Tag Archives: NATO

StoP report on Consultative Forum on International Security

The controversial ‘Consultative Forum on International Security’ of June 2023 was set up by the Minister for Foreign Affairs – but to what end? This detailed report, prepared by a working group of StoP (Swords to Ploughshares Ireland), looks at the 4 days of the Forum in detail. Included is a preamble, setting the scene, and a substantial set of conclusions which can be drawn from the current situation regarding neutrality and security and what the Forum did and did not consider, Click here to download – StoP Report Forum on International Security Mark 2

This is also available on the StoP website at https://www.swordstoploughshares-ireland.com/report

 

 

Editorials: Ukraine long war, Northern Ireland ‘Legacy’

The long war

It is dead (sic) easy to get into war but extremely difficult to get out of it.

The war in Ukraine is a classic ‘long war’ where no side can gain sufficient advantage to get into the situation where it can ‘win’. In that, and in its trench warfare, it is reminiscent of the First World War except with 21st century weapons and technology. So both sides continue to pour soldiers, civilians, and money, down the drain. And the more money and blood expended in the cause, the more difficult it is to sacrifice that ‘sacrifice’ to move to peace; Shakespeare put it eloquently into the mouth of Macbeth – “I am in blood / Stepped in so far that should I wade no more, / Returning were as tedious as go o’er” – ‘tedious’ here meaning difficult.

Jens Stoltenberg, NATO Secretary General, said on 17th September (speaking to the EU Parliament) that “Most wars last longer than expected when they first begin. Therefore we must prepare ourselves for a long war in Ukraine.” He went on to say that ““There is no doubt that Ukraine will eventually be in Nato”* – a crazy thing to say when it was Ukrainian prospective membership of NATO which was a major cause of the Russian invasion. He also conflates or confuses future Ukrainian security with Ukrainian membership of NATO when the two are very much not the same thing; there can be guarantees of Ukrainian territorial integrity which are nothing whatsoever to do with NATO. *INNATE continues to use the upper case acronym ‘NATO’ rather than ‘Nato’ as we consider the latter an attempt to make it seem like a friendly neighbourhood organisation rather than a major war alliance with nuclear weapons.

Continuing the comparison with the First World War there is another, extremely dangerous, possible parallel with the First World War. The Second World War was a direct result of the First through the penalisation and victimisation of Germany. The disorder of the post-First World War years in Germany, which were brought about partly by economic and other penalties on Germany, led to the rise of fascism – and the rest, tragically, is history.

There is the danger that the West, especially the USA but others as well, want Russia to be humiliated through this war, not just to have a settlement that they and Ukraine can live with. For the West it is a proxy war. We have already seen what happened when NATO, against Russian warnings, continued to push its boundaries eastward – something which they undertook not to do at the time of the collapse of Soviet communism and control in Eastern Europe.

We have stated here previously, numerous times, that the USA and the West expected Russia to accept something which was totally unacceptable to the USA. In 1962 the world came close to the brink of nuclear war when Russia/the Soviet Union placed missiles in Cuba. This was ‘the enemy at the gate’ and the USA threatened nuclear annihilation if the situation was not remedied to its satisfaction. Russia compromised. And yet the USA and the West expected – expect – Russia to accept NATO weaponry, of all sorts, on its borders in Ukraine if it joined/joins NATO and/or the EU. The USA is a world superpower militarily and Russia now only a regional military power – admittedly flexing its muscles in Africa and the Middle East – but the situations are identical. The West misjudged the situation and expected Putin to roll over.

While what was said had its own nuances, Jens Stoltenberg in his September address to the EU Parliament https://www.nato.int/cps/en/natohq/opinions_218172.htm?selectedLocale=en went on confirm many of the details of Putin opposing NATO expansionism. Putin in autumn 2021 “sent a draft treaty that they wanted NATO to sign, to promise no more NATO enlargement. That was what he sent us. And was a pre-condition for not invade Ukraine……So he went to war to prevent NATO, more NATO, close to his borders. He has got the exact opposite.” While Putin was looking for more than the above in terms of the withdrawal from NATO by countries in central and eastern Europe, it has to be recognised that their membership was contrary to promises previously given to Russia.

Not to have entered talks and negotiations with Russia was a monumental error and part of NATO’s belligerence and feeling of superiority; perhaps a modus vivendi could have been reached as opposed to the current modus morendi (way of dying). In terms of military thinking, Russia had a legitimate interest which was brushed aside by NATO. Russia’s demands might have seemed unreasonable by the standards of realpolitik but that is what discussion and mediative processes are about; the different sides put out their stalls and views and, then, collectively look at whether movement is possible. There could indeed have been ways to reassure Russia on its security but NATO did not bother to look. This is a substantial cause of the war in Ukraine – obviously not the only one with Putin deciding he could pull a fast one militarily but he got bogged down by Ukrainian military resistance.

