Ireland may partner with a new Nato initiative to protect undersea infrastructure, the alliance’s second in command has said.
Nato deputy secretary-general Mircea Geoană said he raised the Critical Undersea Infrastructure Co-ordination Cell with Tánaiste and Minister for Defence Micheál Martin on the margins of a recent security conference in Munich, Germany.
“I think there is interest for Ireland,” Mr Geoană told a seminar organised by the Institute of International and European Affairs on Monday.
Such a move would form part of Ireland’s participation in Partnership for Peace, a Nato programme which allows non-members to co-operate with the alliance in certain areas such as peacekeeping and training.
Even in Ireland, “far from the frontline”, Russia’s presence was being felt, Mr Geoană said, pointing to Russia’s plans for naval exercises in Irish controlled waters in early 2022.
He said the sabotage of the Nordstream pipeline between Russia and Germany last year has also brought the security of Irish undersea cables into sharp focus. The perpetrators of the attack are still unknown.
The security of undersea infrastructure is a “sensitive and real point of concern to all of us” and it will be critical to ensure the resilience of Irish infrastructure in the years ahead, the deputy secretary general said.
“This is where I believe our partnership will be put to work.”
The new co-ordination cell, which is based in Nato headquarters in Brussels, will not involve the deployment of any military assets. Instead it will “facilitate engagement with industry and bring key military and civilian stakeholders together”, Nato secretary general Jens Stoltenberg said last month as it was established.
If Ireland is interested in joining “we are very open”, said Mr Geoană, a former politician and diplomat from Romania. The Department of Defence has been asked for comment.
Nato greatly values its partnership with Ireland, which has included various peacekeeping missions over the years, Mr Geoană said. “Of course, Ireland is not a member of Nato. It is a neutral country. We respect Ireland’s neutrality.”
Mr Geoană said the right of sovereign nations to choose their own security arrangements was fundamental to UN values. By invading Ukraine, Vladimir Putin had shattered these values, he said, adding that it was vital to continue supporting Ukraine until it is victorious.
“If Putin wins, he and other authoritarian leaders like him will learn a terrifying lesson: that aggression works. That brutality works. That war works. We cannot let that happen.”
He said the invasion was not a surprise and that it was just the “latest bloody chapter in a long history of Russian aggression, from Grozny to Georgia and Aleppo and the Donbas.”
In launching the war, Putin made two big mistakes, Mr Geoană said. He underestimated the resolve of the Ukrainian armed forces and “he also underestimated the resolve of the free and democratic world to stand with Ukraine”.
After a year of war, Putin was committed to continuing the conflict, he said. The war has shown the need for countries to fund their security and defence. “We live in a more dangerous world and can no longer afford to treat defence as optional. It is a necessity.
“I’m a political guy myself, I know it is difficult to choose between social and economic investment programmes,” he said. “But security is one of the essential things nations need to do to defend their citizens. Security is the foundation of freedom and prosperity.”