Ireland faces a choice as to whether to be a small bit player in a militaristic EU/NATO alliance or to plough a perhaps sometimes lonely but much more fulfilling role as an active agent for peace in the world. But any loneliness would only be temporary because of the friends it would make – as it is, an Irish passport is one of the most acceptable around the world because of Ireland’s past positions and ‘soft power’. Those who think that NATO and the EU are agents bringing peace need to consider the process of 20th and 21st century history – and extrapolate from current EU stances to the EU becoming a bullying superpower on the world stage, similar to the USA, later in the 21st century (just look at the current role of Frontex). The development of the EEC/EU as a force for peace in Europe is well and truly lost in the past.
It is hard to establish exactly where the Irish government and establishment push for full military and foreign policy integration with NATO and the EU comes from. Wanting to be with the ‘big boys’ is certainly part of it. This editorial will, further on, give some quotations from Afri’s new “A force for good?” pamphlet on Irish neutrality. But we would go further and raise the question of whether this fixation stems partly from an inferiority complex, perhaps coming from Ireland’s colonial past. The revolutionary generation in the Free State/Republic had an emphasis, naturally enough, on anti-colonialism and anti-imperialism (Karen Devine’s contribution in the Afri pamphlet is a brilliant summary of the positive aspect of this in Frank Aiken’s thinking and action). But as EEC membership beckoned, neutrality became considered by some politicians as backward, regressive and not what was needed in Ireland – in a sense a ‘culchie’ option – making its way in a world dominated by the USA and a rich Europe.
In the Afri pamphlet, Iain Atack and Carol Fox do refer to the idea that to be ‘good Europeans’* has been part of the thinking in abandoning neutrality (along with other factors). But what does being a ‘good European’ mean? Supporting militarisation and the arms industry? Being uncritical of the development of the EU as a military superpower closely aligned with NATO?
With formerly neutral countries in Europe joining NATO, surely there is a greater need than ever before for Ireland to take a neutral and active stance for peace. It is simply nonsense to think that the only possible international role Ireland can play in the future is a small, even insignificant, member of a large military alliance. The promulgation of Irish neutrality goes back as far as Wolfe Tone. Eamon de Valera played a significant role in the League of Nations. As the Afri pamphlet points out, the drift to Irish EU foreign policy and military integration has led to relative neglect of the UN – and, we might add, perhaps a wasted role as a UN Security Council member. Ireland has played a significant part in the development of peace internationally. Current directions will lead to the total negation of that role and Ireland simply being another cog in a great western militarist machine. It is already happening – for ‘NATO in Ireland’ see https://www.thejournal.ie/irish-defence-forces-nato-evaluation-artillery-5927841-Nov2022/
There are many ways that Ireland can play a positive role in peacemaking in the future, all of which are either dependent on, or would have a contribution made by, Irish neutrality. Building up a skilled team of mediators for different levels of conflict is one such role, engaging before there are even ‘rumours of war’ or armed conflict. Engaging with different parties or governments before conflicts have got ‘hot’ is another related area of work. Pushing and working for the further development of international law in relation to war is a further area – and working to get existing laws implemented and respected. Nonviolent peacekeeping can be explored as well as Ireland’s well-established – and respected – role in military peacekeeping.
This is only scratching at the surface of what is possible, even for a small country like Ireland, and all could be achieved for a small fraction of the additional money which the country is going to spend on army and armaments – which is irrelevant to Ireland’s human and ecological security needs (see the video of the StoP webinar on this, mentioned in the news section). Our politicians and elite seem to suffer from a total failure of imagination and seek no more than being a very small cog in a very well-oiled, and destructive, military machine.
Now, on to a few quotes from Afri’s pamphlet (see news section in this issue). The title of Joe Murray’s Foreword says it all: “Ireland should be a voice for Demilitarisation, De-escalation and Disarmament in the World”. Karen Devine points out that “Ireland used her postcolonial identity and history to gain support from other UN members. A fiercely-guarded commitment to independence from big power pressures, facilitated by an equally strong commitment to neutrality, produced radical and far-reaching proposals for peace in central Europe. Frank Aiken’s formulae for peace are vitally relevant to resolving the Ukrainian situation today……”
Mairead Maguire is quite clear that “Contrary to its claims, NATO is not a defensive organization. Its purpose from the start has been to act as an instrument for US world domination and to prevent all challenges to US hegemony.” John Maguire meanwhile teases out what has been going on in Ireland: “The….strategy involved: Government denials at every stage that referendums were necessary; joining NATO/PNP without the manifesto-promised referendum;’reform’ of the Referendum Commission’s mandate, from presenting the arguments For and Against to magisterially pronouncing on ‘The Facts’ – and above all the blatant rejection of two legally binding referendum results, Nice 1 and Lisbon 1.” John Maguire also usefully uses the image of a funnel: “The abiding image is of a funnel; such debate as cannot be prevented is guided – if necessary, simply shoehorned – into an ever-narrowing channel; a travesty in what our constitution still confirms is a republic.”
In the Afri pamphlet, Tarak Kauff concludes his piece “Stand up Ireland, defend your neutrality. The global community needs you to do that.” Ireland may be a little island falling off the edge of Europe but Tarak Kauffman’s admonition shows that such a matter is of much greater significance. As peacemakers we can stand tall. As warmakers we will collude with, and hide under the coat tails of, the great powers, and contribute to the militarist mania infesting the world.
* INNATE’s printable poster on being ‘a good European’ can be found at https://innatenonviolence.org/wp/posters/ under “Europe and World…[EW]”