Should Russia be humiliated in defeat, with consequences for the Russian state and society, it is quite possible that the same scenario could emerge as in Germany after the First World War – the emergence of leadership which makes Vladimir Putin look like a screaming liberal. Brutal and unnecessary as Russia’s war on Ukraine has been, the art of trying to put a conflict to bed and being able to move on is through giving both sides an ‘out’, not in penalising one side, the losers. In other words, Putin has to be allowed to save face, whether that is liked or not. We are not saying Russia and Russians should not face war crimes trials; we are saying Russia and Russians need to be allowed to move on to hopefully a more peaceful future.

There are many ways a settlement could come about while retaining justice for Ukraine. Crimea was mainly ethnically Russian and a possession of Ukraine’s based on a whim of Stalin, a move not too significant at a time when all were in the Soviet Union. Ukraine accepting the loss of Crimea would be a psychological blow but could be a price well worth paying. Accepting Crimea as Russian might seem to give in to ‘might is right’ but compromise may be necessary to avoid endless bloodshed. So far as the eastern provinces of Ukraine claimed by Russia, we have suggested Russia withdrawing but allowing all there to claim Russian citizenship. Attending to Russian interests in terms of security guarantees is part of meeting Russian interests rather than being put off by its positions and this was an important part of the Russian invasion to begin with, aside from arch-nationalist concepts of a ‘Greater Russia’.

A long war is in nobody’s interest except the arms companies who, as usual, are happy to make a killing (sic) from it. Attempting to get Russia into harmonious relationships with the rest of Europe has to be a long term aim, a possibility which was badly dealt with after the fall of the Soviet communist regime when the West did nothing. This does not mean excusing Russian crimes but nor should it mean excusing other countries’ crimes; Brown University’s study attributes 4.5 million deaths to the USA’s warmaking since 2022 https://watson.brown.edu/costsofwar/papers/2023/IndirectDeaths – and where are the penalties and sanctions on the USA? And there are carrots as well as sticks which can be used, even if better relations with Russia may have to await another leader than Putin.

Ireland, meanwhile has jumped on the bandwagon of military support for Ukraine through training for Ukrainian soldiers as well as ‘non-lethal’ support. Not only is this incompatible with neutrality but denies Ireland the opportunity, which it should be taking, to explore possibilities for bringing the war to a close, a war to which there is currently no end in sight. If you don’t look then you don’t see. If you don’t explore possibilities to end the war then it is permitting more and more death and misery. Those seeking peaceful solutions and resolutions should never be put off by the position adopted by the different sides but strive to find ways to meet sufficient of the belligerents’ interests that an end to the war becomes possible. Ireland is doing nothing in this regard.

– See also ‘Readings in Nonviolence’ in this issue which looks at different peace proposals and possibilities to end the war in Ukraine,

Northern Ireland:

A miserable legacy

Challenges to the British government’s Legacy Act, formally the Northern Ireland Troubles (Legacy and Reconciliation) Act, as it now is since it passed into law, are coming from from a variety of sources, national and international – including possibly the Irish government. So, just perhaps, it may not get too far. It offers a conditional amnesty to those accused of killings during the Troubles and will stop any new Troubles-era court cases and inquests being held.

However the whole sad saga presents an appalling picture of how the current British government treats Northern Ireland. To act against the will of every single political party in Northern Ireland takes some doing not only because of the way that represents the vast majority in the North but because such unity, such unanimity across the board, is so unusual. Even if the British government really did believe its Act is the way forward (which is dubious) it should have hesitated to act against such universal opposition; its actions smack of superiority and, dare we say it, colonialism.

The current system and possibilities are not ideal but all the Northern Ireland political parties and victims’ groups are certain it is preferable to the new Legacy Act. With the passage of time the chances are getting steadily slimmer of justice in the courts, or even for truth through the coroners’ courts, but this was considered preferable. Meanwhile, of course, the British government reneged on the deal which it had done in the 2014 Stormont House Agreement which did provide an agreed way forward and institutions to match. The government failed to implement the deal and then, in 2020, announced it would develop its own proposals – resulting in the Legacy Act of today.

Cui bono? Apart from a few commentators, only British military veterans’ groups are in favour and that gives a clue. But a major factor is surely not only protecting former British military personnel, it is even more protecting the state. We already have a certain amount of information about the actions of the state in running informers within paramilitary organisations but there are major questions about what agents of the state knew about forthcoming paramilitary actions where they could have prevented deaths but did not do so to protect their sources or agents, or for other reasons. And then there is the impunity given to informers who in some cases were involved in appalling actions. This is, of course, aside from where deaths and human rights abuses were perpetrated by soldiers and other agents of the state.

Human rights groups have been scathing about the Legacy Act, drawing comparisons with what was done in Chile introducing impunity for those involved with the Pinochet regime. The Committee on the Administration of Justice (CAJ) states, for example, that it “fails to honour the UK’s obligation under the ECHR to carry out proper investigations into deaths and serious injuries that occurred during the NI conflict“ – and indeed that the UK government is in serial breach of its obligations to do so. They also state that it would “shut down existing legacy mechanisms at a time when such mechanisms are increasingly delivering for families.”

