A treaty to advance EU peace-building or to develop a militarised Europe?

Wed, Sep 30, 2009, 01:00

LISBON: THE E-MAIL DUELS:In the last of our e-mail duels between Lisbon Treaty protagonists, ROGER COLE, chairman of the Peace and Neutrality Alliance (Pana), which is urging a No vote, exchanges blows with  BEN TONRA, associate professor of international relations at UCD school of politics and international relations, who is an advocate of a Yes vote

ROGER COLE:Does anybody believe that if the Irish people had voted Yes last year they would be forced to vote again on the same treaty?

We are allowed to vote, but only if we vote Yes. The EU has nothing to learn from Stalin. So why did we reject the advice of the rich and powerful and vote to reject the Lisbon Treaty? In May and June 2008, TNSmrbi asked the people why they were voting No and we said our concern about Irish neutrality was one of the main reasons.

In 1790, Wolfe Tone advocated Irish neutrality in a potential war between the British and Spanish empires. Tone went on to seek to establish a united independent democratic Irish republic and ever since then the values of Irish independence, democracy and neutrality have been totally intertwined.

So despite the fact that throughout the 19th century the Irish political elite supported the battle groups of the British union, the dream of the republic never died and was reborn with its establishment 90 years ago. Now that their beloved British union is a shadow of its former glory, the elite have transferred their loyalty to the emerging European super-state, or “empire” as EU president Barroso calls it.

We do not believe that further integration into EU foreign, security and defence areas is compatible with our concept of neutrality, which is based on our right to have our own independent foreign policy of not being involved in wars and confining Irish military involvement to UN peacekeeping. There are wars in Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan and there may be another with Iran. The recent German-US bombing of oil tankers in Afghanistan, in which many civilians died, shows that this war of occupation in which seven Irish soldiers are participating is not a vague concept, but a living reality.

A No vote to Lisbon is a vote against war.

BEN TONRA:Roger, this is such a disappointing start to our discussion. Why is it not possible to engage in serious, civil debate? Why is there the need to attack the motives, patriotism or sincerity of anyone that passionately argues a different view?

The argument that I would make here about the Lisbon Treaty is one that is based on the pursuit of peace, justice and respect for national sovereignty.

The very founding and purpose of the European Union has been predicated on the pursuit of peace: first to reconcile France and Germany, second to assist in the democratic transitions of post-war dictatorships in Portugal, Spain and Greece, and third to ensure that no new lines of insecurity are drawn across central and eastern Europe in their democratic transitions. Indeed, the union’s enlargement has been – arguably – its greatest foreign and security policy success.

Further, by virtue of their history, values and resources, the union and its member states have a larger obligation to contribute to international peace and security.

The EU is one means by which its member states can engage more successfully with the wider world, and there are specific things in the Lisbon Treaty which help that goal: structured diplomatic co-operation in the (dreadfully named) European External Action Service; the designation of a single and, yes, accountable public figure to a strengthened foreign policy post; and the formalising of the role of the European Defence Agency. This allows us to build on a successful track record of 27 EU-led civilian and military peacekeeping missions since 2003. To which of these missions to do you object – and why?

The union’s pursuit of justice is also critical – although its record is patchier. Linking development co-operation to foreign policy within the Lisbon Treaty has, I think, the potential to be very positive. Certainly, I would wish to see trade and economic policy more closely aligned with development principles and a more concrete linkage between what we say about human rights and what we do about them. However, an active civil society, at EU and national level, can make that happen. We need to win those national debates to shape EU policy.

Finally, our rights in the EU are unassailable. Nothing in the Lisbon Treaty can require the Irish Government to go to war, to spend more on defence, to participate in any military action, to join a military alliance. Nor does the treaty allow other member states to act in our name.

To my mind, our corresponding obligation as citizens of this sovereign Republic is to ensure that the Irish Government participates fully in an EU foreign and security policy on the basis of our values and principles – and that it never abandons the veto that we now hold over that policy.

RC: I agree that the EU’s beginnings are a model for how former war enemies could be reconciled via co-operative, peaceful means. That makes it all the more difficult to understand why the EU is now insisting on developing military structures.

Why is there a need for rapid reaction forces and EU battlegroups that will go far beyond the borders of the EU? Why does the Lisbon Treaty include an EU armaments agency to bolster the European defence industries and require Ireland to “progressively improve” its defence capabilities?

Why have mutual defence and solidarity clauses in an EU treaty? A new elite military force – permanent structured co-operation – is also being established under Lisbon, with a high level of armaments for the EU’s “most demanding missions” and with unclear controls over its actions. The EU’s military missions are not confined to peacekeeping, as the Yes side often implies, but include every military mission up to and including war (“combat forces in crisis management”).

Your comment that Ireland maintains control over sending its soldiers into battle is not reassuring (even Nato countries maintain such control). Irish governments have signed up to every military development in the EU enthusiastically – battlegroups, defence agency, the lot.

The Government defines neutrality as allowing over one million US soldiers to transit through Shannon on the way to war. Our defence Acts have been amended to weaken the triple lock and allow Irish troops to be sent to a war zone prior to any UN authorisation.

