Garda and Defence Forces must retain separate roles
Independence of the two security agencies has served the State well in the past
Irish soldiers in the Lebanon in 2007. Photograph: Kate Geraghty
It must be likely that there will be a substantial volume of responses to the Green Paper on Defence which has been published by Alan Shatter. Irish people are keenly interested in many of the issues raised; our traditional neutrality, peacekeeping overseas, domestic security. Ireland’s extended military family is proud of what the Defence Forces do and protective of their interests. Many of them, including the representative organisations, will want to have their say.
Our degree of militarisation is modest, with defensive rather than aggressive capabilities. We have made a virtue of a policy born originally of economic necessity during the second World War. It is arguably because our military capacity is so limited that we feel so strongly about how it is to be applied. The Government is sensible to invite views at this time, repeating a process first undertaken in 2000.
Much of the attention will focus on neutrality and the possible further deployment of defence personnel to international military organisations, principally Nato. In this, the language of the Green Paper, presumably reflecting establishment thinking, is significantly more forthright than that of the 2000 White Paper. There are no longer any concessions to isolationism.
“Our traditional policy of military neutrality was formed in an era when the risk of inter-state conflict was the key issue of national security for most nations,” it states. “However, the current broad range of threats does not fall into this category and military neutrality is immaterial for threats that are generic and trans-national in character, e.g. cyber-security or terrorism.”
The emphasis throughout is much more on these “generic” issues than in the White Paper of 2000. This can hardly be surprising. The world post 9/11 is a very different place. Ireland, 15 years on from the Good Friday agreement, is a different country. The extraordinary growth and development of information technology has connected the planet to a degree that was almost unimaginable even a decade and a half ago. But it has also created many technological, economic and social vulnerabilities.
One consequence has been a frequent blurring of roles between police and military worldwide as states have adapted to these new conditions. And this change is reflected in the thinking behind this Green Paper. But if 21st century security requires greatly enhanced co-ordination between military and civil agencies – and it does – it is well to be alert to its possible implications, even in our own local context.
Evolving security environment
The Green Paper spells out the Defence Forces’ responsibilities in support of the “predominantly unarmed” Garda Síochána. It stresses the imperative of a sound legislative framework for all actions undertaken by the Defence Forces. But the reader may be struck by the frequency with which it focuses on the role of the military in what might seem more likely to be considered as police business.
“Future military capability must be appropriate to the demands presented by the evolving security and defence environment,” the Green Paper says. “For example, responses to threats such as terrorism, drug smuggling and organised crime are intelligence led and this remains a critical capability area.”