Irish neutrality is not a free ride on the back of Nato

Irish neutrality is not a free ride on the back of Nato

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Russia’s announcement last week of their intention to move planned naval drills out of Ireland’s exclusive economic zone has been credited to Irish fishermen’s protests at the planned manoeuvres. Behind the scenes however, what has been described as a ‘feverish’ 48 hours of negotiations took place between the Irish and Russian governments. As this quiet diplomacy continued behind the scenes however, Ireland took a more outspoken position at the UN, supporting calls for a Security Council discussion on Russian aggression towards Ukraine.

Alanna O’Malley is associate professor of international history at Leiden University in The Netherlands

The debate which took place on Monday included a statement from Ireland’s UN Ambassador Geraldine Byrne-Nason in which she called for “de-escalation, diplomacy and dialogue”. Evoking the anniversary of 100 years of hard-won Irish independence last month, she reiterated Ireland’s support for the Ukraine’s sovereign rights. Crucially, Ireland voted against a procedural bulwark introduced by Russia on the grounds that the debate constituted an “unacceptable interference in Russian domestic affairs”. This strong stance reflects Ireland’s solidarity with other European allies, like France, Norway and the UK. Further, it reflects a willingness to put some grit behind the lofty promises we made to secure the seat on the Security Council.

We have led debates about climate security, passed resolutions on UN peacekeeping and helped bring issues such as the conflict in Ethiopia to the table

Ireland was elected as a non-permanent member of the United Nations Security Council on June 17th, 2020 following a dazzling campaign of assurances around solidarity with other smaller nations, multilateralism and respect for human rights. As a non-permanent member, Ireland does not have the veto powers of the permanent five (China, France, Russia, Britain and the United States). However, we do have the ability to shape the Security Council agenda, including what issues are discussed.

The robust response from the Government towards the planned naval drills and echoed in our UN position reflects a more activist internationalism where neutrality means engagement rather than free-riding. The recent debate about the value and meaning of Irish neutrality has essentially centred on the argument that we rely on the protection of Nato while not actually contributing anything. However, as our UN record shows, this is a very reductive view of Irish foreign policy.

Simon Carswell

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Impressive success

In our role as a non-permanent member Ireland has already held the presidency of the Security Council in September 2021 and used the position with impressive success despite its limited powers. We have led debates about climate security, passed resolutions on UN peacekeeping and helped bring issues such as the conflict in Ethiopia to the table. The controversy over Ukraine offered Ireland an opportunity to test the benefits of the soft power we have accumulated through our neutralist internationalism and accelerated through our UN role. Moreover, it reflects that even smaller nations can hold the permanent five accountable for their actions by making Russia answerable in this public forum.

Nato secretary general Jens Stoltenberg. ‘The recent debate about the value and meaning of Irish neutrality has essentially centred on the argument that we rely on the protection of Nato while not actually contributing anything.’

Such an activist international stance also brings some badly needed vigour to the domestic relevance of Ireland’s UN position. While there is general public support for our unbroken record of contribution towards peacekeeping since 1958, there has been little interest in either the campaign for Security Council membership, or our UN activities thereafter. In the context of the greatest threat to European security for decades, Ireland now h

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