Friday, July 29, 2016
Ireland’s neutrality risks becoming a victim
A US air force Hercules transporter at Shannon Airport. Picture: Alan Place/Press 22
The idea that Ireland is still a neutral state is false, says one expert, pointing to the US military landings in Shannon
WITH military patrols of football fans in France, soldiers guarding wire fences against refugees in southern Europe, and military bases beefing up in Eastern Europe, the response to recent crises increasingly involves armies.
But what does it mean for Ireland? Amid all our expressions of solidarity with the countries affected, will we be asked for a more practical response? If so, will our neutrality survive?
Roger Cole, chairman of the Peace and Neutrality Alliance, answers that one with another question: What neutrality?
“Ireland is not a neutral state, which is rather obvious if you have over 2.5m, US troops having landed in Shannon Airport since 2002,” he says.
Successive governments have insisted the landings are not part of military operations but rather, as Foreign Affairs Minister Charlie Flanagan put it last week, “crew rest, aircraft refuelling, airport familiarisation, passenger transfer, and aircraft maintenance”.
Or so the US embassy informs him. Either way, Mr Cole believes facilitating the landings facilitates the US’s military adventures. Hence he questions the very notion that we remain a neutral state.
But it’s not just the airport activity that casts doubts, he says. It’s the fact that Irish troops are signed up to a British-led EU battle group that has been conducting exercises on British soil.
There have been recurring exchanges in the Dáil over the involvement of Irish troops in such battle groups, with ministers insisting the term itself is a military one referring only to the size of the force and not the nature of its mission.
“The participation in battle groups has no effect on our traditional policy of military neutrality,” Defence Minister Paul Kehoe said last month, insisting it was all about transport, logistics, and peacekeeping.
Mr Cole doesn’t accept that explanation, particularly given tightening ties between the EU and Nato, which has declared the EU a strategic military partner.
The lines are further blurred because 22 of Nato’s 28 member states are also in the EU and have jointly agreed to an increase in military spending.
“The inevitable consequences of which will be a massive cut in the amount of money they can spend on health and social welfare,” says Mr Cole.
He says that will cause further social and political unrest throughout Europe while boosting the US arms industry which profits from Nato-backed wars that produce millions of refugees that land on the doorstep of Europe. “Does any of this make sense?” he asks.
He finds other aspects of the West’s response to current crises more nonsensical — including the beefing up of Nato’s presence on Russia’s borders with more troops being deployed to Latvia, Lithuania, Estonia, and Poland. Russia, in reply, is increasing troops on its western borders.
The move was signalled a year ago when General Joe Dunford, chairman of the joint chiefs of staff of the US military, told the Senate that Russia was the number one threat to the US. China, North Korea, and IS came next, in that order.
While Russia’s annexation of Crimea is a cause for concern, Mr Cole says there is no evidence of Russia planning military moves further afield into Europe. He claims Nato’s actions are diversionary and serve only the US arms industry.
“It’s very difficult for these arms companies to make really big money if their only enemy is IS,” he says.
“When Dunford put Russia to the top of the threat list, he’s saying to the people of Nice, to the people of Paris, to the people of Brussels, that the greatest threat to you is not IS but Russia.”
He quotes Richard A Clarke, the former White House security adviser who left the Bush administration and wrote that going to war with Iraq as a consequence of 9/11 was like going to war with Mexico after the attack on Pearl Harbour.
“This is happening all over again. In response to IS, Nato — including Ireland because Ireland facilitates Nato troops and is part of the EU, Nato’s strategic military partner — wants to go to war with Russia.
“I think Irish people would be wrong not to be seriously frightened by this. We need to be talking about restoring our neutrality.”