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From: Church & State: Articles
Date: April, 0001
By: Editorial

The Non-Aligned Movement Debate

Editorial Comment: the Non-Aligned Movement Debate

We don’t often agree with The Irish Times. But its editorial on 10th March that it was finally “get real” time for Irish political leaders to decide what the country’s foreign and defence policy amounted to, is a contention with which we wholly agree.

Who would have thought a few years ago that we would be called upon to urgently and clearly clarify our policy on that most basic issue in the life of States: war and peace?

In this issue of Irish Foreign Affairs we publish a challenging article by Pat Walsh proposing that Ireland unambiguously position itself with the Non-Aligned Movement, a network of 141 member and observer states which, although differing greatly in many respects, share one principle in common: an intent to defend their independence, resist incorporation into any bloc whose policies are necessarily dictated by its strongest members, and promote the peaceful resolution of international disputes. Embarrassingly for our current political class, these are precisely the values of this State as set down in the Irish Constitution.

We invited people with thoughtful and developed positions on Irish Neutrality to comment on Pat Walsh’s proposal, and are grateful to Ed Horgan, Roger Cole and Anthony Coughlan for providing their stimulating thoughts on the issue. We are also grateful to Clare Daly and Mick Wallace MEPs for their extensive interview with Dave Alvey, clarifying their position in the context of the Ukraine war. They have held to this with great courage and against much vilification in and outside of the European Parliament, and in the Irish media. The current official Irish policy position is in a state of flux between, on the one hand, a “policy”, unwritten, of what the Taoiseach calls “military but not political neutrality”, and, on the other, ever deeper entanglement in the EU’s “Common Foreign and Security Policy” and emerging “Common Defence”, recently re-defined as de facto alignment with the values and aims of NATO and further integration with them. This process has finally brought the rooster home to roost, forcing the Irish to confront their position and clarify it.

The Irish Constitution is no longer the detailed but very concise document adopted by the people by referendum in 1937 and greatly treasured ever since. It has been modified again endorsed by referendum – by the addition of an enormous quantity of EU Treaties and agreements, changing the Constitution to a document now thousands of pages in length. In the process, Irish foreign and defence policy has been much circumscribed, conditioned and even re-defined. What exactly it now is would require much judicial interpretation and many angels dancing on pinheads.

Ireland has minimal “defence forces”. In a recent statement, the Rotating Tánaiste revealed that the Irish naval forces, responsible for what is the largest territorial waters of any EU state, had slumped to just 800 personnel and no longer has the capacity to field more than a single modestly-armed fisheries patrol boat at a given time! Our “air defences” entail some “arrangements” with the Royal Air Force. Despite the original constitutional imperative not to be embroiled in others’ wars, Shannon Airport is a significant conduit for US forces and equipment into and out of the Middle East, and latterly to “Eastern Europe”.

Early in the current crisis, a Russian naval exercise was announced for an area a considerable distance from the southwest Irish coast. This startled the government, which engaged in some “megaphone diplomacy” in tune with the

NATO portrayal of Russia as an evil aggressive empire. But it was a response which, predictably, solved nothing. In the event what resolved it was the Russian Ambassador agreeing to meet a delegation of the South-West Fishers’ Association, who, keen to get on with their livelihoods, had taken matters into their own hands. Following the meeting, the Ambassador announced that he had raised the fishermen’s concerns with his government and that it was decided to move the naval exercises further into the Atlantic beyond the affected fishing zone. The Fishermen’s Association declared its satisfaction with the outcome and thanked the Ambassador for the cordial and respectful meeting and for the resolution of the affair. The State, with its empty ideological stance, was left looking ridiculous.

The Irish government has sent some protective gear and humanitarian aid to Ukraine. On the basis of what the Rotating Taoiseach and Tánaiste have called the “established policy of military but not political neutrality”, it declined to supply lethal military aid. But it has also joined with other EU Member States in agreeing a common EU “aid package”, a major element of which is some very serious military equipment indeed.

Parallel to this, Ireland has used its day in the sun as one of the toothless temporary members of the UN Security Council to agitate for the ejection of Russia from that body and the ending of its Veto, a position which few other even western EU states publicly support. Figures from government have also called for amending the “triple lock” on Irish participation in military action, an Oireachtas-established position prohibiting this unless authorised by the UN Security Council, the EU Council and the Oireachtas. They propose jettisoning the UN bit.

During the 2008-09 Israeli onslaught on Gaza (“Operation Cast Lead”), the Irish government was urged by proPalestine activists to call upon the EU and UN to impose some kind of economic sanctions to deter the aggressor, if only on the already illegal Israeli produce from the Occupied Territories. Micheál Martin was at that time Foreign Minister and made little secret of his “abhorrence” at the Israeli actions, but, on “legal advice” he stated that sanctions would be contrary to both EU and international law. When it came to Russia, however, Martin, now the Rotating Taoiseach, not alone abandoned any such legal qualms, but became one of the world’s most fervent advocates for such measures against Russia.

This hodge-podge of positions and “policies” do not constitute a coherent Irish Foreign and Defence Policy, let alone a set of principles or even a clever stance of studied ambiguity in which some might see merit. It reflects, rather, an evasion of policy-making in favour of profitable drift that maintains benevolence towards Ireland among its “allies” while avoiding principled choices and, more importantly, actual cost.

