Door is open for Ireland to join Nato, says military alliance's chief

The North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (Nato) would welcome any application by Ireland to join the organisation, its secretary…

The North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (Nato) would welcome any application by Ireland to join the organisation, its secretary general has said, although he stressed that the decision to seek membership was a matter for each individual country.

In an interview with The Irish Times ahead of the first visit to Ireland by a Nato secretary general, Anders Fogh Rasmussen said Nato had an “open-door policy” towards membership of the organisation.

“Our door remains open for European countries, European democracies that fulfil the necessary criteria and can contribute to Euro-Atlantic security, but of course it’s for individual partners to decide how they want to develop their relationship and partnership with Nato.”

Bilateral programme


While Ireland is not a member of Nato, it has ties with the organisation through the Partnership for Peace Programme (PFP), a bilateral programme that allows for Irish forces to be used for peacekeeping and crisis management where there is a UN mandate and parliamentary approval.

Mr Rasmussen travels to Dublin tomorrow for an informal meeting of EU defence ministers at Dublin Castle.

He will also deliver a speech at the Institute of European Affairs tomorrow evening at which he is expected to call for further co-operation between Ireland and Nato, particularly in the area of military training and capability.

Highlighting the participation of Irish defence forces in UN-led operations over the last 50 years, including in Afghanistan, Mr Rasmussen is expected to outline how Ireland has benefited from its relationship with Nato, arguing that the PFP has allowed Ireland to contribute to international missions, something it would be unable to do on its own.

Mr Rasmussen said he would “absolutely” welcome any decision by Ireland to seek membership of the organisation, although he said “it is for Ireland to decide its relationship with Nato or any other organisation . . . We have a very well functioning partnership between Ireland and Nato, a partnership that fully respects Ireland’s policy of neutrality,” he said.

Mr Rasmussen also said Nato had “no intention” of intervening in north Africa. “I don’t see a role for Nato in Mali, because the UN Security Council has adopted a resolution according to which an African-led stabilisation security force should take over in Mali.”

However, he welcomed the EU’s decision to send a training mission to the North African country, adding that the best international response to crises was “a question of a smart division of labour, so that we do not compete with each other, but complement each other”.

Crisis in Syria

Mr Rasmussen defended Nato’s approach to Syria. “Very often I am asked, ‘Why is it that you could collect a successful operation in Libya and why not in Syria?’ and the answer is, there is a clear difference.

“In Libya we had a United Nations mandate, we had support from countries in the region, but in Syria these conditions are not fulfilled. Even the opposition in Syria doesn’t request a foreign military intervention. You have to make decisions case by case. Each and every time you have to ask yourself whether a military intervention will lead in the right direction, and in Syria, obviously, we need a political solution.”

Nato currently has 28 member states.

Nato: What it's for

The North Atlantic Treaty Organisation was founded in April 1949 in the aftermath of the second World War, as the cold war between the capitalist West and communist East was tightening its grip on international relations.

Nato is headquartered in Brussels and has 28 member states and 22 associated nations, one of which is Ireland, participating in the Partnership for Peace (PfP) programme.

PfP is a voluntary association for – mainly but not exclusively – military co-operation and planning, civil emergency planning and disaster relief.

The organisation was opposed by the Warsaw Pact, a military alliance between the Soviet Union and eastern European communist states founded in 1955, after the Federal Republic of Germany (West Germany) was inducted into Nato.

Critics charge that the pact was essentially an instrument of Russian domination of eastern Europe following the second World War.

In 1956, Russian troops invaded Hungary and ousted a liberalising government there; in 1968, pact troops invaded Czechoslovakia for the same purpose.

The pact fell apart following the collapse of communism and ceased existence in 1991. Nato member states were expected to be democracies.

The founding member states of Nato were: the United States, Britain, France, Belgium, Canada, Denmark, Iceland, Italy, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Norway and Portugal. They were joined in 1952 by Greece and Turkey, in 1955 by Germany, 1982 by Spain, 1999 by the Czech Republic, Poland and Hungary, by Bulgaria, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Romania, Slovakia and Slovenia. Finally, in 2009, Albania and Croatia joined.

In essence, the alliance is a mutual defence organisation whose essential fundamental principle, Article 5 of the establishing treaty, is that an attack on one member state is an attack on all. The 9/11 terrorist attacks on the US is the only occasion in which Article 5 has been invoked, leading ultimately to the deployment of the Nato-led, United Nations-mandated ISAF, the interim stabilisation force in Afghanistan.

Nato is governed day to day by the North Atlantic Council in Brussels drawn from member states' permanent representative delegations in Brussels.

The alliance also has a parliamentary tier, the Nato Parliamentary Assembly of 257 delegates from the 28 Nato member countries, and meets twice a year. It sets the broad strategic goals of the alliance.

Nato remains the world's largest military alliance and accounts for about half of all defence spending.* - PETER MURTAGH

*This article was edited on February 11th 2013 to correct a factual error

Suzanne Lynch

Suzanne Lynch

Suzanne Lynch, a former Irish Times journalist, was Washington correspondent and, before that, Europe correspondent