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.