With the Fine Gael-led minority government, like the FG-Labour coalition before it, playing footsie with NATO and the European Union’s embryonic armed forces, it is worth examining what sort of proposals are being discussed in the major capitals of Europe in relation to the supposedly collective defence and security policies of the Continent. An Taoiseach Enda Kenny has firmly set his face against the incorporation of Ireland’s traditional neutrality into Bunreacht na hÉireann, arguing – somewhat incoherently – that the constitution is an inappropriate place for our non-belligerent status to be spelled out. In other words, the conservative mainstream of Irish politics does not wish to be legally bound, now or in the future, by the general public’s preference for neutrality in matters of international affairs.
However not only are several leading governments and the bureaucracy in Brussels contemplating closer military cooperation but some are thinking of doing so on the basis of so-called nuclear deterrence. In other words, a European Union or EU-associated defence strategy or organisation with nuclear weapons in its arsenal, either as threats or devices of a last resort. From Der Spiegel:
“For decades, the final line of defense for Europe against possible Russian aggression has been provided by the American nuclear arsenal. But since Donald Trump’s election as the 45th president of the United States, officials in Berlin and Brussels are no longer certain that Washington will continue to hold a protective hand over Europe.
In European capitals, officials have been contemplating the possibility of a European nuclear deterrent since Trump’s election. The hurdles — military, political and international law — are massive and there are no concrete intentions or plans. Still, French diplomats in Brussels have already been discussing the issue with their counterparts from other member states: Could the French and the British, who both possess nuclear arsenals, step in to provide protection for other countries like Germany?
An essay in the November issue of Foreign Affairs argues that if Trump seriously questions the American guarantees, Berlin will have to consider establishing a European nuclear deterrent on the basis of the French and British capabilities. Germany’s respected Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung newspaper, meanwhile, even contemplated the “unthinkable” in an editorial: a German bomb.
Europe would face very high hurdles if it sought to create its own nuclear shield. Why would Britain, currently in the process of leaving the European Union, even agree to it? And why would the French give the Germans any say when it comes to their Force de Frappe deterrent?
The real test will come if the United States decides to withdraw its nuclear support from Europe. Then Europeans would be forced to ask whether Paris and London were prepared to guarantee security for Germany and other Europeans. And also: Would Germans place their trust in a nuclear shield provided by their European partners?”
The forthright columnist, Archon, writing in the Southern Star newspaper has rightly taken Fine Gael and its acolytes to task for their duplicity on the cardinal issue of Irish neutrality.
“That bitter Cabinet row last week between Taoiseach Enda Kenny and wandering minister, Shane Ross, was important – if only for the light it threw on Fine Gael’s policy on neutrality about which we, the plebs, know very little.
Sinn Féin wanted a lock on neutrality. Precisely, the Republicans sought the following amendment to the Constitution: ‘War shall not be declared and the State shall not participate in any war or other armed conflict, nor aid foreign powers in any way in preparation for war or other armed conflict, save with the assent of Dáil Eireann.’
Consequently the plain people of Ireland found it somewhat bizarre that Kenny should blow a gasket after Transport Minister Shane Ross called for a free vote on the Sinn Féin neutrality amendment. The Dear Leader is said to have furiously bellowed that the independents would get their free vote on another occasion, but not this time.
The matter, he roared (allegedly, we hasten to add), was of ‘fundamental public policy.’ He feared that, if the Sinn Féin motion were enshrined in the constitution, ‘it would mean unforeseen difficulties in so many areas for the country.’
Not one member of his ragbag cabinet asked him what he was on about!
Eventually, after the Dear Leader declared that there was no question of our neutrality being infringed in any way, nor would there be a European army, Ross caved in. There was no free vote, and the Sinn Fein motion was strangled at birth.
But the plain people of Ireland were not fooled! They knew Kenny was spouting bunkum thanks to people such as Richard Cole, chairman of the Peace and Neutrality Alliance, who for years pointed out that Ireland could not be considered a neutral state if you have over 2.5m US troops landing in Shannon Airport since 2001.
Former army officer Tom Clonan, describes Shannon as a ‘virtual forward operating base for ongoing American operations in the Middle East, Asia and Africa.’
Recently, the magazine Counterpunch reminded us that a 2003 High Court judgement stated that Ireland had been in breach of the Hague Convention on neutrality by allowing US troops to use Shannon Airport on their way to and from the war in Iraq.
As for the likelihood of Ireland participating in a EU army, well, Roger Cole points to the fact that Irish troops already are part of a British-led EU battle group that has been conducting exercises on British soil. Kenny, however, sees no threat to our policy of military neutrality.
To add to a Fine Gael witches’ brew deliberately concocted to confuse the public, Simon Coveney’s recent white paper on defence strongly supported the harmonisation or ‘interoperability’ of Irish military forces and equipment with NATO and EU military forces.
And, in another Fine Gael-inspired policy document, entitled the ‘Department of Defence and Defence Forces Strategy Statement 2015-17,’ we are informed of Ireland’s commitment to the EU’s Common Security and Defence Policy, to EU Battlegroups and to the NATO-PfP.
Against a background of almost clandestine military developments that strike at the heart of Irish neutrality, is it any wonder Kenny went ballistic (a term apt in the circumstances) when Shane Ross demanded a free vote on the Sinn Fein amendment? “