Irish Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament

Feachtas um Dí-armáil Eithneach


The Irish Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament was founded in 1958 and works to support both multilateral and unilateral nuclear disarmament. As an organisation, it has no views on the purely economic aspects of European integration. But it has consistently argued that European political co-operation should not extend into the security field. It has taken this attitude because two EU members, the United Kingdom and France, have nuclear weapons, and through NATO are linked to a third nuclear power, the United States. The NATO Strategic Concept, adopted in 1999, maintains: “The Alliance will maintain for the foreseeable future an appropriate mix of nuclear and conventional forces based in Europe...Nuclear weapons make a unique contribution in rendering the risks of aggression against the Alliance incalculable and unacceptable.”

Security co-operation, therefore, inevitably means co-operation with states whose military strategy is dependent on the threat of the use of nuclear weapons, a threat which is immoral, lacks credibility as a rational security policy, and tends towards encouraging the proliferation of nuclear weapons towards other countries. The presence of nuclear weapons creates its own additional security risks not only through the possibility of nuclear retaliation, but also because of the risk of accidental or unauthorised use of nuclear weapons, or the achievement of nuclear capability by terrorist groups.

Because of these fears about nuclear weapons, Irish CND opposed the various treaties under which moves towards giving a military capacity to the European Union have been made: the Single European Act and the Treaties of Maastricht, Amsterdam and Nice. We believe that there does not exist a sufficient European consciousness or even a consensus among governments for complete military integration. This would require, for example, a common policy towards the overseas portions and dependent territories of member states.


The alternative course that has been taken, one of intergovernmental co-operation, means domination by the major countries involved, which inevitably has led to the diminution of the neutrality of those member-states which have traditionally been non-aligned. The incremental nature of these moves has permitted the re-definition by recent Irish governments of Irish neutrality as the absence of a mutual defence commitment, whereas the traditional concept involved was a much broader idea which, while not preventing participation in international campaigns, blockades, or peacekeeping forces, ensured that the Irish government was able to adopt attitudes that were not closed off by previous international commitments. Thus for example, Ireland was able to advocate discussion in the United Nations General Assembly of the admission of the People’s Republic of China, and to initiate the discussions which led to the Non-proliferation Treaty of 1968.

Neutrality was therefore, not a neutrality as between two sides (a pattern of international relations which has now changed), but one which retains its relevance today.

The concrete association of Ireland with the NATO structure has moved from the establishment of associate status with the Western European Union, through an agreement with the Partnership for Peace programme of NATO, to the establishment of a European Rapid Reaction Force which aims to standardise equipment and working methods along NATO standards and to integrate Irish officers into a command structure, thus creating an expectation of Irish involvement in joint activities, even if such involvement is not juridically promised. Much of the impetus for these moves has come from the arms trade, and the attempt to establish in the European Union a focus for the arms industry presents dangers of further pressure towards military expansion and, through the encouragement of Irish manufacture of components for armaments, further Irish involvement in an integration which does nothing to build peace. The building of a European capability for operations outside Europe, under the guise of maintaining European security, will tend to destabilise the world and is therefore a risk to security and not a reinforcement of it.

The alternative to this pattern is one of support for the United Nations and for its European regional organisation, the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe. The type of integrated military structure which exists in NATO and is being reproduced in the European Rapid Reaction Force in co-operation with NATO, is unnecessary for peacekeeping operations, which have operated successfully on an ad-hoc basis, just as Irish officers have studied at British and American military academies without any alliance being in existence.


The manufacture of nuclear weapons has a very close connection with civil nuclear power. The nuclear power plant at Calder Hall (part of the Sellafield complex) was established to manufacture plutonium for the British nuclear weapons programme, although as a by-product spare electric capacity was fed into the British national grid, thus permitting the then British government to hail the building of the plant as opening an era of nuclear power for peaceful civilian use. The manufacture of enriched uranium is required both for civilian and for military purposes, thus creating the danger that even a power plant which is purportedly for civil use will automatically have a potential military use as well. This integration of civil nuclear power with nuclear weapons has been the reason why Irish CND has opposed even civilian nuclear power. It must also be noted at this point that the creation of depleted uranium as a by-product of the creation of enriched uranium creates an impetus for the use of this by-product, which despite depletion has a high degree of radioactivity, for military purposes such as armour and ammunition, and it must be probable that any army tied into an alliance with nuclear countries will come under pressure to purchase depleted uranium for military use despite its suspected link with ‘Gulf War Syndrome’ and unexplained incidence of radioactivity in Kosovo.

The environmental implications of nuclear power facilities are exemplified by the large amounts of nuclear waste which have been put into the Irish Sea from Sellafield, and the potential of air pollution in the event of a terrorist attack, an accident, or a break in the electricity supply of the cooling ponds resulting in boiling of the water and venting of radioactivity. Such radioactive pollution is intrinsically of a transfrontier nature: marine pollution affects the Irish Sea and waters as far off as Scandinavia, while air pollution would affect all areas downwind. Transfrontier pollution is not sufficiently controlled by the environmental structures of the European Union. This is an environmental issue rather than a military one, and the case for the strengthening of the environmental powers of the European Union is more widely supported and established than in the military area. While the intention of the Government to explore the possibilities of taking a case against Sellafield in the Court of Justice of the European Communities is to be welcomed, the fact that such a course has not been clear-cut is an important argument for the strengthening of the environmental structure of the European Union in the area of radioactivity.

November 2001