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Neutrality and a changing world

Military neutrality is essentially a political policy

Letters to the Editor. Illustration: Paul Scott
The Irish Times - Letters to the Editor.

Sir, – It is interesting that Michael O’Dwyer and Ruán Ó Crualaoich both focused on the issue of Irish military expenditure in response to my call for a more political understanding of active neutrality (Letters, June 21st). It is a familiar argument: Ireland cannot be “properly” neutral unless it substantially beefs up its armed forces.

To be clear, I am not against some increased defence spending and I never said I was. For example, the Naval Service, in particular, and the Army have significant personnel retention problems that necessitate improved pay and conditions, and the Air Corps unquestionably requires broad investment.

My fundamental point, conceded by Mr O’Dwyer, is that Irish public opinion – short of a prolonged scaremongering campaign that implies that “the Russians are coming” – will never agree to the sort of expenditure increase, as a percentage of GDP, necessary to bring us even close to the defence budgets of most other EU states. We are currently expending between 0.2 and 0.3 per cent of GDP on defence at a cost of some €1.23 billion, while many of our European neighbours are at 2 per cent of GDP, or thereabouts. So, realistically, the militarists in this debate need to temper their ambition.

However, military neutrality is essentially a political policy and the larger question of fidelity surely deserves far more attention.


Mr O’Dwyer details the Army’s deep connections with Nato and remarks, with no sense of regret, that what we have now “is not neutrality in any meaningful sense”. This is an understandable observation. In truth, Ireland is in a sort of twilight zone where the public policy is military neutrality but the developing practice is otherwise. We are not full members of the Nato military alliance, but we are certainly in its camp. The actions that brought us there were political decisions by Government and, in my opinion, these need to be reversed.

Mr Ó Crualaoich proposes that we need to “grow up” and invest more substantially in the State’s military capabilities to protect “a strong, small, neutral state”. Maybe, but first we have to protect Irish military neutrality by agreeing its parameters. The policy needs to be more clearly defined and its consequences elucidated. Perhaps a referendum would be useful. – Yours, etc,



Co Dublin.

Sir, – Even if the Government decided to pour an extra €3 billion into updating the equipment needs of our Defence Forces it would be a waste of money. It would not really help create any meaningful military capability.

This is because it is now extremely difficult to recruit frontline public sector workers, be they soldiers, teachers, gardaí, or nurses. The main reason for this is due to poor pay and working conditions. This in turn is the result of sustained Government neglect of public service conditions of employment. Buying an extra naval patrol vessel for example will not therefore increase our military strength – it will only make the lack of personnel more acute! – Yours, etc,



Dublin 15.