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(en) Ireland, WSM, What's wrong with the EU - The EU, militarism and Ireland

From Worker <a-infos-en@ainfos.ca>
Date Sun, 9 May 2004 07:46:50 +0200 (CEST)

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The story of the European Union and militarism goes back as far
as 1955 when the Western European Union (WEU) was formed.
This was the main avenue for joint European security efforts and
was closely tied to NATO. In particular it allowed the integration
of the West German armed forces into NATO and, after France
had pulled out of NATO's command structure in 1958, it provided a
bridge between the French military and its allies in NATO.
In 1984 the WEU was reactivated with an agreement, signed in
Rome, to work towards a gradual harmonisation of members
security policies. Although it had never put a soldier in the field, it
did provide a framework for joint military operations between EU
states, for example Anglo-French co-operation on nuclear
weapons. 11 of the 15 member states of the EU are part of NATO
and the membership of the WEU is identical except for the fact
that Denmark chose not to join. In addition to the 10 members
there are 6 associate members who are also members of NATO.
The WEU is, in essence, the regional European co-ordination of
the NATO military alliance. Ireland never joined NATO or the
WEU and this has been one of the major ways in which the Irish
government has been able to claim that it is a 'neutral' state and
does not belong to any of the international military alliances.


Most Irish people seem to agree that neutrality is a good thing,
and certainly in the run up to the Nice Treaty, the government is
at pains to emphasise that this treaty does not in any way affect
our neutrality. After the Nice treaty was rejected the first time, the
one concession that the Irish government offered to their
electorate is a declaration reaffirming Irish neutrality, agreed by
the June 2002 EU summit in Seville. "Ireland confirms that its
participation in the European Union's common foreign and
security policy does not prejudice its traditional policy of military
neutrality"[*1]. It seems that the government figured that fear of
our neutrality being prejudiced was what had caused the Irish
people to reject the treaty of Nice in 2001.

But why are the Irish attached to this neutrality? Since we were
hardly going to join the Warsaw pact, why didn't we join NATO
in case we were attacked? After all the NATO alliance is
supposedly a defence agreement, a commitment to help each
other out if the member nations are attacked by a foreign enemy.
Is it just Irish isolationism? Are we selfish and content to let
others protect us, pay for our security and leave us with a feeling
of moral superiority while they do all the work?


In fact the Irish peoples' suspicion of these defence agreements
rests on much more valid foundations. NATO, was originally
conceived as an alliance to protect the Western democracies
against any invasion by the Soviet block during the cold war,
however none of the 19 member nations of NATO have ever
been subject to attack by a foreign army [*3] since they have been
a member. Indeed, even during the cold war, NATO and its
various offshoots had almost nothing to do with common
defence; instead it acted as the military arm of the powerful
Western nations. The list of NATO interventions hardly reads as
a glorious history: Vietnam, Algeria, Suez, Bosnia, Iraq, and
Kosovo. The common thread has been that NATO interventions
involve military forces from wealthy parts of the world fighting
with a massive technical advantage against impoverished groups
in the third world. Humanitarian reasons have been used as
justifications in most of these wars, and anti-communism used to
be very common until anti-terrorism took over, but they all still
ended up with a whole load of hi-explosives being sprayed around
the third world.

NATO is the military alliance of the major ex-colonial powers
and many of its interventions in the 20th century were in
opposition to National Liberation struggles in the third world.
NATO support was crucial to the wars against national liberation
movements waged by the impoverished Portuguese dictatorship
in Mozambique, Angola and Guinea Bissau during the 1960's
and 70's. NATO allies supplied 33 military vessels, almost a third
of Portugal's fleet [*2]. The concept of the 'defence pact' was
stretched to allow NATO planes to firebomb peasant villages in
the African interior. The 1962 NATO secretary general explained
the motivations for their intervention in saying: "The Portuguese
soldiers are defending a territory, raw materials and bases which
are indispensable not only to the defence of Europe, but also to
the whole of the Western world"*[3]. It is clear from this and
indeed virtually every NATO action before and since, that the
alliance acts in the self-interest of the 'Western world'. It has
nothing to do with defence of the countries involved, rather it
exists to maintain and enforce the global order between the
strong and the weak. NATO and its various appendages exist to
police the world for the powerful nations and their corporations,
to wreak death and destruction wherever there is a threat to the
extreme inequality that is the hallmark of the capitalist world.
Given the Irish history of colonisation and imperial exploitation, it
is no surprise that Irish people want little to do with alliances like

NATO by stealth

However, our government has been slowly edging us towards
effective membership of the imperial NATO alliance. Since the
state's inception, despite Ireland's constitutional neutrality, the
government has, wherever possible, provided assistance to our
powerful military neighbours. Since the idea of neutrality has
always been popular in Ireland, the government has generally
achieved this by stealth. Many Irish people know little of the
extent of Irish assistance to the military forces in NATO
countries. From supplying radar information to the British
military, to allowing the French nuclear submarine radar station
to be established in Ireland, the government has assisted NATO
without the merest hint of debate.