Add to this the Lisbon Treaty’s provision that the EU’s common security and defence policy is to be compatible with nuclear Nato’s and to contribute to Nato’s “vitality” . . .

Are we not entitled to believe the EU is being militarised, and that Ireland should have no part in it?

BT: My answer to your first series of questions is illustrated by the genocide in Rwanda in 1994 and the murder of 8,000 men and boys in Srebrenica in 1995. In other words, there are cases when diplomacy and trade sanctions are just not enough, and where traditional UN blue hat operations either won’t work or won’t be let work.

We may agree that the UN is the ideal vehicle for all of this, but we also both know that the UN is a long way from being able to deliver on that promise. As a result, the UN relies heavily on the EU, OSCE, African Union and, yes, even Nato, to undertake very demanding and dangerous tasks in such conflict zones.

If you accept that premise, then ensuring that the EU member states can provide well-trained, properly equipped, multinational forces that can at short notice intervene effectively in an active crisis management operation does require the kinds of structures that earlier treaties and the Lisbon Treaty provide. But the bottom line remains: the EU is not a military alliance.

I don’t agree at all that the Government has enthusiastically signed up to everything: it has been passive and hesitant, in contrast to other non-aligned member states such as Finland and Sweden, which have been leaders on the EU’s peacekeeping agenda. Mind you, what we do volunteer to do, we do well, such as the Irish contribution to the 2008 EU mission in Chad.

I do agree that the Government’s definition of neutrality and your definition of neutrality are different. Neither is right or wrong, just different.

Ireland holds a veto over everything in the EU’s foreign, security and defence policy.

RC:Pana supports the definition of neutrality as stated in international law by the Hague Convention of 1907. The Government’s “military neutrality” means whatever they choose it to mean, such as supporting imperial wars of conquest. It is not a matter of being just “different”. The victims of the US wars in Afghanistan and Iraq certainly don’t think the Government’s take on neutrality is neither right nor wrong.

The UN has made mistakes and can only be truly effective if it is reformed and fully supported by its member states. Let us remember that the Rwanda conflict was fuelled by arms sales to both sides from two of our EU partners, France and Belgium, countries with whom we are now developing a common defence and security policy. There was a full chapter 7 UN mandate in force during Srebrenica but it wasn’t fully implemented, partly because the commanding French general refused to call in air support.

The Lisbon Treaty’s defence agency will boost arms production and arms sales, aggravating conflicts around the world, and, no doubt, in the pursuit of profit, distorting the EU’s common foreign and security policy. Five EU states already account for one-third of the world’s arms sales.

The Lisbon Treaty establishes a new EU superior to its member states. It replaces the rotation of the presidency with a permanent one. It establishes an EU minister of foreign affairs with an EU diplomatic corps. It commits the EU states to increase their military capabilities, formalises the EU battlegroups and expands their tasks to include supporting “third countries in combating terrorism in their territories”.

Links with nuclear-armed Nato are enhanced and a new internal military alliance is created under structured co-operation. Article 28A (7) transfers the last remaining competence of the western European Union, that of collective self-defence, to the EU itself.

If it looks like a duck, quacks like a duck and walks like a duck, it’s a duck. The EU is becoming a militarised super-state, and it appears from the above that you not only clearly agree that the EU’s military should be used, but that it be used without even a UN mandate.

BT:If you base your definition of neutrality on the 1907 Hague Convention, Irish neutrality ended with our membership of the UN (Articles 41 and 48 of the UN Charter).

Your use of the term neutrality is therefore as partial and as self-interested as that of the Government. You also know that the conflicts you give as examples of abuses of our neutrality are either UN-authorised missions (ISAF in Afghanistan), or else unilateral acts of UN member states. Are we to abandon the UN in pursuit of your 102-year-old definition of neutrality?

We also need to correct the record here. The Rwandan genocide had many tangled roots. The Interahamwe and Impuzamugambi slaughtered tens of thousands with machetes and black-market AK47s. On Srebrenica and its aftermath, the UN (Brahimi report 2000) has acknowledged that neutrality can amount to a policy of appeasement and that peacekeepers may not only be operationally justified in using force but morally compelled to do so.

Finally, the European Defence Agency will only do what its members, unanimously, decide that it will do. That is the Irish veto that you want to abandon.

The Lisbon Treaty does not establish anything like a super-state, since the union can only do what its 27 member states allow it to do. Here, again, is Ireland’s veto.

The Lisbon Treaty will allow the EU to strengthen its peace support capacity as already evidenced in operations in Bosnia, Chad, Congo, Georgia, Indonesia, Kosovo, Palestine and elsewhere. It’s a good record, and one to which Ireland has contributed honourably.

I asked you twice what problem you had either with anything the EU has actually done or anything that Ireland has contributed to EU peacekeeping. Instead of addressing this, to take up your own metaphor, you seem to be standing on the river bank, pointing at pigeons and shouting duck, duck, duck while quacking.

As you acknowledge above, the EU has been a force for peace for 50 years. It is now developing a capacity to contribute to peace-building, justice and security internationally. An Irish Yes can strengthen that process and, critically, will retain our voice and our veto in that process.

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