Do we really want a situation where Irish troops are blocked from participating in EU peacekeeping missions designed, for example, to protect possibly Irish lives?
This could happen, at any time, in any one of a dozen crisis-prone African states, where thousands of Irish NGOs and missionaries work in the line of danger. For a nation proud of its peacekeeping tradition it would be a sorry day indeed to turn down an EU request for help to rescue our own nationals. And yet this scenario is possible, because of our commitment to the “triple lock”.
The triple lock means Irish troops will only serve on peace support missions if three conditions are met: a Government decision, Dáil approval and UN authorisation. The problem is that UN authorisation for Security Council resolutions requires the agreement of all five permanent members of the council, (China, France, Russia, Britain and the US).
Irish participation in an overseas mission will be blocked if even one of the Big Five uses its veto. It is a bizarre situation where we have allowed these five nations the power to decide an Irish foreign policy issue. Needless to say this is not reciprocated by any of the five nations concerned.
Perhaps true supporters of Irish neutrality should be calling for an end to this self-imposed subservience to the big powers?
However, we have an opportunity to reconsider the triple lock issue in the context of the coming White Paper on Defence 2014. Last year the Government issued a Green Paper which presents arguments for and against the triple lock. It concludes that no change should be made. Perhaps this needs to be reconsidered in the light of recent developments in Africa and eastern Europe. These developments have increased the possibility that the EU will need to get involved in crisis management in situations, where, at UN Security Council level, a permanent member may use its veto to withhold UN authorisation.
In Africa, rightly or wrongly, China’s increased involvement on the continent is perceived as a threat to Western interests. Western powers and China are already lining up on different sides in various African conflicts. In time, this could well lead to China exercising its Security Council veto to withhold UN authorisation for an EU CSDP (Common Security and Defence Policy) mission in Africa.
Relations with Russia
Since the Green Paper was published, EU-Russian relations have been strained by events in Ukraine. The Russian bear has woken and is reasserting its influence, from Finland all the way to Georgia. By signing a free trade agreement with the Ukraine, Georgia and Moldova, the EU has further strained relations with Russia.
Russia has already used its veto to end UN and OSCE peacekeeping missions in Georgia. It could well do so, at the UN Security Council, to deny UN authorisation for any possible future EU CSDP mission in eastern Europe.
Ireland’s credibility in the EU would be undermined if we were to allow either a Russian or Chinese veto block Ireland’s support for an EU mission. It seems the balance of argument, referred to in the Green Paper, is shifting more in favour of adjusting the triple lock, now, before a crisis emerges. This could be done by removing the “UN authorisation” clause, or, if we wish to affirm our support to EU CSDP, by adjusting it to read “UN or EU authorisation”.
We also need to reassess our national commitment towards international peace support operations. In particular, apart from the triple lock issue, the decline in the number of personnel serving on peace support missions is a worrying trend.
Before White Paper 2000 the Defence Forces usually had about 800 personnel serving on peace support missions. Its average is now less than 500. Adjusting the triple lock will not lessen our support to the UN. However, support for the UN would be better demonstrated by restoring our traditional level of support to peacekeeping.
Col Dorcha Lee(retd) is a former Defence Forces provost marshal and director of military police