Irish neutrality, and neutrality in general, is depicted by the powers that be as a passive opt out from the real issues of the day and shouldering the burden of keeping the peace through military means. There is, and has been, a concerted effort to depict neutrality as outdated, limited in any case (“military neutrality” only while the establishment pushes for full involvement with NATO/EU military structures), and irresponsible in the modern world.
Even a publication like The Economist (based primarily in London) has been getting in on the (rather tired) act, saying “Neutrality looks increasingly like a simplistic answer to complex geopolitical questions…..Switzerland or Ireland throwing its weight behind Ukraine is unlikely to have the same effect. [[As the USA moving from neutrality in 1941]]. But it would be a welcome decision to join the real world.” (The Economist 21/1/23) And so it goes.
We would argue that it is the militarists who refuse to join ‘the real world’. They have numerous fantasies: their faith in armaments is unshakeable; their belief that the burgeoning EU empire will be a force for good; their belief that militarisation makes you ‘safe’. All these are beliefs that are fantasies They spend enormous sums of money on the latest armaments while not dealing with the real needs of human security and justice, locally (in Europe) and globally. And it is NATO expansionism, and outdated concepts of democracy (see Peter Emerson’s article in this issue) as much as Putin’s belligerence and chauvinism which has led to the disaster that is Ukraine today, although undoubtedly Russia is the brutal aggressor.
There is no end to the war in sight for Ukraine. For Russia, which invaded Ukraine expecting an easy victory, to roll over and admit defeat would require a major change in Russia itself and specifically overturning the power of Vladimir Putin, or engineering a situation where he has no choice (nowhere near the situation currently). The death toll is currently likely to be over a hundred thousand, perhaps with the same number again wounded. How many hundred thousand more will be massacred before it ends? We do not hear the true numbers of Ukrainian military killed just as Russia downplays its numbers of dead. And so attrition and bloodbath continue, with the west seemingly willing to fight to the last drop of Ukrainian blood, and Vladimir Putin not really caring how many Russians get killed if it advances his cause.
Where do we ‘break into history’ with a mediated response or indeed with nonviolence, nonviolent resistance, and nonviolent civilian defence? ‘Never’ say the militarists who project ‘peace’ as coming after the current war, and then make no moves to build peace. A case for nonviolent civilian resistance in Ukraine – and Ireland – was made in Nonviolent News previously https://innatenonviolence.org/wp/2022/04/01/nonviolent-resistance-to-invasion-occupation-and-coups-detat/
Of course neutrality – if it is taken to be an ‘opt out’ – can be a retreat from engagement with the ‘real world’, and the more Irish neutrality is circumscribed by Fine Gael, Fianna Fáil and others, the more worthless it becomes. But it could be as dynamic, and even more useful, than in the time of Frank Aiken (see the Afri booklet. “A force for good? Reflections on neutrality and the future of Irish defence” and the article by Karen Devine there) who took a fearlessly independent, anti-imperialist and progressive line.
Ireland can do the same again. It does not have to stand with the big boys. While in recent decades it has stood against landmines and cluster weapons, its one remaining feature which might be considered positive for international peace is its military peacekeeping role in conflict and post-conflict situations. This has been a source of Irish pride and can be further developed with work on unarmed accompaniment and peacemaking.
Peter Emerson’s ideas, at the end of his article in this issue, about nonviolent action by state and representative figures might seem fanciful but why not? If we are committed to peaceful resolution of conflict (as stated in the Irish constitution) then why can it not be practised in new and innovative ways?
But it also needs stated that the practice and theory of mediation has developed significantly since Frank Aiken’s time and this is another area where Ireland should be active in a very significant way. Why is Ireland not involved in seeking resolutions to the war in Ukraine? Why is it not talking to Ukraine and Russia and seeing and seeking, behind the rhetoric, whether there are any prospects for at worst a ceasefire and at best a resolution? Who else is doing this seriously? There is a role there that Ireland should be playing – in relation to this and other conflicts and potential conflicts.
While involvement in mediation is voluntary, a ‘soft power’ state like Ireland can clearly indicate it does not easily take ‘no’ for an answer. In negotiation it is important to separate ‘positions’ from ‘interests’ and the negative take on possibilities represented by positions should not mean there is no possibility of getting an agreement if there are sufficient carrots, on both sides, to cater for longer term interests. Even Russia’s claims that the annexed eastern provinces of Ukraine will be forever part of Russia could be subject to negotiation and face saving, say if people there were offered Russian citizenship if they wanted it but the areas concerned were a relatively autonomous part of Ukraine.
Neutrality is projected by the powers that be as an opt out. Those who wish to protect, defend and develop Irish neutrality see it as a very definite opt in – to the pursuit of justice and peace. And neutrality should not be used to justify or copperfasten unjust solutions – mediation theory,for example, is clear that it should not be party to possible resolutions which are against any party’s human rights. And it should be clear that the possibility of Ukrainian neutrality, with guarantees, can-and should be part of a solution, as with previous proposals that Turkey was involved in. The rejection of Ukrainian neutrality as part of a deal has come from ‘the west’ as much as anyone in Ukraine.
Ukrainian neutrality, with guarantees, is an obvious policy to pursue in relation to ending the war, that and relative autonomy for the east of Ukraine which was already part of the Minsk deals but never implemented. Even now such a deal, properly packaged, could allow Putin to claim success in Ukraine while the reality of the aftermath of war is much grimmer.
Expecting victory for Ukraine, and contributing to it with tanks, is upping the stakes including the risk of Russia or indeed the USA resorting to the use of nuclear weapons, ‘tactical’ or otherwise. https://znetwork.org/znetarticle/the-end-of-the-world-is-back-frida-berrigan-on-nuclear-abolitionism/ As we have pointed out before, the USA and ‘the west’ are expecting Russia to accept something – NATO in Ukraine – the equivalent of which (Soviet missiles in Cuba in 1962) was violently rejected by the USA with the very real threat of nuclear war at that time. We are back full circle to being close to that situation.
There is a massive, perhaps burdensome but also wonderfully liberating, role that Ireland can play on the world stage. This is not fanciful. Ireland already has a reputation as being friendly and different. That role can be built on as a force for peace, to be a big cog in peacemaking machinery rather than, as the current direction indicates, a small cog in a warmaking machine which will clearly add to the world’s woes as time goes by..
We can actively opt in to peacemaking and peacebuilding. It is going along with the militarists which is the real opt out and which accepts the inequities and violence of the world. We can demand better and an imaginative and dynamic policy which works to build peace globally. The great sadness is that the Irish establishment and political leaders are captured by false visions of what ‘European unity’ and military power mean. It is as though ‘serving neither King nor Kaiser’ has given way to serving both of them simultaneously.
Ban Ki-moon famously said that the world is over-armed and peace is under-funded. In terms of international mechanisms, security and peace should be sought through a reorganised and renewed United Nations rather than partisan and violent military alliances like NATO – or the growing EU military capability. Ireland can opt to be for peace or prepare to go to war. It cannot successfully ride two horses at the same time and in riding the militarist horse it will betray the positive legacy of neutrality which has been bequeathed to it. Ireland can and should build up neutrality in constructive, imaginative and fruitful ways and contribute to the possibilities of world peace..
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