defence Policy…” The Paper never comes to grips with the contradiction between “neutrality” and commitment to an “EU Common Security and Defence Policy”.
It goes without saying that the most flagrant violation of Ireland’s traditional military neutrality – the de facto delivery of Shannon Airport to the US Air Force as a transit hub for its troops flying to wars in the Middle East and elsewhere – merits not a single mention in the Green Paper; this is probably its most eloquent omission.
In 2.6 we learn that “Ireland’s traditional policy of military neutrality has its origins in the country’s declared neutrality during the Second World War. Against this background… a decision was taken in 1949 not to join the newly created North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO)”. Nonetheless, Ireland is now a part of NATO’s “Partnership for Peace”, to which former Taoiseach Bertie Ahern committed us in 1999 despite having campaigned for election on the rejection of “Irish participation in… NATO-led organisations such as Partnership for Peace”, particularly without a referendum. The fact that full NATO membership, unattainable without a referendum, was avoided suggests a conviction that “Irish values and priorities” were incompatible with such membership; the fact that Minister Shatter is not openly moving in that direction suggests that nothing has changed in the interim.
In 4.2.4, The EU and NATO, we read that “[a]s both organisations cooperate on issues of common interest and are working side by side in crisis-management operations, the NATO Strategic Concept underlines the importance of improving the NATO-EU strategic partnership.” All in all, the Green Paper gives the impression that Minister Shatter is eager to blur the (already purely notional) distinction between membership of PfP and full membership of NATO, evoking the suspicion that it is merely a matter of time until the latter is presented to us as a necessity.
Section 2.1 tells us that “security… has demands that differ from those of the past” in that “threats to national security are much broader than those of interstate conflict…” This is elaborated as follows (2.2):
“Globally and regionally, the last decade has seen an increased emphasis on collective security, which reflects the evolution of threats in the defence and security environment… These threats include: terrorism, proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, regional conflicts, state failure, organised crime, cyber security, energy security, climate change and piracy. Ireland has proactively engaged in the collective security response through the UN, the EU and NATO Partnership for Peace (PfP). The development of the EU’s Common Foreign and Security Policy (CFSP) and its Common Security and Defence Policy (CDSP) [sic] both underscore the Union’s emphasis on a comprehensive approach…Ireland continues to play a full role in both the CFSP and CSDP.”
This is followed by the worrying assertion (2.3) that “[t]he boundaries between the internal and external aspects of security are becoming increasingly blurred.” Perhaps an example of such “blurring” was the Criminal Justice Act 2013 “grant[ing] the Minister for Justice and Equality [i.e. Alan Shatter again!] the power to temporarily shut down a mobile phone network in a given area, if it is thought that a mobile phone service could be used in the mechanics of a terrorist event.” Prompted by the G8 Summit in Fermanagh in June 2013, the signature of this liberticidal act was fast-tracked by President Higgins.
Section 2.7 deals with the so-called “Triple Lock” whereby overseas operations by the Permanent Defence Force are conditional on “the authorisation of the operation by the Security Council or General Assembly of the United Nations…(,) a formal Government decision(,) and… the approval of Dáil Éireann.”
Traditionally – and after all, the Green Paper purports “to project Irish values and priorities” – the Irish people have, rightly or wrongly, looked to the UN as a guarantor of international law. For the Paper, however, “[t]he benefits of a formal legislative requirement for UN authorisation must be weighed against the possibility that this constraint may lead to an inability to act on occasions where there is a pressing moral or security imperative and overwhelming international support to do so, but where UN sanction is not forthcoming, in circumstances where a veto is exercised by a permanent member of the Security Council acting in its own national interests.”
Since Minister Shatter has always displayed an eagerness to align Ireland with the United States, we can be clear that the hypothetical permanent member in question is not the one that most frequently uses its veto, i.e. the USA. In a 2012 article, Stephen Zunes pointed out that “[s]ince 1970, China has used its veto power eight times, and Russia (and the former Soviet Union) has used its veto power 13 times. However, the United States has used its veto power 83 times, primarily in defense of allies accused of violating international humanitarian law. Forty-two of these US vetoes were to protect Israel from criticism for illegal activities, including suspected war crimes.”
The Green Paper, therefore, is proposing that the Triple Lock – specifically, the “UN authorisation” component – should be abandoned if and when the USA identifies “a pressing moral or security imperative” to do so. The “overwhelming international support”, as we know, can amount to a few vassal regimes within the US sphere of influence. The deployment of the adjective “moral” (much favoured but selectively used by Minister Shatter) for a hypothetical by-passing of the Security Council should be seen in this context.
So when the Paper concludes that “[o]n balance, the advantages of retaining the [Triple Lock] mechanism can be seen as outweighing the disadvantages” but deems it “an issue worthy of discussion in advance of the adoption of a new White Paper”, we can be pretty sure which side of this discussion the Minister will be backing.
