Partnership For Peace


Sir, - Carol Fox (The Irish Times, December 4th) criticises Ireland's likely membership of Partnership for Peace as opening the way to involvement in duties going beyond traditional peacekeeping. Yet such duties - i.e. peace-making - are already explicitly catered for within the terms of the UN Charter, which surely must form the basis of any credible policy of neutrality.

Sadly, the case for neutrality is being lost by default, not because of any inherent flaws in the principles of neutrality but because of the persistent failure of its defenders to take on board its wider responsibilities. In Ireland's case the relative paucity of our defence forces and our belief in positive neutrality simply underscores our reliance on the force of international law and its enshrinement in the UN Charter, along with the human rights and genocide conventions, as forming the basis of a system of global collective security.

A glaring example of our failure to live up to our responsibilities in this regard occurred throughout the genocidal conflicts in Bosnia and Rwanda, when Ireland did not call for international intervention, by invoking Chapter 7 of the UN Charter. Nor was any such call heard from the defenders of neutrality. Since 1995 a peace of sorts has been restored in Bosnia through a UN-mandated NATO peacemaking intervention; meanwhile a tardy and low-key intervention by NATO is all that stands for the moment between the Kosovars and further rounds of ethnic cleansing. Yet since 1991 the proponents of neutrality have never proposed any alternative means to those limited interventions which have been carried out to date, in order to arrest genocide in the Balkans.

In our perennial debate on neutrality it seems there are three main groupings: sentimentalists, true believers and debunkers. All three groupings appear happy to equate neutrality with international involvement limited to a peacekeeping role - an artificial and contradictory agenda. This best suits the "sentimentalists" who, while paying lip service to neutrality, can, short of the call going up in the Bundestag of "down with Irish peacekeeping", safely maintain their credentials on neutrality while negotiating away any remaining substance. The true believers have most to lose by observing this agenda but seem to accept it as being the politically safest approach. The debunkers probably observe the rules of the game in order not to be seen to oppose a policy more clearly based on ethical principles - the neutrality case as it is presented makes for a much softer target. The sum total is sterile rhetoric leading nowhere while real policy is made elsewhere (e.g. the softly, softly Euro-policy on the Algerian crisis).

There are no possible scenarios: a total commitment to the Common Foreign and Security Policy, or a renewed, robust, principled, positive neutrality in the context of the PfP. Given our current trajectory to full political, economic and monetary union, the first appears to be the more practicable policy choice - in which case it remains for the principles of neutrality to be promoted as far as possible within the CFSP. On the other hand, continued European integration post-EMU cannot be taken for granted, in this case the second option might be the more promising policy direction.

In either event it will be essential that the case for neutrality is radically recast if it is to have any bearing on political realities. - Yours, etc., Peter Walsh,

Greystones, Co Wicklow.