In 1999 Ireland joined NATO's 'partnership for peace'.
"Partnership for Peace (PfP) is the basis for practical security
co-operation between NATO and individual Partner countries
(19+1). Activities include defence planning and budgeting,
training and civil emergency operations."[*4] Fianna Fail brought
Ireland into this partnership without any consultation with the
people, despite their pledge in their previous election manifesto
(1997): "we oppose Irish participation in NATO itself [and] in
NATO-led organisations such as the Partnership for Peace [*5]."
Recent European treaties, signed by the Irish government, have
gone further to bring us into the mainstream of the European
branch of NATO. European security after the cold war

With the end of the cold war, the European powers started to feel
the need for a more powerful local military co-operation. The
WEU was limited since it had no forces of its own and its actions
were limited to co-operation between the various national military
structures, under their separate commands, often bedevilled by
petty rivalries and ancient animosities. NATO remained the only
body capable of turning out a military force under a unified
international command structure. However, due to its domination
by the US military, and its inclusion of non-EU countries such as
Turkey, it was an unwieldy tool for carrying out military action in
the interests of the EU states. The US not only monopolises the
command structure; it also provides the bulk of the troops and
finances to NATO. Thus, in situations where EU commercial
interests are threatened, NATO is obviously not an ideal tool,
since the American military would obviously not be overly keen to
deploy troops and finances around the globe if US commercial
interests were not at stake. Therefore, from the early 1990's on,
the EU started to take steps to establish a local military force,
more a local European branch of NATO than a rival; an army that
the EU states could put in the field without having to prove that
the expenditure of capital and manpower made sense from a US
point of view.


Thus, in 1991, the European Union resolved to create a Common
Foreign and Security Policy (CFSP) as part of the Maastricht
Treaty. This laid the groundwork for the creation of Eurocorps,
consisting of 50,000 troops from 5 countries. This force remained
purely symbolic since it consisted of the same national troops that
were formally committed to NATO. However, it did set in motion
the process whereby the EU powers could start to move towards a
situation where they could deploy troops as a regional branch of
NATO, without having to utilise the entire machinery of the
broad NATO alliance. Although the CFSP was initially
dominated by the French and Germans, it took an important step
forward in 1998 with the signing of an agreement in St. Malo.
London and Paris declared that the EU "must have the capacity
for autonomous action, backed up by credible forces, the means
to decide to use them and a readiness to do so in order to respond
to international crises." What this meant in practice was that the
European NATO states now had an agreed way to embark on
collective military interventions without having to get the
Americans to agree to lead and finance the action. Since the
CFSP was an EU policy, it also meant that countries who were
not NATO members were committed to providing finances and
manpower to a force that would operate within the NATO
planning and decision making structures, i.e. under NATO's
overall command. Although the Danes were exempted from this
clause of Maastricht after an electoral revolt, it passed almost
without notice in Ireland.

Rapid Reaction Force

The shifting of military responsibilities, from the WEU to the EU
itself continued when the EU agreed, at Cologne in June 1999, to
take over the crisis management role of the WEU. The fact that
the recently retired NATO Secretary General Javier Solana was
given the job of High Representative for the EU Common
Foreign and Security Policy illustrates how independent of NATO
the EU's military policy was likely to be. This agreement led to
the commitment, announced in November 2000, to create a
European "Rapid Reaction Force" by 2003. The RPF is to be a
force capable of deploying 60,000 EU troops within 60 days, for
'crisis-management' operations thousands of miles from home,
under the political control of the EU. The Irish government
pledged 7.4% of the Irish armed forces - the third highest
proportion of any EU country - as well as agreeing to financial
and support commitments. Even though the force is nominally
independent of NATO political control (albeit with Solana at the
helm), it will operate within NATO's overall strategic and
planning framework for the foreseeable future.

A rival to NATO?

