Forget neutrality – but forget alliances too

3rd October 2001

I HAVE always thought that if I was around in 1940 that I would have joined the British Army to fight fascism.

As a republican this would have been a case of burying the hatchet for the duration. I cannot accept that Ireland’s policy of neutrality was right, even if it was understandable at the time.

The point is that it is not morally sustainable to be neutral on all issues. However it is a very good starting point for Irish foreign policy and the question is: What is the alternative?

There are two potential military blocks that we could join – Nato and an EU army. With the advent of the Rapid Reaction Force (RRF) and our participation in it we are well on the way to joining the latter. And we joined Nato’s Partnership for Peace (PfP) so we have a toehold in the former.

With the decision to allow the US military to use our airports and airspace, and the fact that we already have troops in Kosovo under a Nato-led mission, our neutrality is dissolving before our eyes. Without any debate, I might add.

All of the countries in Nato and the EU are friends of Ireland so the case is often put as to why we shouldn’t align ourselves militarily to them.

The answer is that Nato and the EU are alliances of rich countries, while the major faultline in the world is between rich and poor – North and South, if you like.

These military alliances keep the disastrous global arms industry ticking over nicely on the one hand, and is tempting to use should the North’s economic interests be challenged on the other.

In effect, these military alliances are standing over the economic colonisation of the South. In the long-term, this will end in tears as it has in New York and Washington.

In Ireland we have a unique opportunity to be a link between North and South. Our experience with political and economic imperialism gives us the chance to see things from the South’s perspective.

If we immerse our foreign policy in military alliances, we will lose this opportunity and the world will lose another independent voice. Remember, Ireland is one of only 200 nation states in the world. Despite our size, we have a huge role to play.

So the simple idea of neutrality is a barren one. We can’t be neutral on democracy, human and worker’s rights and the principles of a common humanity.

We must bear testament that poverty and injustice are at the root of violence and that there is no long-term military routes to peace.

On specifics, it has to be said that Ireland’s record on the Palestinian/Isreal question is piss poor. We have allowed Israeli aggression and occupation to go virtually unchallenged while being very watery about the Palestinian right to statehood.

Given our wide contacts with the Arab world, the only reason seems to be our fear of stepping on US toes. Well maybe we should have stepped on them – we might have saved them a lot of hassle.

As well as that…

Should we let them fly?

A LOT of angst was caused by our decision to open our airspace to the US military.

My instinct would be to say no. If they are just going to get Bin Laden and put him against a wall and shoot him, well they are welcome to our airports. If they are going to carpet-bomb Kabul then we should have nothing to do with it. The point is: we don’t know.

Whatever they do with Bin Laden, he’s going to be a hero; maybe shooting him is not a good idea. And having him stuck in a jail in the US could inspire a hundred hijackings to get him out. Tricky one, that.