Defence Forces chief says EU can deter Russia by ‘mass movement of troops across Europe’

Lieut Gen Seán Clancy says ‘ignoring Russian threats not an option’ for EU

The Defence Forces chief-of-staff, Lieut Gen Sean Clancy, with Taoiseach Simon Harris and Tánaiste Micheál Martin. Photograph: Colin Keegan, Collins Dublin

The European Union can deter further Russian military aggression by working to ensure large numbers of European troops can be moved quickly across the continent when required, Defence Forces chief-of-staff Lieut Gen Seán Clancy has said.

He said he intended to use his new position as chair of the European Union Military Committee, the highest military body within the EU, to foster deeper co-operation between Nato and the EU.

“One example of such co-operation is the topic of military mobility,” Lieut Gen Seán Clancy said, in remarks that will be watched more closely than ever because he will take up the new EU role 12 months from now. “A credible European deterrence to further Russian aggression demands the efficient movement of troops across a vast area of European land mass.”

Lieut Gen Clancy said the EU had been clear that “the world around it had changed” following the “illegal invasion” of Ukraine by Russia. It must “work quickly” to ensure the security of the environment provided to citizens in EU countries.

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“The illegal invasion of Ukraine and the continued attacks on the Ukrainian civilian population and their essential infrastructure represents a threat to the EU, to our values, to our prosperity and to our security,” he said. “For the EU ignoring those threats is not an option. The EU will succeed in this daunting generational task by collaborating with our regional partner Nato and the UN.”

Lieut Gen Clancy was speaking at a seminar on Nato, the UN and EU in Dublin which was attended by several EU ambassadors. It was hosted in the Belgian embassy in Dublin, which is the Nato contact point in the Republic.

He added that all 27 EU member states were now in agreement with the need to enhance the ability of European troops to move across the region in significant numbers. He cited Pesco – Permanent Structured Co-operation – as an example of fostering EU-wide military mobility. It is an initiative intended to increase military co-operation between member states in developing and procuring military equipment.

Some of its projects include developing better approaches to cyber threats, establishing a special forces medical training centre, and projects to develop a prototype armoured infantry fighting vehicle and an EU patrol vessel. It is also intent on simplifying and standardising cross-border military transport procedures across road and rail networks, as well as through European ports and airports.

Lieut Gen Clancy added that while the United Nations was the pre-eminent peacekeeping body in the world, Russia’s illegal invasion of Ukraine and the fighting in Gaza “have demonstrated the potential to paralyse the security council”. It was, for example, a matter of concern that the UN security council had not established a peacekeeping operation in over a decade.

That was a reference to the fact that resolutions for the creation of UN peacekeeping missions can be very easily be blocked, especially by the five permanent members of the security council, including Russia.

A former Air Corps pilot from Co Cork, Lieut Gen Clancy beat senior military officers from Poland and Slovenia in a secret vote in May to secure his position as chair of the EU military committee next May. At that point he will be promoted to a four-star general, becoming the first Irish officer to hold the rank, and will step down from his position leading the Defence Forces.

As well as chairing the military committee Lieut Gen Clancy will serve as the senior military adviser to the high representative of the union for foreign affairs and security policy, a position currently held by Josep Borrell.

Conor Lally

Conor Lally

Conor Lally is Security and Crime Editor of The Irish Times