The Troubles were a terrible time for many people living in Northern Ireland. Moving on from the Troubles, even 25 years after the Good Friday Agreement, has also been very difficult. For the British government to do a ‘solo run’ on the legacy of the past when there was a very reasonable collective agreement on the issue nearly nine years ago is quite bizarre and would suggest that they are acting primarily in their own interests to protect the British state. That is particularly sad for victims across the board – civilian, paramilitary, police, military, whoever. Justice delayed, or in this case negated, is justice denied but truth has a way of emerging in the end. And the judgement on those who closed off possibilities for justice will not be a warm one.

Editorials: Consultative Forum on International Security, Northern Ireland – a different inefficiency

Consultative Forum on International Security

Peace and neutrality activists don’t let the government away with it….

In their concluding remarks on the fourth and final day of the Consultative Forum on International Security, Micheál Martin, as Minister for Foreign Affairs, and Louise Richardson, Forum chair, were in congratulatory mode (to the country and themselves) for the liveliness of debate and even the involvement of people in the process through protest. To an uninformed observer these might seem urbane remarks however since the protests were due to the discriminatory way in which the whole enterprise was set up, this was rather hollow and putting a gloss on something which was less than satisfactory and of their own making. The previous establishment and government line was that protesters were trying to shut down debate; given the organisers’ own role in trying to control the agenda for debate, the opposite was the case.

Louise Richardson also said she knew of no other country where such a forum had taken place, implying how wonderful Irish democracy was. This was true about the uniqueness of the event. What she did not say however was that it was taking place because of political expediency on the part of the Minister. He wanted to remove – presumably still aims to remove – the triple lock (government, Dáil, UN) on the deployment of Irish troops overseas this autumn. The war in Ukraine gave an excuse to try to move things in the direction he wanted but he needed some ‘democratic’ credentials or ‘weaponised’ basis to do so – and thus set up what purported to be a ‘Forum’ (‘a public event for open discussion of ideas’) but was actually a long conference with speakers hand picked by the Minister and his staff to give the answers or direction he wanted. The whole process was not instigated out of the goodness of the Minister’s heart, and his desire for democracy, but for very particular political ends.

The Irish government has been trying to use the war in Ukraine, and Russian invasion, as a reason to change the ‘triple lock’. There is only one case where the triple lock may have prevented a peacekeeping deployment and that did not involve Russia. Of course the government and pro-government speakers did not mention the warmongering of the USA and the West, nor the breach of neutrality by giving Shannon for US military use, no questions asked. The background also included the lie that the Forum was not about neutrality as opposed to ‘security’ as if the two were unconnected, another part of the ‘get rid of neutrality by stealth’ strategy.

Micheál Martin has previously stated how much he learned and benefited from conciliation programme run by Quaker House Belfast (for info on the latter see https://www.flickr.com/photos/innateireland/50654202881/in/album-72157717185737611/ ). This was in getting to meet, and know Northern unionists – and he does have a reputation among unionists as being someone who understands them. However it is really sad that he has not been able to extrapolate from this experience of dealing with conflict on the island of Ireland, demonstrating the importance of long term conciliation and mediation efforts, to thinking internationally. Instead he is going with militarisation and so-called military ‘solutions’. He was going to take what he could get from this ‘forum process’ and the hope must be that this will be severely constrained by the challenges both to the process and the content which took place.

Louise Richardson also didn’t say it was deliberately not a citizens’ assembly – a format which now has established form in Ireland in dealing with difficult and contentious issues – because it would have given the ‘wrong’ answers so far as the Minister was concerned.

Peace and neutrality groups were working hard to point out the illegitimacy of the exercise, and hold alternative forums where the speakers and issues they wanted included were not excluded. But an intervention by Michael D Higgins, pushing at the boundaries of what it is acceptable for an Irish president to say, questioned the drift towards NATO and also raised questions about the credentials of the chair (he later withdrew some of these remarks). That greatly helped make the issue a hot potato. However he would never have felt constrained to make those remarks had the enterprise not been an underhand one to begin with. His comments thus served the interests of democracy.

One illustrative ironic twist took place during a Forum session on cyber threats and disinformation. A couple of contributors from the floor both pointed to the Forum itself as an exercise in disinformation due to the built in bias in the programme and speakers. Perhaps this fits the old adage of ‘the medium is the message’. You can easily find the list of speakers on the Department website and some analysis of speakers’ backgrounds is in The Phoenix issue for 30h June.

That is not to say that some participants in the Forum did not make a useful and even positive contribution on the issues involved. Some panels were less imbalanced than others and some had reasonably comprehensive discussion of the issues. But the topics dealt with, and the speakers chosen, as well as the chair who will write the report, were all hand picked by the Minister and staff acting on his direction. At no point was it stated by the Minister or the Department that inclusion in the speakers list was by Department of Foreign Affairs invitation only (which was the case). An INNATE offer to contribute unique content, on nonviolent civilian defence and on extending neutrality as part of security, was brushed aside. (See https://www.flickr.com/photos/innateireland/53003786126/in/dateposted/ with INNATE being prevented from putting these leaflets out for those attending at Dublin Castle). So a ‘Forum’ it was not.