It is worth noting that the emergence of the CFSP and the Rapid
Reaction Force has not been in opposition to the US dominated
NATO alliance, indeed some of its most vocal backers have come
from within the upper echelons of NATO and the US military. To
put it simply, the US wants the other major Western powers to
pay for more of the military invasions that are necessary to keep
the wheels of global capitalism turning. The Europeans have
gone along with the US desires; for example they have
contributed $200 million to the US plan Colombia, which is
financing the Colombian states war against the rural poor.
However there have been some disagreements between the
European NATO powers and their American mentor. In
particular the French desire to give the European military alliance
the capacity to act autonomously of the NATO alliance, while the
Americans desire to see it as a regional grouping remaining
entirely within NATO's planning structure. This dispute has
focused on what appears at first glance to be an obscure
bureaucratic point; whether or not the EU force and NATO
would share the NATO planning staff. If it did, then a US veto
would be implicit. If not then the EU powers could potentially
take steps that would be contrary to American wishes. To put it
simply, the Americans want the Europeans to provide the
manpower and finances for NATO operations that are taken at
the behest of the EU countries, while the French say that 'if we
are paying for it, we get to decide what we can do'. Still, this is
really a moot point, at least in the immediate future. The
European powers don't have the military forces, the strategic and
planning capabilities, or the defence budgets to allow them to go
it alone against US wishes. Indeed, rather than expressing fear of
EU military build-up, the US has repeatedly promoted increased
defence spending on the part of EU states and chastised them for
the low proportion of their budgets spent on weapons. To sum US
strategic thinking: "An EU force that serves as an effective, if
unofficial, extension of NATO rather than a substitute is well
worth the trouble."[*6]

During the war on Iraq the central role Ireland is playing is
supporting global military operations was seen at Shannon
airport. Hundreds of thousands of US troops have flown to and
from Iraq via Shannon during the war and occupation. An
unknown quantity of US military cargo has also been flown
through Shannon. The government may have been claiming to be
'anti-war' and 'pro-neutrality' throughout this period but in order
to keep Shannon open for military refuelling they arrested over 60
anti war protestors and mobilised hundreds of riot police.

Nice Treaty

The Nice treaty brought us another slow step down the path of
EU military integration and in particular, the transferral of
responsibility for military matters from the WEU to the EU. The
Nice treaty included an amendment to Article 17 of the Treaty of
Europe. Pre-Nice the article included the following in paragraph

"The Western European Union (WEU) is an integral part of
the development of the Union providing the Union with access to
an operational capability notably in the context of paragraph 2. It
supports the Union in framing the defence aspects of the
common foreign and security policy as set out in this Article. The
Union shall accordingly foster closer institutional relations with
the WEU with a view to the possibility of the integration of the
WEU into the Union,"

This passage has been deleted as part of the Nice treaty,
probably because the integration has been achieved! The EU now
assumes formal responsibility for 'operation capability notably in
the context of paragraph 2'. This refers to "humanitarian and
rescue tasks, peace keeping tasks and tasks of combat forces in
crisis management, including peacemaking." The other mention
of the WEU in the Treaty of Europe, in Article 17, paragraph 3:
"The Union will avail itself of the WEU to elaborate and
implement decisions and actions of the Union which have
defence implications", is also deleted.

The EU becomes the official military alliance of Western Europe
and Ireland's neutrality became utterly meaningless. Ireland is
part of an EU military alliance which will serve as NATO's
European arm. The responsibilities of this agreement are broad
enough to cover any conceivable type of military action.
Peacemaking is a particularly vague term. It means making peace
where there is war by the use of military force - best achieved by
winning the war! Given the sorry history of NATO's interventions
in the past and the political realities of the global power order, it is
all too likely that 'peacemaking' will mean aerial bombardments
and military invasions of poor countries by the armies of the
wealthy, all in the 'national interest' of the powerful states.

To sum up, the EU nations are slowly moving towards a greater
integration of their military forces, particularly in terms of their
operations within the NATO alliance. These operations have the
effect of inflicting massive damages on poor regions of the globe
and serve to reinforce the inequality of the global power order.
Important steps along this path have been the agreement of the
CFSD in 1991 and the creation of the Rapid Reaction Force. One
of the important steps is the integration of the non-NATO EU
states into the military alliance.

Neutrality is no longer the issue in Ireland. As the Iraq war
showed we are no longer neutral in any meaningful sense. We are
involved in the European and US military machines. Those
opposed to war need to shift from the traditional ground of
defending national neutrality to being part of a European and
global movement against militarisation.

Based on an article written by Chekov Feeney in Sept 2002


[*1] Declaration of the Seville summit of the EU

[*2] Portugal's African Wars, p38, Humbaraci & Muchnik, TPH,
Dar es Salaam1974

[*3] Ibid p.176

[*4] Partnership for Peace introduction,

[*5] Fianna Fail, 1997 general election manifesto

[*6] Europe's Rapid Reaction Force: What, Why, And How.
William Anthony Hay and Harvey Sicherman, Foreign Policy
Research Institute, February 2001

copied from http://struggle.ws/wsm/pamphlets/eu/
Part of the pages of the
Workers Solidarity Movement

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