But nature abhors a vacuum, and Irish sovereignty dictates the need for an unambiguous articulation of its foreign and defence policy. Ireland was very seriously neutral in WW2 without compromising its political values. De Valera’s historic contributions to the League of Nations are reprinted in this issue of Irish Foreign Affairs and these are a great example of “active neutrality” that laid the basis for how the Constitution of 1937 proposed dealing with international conflicts.

The insincerity of government policy has produced confusion among the public. Polls during the crisis indicate consistent popular support for continuing the backstop stance of “military neutrality”. The most recent poll showed the enduring popularity of this position, with about 70 per cent opposing ending Irish “military neutrality” by providing direct military aid to Ukraine. But on another question, 70 per cent also approved the EU providing such assistance and Ireland supporting it! This neatly encapsulates the current state of ambiguity and inconsistency in Ireland on the issues of war and peace.

It is incumbent on Irish political leaders from all tendencies to propose how to end this unsatisfactory state of policy drift at a time when matters of peace and war are likely to be with us for some time. While advocates of Irish NATO

membership have not been shy in advancing their case, those who propose an “independent foreign policy” and an active “positive Neutrality” need more adequately and succinctly to define theirs.

A statement of sovereign Irish foreign policy based on the principles of international security cooperation, military non-alignment and the peaceful resolution of disputes, as set out boldly in the 1937 Constitution, and how the State should prosecute policy to realise these principles, is sorely needed. A state without a clear policy effectively leaves it to others to dictate it.

A Non-aligned Movement (NAM) Campaign Proposal

By Pat Walsh Background

The Non-aligned Movement (NAM) was formed by a number of states that did not want to formally align themselves with or against any major power bloc but wanted to remain militarily and politically neutral. Its origins lie in the fight against colonialism by the countries in Africa, Asia, and Latin America and the Bandung Conference in 1955, which was co-hosted and initiated by Sukarno of Indonesia, Nasser of Egypt, Tito of Yugoslavia, and Nehru of India. The principles and objectives adopted during the conference are still the guiding basis for the Members and their political activity in international relations. The Bandung Conference was a prelude to the First Summit Conference of Belgrade (1961), during which the Non-Aligned Movement was officially founded.

The end of the Cold War brought to an end the bipolar world order and introduced a new unipolar global system. The closure of West−East rivalry put the future of the NAM and its relevance in the new world circumstances to the test. Questions arose regarding the sustainability of NAM since the reasons for forming the NAM disappeared from the international scene, and with the “end of history” there was no-one seemingly to be non-aligned to. However, non-alignment to the remaining world power – the USA, along with its Western allies − has become a new gathering point.

Today, the Non-Aligned Movement represents, after the UN, the largest international organization; it accounts for about 55% of the global population. Moreover, the NAM has managed to maintain its cohesion despite all the differences, diversity, and internal disputes among member states. Nonalignment is still relevant, especially in a unipolar world order in which the countries of the Global South need a stronger institutional framework for promoting and protecting their own interests against the US hegemony and Western dominance in international relations. It should be a major institution for the multi-polar world that is now developing and has been escalated after events in Ukraine.

Almost all member states are from the Global South and share common colonial histories and socio-economic settings. However, there is a desire to reach out to countries in the Northern Hemisphere to enhance political influence. The NAM has no charter and no statute, unlike other international organizations. It is an informal structure of cooperation without any permanent secretariat so there is no obligation in strictly legal terms to adhere to any policies or allegiances but only that member states should support each other under the principles of non-alignment.

The membership requirement for joining the NAM has remained almost unaltered since the Movement’s inception. To become a member, a state must respect and foster the following criteria: have an independent, non-aligned foreign policy; non-membership of multilateral military alliances; support for national liberation movements; the absence of bilateral military agreements or foreign military bases.

Irish Foreign Affairs is a publication of the Irish Political Review Group. 55 St Peter’s Tce., Howth, Dublin 13

Editor: Philip O’Connor ISSN 2009-132X

Printers: Athol Books, Belfast Price per issue: €4 (Sterling £3) Annual postal subscription €16 (£14) Annual electronic subscription €4 (£3)

All correspondance: Orders to:

The NAM’s relevance and validity lies in its incredible size, composition, and tireless struggle for a world order that is based on equality and equity rather than the dominance and control of the few. It is composed of around 120 countries plus 20 states with observer status. Nearly all South American and African states are members. Other notables include Indonesia, India, Pakistan, Palestine, Vietnam and Iraq. Tito was first President and Nasser second. The current President is Ilham Aliyev of Azerbaijan. The Presidency has recently been held by Venezuela, Iran, Egypt, Cuba, Malaysia and South Africa.

Possible benefits of a campaign for Ireland to join NAM

NAM represents what independent Ireland historically stood for – anti-colonialism, independence, neutrality.

Membership of NAM is a positive thing that puts up a real barrier to a slide toward involvement in military adventures and war. It gives our neutrality substance which it has not really had since WW2. We need something that will generate a movement and then something positive to defend.

Our horizons have been narrowed in recent years. The EU once helped Ireland open up to the world, now it’s doing the opposite. As it once escaped from the UK into Europe, Ireland (Continued p. 11)