Proponents of peace and neutrality faced a dilemma, to protest (possibly through a boycott) and/or be involved. In general people protested and were involved; a boycott, especially given the bias in the media, was likely to lead to invisibility. But making a point, or raising a question – which might not be answered or answered poorly – from the floor is not in any sense being properly included, it is being tolerated and patronised – especially when Micheál Martin congratulated everyone, including protesters, for their commitment on the issue. He might genuinely feel that way but certainly this was not the feeling for those on the other side of the NATO fence (Ireland is still a fellow traveller with NATO through its euphemistically named ‘Partnership for Peace’). And being involved in any way, even protesting inside the Forum, could be seen as legitimising it in that the organisers could then say “Look how tolerant we are, we even allow protest” (no they didn’t, anything they allowed was under sufferance, and numerous people were ejected from the chamber).

So the question of the legitimacy of the whole enterprise entered some of the media (e.g. The Irish Independent of 23/6/23 but not The Irish Times whose paper edition the same day, after the first session in Cork, held not one photo of protests and only a brief mention of protests themselves). And as usual the mass media did not cover the fact there were different protests and people or groups involved (see e.g. the text of https://www.flickr.com/photos/innateireland/52993125392/in/dateposted/ and compare that with mass media reports ).

While we must await the final report, written by Louise Richardson, there is no indication to date that she might not be the ‘safe pair of hands’ she would seem to be, the reason she was appointed by the Minister. The report should never, in any case, have been the responsibility of one person. While the question of the legitimacy of the whole enterprise has been raised successfully, it is still possible that the Minister will try to use the report as a means to get what he wants and the triple lock removed. This should be a real test of the integrity of deputies in the Dáil.

The Irish state should be looking at how neutrality could be extended as a real and vibrant force for peace in the world. That is the approach taken in INNATE’s written submission to the Forum, see https://tinyurl.com/3rurehhv The world already has far too many countries armed to the teeth and acting in a belligerent and self-interested manner. Ireland has the opportunity to be different but the establishment choice is to join even closer the big boys with their guns. The metaphorical guns in the above affair were held by the Minister; the peace and neutrality sector, through mobilising and its nonviolent action, succeeded in at least disarming some of those weapons of mass distraction.

The struggle is not over.

See also the news section for links to further information, the article by Dominic Carroll in this issue, and INNATE’s photo album at https://www.flickr.com/photos/innateireland/albums/72177720309217408

Northern Ireland

Back to a different inefficiency

It is clear that Geoffrey Donaldson, leader of the DUP, wants to get back into Stormont and is drawing up his shopping lists. Here there is the danger that the British government, in giving the DUP and unionists the assurances they want about the place of Northern Ireland in the UK will actually breach the Good Friday Agreement. Meanwhile other prominent members of the party, such as Ian Paisley, are very much more reluctant, and that dynamic has to work itself out within the DUP itself.

In a cynical political move the British Secretary of State in the North, Chris Heaton-Harris, continues to make people suffer through swingeing cuts and the resultant instability in education, health, social service and community sectors as he weaponises the cuts to put pressure on the DUP to return to Stormont – of course that would be with a package which removes some of those cuts. People’s lives are thus a political football.

Assuming that Stormont does return in the autumn – and if it doesn’t there could be a lengthy period of direct rule by Britain – there are a myriad of issues on the table to be dealt with by Michelle (O’Neill), Geoffrey (Donaldson), the Executive and the whole Assembly. While we might hope for a good ‘run’ at and on the pressing issues of concern, if past history is anything to go by then ‘things’ will gradually run into the ground and another crisis emerge to stymie progress.

It is difficult to enumerate all the issues of concern in one editorial. There are systemic issues of governance and decision making. There are issues which are difficult to resolve (e.g. education) because of the nature of the sectarian division which then overlaps with divisions on a left/right, progressive/conservative axis. There is the sectarian division itself which creates difficulties in the provision of facilities and sometimes requires ‘double provision’ (one facility for mainly Protestants, and one for mainly Catholics). And there are big problems simply with the amount of money available from the British Exchequer, given that the home rule Assembly system is not responsible for taxation (but see below).

While it has been generally recognised that the system of decision making needs reformed, simply removing the necessity for the two largest parties on either side to be involved in the Executive will not eradicate the problems. If the largest party on one side can ‘pass’ (i.e. decline to be involved in the Executive) but others on the same side pick up the ball (and be in the Executive), that would largely eradicate the start-stop nature of the Assembly. But it would not deal with the difficulty which the parties have in arriving at good decision making.

This is where the decision making methodologies proposed and propounded by the de Borda Institute www.deborda.org should come into play. In effect these have built in consideration for minority viewpoints and are the fairest way of trying to arrive at a workable consensus or decision that all can live with. They do require political parties to act in a different manner, however, and this is only likely to come about through pressure from the public. It might at least give an impetus to effective decision making in areas where there was been sustained failure in the past.

