There is no discussion within Nato about Ireland becoming a member, according to a senior official with the military alliance.
James Mackey, Nato’s director of security policy and partnerships, was responding to accusations that Ireland is becoming a member of the alliance “by stealth”.
“I can say that in 20 years of working at Nato headquarters in Brussels the issue of Irish membership has not once been discussed,” he said. “It has never come up because Ireland is a sovereign, independent nation. And it chooses its own security policy under the United Nations Charter.”
Mr Mackey was speaking as part of a panel at the Government’s Consultative Forum on International Security, where the topic was Ireland’s relationship with Nato.
Several speakers from the floor strongly criticised Nato, with Sinn Féin councillor Micheál MacDonncha telling Mr Mackey his organisation was not welcome in Dublin. He claimed the forum “is an attempt to soften us up and to continue the membership by stealth”.
Countries have the right to make their own sovereign choices regarding Nato membership, Mr Mackey said.
“We have tens of millions of Europeans who have made a sovereign choice to join the alliance because they believe that is in the best interests of their security. They were not forced to do so at gunpoint,” he said, referring to Finland and Sweden applying for membership last year. “They were concerned about Russian imperialism. And we’ve seen what happens when Russian imperialism comes along and kills. Unfortunately, we’re seeing that effect in Ukraine right now.”
Mr Mackey also made the point that Nato “does not equal the United States”.
“It’s 31 sovereign countries who all come together, and it’s a consensus-based organisation,” he said.
Ireland is not a member of Nato, and the Government has insisted it has no plans to apply for membership. However, since 1999 it has been a member of Partnership for Peace (PFP), a Nato programme aimed at increasing information sharing between members and non-members.
Mr Mackey said PFP was “very individualistic” as it allowed each country to decide the extent of their co-operation. Some countries, like Turkmenistan, engaged in just a handful of exercises a year while others, such as Sweden, engaged in hundreds.
The forum also heard from representatives from Switzerland, a neutral country, and Norway, which is a Nato member while also being heavily involved in global conflict resolution and peace-building.
Norway’s reputation as a peace-broker is based on its “predictability” in foreign policy, said Ine Eriksen Søreide, chair of the Norwegian parliament’s foreign affairs and defence committee. Parties know Norway will expect a focus on UN principles, humanitarian concerns and peace and meditation, she said. “And they can either like or dislike it.”
Prof Laurent Goetschel, who is the director of the peace research institute Swisspeace,, said that “neutrality is not a religion”.
“It is a foreign security concept. It has to be handled within the interests of the state.”