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Neutral no more

Plans to step up Irish involvement in NATO will only increase the country’s complicity in global humanitarian disasters, writes Gavin Mendel-Gleason.

The refugee crisis has brought foreign wars home to Europe. From Syria, Afghanistan, Iraq and elsewhere, the devastation of war is forcing millions to flee their homes and seek refuge.

This comes during a period when the Irish Government is openly seeking to draw the officially neutral state into closer alignment with the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO), the USdominated military alliance.

This summer saw the publication of the White Paper on Defence, which outlines proposed government policy in this area for the next 10 to 15 years. At its core, the White Paper presents plans for greater integration with NATO or NATO surrogates.

Peace and Neutrality Alliance (PANA) activist, Padraig Mannion, said: “The mind-set which produced this 140 page document can be discerned from the lineup of panellists present at a symposium to discuss its formulation I attended in Farmleigh House in Dublin in May.

“The 22 panellists addressing the symposium included acting or former senior British Armed Forces and NATO officers, well-known pro-NATO academics and others representing business interests. What was lacking was any person defending the long-standing and traditional policy of Irish neutrality.”

While Irish neutrality has no constitutional base, it has a strong legislative base. Established as government policy in the 1930s, it was strengthened by Statutory Instrument (SI) No 74/1952, introduced by Séan Lemass, banning the use of Ireland by foreign military aircraft except by permission of the Minister for Foreign Affairs. The foreign deployment of Irish troops is restricted by the so-called “triple-lock mechanism”, which requires a resolution from the United Nations, a decision by the Irish Government and a vote in the Dáil.

At the symposium on the Defence White Paper, Fine Gael Minister for Defence, Simon Coveney, stated that while he opposed the triple lock he realised it would be politically unpalatable to attempt to legislate it away.

Despite the existence of (SI) No 74/1952, the activist group Shannon Watch calculates that over 2.4 million US troops have passed through Shannon Airport since 2002 and there have also been several US Military landings at Baldonnel Aerodrome near Dublin.

A Freedom of Information request made by Shannon Watch revealed that in 2014 a total of 272 flights were permitted to take weapons or explosives through Shannon Airport. Further, many of the destinations were redacted, likely in consultation with the United States, and the contents of specific airplanes – huge Hercules Aircraft – were not reported.

Ireland’s co-operation with NATO however, does not stop with a laissez-faire attitude towards military stop-overs. While not a full member of NATO, Ireland is a member of NATO’s Partnership for Peace (PfP) programme, which enables cooperation between NATO and non-members. The White Paper for Defence describes the programme as: “Originally designed to ensure that troops from different members of the Alliance could operate seamlessly together as a single force, the unique NATO process of achieving full interoperability has been made available through PfP to partner countries such as Ireland, Sweden, Finland, Austria, etc.”

The PfP programme provides non-NATO members a way to participate and integrate into NATO, involving areas such as training, material support, intelligence-sharing and logistics, while also allowing a pretence of neutrality.

The White Paper looks to continue and deepen Irish involvement in NATO structures and to enhance military co-operation within the EU, arguing that Irish credibility within the EU depends on its commitment to military cooperation: “The degree to which Ireland is prepared to share the burden of EU co-operation and solidarity in the security and defence field, in particular through contributions to military operations and capabilities, significantly influences perceptions of Ireland’s credibility and commitment as a member state within the Union.”

The increased militarisation of the EU, both in terms of its military spending and the development of an EU armaments industry, has been enthusiastically endorsed by recent Irish governments but especially by Fine Gael. In addition, Ireland has participated and is participating in EU Battle Groups.

Originally proposed as small ad-hoc groups brought together for training purposes, these have now changed into much larger formations and the first permanent battle-group is now being established as a fully-equipped armed unit with a strike capacity of 3,000km.

The White Paper looks to a trend “to engage more pro-actively in co-operative and collaborative arrangements within the EU and with NATO. There is increasing co-operation and sharing among EU and NATO members in order to retain European military capabilities not alone in terms of national defence capacity but also for international crisis management operations.”


NATO and the refugee crisis

The refugee crisis is ample demonstration of the devastation caused by NATO’s military interventions. A look at origin countries for people seeking refuge in the European Union between 2014 and 2015 shows the connection between war, economic devastation and mass migration.

Syria – In 2011, the US and other NATO countries began aiding and funding mainly Islamist rebels in Syria helping to fuel a full-scale civil war. Over four million people have fled Syria, making up about one in five of the total refugees to the EU in 2014.

Serbia and Kosovo – The US and Germany were intent on dismantling Yugoslavia in the wake of the fall of the Eastern Bloc. In 1999, NATO directed the bombing of Yugoslavia, in particular Serbia and Kosovo. Asylum-seekers arriving in the EU from Kosovo numbered over 80,000 for the period between early 2014 to early 2015, about an eighth of the total. Over 20,000 people from Serbia sought asylum in the EU during the same period, 3.5% of the total.

Afghanistan – Since 2001, NATO has carried out a long-term war in Afghanistan, killing over 30,000 civilians. Over 43,000 asylum seekers of Afghan origin, 7% of the total, sought asylum in the EU between early 2014 and early 2015.

Iraq – In 2003, a US led coalition invaded Iraq. Estimates vary, but it is likely that more than 500,000 civilians have died as a result of the invasion. There were over 19,000 asylum seekers from Iraq, during early 2014 to early 2015.

Ukraine – In 2014, there was an extra-legal change of government, with a pro-US/EU administration coming to power and the start of a civil war in the east of the country. NATO has been fueling the new regime’s involvement in this war through the supply of intelligence, troops, equipment and munitions. 17,385 people from Ukraine applied for asylum in the EU from early 2014 to early 2015. This is a small fraction of the country’s migration crisis, as the the vast majority of the approximately 300,000 refugees went to Russia.

Mali – With the 2011 NATO intervention in Libya toppling Gaddafi, Tuareg fighters who had been allied to the Libyan Government travelled back to their home territory of Mali and began to destabilise that country. France responded with a military intervention in Mali in 2013. Asylum seekers from Mali number 12,515, representing 2% of the total during early 2014 to early 2015.

Libya – In 2011, NATO began a bombing campaign in Libya under the euphemistic “no-fly zone” policy. This resulted in the collapse of the country which is now divided into a number of warring factions.

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