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.