– If there is to be a debate on our policy on international defence and security I will advocate strongly for a continuation of our policy of military neutrality –
There are few political topics that can evoke as much raw passion and base misunderstanding as military neutrality.
Indeed so deep and fundamental are the misunderstandings of what Ireland’s policy of neutrality that you often find politicians arguing feverishly against each other over the theory of it, while completely missing the fact that they are advocating for the same practical outcome.
As has been said many times over the decades, Ireland is military neutral but it is not politically neutral. Taoiseach Seán Lemass put it bluntly in 1962 saying: “We do not wish in the conflict between the free democracies and the Communist empires to be thought of as neutral. We are not neutral and do not wish to be regarded as such.”
It is a clear position which has been repeated many times by several Taoisigh then, particularly Fianna Fáil Taoisigh. Speaking in the 1980s Charles Haughey said: “Our place is with the Western democracies, and we share common concepts of human rights, freedom under the law, individual liberty and freedom of conscience. Our economic interests also are tied in with the Western industrialised world. We are, therefore, neither ideologically neutral nor politically indifferent.”
This is the key. We are not politically indifferent to what is happening around us. We are not ideologically neutral. To be ideologically neutral is to stand with the oppressor by saying and doing nothing. As we heard in the Dáil last week, there are some who would have us do that. That is counter to what being Irish means.
Ireland is not neutral on issues of right and wrong. Ireland is a modern and economically successful western liberal democracy. We are an integral part of the transatlantic economy and with that privilege comes real obligations. We have an active role to play in the world and we must play it.
We use our soft power, though our economic strength, our EU membership of the EU and our strong history of participation in the United Nation to influence event and support other small nations struggling to be free.
We have used our hard power though the participation of our Defence Forces in peace support operations to help enforce UN mandates across the globe. And contrary to the nonsense from some quarters, we are well capable of being a military force.
I have seen for myself how our Defence Forces have protected the lives of countless thousands of people across the globe, from Liberia to Lebanon and from Kosovo to Bosnia.
We did all this because we believe in multilateralism and the international rule of law, but we were able to go to many of these places and stand between the warring sides as they saw us as impartial and fair.
On very many of these important peacekeeping missions, we partnered by such fellow militarily neutral countries as Sweden, Finland, and Austria. The local populations and their leaders may have known little about us as people, but they knew that the troops we sent were highly trained and were from armies that not part of any global military alliances.
They knew that our troops came from countries who recognised the value of being militarily non-aligned while standing up for the values we cherish and being prepared to use our soft and hard power to pursue them.
There is absolutely nothing passive about our policy of military neutrality. Our operation of the triple lock policy of requiring a UN mandate, Dáil resolution and Cabinet decision has not caused us any practical difficulties.
Though critics proclaim that the triple-lock mechanism is cumbersome and slow, when it came to deploying troops to Chad to address the fallout from the famine in Darfur, Ireland was one of the first to have its troops on the ground. We were up and running there well before some others who did not require a UN mandate.
Our military neutrality is an active policy that has shown real results in the past, but for that policy to work we must have the tools to deliver it – and that means undoing the wanton damage done to our Defence Forces and our national defence over the past decade.
It is galling to listen to politicians who stayed silent while the last two governments delivered ten years of decline now advocate full NATO membership. As if signing up to NATO will magically undo the damage their ministers caused. It is almost as galling as listening to the far-left who spent the past decade shilling for Putin’s Kremlin now hail themselves as neutralities purest advocates, while arguing for the a further decimation of our Defence Forces.
If there is to be a debate on our policy on international defence and security I will advocate strongly for a continuation of our policy of military neutrality, but I cannot see any point in having that debate until we first have a credible deterrent and defence capability in place, to protect us at home.