Neutrality as we know it is a spent force - Defence strategy and Nato

The Department of Defence is continuing its stubborn refusal to confirm or deny an agreement between the Irish and British governments for RAF fighter jets to defend Ireland’s airspace from terror attacks.
Neutrality as we know it is a spent force - Defence strategy and Nato

As revealed exclusively yesterday in the Irish Examiner, a bilateral agreement with the British means that RAF combat aircraft will shoot down any airliner hijacked by terrorists in Irish air space.

It is, of course, in Britain’s interest to engage with its western neighbour in this manner, as the biggest terrorist threat is posed by Islamic State (IS) which has targeted London for a bombing campaign and we are, literally, in the firing line.

Critics will argue that such an agreement makes a mockery of our much vaunted policy of miltary neutrality, but the reality is that the Air Corps is not a fighting force.

Structurally, it is part of the Army and has limited capacity, as evidenced by its inability to chase or harrass Russian bombers that came close to Irish sovereign airspace on a number of occasions last year.

It is time for the Government and, specifically, the Department of Defence to come clean on this issue.

It is time, also, for a comprehensive and dispassionate look at our policy of neutrality, which has been in place since the Second World War but which has been compromised by the Lisbon Treaty, this agreement with the British, and by the reality that it is impossible to remain truly neutral when it comes to terrorism.

Two questions need to be asked: What are we neutral for and what are we neutral against?

During the last world war, we were neutral for our own survival and neutral against any combatant involved in the slaughter, hoping that the major nations in conflict would burn themselves out before looking in our direction.

Our neutrality was never ideological, but practical and pragmatic.

Indeed, prior to our accession to the EEC in 1973, Taoiseach Sean Lemass indicated that Ireland would be prepared to join Nato as a price for membership. His successor, Jack Lynch, held a similar view. Charles Haughey, though an avowed neutralist, used the policy as as a diplomatic weapon. On returning as Taoiseach in February, 1982, he enraged British prime minister Margaret Thatcher by using Irish neutrality as a means of opposing the Falklands War.

Instead of blind obedience to a form of neutrality that no longer exists — if it ever did — perhaps we should form a closer association with Nato. We are already part of its Partnership for Peace programme and contribute to Nato-led missions in the Balkans and Afghanistan.

The important thing is that any military engagement with others should be used as a shield rather than a sword. Nobody wants Irish troops engaged in assertive military action abroad, whether as part of a US/UK coalition or not, in conflicts that have nothing to do with our safety.

But we cannot ignore the threat that IS and other terrorist groups pose. Neutrality, as we know it, is a spent force.

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