A series of “Policy Questions” (2.8) ends with the following query: “How can Defence further contribute to economic recovery e.g. options for increased engagement with Irish Industry?”
Section 2.5 had already cited the NATO buzz-word “interoperability”, i.e. the requirement that Ireland’s defence forces should be equipped according to standards – very costly ones – established by NATO. We are told that “[t]he percentage of Government expenditure allocated to Defence in Ireland is one of the lowest in the EU”, something that many of us might celebrate, although lamenting that the money thus saved is not more productively expended on social infrastructure. Instead, the Paper’s reflection that “[i]n the short term funding constraints may prevent us from making commitments or carrying out activities which might be otherwise considered desirable when the Exchequer finances have been put on a more sustainable footing” suggests that “in the long term” Minister Shatter may indeed have plans to waste more of our financial resources on military hardware.
However, the implications of the “policy question” are more far-reaching. Section 188.8.131.52, European Defence Agency, tells us (in sickening jargon) that “Ireland’s participation in the Agency is focused on the development of military capabilities for UN-led or UN mandated peace support operations and leveraging the contribution which the Irish Defence Forces in partnership with Irish Enterprise can make in delivering high end research and technology in support of such capabilities.” Section 5, Defence support to economic development, merits more extensive quotation:
“In July 2011, Government approval was received, pursuant to s. 8(5) of the Science and Technology Act, 1987 whereby Enterprise Ireland would support Defence by raising the awareness of and engaging with, Irish-based enterprise and research institutes, including third level colleges that are engaged in relevant activities related to Defence Forces capability development. The primary objective is to support Defence Forces capability development and also to support innovation, growth and jobs in Irish based industry, particularly in the security and defence (dual use) sector, which can contribute to Ireland’s economic development and recovery. In addition, the Government agreed that Enterprise Ireland could also support Irish based enterprise and research institutes, the Department of Defence and Defence Forces Capability Development, where appropriate in relation to European Defence Agency ongoing activities.”
Complete clarity is required here: the European Defence Agency (EDA) is a front for the international arms trade. The Green Paper is in fact proposing the doctrine of military Keynesianism, i.e. “ the position that the government should increase military spending in order to increase economic growth” (Wikipedia) or, according to the late Professor Chalmers Johnson, “[t]he economic disaster that is military Keynesianism.” This also clarifies the repeated, almost obsessive references in the Green Paper to “cyber-terrorism”, seen as a potential spur to deepened involvement of the military in the lucrative sphere of internet research and development. The reference to “third level colleges” hints darkly at the kind of military engagement in academia that has so compromised academic independence in Minister Shatter’s favourite countries, Israel and the USA. This is a potential development that should be viewed with the deepest suspicion, particularly at a time when cutbacks in education at all levels are biting.
Finally, section 6 of the Green Paper muses on “possible future trends”, and suggests some general reflections on its own presuppositions. While the Paper accepts that “the risk of a conventional military attack on Ireland’s territory from another State will remain very low”, it fails to ask why this is the case and whether indeed a perception of Ireland, however inaccurate, as a neutral state uninvolved in US military adventures might have contributed to such a low risk. If “[t]hreats to the EU, to European interests and to wider security are now threats to Ireland”, as the Paper asserts, could this not be a result of successive Irish governments’ decisions to soften up our neutrality and subject ourselves to an “EU Common Security and Defence Policy”?
But of course the new bogey is no longer exclusively this or that state, but supposedly free-floating “terrorism”. The paper cites the UN Panel of High Level threats, “Terrorism attacks the values that lie at the heart of the Charter of the United Nations: respect for human rights; the rule of law; rules of war that protect civilians; tolerance among peoples and nations; and the peaceful resolution of conflict”. However, these words could equally be applied to the USA and its satellites, most notably Israel, which are quick “to use unlimited violence to cause massive casualties”, a phrase applied exclusively to terrorists by the Paper. If “Spain, France, Sweden, Germany and the UK have been targeted by credible terrorist plots”, could this not be traced back to the involvement of these states in neo-imperial adventures outside their borders?
Yet even in relation to international terrorism, the Paper concludes that “the direct threat to Ireland… is currently assessed as low. However, the State shares the common risk that arises for western democracies generally.” But why does it arise? Is it because “they hate our freedoms”, as George W. Bush claimed, or because they hate the resurgence of western imperialism, which all too frequently leads to brutal military intervention and/or to drone warfare against their civilians? If the latter, then surely a meaningful policy of military neutrality would be a more rational and indeed more moral strategy? Instead, Shatter’s Green Paper, while disingenuously proclaiming its allegiance to neutrality, proposes to align this country unambiguously with western imperialism. This should be vigorously opposed.