While Stormont, if the Assembly is up and running, cannot replicate taxation raised by the UK government, there is nothing to stop it raising taxes that are different, such as a land use tax (e.g. a tax on land and property which is not being used productively aside from that which is clearly set aside for ecological purposes). And due to the lack of economies of scale in an area of 1.9 million people, and issues of poverty and ill health, some stemming from the Troubles, the ‘Barnett formula’ of funding for UK regions needs further tweaked to give Northern Ireland a fairer share of the UK cake – Wales has already succeeded in doing that.

Whatever the constitutional future for Northern Ireland, there are urgent issues which need sorted now. The reform of Stormont could be a vital tool in turning around an area where the majority of young people want to leave, a fact illustrative of the many problems which beset individuals and society and of the existing malaise. The Northern Ireland Protocol and Windsor Agreement give Northern Ireland some economic advantages which it is next to impossible to harness without a home rule government in place.

Editorial: Neutrality – being the best we can be

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]”

Editorials: Depressing, distressing support for violence

Northern Ireland

Depressing, distressing support for violence

Northern Ireland is one of the most surveyed and polled parts of the universe. Sometimes there are glimmers of hope, and indications that the North is travelling away from sectarianism and violence. At other times the results are thoroughly depressing. Some polling which came out in August fits into this latter category and makes us realise how very far those in the North have yet to travel. When Michelle O’Neill, northern leader of Sinn Féin, said the IRA had no alternative to armed struggle in the Troubles that set up considerable comment and debate with unionists and many others naturally questioning her logic.

However the most depressing point was not that she said it but the acceptance of what she said in the Catholic/nationalist part of the community. Sinn Féin strategy in exiting armed struggle and moving forward politically has consistently been to justify IRA actions in general (regretting a few in particular) in order to take people with them, and this has had considerable success. Michelle O’Neill said in a BBC interview “I think at the time there was no alternative, but now, thankfully, we have an alternative to conflict and that’s the Good Friday agreement.” However she also said ““My narrative is a very different one to someone who’s perhaps lost a loved one at the hands of republicans. But we need to be mature enough to be able to say that’s OK, we’ll have to agree to differ on that one, but let’s make sure that the conditions never exist again that we find ourselves in that scenario.” And yet politics in the North frequently looks like the continuation of war by other means.

It subsequently came out “In a LucidTalk opinion poll for the Belfast Telegraph, 69% of those in the nationalist and republican community believe “violent resistance to British rule during the Troubles” was the only option, with just 25% disagreeing……Three-quarters of young voters support Ms O’Neill’s position. Surprisingly, so too do almost six in 10 over-45s. ….” https://www.belfasttelegraph.co.uk/news/politics/seven-in-10-nationalists-agree-with-michelle-oneill-that-there-was-no-alternative-to-iras-campaign-of-violence-new-poll-reveals-41924287.html

The take on all this which INNATE has had is that of course there was a nonviolent alternative to armed struggle and violent action by all sides but that generally those supporting such violence did not see the alternative, or thought it to be likely less effective. This of course was false but it was what most people, on all sides, believed. Northern Ireland could have arrived at political accommodation through nonviolent action which would have prevented the terrible destruction of lives and bitterness which came through the Troubles, and this might have set up higher chances of political agreement on an ongoing basis than exists today with a functioning Stormont being an intermittent feature of political life.

However the argument that nonviolent action is more effective than violent, and it not just being a question of ethics, is not something which even today holds sway in general. Something like Chenoweth and Stephan’s analysis of the effectiveness of nonviolent struggle compared to violent is not widely known, and the possibilities of nonviolence are largely ignored. Laying the blame for this lack of awareness falls at the feet of the peace movement as much as anyone else.

But it is also the case that in the North the story of those who consistently opposed violence on all sides have not been taken into account. INNATE has argued that the role of all parts of civil society in the Troubles and its seeking to oppose and overcome violence – including trade unions, churches, community groups, women’s groups, peace and reconciliation groups etc – has not been properly documented. We have gone on to say that the failure to do so, to document the challenge to violence which civic society groups made during the Troubles – would play into the hands of paramilitaries and the state who justified their own violent reactions. Our prophecy has, tragically, been proved to be true in this recent reflection on Catholic/nationalist views.

However it would be naive to think that it is only Catholics have not come to terms with what peace means. Loyalist paramilitaries have continued to exist in a way that republican ones do not. And the threat from either has not gone away. However on the unionist side of the house, and among those in general who have supported the British state, there has tended to be support for wars that the UK has fought internationally, such as in Afghanistan and Iraq, which have resulted in far greater destruction, death and misery than any IRA or other paramilitary campaigns in Northern Ireland or elsewhere. Those who believe in nonviolence do not go for the myth of state backing justifying violence, nor that a death somewhere distant abroad is any less significant or important than a death at home in the grand scale of things, even though a local death may impact on us in a way that a distant death does not – but for those close to that death distant from us, that is what impacts them, and not a death here.

The significance of all this is that it is not just Northern Catholics/Nationalists who have supported the use of violence who may go on to support violence in the future, should the conditions be judged to be appropriate, but the majority on all sides. It might have been hoped that the inhabitants of the North and their descendents, given the experience that people passed through, might have realised that violence was counter-productive and nonviolence was a far better way forward. It seems that few have come to that conclusion.

