Neutrality undermined, or peacekeeping enhanced?

Fri, May 16, 2008, 01:00

Lisbon explained - part 5:Does Lisbon undermine Irish neutrality and create a militarised EU or strengthen its peacekeeping abilities?

EVER SINCE the EU proved powerless to prevent the massacre of 8,000 Bosnians in Srebrenica in 1995 the union has stepped up efforts to develop its European security and defence policy (ESDP) to enable it to deploy peacekeepers and safeguard security.

The basic tenets of the policy were set out at the Franco-British Saint-Malo summit in December 1998, a text later adopted by EU heads of state at the Cologne European Council in 1999.

This framework was institutionalised via the Nice Treaty, which created a political and security committee in Brussels to oversee ESDP, and was updated by the European Security Strategy, which set out a doctrine for ESDP based on principles such as conflict prevention, providing security in Europe's neighbourhood, and promoting effective multilateralism in line with the UN charter.

Critics of Lisbon claim it significantly boosts the union's role in the security and defence area by forcing states to sign up to common European defence and to increase their military spending.

Patricia McKenna, chairwoman of the People's Movement, has also claimed that its mutual defence clause marks the "transition of the European Union from what had been primarily an organisation founded on an economic pact to one founded on both a military and an economic pact".

The Government rejects these claims as "scaremongering" and argues that changes introduced by the treaty are consistent with Ireland's traditional military neutrality and non-alignment. It points to the enabling Irish legislation that guarantees Irish neutrality and Lisbon's insistence that missions can only be undertaken "in accordance with the principles of the UN charter".

Lisbon certainly advances the ambition for the union to frame a common defence policy. The term ESDP is replaced by the title "common security and defence policy" (CSDP) in the treaty and Lisbon states that the common security and defence policy "shall include the progressive framing of a common union defence policy".

"This will lead to a common defence, when the European Council, acting unanimously, so decides," it continues.

It also includes for the first time in the EU treaties an article on mutual assistance, which requires that if a member state is subject to armed aggression, the "other member states have towards it an obligation of aid and assistance by all means in their power".

And Lisbon introduces a "solidarity clause" that requires the union and member states to act jointly in a spirit of solidarity if a member state comes under terrorist attack or faces a natural or man-made disaster by mobilising all assets at their disposal. These are all significant steps forward.

But on all these points the Government, and other neutrals, notably Austria and Sweden, sought and received opt-outs and guarantees that any obligations on them will be circumscribed by their own national constitutional commitments on security and defence.

Lisbon's mutual assistance clause states that it "shall not prejudice the specific character of the security and defence policy of certain member states". The treaty also provides that member states shall take a decision on joining a common defence arrangement in "accordance with their respective constitutional requirements".

Ireland's right to opt out is also copper-fastened by the 26th amendment to the Constitution, introduced as part of the Nice Treaty, which prohibits Irish involvement in common defence.

Moreover, Lisbon upholds the requirement for unanimity before peacekeeping or military missions can be deployed overseas. This means Ireland cannot be forced to take part in missions and can continue to veto operations that it does not believe comply with the EU's values or doctrine.

There is a mechanism in Lisbon that enables the council, acting unanimously, to "entrust the execution of a task, within the union framework, to a group of member states in order to protect the union's values and serve its interests." But even in this case the council must be kept informed of the mission, and any amendment to the scope or conditions of the task must again be made on the basis of a unanimous decision by all states.

"The Lisbon Treaty does not mean the 'death of Irish neutrality', no more than previous EU treaties did. All decisions on Ireland's policy of military neutrality will remain solely in the hands of the Irish Government," says Daniel Keohane of the think tank, the European Union Institute for Security Studies.

"The Lisbon Treaty does not change the fact that under Irish law the Irish Defence Forces cannot participate in an EU peacekeeping mission unless it has a UN mandate and both the Government and the Dáil have approved the deployment."

The safeguards contained in Lisbon mean that the ambition to create a common EU defence - usually defined, as in Nato, as an automatic willingness to come to the aid of other member states if they are attacked - will probably remain an aspiration for some time to come in relation to states such as Ireland.

But Lisbon does develop the concept of EU security and defence policy further and clarifies the type of missions it should undertake. It adds references to disarmament, military advice, conflict prevention, and post-conflict stabilisation to the tasks already laid out in existing EU treaties.

It also states that member states "shall undertake to improve their military capabilities", although, crucially, it does not make any specific requirements on defence spending, rendering the clause largely aspirational.

The most revolutionary aspect of Lisbon is a provision that creates the possibility for "permanent structured co-operation" among states whose military capabilities fulfil high criteria and which are willing to make more binding commitments to one another in the defence and security field.

By creating the ability for groups of states to move ahead with closer integration in the security and defence field, the framers of Lisbon reflected the fact that some states such as Ireland are simply unwilling to pool their sovereignty in this sensitive area. States that choose to participate in an advance group would be able to sign up to improve their military capabilities and co-operate more closely on training and logistics. Ireland could sign up to "permanent structured co-operation" under Lisbon but it is under no obligation to do so.

Recognising the importance of maintaining stability in neighbouring states for Europe's own security, Lisbon also for the first time introduces a specific legal base for humanitarian aid. This provides for European Parliament oversight in this area and should raise the profile of the union's activities in the field - it is currently the single biggest provider of humanitarian aid globally. Lisbon would also create a European Voluntary Humanitarian Aid Corps.

Monday: A threat to Ireland's tax regime?