Those of us still implacably wed to the notion of Irish neutrality — whatever that really means in 2015 — will undoubtedly be at least disturbed by the weekend declaration by EU commission president Jean-Claude Juncker, who suggested that a common European army would be a timely deterrent to further Russian aggression on the continent.
That his remarks came just before today’s meeting in Brussels where former Nato chief and EU foreign policy head Javier Solana will present an argument calling for a new European security strategy — including military capability — for intervention beyond EU borders will add to the concern of those who imagine that a policy of leave-us-in-peace neutrality is still possible today.
They may, however, take some small degree of comfort in the remarks made last week by Defence Minister Simon Coveney, who insisted that our neutrality has not been compromised by joining the Nordic Battle Group — even though one of its member countries is aligned with Nato.
Mr Coveney insisted that if any of these countries was attacked, Ireland would not have to come to its aid, even though we are allies in the EU-formed 2,400-strong battle group. He insisted that the the force’s objectives are humanitarian, although he conceded that the battle group title “was an unfortunate name”. Indeed.
It seems that we have become so used to being á la carte Catholics that we propose to be á la carte Europeans as well. How sustainable that policy is, or what it might cost us is, to quote that man who certainly did not believe in neutrality, Donald Rumsfeld, a known unknown. It is unlikely, though, that we would still be able to import something around 90% of our energy needs should we invoke The Emergency II and stand aside from a conflict threatening a united Europe.
The tradition of Irish neutrality is rooted in the Second World War — The Emergency — and if it was possible to argue a case for neutrality during that war, the revelations of Nazi and Japanese genocide after the war makes it almost morally indefensible to argue that neutrality was the correct position. That we are now, at last, recognising the part that Irishmen and Irishwomen played in the Second World War must be at least a tacit recognition that our neutrality deserves a more rigorous scrutiny than it might have been subjected to in earlier times. There is, too, the changed reality that our Second World War neutrality was at least partially a response to Britain’s role in our history, but that dynamic no longer dominates our perspective. On the contrary, we are members of a European-wide community, a community that has been the defining and positive force in Irish life in recent decades. In a world that seems ever more fractious and bellicose, it seems that these questions are unavoidable.
They may be academic today, but the old argument that suggests tht a coalition of nations is stronger than a series of small, independent states is still true — as is the argument that determined unity is the most effective deterrent to those who would threaten the peace we all enjoy and wish to see prevail.
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