The task before us is to educate people in, and allow them to experience, the power of nonviolence. That is a huge task. We invite you to participate in that and contribute to that work, in whatever way you can. But it is both depressing and distressing that so many should have gone through so much but learnt so little. We say that not from a sense of superiority, that ‘we have the truth’, but a sense of failure on our part and a sense of the enormity of the task.

Republic

Depressing, distressing support for violence

The ongoing elimination of Irish neutrality continues, engineered in an underhand way by the ruling political parties in the Republic. Bit by bit, slice by slice, the political elite (not just politicians but also others including an incipient military-industrial complex, and some in the military) has been desiccating and destroying neutrality while all the time denying what they have been doing. There is a huge contrast between the fearless and principled non-aligned stance of the Irish state of old, for example under Frank Aiken as minister for foreign (‘External’) affairs, in the ‘fifties and ‘sixties (and Fianna Fáil’s anti-imperialist stance at the time) and the current craven attitude of most of the political parties who can’t wait to be a full member of the emerging EU superstate and its wider military ally, NATO.

An active neutrality on the part of the Irish state, allied with military peacekeeping (of which most Irish people are proud) has been a distinctive part of Irish identity. This is being lost and sold down the river. As peace and nonviolent activists we would strongly support Irish neutrality because the alternative is being either a fellow traveller with, or, as is increasingly becoming likely, a full blown member of the nuclear-armed and confrontationist NATO cabal. And the EU itself is increasingly militarised; it will become another global neo-imperialist player as the 21st century progresses. If things continue on the current track, Ireland will be a fully paid up supporter of violence internationally which will undoubtedly be unleashed by the EU in times to come.

One recent manifestation of this has been the backing by Ireland of military training by the EU for the Ukrainian army. According to the Irish Times of 30/8/22, “Minister for Defence Simon Coveney called the agreement to establish an EU training mission the “next phase of military support” for Ukraine in its fight against Russia. He said Ireland “would like to be involved” and would provide practical support for the mission.” Here again we see the political elite using the war in Ukraine to push back boundaries on Irish action. Peacemaking? No. Peacekeeping? No. Is it supporting the pacific resolution of international disputes by international arbitration or judicial determination, as in the Irish constitution? No. Warmaking? Yes.

Polls have consistently shown considerable Irish support for neutrality. However an online poll conducted in June-July raised major questions about this, showing approximately even numbers for and against joining NATO (52% for, 48% against) but a slight majority (54%) in favour of joining an EU army rather than NATO. https://www.irishtimes.com/ireland/2022/08/28/public-divided-on-nato-membership-new-poll-shows/ Paradoxically this poll still said “Six in 10 people said Ireland remaining neutral was important to them but just 42 per cent said it would keep the country safe in the event of global war.” However this begs the question of what questions were asked for the poll; what would keep the country safe in the event of global war?????? However the question is relevant of what would keep the country safest.

It would seem that a majority of the Irish public is attached to neutrality but is unaware of what this entails, or could entail. This is perhaps hardly surprising since Fianna Fáil, Fine Gael (in particular), Labour, and the Greens have done such a good job, from their point of view, of obfuscating issues and trying to ditch it by stages. The above mentioned poll showed Sinn Féin supporters were divided on neutrality so if they come to be the major party in a government after the next election it depends whether their politicians have the courage to chart an Aiken-esque path or keel over and join the imperialists.

With no party championing neutrality and what it can entail it is perhaps not surprising that we have arrived at this sorry state, post-Nice, post-Lisbon, post-’Partnership for Peace’ (sic), post-PESCO. The sad, sad fact is that as Sweden and Finland join NATO there is more than ever the need for a neutral voice or voices to call and work for peaceful resolution of conflicts – as the Irish constitution advocates and stipulates. There is a crying need for the vision of peace, of non-alignment, which Ireland has previously supported, and taking this into the 21st century.

Joining the rich man’s (sic) military club may feel like belonging for many politicians and others but it will be done at great cost, and great opportunity cost. No longer will Ireland be able, even if it wanted to, to offer a critical view of western neo-imperialism, forthcoming EU military manoeuvres, or NATO’s brutal and wrong-headed foreign wars. The motto will be ‘Blessed are the warmakers for they desperately want to be on the winning side, whatever the cost’.

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Editorials: Irish neutrality under attack, Not following Protocol, Ukraine war of attrition

Irish neutrality under sustained direct attack

Naomi Klein in her book “The Shock Doctrine” details how capitalism can use economic and political crises, of whatever cause, as a means to extend its grip on society and overcome democratic norms and control. In the same way the exponents of ditching Irish neutrality have been using the war in Ukraine as a means to leverage Ireland (the Republic) towards NATO and a fully fledged EU army, and attempting to circumvent Irish popular opinion.

