A document that scores well on all counts


IT IS helpful to evaluate the White Paper under five headings comprehensiveness, context, coherence, consistency and comprehensibility.

The document scores well on all counts. This is quite an achievement given its scope, the fact that it was written by many hands and is the product of a coalition government.

Its comprehensiveness is attested by the range of subjects treated in its 16 chapters, its worldwide scope and the combination of narrative and analysis with which it addresses its subject matter. Chapter headings include international security, peacekeeping, the United Nations, European Union and the new Europe, and trade and international economic co-operation.

In a chapter on the Irish foreign service, the document makes it clear that the scope of foreign policy is enormously extended by EU membership. "Because decisions commit all member states, participation in the decision making process is not discretionary.

EU membership is, therefore, one of the essential contexts within which Irish policy operates. The paper says, with justice, that this State has gained greatly in self confidence and capability over a generation of membership.

Relations with Britain have been changed radically as a result, becoming more equal and balanced in a multilateral setting. Although there is not a chapter on Britain or on Northern Ireland the relationship suffuses much of the paper.

There are strong chapters on the United Nations, international security, disarmament and arms control, peacekeeping, human rights and development co-operation. They provide the essential context for the White Paper's treatment of European issues, particularly that of neutrality.

It takes issue with those who "have come to regard neutrality as a touchstone of our entire approach to international relations even though, in reality, much of our policy is not dependent on our non membership of a military alliance. For the Irish people, neutrality has never been a statement of isolationism or indifference as to the outcome of international issues.

After the end of the Cold War, the United Nations, an imperfect but essential organisation, is itself having to adapt to new circumstances, including devolution of tasks to regional organisations. In Europe, these include the all inclusive OSCE, but also a Nato itself transformed and spawning the associated Partnership for.

Peace, and possibly the Western European Union, which is part of the EU's security architecture.

In order to do the things we value through the UN, the White Paper argues, it will be necessary to be involved with these organisations. But not as full members or in breach of military neutrality.

This is a coherent argument, all the more powerful for beginning at the most general level of this State's international commitment and involvement. The task of thinking UN and EU policy together is well accomplished.

It is presented in a framework of "five major challenges" facing the EU as it moves towards the next century. The first concerns, the need for balanced and equitable economic development that will preserve the principle of economic and social cohesion for existing as well as prospective members.

Secondly, it must remain close to the citizen. Thirdly, it must relate constructively to the rest of the world. Fourthly, it must cater for continental enlargement while, preserving equal access to its institutions. And fifthly, it must create an ever closer union between European peoples.

This grouping makes for coherent organisation of a large and potentially unwieldy subject matter. It will be read with interest, not least by other EU governments concerned to find out the Government's thinking as it prepares for the Union's presidency from July to December. They will find here an interesting statement of policy frameworks and approaches within a generally integrationist perspective.

Some of them may find the document inconsistent, however, in its discussion of European security issues. The paper says Ireland will be a "constructive participant" in negotiations on a common defence policy for the Union, "one which wants to contribute to and influence the outcome, and one which wishes to participate in its implementation".

The policy should have as its primary objective the preservation of peace and international security in accordance with the UN Charter and OSCE principles, must be relevant to the UN's legitimising role and form part of a "comprehensive co-operative, security policy in Europe".

It must not "lead to new divisions and further instability in Europe". It must recognise the role of economic progress in security and be compatible with Ireland's policies on disarmament and arms control.

These are coherent principles. But are they consistent with the" military neutrality the Government says it will not abrogate? Could Ireland participate in a common defence policy along these lines and remain out of a military alliance?

The White Paper is ambiguous on this score. It says the Government would put the outcome of any future negotiations that "would involve Ireland's participation in a common defence policy to the people in a referendum", which "would ensure that military neutrality remains unchanged, unless the people themselves decide otherwise".

It would be open to them to say that neutral states could participate in a defence policy that included specified soft security tasks for which Ireland is fitted, without alliance commitments. But other states might not wear, such an approach.

It will be for the negotiations themselves to determine what is possible in this sphere. The Government has called for a public debate on the issues. It will be made easier by the accessibility and, its general, the comprehensibility of this long awaited document.