Would the Lisbon Treaty entangle Ireland in a military alliance?

Would the Lisbon Treaty entangle Ireland in a military alliance?

YES:Ireland is already participating in  EU military structures and the treaty widens the grounds on which EU forces can be sent overseas, writes Andy Storey

THE GOVERNMENT says that Ireland's neutrality, defined as not being a member of a military alliance, is unaffected by the Lisbon Treaty. But membership of a military alliance is not a comprehensive measure of neutrality: Ireland did not formally join a military alliance when it granted US troops transit facilities through Shannon airport yet Ireland can hardly be described as neutral vis-à-vis the conflict in Iraq. The Government also reduces the notion of a formal military alliance itself to participation in a mutual defence pact, but Ireland already participates in what are clearly military structures, albeit not defensive ones.

Irish troops serve at Nato headquarters in Brussels under the Partnership for Peace initiative and have served in Nato-led missions, including in Afghanistan. Irish officers work with an EU military staff, also headquartered in Brussels, which oversees EU military capabilities, including the EU "Battlegroups" to which Ireland has committed troops.

Certain provisions of the Lisbon Treaty appear to commit the EU to a form of collective defence: even the Government's narrow conception of neutrality may be under threat. But this is not the most serious change proposed in the treaty. More importantly, the range of tasks that EU forces may engage in overseas would be widened. The new tasks include "military advice and assistance tasks" and "supporting third countries in combating terrorism in their territories". External interventions by the EU could be justified on a very wide basis and a vast array of actions undertaken by EU forces.

Under the treaty's provisions for "Permanent Structured Co-operation", sub-sets of EU countries could pursue their own agendas for military action within the EU framework, on the basis of a qualified majority vote. Ireland may choose not to participate directly in these initiatives but by helping plan and fund EU military activity, Ireland would lay the basis for other states to engage in such co-operation. And Ireland is being urged to increase its military expenditure under the Lisbon Treaty: "Member States shall undertake progressively to improve their military capabilities." (Incidentally, the treaty makes no such reference to improving, say, educational or healthcare capabilities).

To work out what these treaty changes might mean in practice, it is useful to look at the EU's current military intervention in Chad, ostensibly intended to protect refugees from the Sudan and displaced people within Chad itself, and which will involve more than 400 Irish soldiers. French troops stationed in Chad have for many years helped keep the dictator Idriss Déby in power. When Déby's regime was attacked in January 2008, French troops directly fired on rebels and ferried ammunition to government troops. Chadian rebels may not distinguish between troops shoring up Déby and those nominally serving under an EU flag. Intelligence is being shared between the EU force and longer-standing French contingents, while existing French assets (including aircraft and camp facilities) are being made available to the EU operation.

A recent report from the Small Arms Survey has warned of attempts by France to "multilateralise" its intervention in Chad by drawing in other EU members, and warns that "the neutrality of this force is more and more open to question, given the pre-eminence of French troops in its ranks". This intervention has more to do with colonialism than humanitarianism.

More than half the EU force will be French (an Irishman has command of the operation, but his headquarters is in France). As Gerard Prunier, a leading expert on France's Africa policy, has put it, "Idriss Déby is hanging on to power by the skin of his teeth but he is likely to hang on only as long as Paris and Brussels continue to support him under some kind of a pseudo-humanitarian face-saving dispensation". Chad shows how existing EU military powers are being used, so it also tells us how new powers would likely be used. "Military advice and assistance tasks" and "supporting third countries in combating terrorism" could come to constitute euphemisms for helping the likes of Idriss Déby suppress those opposed to his rule. Dangerous interventions can already be undertaken by the EU, but the extension of allowable tasks could facilitate the easier mounting of yet more disturbing interventions, perhaps by sub-groups of EU states acting under "structured co-operation". It is folly to "undertake progressively to improve . . . military capabilities" when the ends to which these military capabilities can be deployed are so obviously problematic.

It does not have to be this way. The Irish Government just hosted a major diplomatic conference to negotiate a treaty banning cluster munitions. This initiative represents the kind of foreign policy Afri believes the Government should be pursuing. The Lisbon Treaty, on the other hand, represents a deeply unwelcome development in the evolution of a very different type of foreign policy.

