Low key is the key for our latest ‘historic’ event…

Lousie Richardson, notes that at the low key end of ‘Operation Banner’ comes the quiet triumph of politics over military action and an elusion of the zero sum calculus which still holds and may continue to dominate Northern Irish discourse for some time to come.

The achievement of the British military was to fight the IRA to a stalemate in order to make space for politics. This week, General Nick Parker, the head of the army in Northern Ireland, rightly said that the military’s achievement was to make “a significant contribution to the security in Northern Ireland that has allowed other people to make the difference through politics, social programs, and economics.”

The role of politics is evident in the silence that has greeted the end of Operation Banner. Nobody does military ceremonies like the British. But this week there were no bugles playing, no ceremonial striking of the Union Jack, no mention of the 763 British soldiers who died in Northern Ireland. In the zero sum calculus that is the hallmark of divided societies, this ceremony might be perceived as a loss for the loyalist population of Ulster, so it did not happen. The government of Gordon Brown made no effort to exploit this event for political advantage just as Tony Blair refused to exploit the decommissioning of the IRA’s arsenal two years ago. There was no hint then of triumphalism, no talk of victory, because that would appear as a loss for the republican community. Partisan politics took a back seat to political progress.

  • This analysis is similar to many that I have read this week. However, in private, many Republicans have been expressed great delight at the end of the Army presence. We all realise how it fits within the overall scheme of renewed political stability, nonetheless, the end of the excess British military presence is deemed to be highly significant in terms of the potential for future political progress.

  • Dawkins

    Louise Richardson correctly points out that the long campaign against the IRA has lessons for Iraq. One cannot win against guerrillas but at best create a stalemate as has happened here.

    Not even the use of uncivilized methods will do it. In WWII the German Army had a policy (particularly in the Balkans) of executing 100 innocent men for every one of their number killed in a guerrilla attack, and 50 men for every wounded soldier. It didn’t stop the attacks. Men fled their homes and took to the hills where they armed themselves and fought back in even greater numbers.

    The IRA could have fought on ad infinitum if they’d had the will to. Let’s hope it really is all over. I’m highly pessimistic about Iraq however.

  • BogExile

    ‘The IRA could have fought on ad infinitum if they’d had the will to.’

    Crap. You need the logistical and demographic support to do this and also an organiation which retains its intergrity.

    By the time of the first IRA ceasefire, PIRA were infliltrated and reduced by electronic and physical surveillence to scuttling around small corners of Belfast and South Armagh. Oh, and most ordinary people were heartily sick of their pseudo-revolutionary posturing. This is not to mention the murderous success loyalist paramilitaries had in demonstrating that the IRA could not protect the Nationalist community.

    The Army held the line until the inevitable happened, the majority of people recognised terrorism for the moral cul-de-sac it always was and sued for peace through the ballot box. The pity of it is that if only PIRA had put themselves in the dustbin of Irish history a lot sooner there would be fewer headstones to cry over.

  • Dawkins

    BogExile,

    “Crap. You need the logistical and demographic support to do this and also an organiation which retains its intergrity.”

    Perhaps you should explain this to the RIRA and other splinters who remain under the fingernails of both states. They haven’t gone away, and it doesn’t look as if they will anytime soon.

    “By the time of the first IRA ceasefire, PIRA were infliltrated and reduced by electronic and physical surveillence to scuttling around small corners of Belfast and South Armagh.”

    I think you’ll find they were laughing at the inefficacy of this survellance all the way to and from the bank. Oops, not supposed to say that :0)

    “The Army held the line…”

    What line was this? The line of wire and steel fortification surrounding every garrison and police station in the province?