This is despite the fact that there is no threat to Ireland from anyone and that some Irish policies associated with neutrality have been an important contribution to peace in Europe and the world. The idea that because Ireland is a ‘good’ member of the EU that it should contribute militarily is a non sequitur; it can be strongly argued that the EU surge to militarism is precisely a reason why Ireland should resist, stand back, and make a very different and peaceful contribution rather than adding a few cents worth of militarism (metaphorically speaking – PESCO entails a massive increase in Irish military spending at a time when the climate crisis demands immediate action and massive expenditure, and domestic issues like housing in the Dublin area need considerable resources to fix). But issues of ‘human security’ tend to lose out to perceived ‘military security’ which is a chimera.

The move to ditch Irish neutrality is nothing new. It has been going on before and since Ireland joined what was then the EEC in 1972. It has gradually built momentum through Nice and Lisbon treaties, through involvement in NATO’s ‘Partnership for Peace’ (sic or sick?), and joining PESCO. At each stage the government and Irish political elite have said ‘Nothing to see here – Irish neutrality is safe’ as they lied through their teeth.

Now, however, with the war on Ukraine there has been the perceived opportunity to come out openly to speak about joining NATO or being fully integrated in EU militarism – and since the EU is increasingly becoming the European arm of NATO, there is very little distinction. There is the usually unexpressed feeling or impression that EU military power would be used ‘constructively’. There is no evidence for this and much evidence against it if you look at the history of the larger military powers involved (or, in the case of Britain, who have been involved and still very much part of NATO). European state backing for the USA’s military escapades, and the ‘Fortress Europe’ approach to borders now adopted by the EU, do not augur well; nor does the ‘European Defence Fund’ or other moves to back the arms industry and develop a unified EU military structure (army).

Once a military empire is established then that power will be used for its own interests. We have spoken before about how the EU will, on current projections, become a player in resource wars later in the 21st century. Of course it will all be wrapped up in verbiage about humanitarian intervention and “we have to intervene” but it will be a revamped empire (including the former imperial powers) flexing its military muscle.

There is also the unspoken idea that EU military developments is part of internationalism. It is not. It is supranationalism, the creation of a new supranational unit which is likely to act as an empire just as much as the USA has in the past or may in the future. Internationalism is a concern for, and engagement with, the whole world and its institutions such as the United Nations. Many EU developments, economically and militarily, are the antithesis of internationalism.

The moves away from Irish neutrality have been spearheaded (sic) by Fine Gael and fully backed by Fianna Fáil. Parties such as the Greens have not stood up for what they might supposedly have believed in. Whether a Sinn Féin led government, presuming such comes to pass after the next election in the Republic, fully stands up for neutrality remains to be seen but it is to be hoped that it would. Some other influential parts of civil society and the military have also been keen on developing EU/NATO militarism.

Seán and Seánín Citizen, however, have had other views. Polls have consistently shown popular support for neutrality has been strong, and maintained even after the Russian war on Ukraine. The citizens have, however, been taken in by protestations by the political elite that each step taken away from meaningful neutrality and in step with EU militarism has not affected Irish neutrality. Clearly it has. And now that Ireland has moved closer to EU and NATO militarism the question of NATO membership is openly raised.

Micheál Martin spoke recently about a ‘constitutional assembly’ which may be a much more limited and circumscribed affair which will be designed to give the nod to joining an EU army in full; this term, ‘constitutional assembly’, is a new one to emerge which may indicate an attempt to fix the debate. See https://www.irishtimes.com/politics/2022/05/29/taoiseach-expects-constitutional-assembly-on-irish-neutrality/

Martin subsequently said that a referendum would not be necessary before joining NATO: “We need to reflect on military non-alignment in Ireland and our military neutrality. We are not politically neutral. We don’t need a referendum to join Nato. That’s a policy decision of government.” This view or eventuality is a very worrying one,

He went on that “We would need a referendum to join a European Union defence pact, if one was formally developed and declared, because there are provisions in our constitution that would demand such a referendum.” https://www.irishtimes.com/world/europe/2022/06/08/ireland-would-not-need-referendum-to-join-nato-says-taoiseach/

Can the Irish public finally make a stand against the encroachment of NATO and EU militarism on Irish neutrality? Can the final ‘neutralising’ (annihilation) of Irish neutrality be avoided? Will the Irish government succeed in its mission (and it is seen as a mission by them) to become a full part of western militarism? We have a lot of work to do, and a lot of conscientisation to engage in. Don’t just watch this space – engage.

If there is a level playing field and opportunity to put forward the arguments for peace and a meaningful neutrality then there is a lot of hope that the argument could be won by the forces for peace, and that the drift to militarism could finally be halted and reversed. But the government and forces working for militarism are not keen to give the people a meaningful say, or, if they have to, they will obfuscate the issues as much as possible. Navigating the dangers ahead is perilous but if we don’t then we face far greater dangers in the future – to which we will be making a negative contribution.

Not following Protocol

We may be repeating ourselves here somewhat, but who would have believed that a century and a half after ‘the Irish question’ came to dominate British politics that ‘the Irish question (post-Brexit)’ would still be a prominent theme in Westminster and the parliament there. The British government negotiating with itself in its proposals for dealing with the Northern Ireland Protocol, an internationally agreed treaty, is a fascinating spectacle of the ruling elite in a country not only losing their marbles but blowing up the drain to find them (cf “Wee Willie’s lost his marley” https://www.itma.ie/dustybluebells/explore/counting-and-skipping/wee-willie-lost-his-marley ). The British government’s contempt for Northern Ireland is clearly shown in its legacy proposals which are supported by no substantial bodies of any kind in Ireland., North or South.