Andy Storey is a lecturer in development studies at University College Dublin (andy.storey@ucd.ie) and is a board member of the justice and peace organisation Afri - Action from Ireland- www.afri.ie

NO:Far from threatening Irish neutrality, the treaty may well enhance and strengthen it, writes Tom Clonan

OPPONENTS OF the Lisbon Treaty claim that a Yes vote would commit Ireland to the framing of a Common European Defence policy along with eventual compulsory participation in a standing European army. The No campaign, comprising a wide spectrum of political and philosophical ideologies, contends that a Yes vote would spell an end to Ireland's neutral status. However, an objective examination of the treaty suggests its provisions may well enhance and strengthen Ireland's neutral status.

The majority of the European Security and Defence Policy (ESDP) and Common Security and Foreign Policy (CSFP) provisions contained within the Lisbon Treaty are simply clarifications and revisions to articles already contained in previously ratified EU treaties and summits. For example, Article 11 of the Lisbon Treaty - which is often quoted by the No campaign as evidence of an imminent threat to Ireland's neutrality - states: "The union's competence in matters of common foreign and security policy shall cover all areas of foreign policy and all questions relating to the union's security including the progressive framing of a common defence policy that might lead to a common defence."

This article, however ominous it might sound, is simply a reiteration of Article 17 of the Amsterdam Treaty of 1997 - already ratified by Ireland - which states, "CSFP shall include all questions relating to the security of the union, including the progressive framing of a common defence policy . . . which might lead to a Common Defence should the European Council so decide".

Those provisions within the Lisbon Treaty which refer to the possible progressive framing of a common defence are therefore not new. Nor does the Lisbon Treaty represent an emerging or imminent threat to Ireland's neutrality. In fact, the Lisbon Treaty does quite the opposite - and gives an unprecedented dimension to Ireland's neutrality - by giving neutral Ireland the power of veto over any and all future ESDP and CSFP decisions of the EU. The treaty does so by explicitly excluding such decisions from the proposed qualified majority voting structures envisaged for the EU.

Senior analysts at the Swedish Defence Research Agency in Stockholm have already observed that Ireland can impose certain "caveats" upon her more hawkish partners within the EU Nordic Battle Group - currently on standby - by virtue of Ireland's neutral status and commitment to the Triple Lock mechanism. Under the terms of the Lisbon Treaty, all future EU military developments, decisions or initiatives would require neutral Ireland's official imprimatur at the Council of Ministers.

Therefore, if the provisions regarding unanimity on EU defence and security were ratified by the Lisbon Treaty, Ireland could, in theory, impose the Triple Lock system - UN Security Council resolution, Dáil and Government approval - upon her EU partners with regard to any future proposed EU military missions or operations. Potentially, this would give Ireland's neutrality unprecedented force and meaning as a moderating influence at EU level.

The No campaign have repeatedly cited certain provisions of the treaty that are designed to promote EU cohesiveness along defence and security lines as evidence of an EU commitment to develop a standing army to rival that of Nato. For example, Article 28B of the treaty proposes a broadening of the types of collective military activity the EU might legitimately pursue to include robust peace enforcement and anti-terror operations - but only subject to unanimous agreement at the Council of Ministers. Article 188R of the treaty also includes a "Solidarity Clause" which states that "the union and its member states shall act jointly in a spirit of solidarity if a member state is the object of a terrorist attack or the victim of a natural or man-made disaster". The solidarity clause is based on the notion of voluntary offers of civil or military assistance in the event of a crisis and does not represent the basis of a pan-European military alliance.

Despite contrary claims by the No campaign, these provisions of the Lisbon Treaty do not represent a binding commitment to collective military action on a permanently constituted basis. They refer to modest aspirational responses to crises on a case-by-case basis.

The Lisbon Treaty in fact contains a number of explicit and strongly worded provisions, which guarantee Ireland's neutral status and sovereignty with regard to security and defence issues. These include Article 3a, which states that "in particular, national security remains the sole responsibility of each member state". The Lisbon Treaty does not therefore commit Irish troops to any military alliance. Rather, it recognises Ireland's right to its neutral status and allows Ireland to subject future EU military developments to a veto based on our neutral principles. The only question the Irish public have to ask themselves is whether or not they trust this or future Irish Governments to honour our current commitment to neutrality.

Dr Tom Clonan is Irish Times security analyst. He is a retired army officer and lectures in the School of Media, DIT. tclonan@irish-times.ie