Ireland’s security arrangements

Other states pick up the tab for our freeloading

Sir, – There is much to object to (and much that is objectionable) in the British think tank Policy Exchange’s report on Ireland’s security arrangements (News, February 4th), but its basic assumptions – that Ireland is a security freeloader and has been for decades, that this freeloading is now undermining the security of its neighbours, and that our political culture refuses to engage with these issues seriously – are difficult to dispute.

Dominic Carrol’s letter (February 8th) unwittingly underlines this point, by trying to claim basic security co-operation – namely engagement with Nato’s Operational Capability Concept (OCC) – is part of a secret “establishment” plot to drag Ireland into Nato. In reality, OCC is an information-exchange mechanism, allowing countries to measure themselves against Nato standards (widely regarded as the highest in the world). States with zero realistic prospects for Nato membership, such as Serbia and Azerbaijan, have engaged with OCC. Ireland’s armed forces have been equipped with Nato-standard weaponry for decades; making sure that we’re using them effectively through co-operation with Nato via the OCC should be entirely uncontroversial. Ensuring a degree of interoperability should also be par for the course, given that Irish troops serve alongside troops from Nato members in UN peacekeeping missions.

While Mr Carrol declares that “safeguarding neutrality” is the will of the Irish people, he refuses to engage with the obvious counter-argument – that doing so requires that other states pick up the tab for our freeloading. This was minimally tolerable during the Cold War when the risk was of a Soviet occupation of mainland Europe but why should the wishes of the electorates of other European nations be ignored when it comes to collective defence, particularly with regard to the telecommunications and digital infrastructure that has been the basis of Ireland’s economic prosperity? And if other European states, facing their own budgetary constraints and security challenges, are unable to pick up our slack, should these vital assets be left undefended? These are real and pressing concerns that we seem determined to ignore. The last two years should have taught us that European security is much more fragile than many anticipated. What policy Ireland should adopt in response is not only a debate we should be having, but one that should be grounded in a genuine understanding of what the different policy options entail. – Yours, etc,