The British government protests that it is doing what it is doing in relation to the Protocol is to protect the Good Friday Agreement and restore power sharing. The DUP meanwhile, having pragmatically shifted to full on opposition to the Northern Ireland Protocol for which they were partly responsible, gives no guarantees for when they will engage at Stormont and never formally backed the Good Friday Agreement anyway which they vehemently opposed in 1998. The fact that an arithmetic majority of MLAs in the NI Assembly back the Protocol, as it can and should be amended by agreement, does not seem to have impinged on the British government who again – having previously done a deal with the DUP to stay in power – are acting in the interests of one particular section in the North. But, of course, the most reprehensible and irresponsible aspect of all this is the British government using Northern Ireland for its own political purposes.

In addition, it is clear that an increasing majority of people in Northern Ireland do not want the Protocol ditched but do want it amended, and do not support opposition to the Protocol as a reason for opposing powersharing at Stormont. https://www.belfasttelegraph.co.uk/news/northern-ireland/majority-of-ni-voters-are-in-favour-of-the-protocol-poll-41800239.html

There are important issues to be dealt with regarding the Northern Ireland Protocol. There may also be the possibility to involve Northern politicians in the UK-EU structures dealing with the Protocol, to resolve the question of a ‘democratic deficit’ on the issue. Of course unionists have every right to be concerned. The EU could also be more flexible but the British government has positively discouraged this by its intransigence. The British government does not seem to have read any negotiation manuals which state clearly that trust is an important part of fair and principled negotiation. In unprincipled negotiation however you can negotiate with yourself and lie through your teeth.

Ways need to be found to assuage the anxiety of unionists but some unionist leaders act as if they still ‘own’ Northern Ireland. It was ‘their’ British government which signed a binding international agreement with the EU. British rule still exists in Northern Ireland, it remains part of the United Kingdom and the alternatives to a limited ‘Irish Sea border’ have even less to recommend them. A ‘hard border’ between the Six and Twenty-Six counties would be dangerous and even more inconvenient to ordinary people and a border between the Republic and the EU is not going to be acceptable to the Republic which had no hand in deciding that the UK would leave the EU.

The Northern Ireland Protocol has problems and opportunities; negotiation and full cooperation is the way to minimise the problems and maximise the opportunities. In what is partly an argument between unionist-leaning and nationalist-leaning economists and analysts about the effects of the Protocol on the Northern economy it is still too early to be certain but the pudding will be well cooked in a year or three and it can be properly tasted and tested then. As with most changes, some people win and some people lose. The continuation of the Brexit Northern Ireland Protocol debacle in its current form means everyone loses except Boris Johnson and his band of blustering Brexiteers, and unionists and loyalists in the North who thrive on strife.

A war of attrition

The war in or on Ukraine continues unabated. It is now a war of attrition in the east of the country with Russia slowly gaining ground, at vast human and financial cost to all concerned. Both sides carefully guard information about what is actually happening, and we mainly get pro-Ukrainian views in Ireland but Ukraine could be losing up to 200 soldiers a day, that is 200 soldiers killed and many more wounded. Whether Russia will open up new military fronts elsewhere in Ukraine remains uncertain though it looks like they will continue to hit civilian targets anywhere.

Russia’s losses, meanwhile, in a few months have well overtaken those in their decade long occupation of Afghanistan (15,000 plus), and will also overtake the USA’s military losses in Vietnam at around 50,000 deaths (the Vietnam war was very asymmetric in terms of losses with millions of lives lost in Vietnam itself and neighbouring countries due to US carpet bombing).

Wars are easy to start and difficult to end, certainly to get ‘wrapped up’, as was discovered in the western military debacles in Afghanistan and Iraq. The hopelessness of a war of attrition is a pitiful thing. The trauma and lasting effects of the Russian invasion of Ukraine will, whatever the outcome, last for generations. And if Russia succeeds in annexing much of the east of the country then it will be a lasting grievance for Ukraine; if Ukraine manages to retake some or all of their territory, thanks to western armaments, the human cost will still be catastrophic.

We have previously spoken about nonviolent civilian resistance or defence in relation to Ukraine (and Ireland) – see https://innatenonviolence.org/wp/2022/04/01/nonviolent-resistance-to-invasion-occupation-and-coups-detat/ and editorials. This would entail a struggle with a different trajectory and time frame; it would mean the struggle continuing but without the current loss of life and destruction of infrastructure. People often accuse those believing in nonviolence or pacifism of being simplistic and defeatist; when we see the human cost and trauma of the war in Ukraine, we wonder if it is the believers in militarism who are being simplistic. There is no end to the war in sight. Putin, having made a monumental mistake in invading Ukraine, dare not admit he was totally mistaken by settling for less than what he can proclaim as ‘victory’. And NATO will fight to the last drop of Ukrainian blood.