John Goodwillie

The programme of the Fine Gael-Labour-Democratic Left government states clearly:
,ÄúIreland is not a member of the Western European Union. Observer status does not imply that we will become members, nor does it require us to take part in WEU decisions. We will not become a member of NATO... We will put the outcome of any future negotiation that would involve Ireland,Äôs participation in a common defence policy to the people in a referendum.,Äù

Well, is that clear? Read it carefully. The government would not be breaking its pledges if it negotiated Ireland,Äôs entry into the WEU (Western European Union) and Ireland,Äôs participation in a common defence policy and then held a referendum to get the people,Äôs endorsement.

Nor would this be breaking Labour Party policy. The recent Labour Party conference, on the insistence of the leadership, passed a resolution that there would be no change in Ireland,Äôs military neutrality unless a referendum decided otherwise, turning down the proposal specifically to support neutrality and oppose WEU membership.

No doubt any such abandonment of military neutrality or entry into the WEU would be part of a package which would include some good features and could be sold to the people on the basis that we couldn,Äôt afford to lose out on the good bits.

That,Äôs exactly what happened on the previous occasions. They have been engaged in a process of cutting slices off a salami sausage. When there was a referendum on joining the EEC (as it then was) in 1972, we were told of all the benefits. And we were told that there might be political implications, but they were down the road and we could discuss that when it came about: we were only being asked to cut off the first slice.

Then there came the Single European Act in 1987. We now had to accept that the EC involved aspects of security other than military security. The second slice.

Then there came Maastricht in 1992. Now we were asked to accept that security of any kind could be discussed by the European Union, but implementation would be sub-contracted to the WEU. The third slice.

Now we are faced with the Intergovernmental Conference next year, when a common defence policy, possibly involving association with the WEU, may be agreed. The fourth slice. And Jacques Santer, the President of the Commission, assured us on 10th April that at this Conference arrangements could be made for us to have special arrangements in regard to defence co-operation for a ,Äútransition period,Äù. In other words, after the transition period further demands would be made on us.

How does all this affect Irish neutrality? The government has arrived at its own definition of neutrality. Instead of something that involves an independent foreign policy, not tied to any bloc, the government now talks about our ,Äúmilitary neutrality,Äù. This helps to disguise the way in which our foreign policy is now largely decided through the mechanisms of the European Union,Äôs Common Foreign and Security Policy. At a seminar on 16th February as part of the process leading to a government White Paper, Dick Spring said: ,ÄúOn any one day Irish officials will attend several of the twenty-nine committees and working groups that meet to prepare the work of Ministers on issues such as the Middle East Peace Process, the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, the Pact for Stability in Europe, our relations with China, with Iran, with the countries of ASEAN.,Äù This is the atmosphere in which Irish foreign policy is now decided. It has got very little to do with independence from blocs.

At that seminar, Dick Spring put forward his thinking on joining the WEU, and John Bruton used almost exactly the same words when speaking in Cork on 7th April. There are three options, they say (ignoring the obvious fourth option - getting out). Their three options are: to remain as observers, to become full members which involves a commitment to give military help to any member that is attacked, or to work out a new status which would allow us to co-operate on things like ,Äúcrisis management and conflict prevention,Äù without having to commit ourselves to the mutual defence arrangement of full membership, which ,Äúwould involve an end to our military neutrality,Äù.

So military neutrality, according to Dick Spring, will only be abolished by signing up to a mutual defence commitment. An interesting thought: we could even join NATO without ending our military neutrality, since membership of NATO only involves an obligation to consult if another member is attacked, and not necessarily to give military help!

One of the other things which the government is considering is whether to join the Partnership for Peace, the arrangement under which NATO is expanding its co-operation with Eastern Europe. Russia and the former Soviet-bloc countries are now involved in this series of agreements, which have no set constitution but involve agreements in areas such as ,Äúmilitary co-operation, peacekeeping, humanitarian missions and crisis management,Äù, to quote from a recent article by Joe Carroll in the Irish Times - a list from which ,Äúmilitary co-operation,Äù was curiously omitted when Dick Spring was listing the areas in his seminar speech referred to above. The government tells us that the other neutrals in the European Union, Sweden, Finland, and Austria have signed up. But they have a specific interest in developing relations with eastern Europe because of their geographical position: Finland and Austria have borders with these countries and for Sweden they are only just across the sea. In any case, these three countries are in the same dilemma as Ireland. Their governments have convinced their peoples that for economic reasons they must join the European Union, and that some concessions may be necessary in the area of neutrality. Because they have felt obliged to get involved does not necessarily mean that we must follow their example. NATO is trying to retain some credibility in a situation where its old purpose - defence against the Soviet Union - has vanished. If we are able to stay out of an involvement with this pattern of development, that may help to prevent these countries from being sucked in further.


Back to Irish CND page on neutrality