Neutrality and military alliances

A chara, – Dominic Carroll (Letters, May 20th) worries that by suggesting Ireland's neutrality may not be permanent, the Minister for Defence may undermine Ireland's "long-standing and well-regarded neutrality".

I would like to reassure Mr Carroll that there is no risk whatsoever that Irish neutrality might be undermined. This is because Ireland’s long-standing defence policy has not been neutrality, but rather refusing to maintain even a basic level of defence and relying instead on Nato to protect our skies and seas. Ireland has essentially been a Nato protectorate (or free-rider) since 1949, and we will remain so until we invest in a military that can deter external aggression without relying on the nuclear-armed forces of foreign states.

In this increasingly dangerous era, the only groups by whom our policy of voluntary defenceless is “well-regarded” appear to be states actively hostile to Europe and/or Nato, and their supporters in Ireland and Europe alike. Meanwhile, the elected Irish officials and civil servants charged with protecting this State and its citizens are sounding ever-louder alarms about our head-in-the-sand approach to defence.

The Irish people deserve a military with the resources to protect us against external aggression.

Maintaining a basic credible defence has always been a key responsibility for small sovereign states, especially in Europe, and other small European nations maintain strong military forces alongside similar or superior social spending to Ireland.

It is time for us to grow up and demand the same from our political system.

However, as long as we choose to deny the need for military investment and remain a Nato protectorate, Mr Carroll need not worry about a stray comment from Mr Coveney undermining our neutrality – something which does not exist cannot be undermined. – Is mise,




A chara, – Eoin Dillon writes to reject the thought that Ireland (with one of the lowest per capita defence budgets in all of Europe, particularly compared to neutral countries) is free-riding off Nato in general and the UK in particular (Letters, May 10th). Mr Dillon makes several bold claims, the most surprising of which is that Ireland is of "no strategic importance to Russia".

This is surprising because Russia acts as though we are of great strategic importance to them. Although we are a small, neutral state at the opposite end of Europe, with minimal shared trade, Russia maintains the second-largest embassy of all nations in Ireland.

To Russia, Ireland is so important that it recently sought to build a major expansion to its embassy, adding structures which were almost certain to be used for espionage and hybrid warfare. Russian military jets repeatedly violate our airspace, with their transponders turned off so they cannot be tracked, and only weeks ago a Russian fleet gathered in our waters for a show of force over the all-important cables which link Ireland (and Europe) to North America.

What innocent explanation can Mr Dillon provide for any of this?

It is comforting to believe that moral superiority can protect us from geopolitics. However, in the real world, we are a small, voluntarily helpless EU state sandwiched between Nato powers, and an extremely tempting target for those who seek to harm Nato or the EU. For hostile actors, Ireland is a weak link of great strategic importance, reflected by the size of the Russian embassy’s footprint.

History shows over and over that neutrality which a nation cannot defend is worse than worthless.

The closest we can come to Mr Dillon’s utopian vision of an Ireland free from geopolitics is a future where our Defence Forces are strong enough to protect this country without Nato.

The second-closest is one where we earn Nato’s protection as a paid-up member.

The last option is to continue our current policy of denial, hypocrisy, and free-riding, pretending we don’t need Nato (or even our own Defence Forces) and then shamelessly demanding Nato’s protection when the storm clouds inevitably gather. – Is mise,