Irish Neutrality

This post isn’t meant to summarize the fascinating conceptual cloud that is Irish neutrality, and believe me it is a fascinating concept wrapped up with questions of identity, history and  politics (with an extensive literature exploring each facet at length).

Instead, I write this because I am intrigued by the visceral reaction which questions of neutrality seem to raise amongst my Irish colleagues. It seems to have blended with the Irish identity in a way which makes its importance so great as to be impossible to disentangle from the Irish psyche. While I remain inquisitive regarding the changing Irish identity (if only to help me better understand my wife) I must remember that we are not many generations removed from the establishment of the Irish republic, and in many ways that the political party landscape in modern Ireland remains divided along the lines of that establishment. In other words, on this island the weight of history feels ever present.

On slightly firmer ground, I am also intrigued by Irish neutrality because I believe that the importance it holds with the electorate is not reflected in the substantive policy of the state.

To rephrase, and perhaps to incite, I would argue that Irish neutrality means very little in the context of the modern world. Setting aside the issue that an island surrounded by democracies and ocean doesn’t seem to have many immediate external, military threats, I instead choose to emphasize two facts. First, that the Irish military is engaged across the globe, playing vital roles in missions under the auspices of both the UN and NATO. And second, that Irish governments have participated quite extensively in the international organizations which exist to guarantee peace and security.

http://www.nato.int/cps/en/SID-790ED36B-5DAB9321/natolive/topics_51979.htm

The link above summarizes, ever so briefly, Irish participation with NATO through the Partnership for Peace Framework. What is interesting is that the Irish leadership must recognize the importance of the neutrality issue to their constituents because the document repeatedly refers to neutrality in the sense that it is both fundamental and unaltered. However, this repeating of the phrase stands in stark contrast to the extensive cooperation which is ongoing as the IDF is involved with both the strategic planning for conflict and in providing soldiers and materials toward the actual operations of such a conflict.

The question remains, how different would Ireland’s use of the military and cooperation with NATO be if neutrality were not the salient issue with the people that it seems to be? I would argue that it wouldn’t be.

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One response to “Irish Neutrality

  1. aidanregan

    Great to see you blogging again Justin!

    Interesting post. Neutrality is one of those Irish policy concerns that is, well Irish. The questions, debates and topics surrounding neutrality in wider international field are not that applicable to the Irish case, as our concern is wrapped up in the usual post colonial British legacy.

    On the one hand you have a broad pro-neutralitry sentiment that is connected to the historical ‘burn everything in Britain except its coal’ mentality. The imperial power of Britain was something to be fought, and when Ireland gained its independence one of the few things we could distingush ourselves from the UK was, well our neutrality. So, there is the residue of Irelands fourth green field lingering behind a nationalist sentiment within Sinn Fein, and arguably FF. It is not neccessarily anti-war, in the same way being Anti-Selafield is not neccessarily anti-nuclear energy.

    On the other hand there is a genuine anti-war, anti-imperialist sentiment that articulate a pro-neutrality argument, based upon reasoned arguments about militarisation, and public expenditure on militarisation (the one industry left where tax payers money is allowed to subsidise, and where running at a public defecit is still legitimate, as you know only too well in the US, very Keynesian is the military-industrial complex). This pro-neutrality argument, and anti-militarisation was not really captured in the questionnaire about why people voted No to Lisbon, but worth exploring further.

    But, of course, the question of Ireland being neutral has always been more rhetorical than empirically true. I mean, during WW2 we obviously did’nt jail the Allies when they landed on Irish soil, but would have certainly jailed the Germans. I read a book about this as a teenager, the facts escape me though. Also, the whole US planes refueling in Shannon throws the issue of neutrality out the window. Then there is of course, the issue that you outline about Irelands link to NATO via the Partnership for Peace Framework…………..So, I agree, neutrality means very little in our modern world. But, whether it ought to, is, well, a normative question for another day…. ( – ;

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