Ireland needs to combat its domestic demons to begin defending its national interest abroad…

I’ve just submitted my annual review of the Irish blogosphere for Total Politics’ forthcoming Guide to the Blogosphere. In writing this year’s analysis it strikes me that one moment of transformation may come in October with the second referendum result on Lisbon, or more likely in its wake. From what I’ve seen of the official effort, the arguments don’t run much further or deeper than pointing to the fate Iceland outside the EU. No lessons seem to have been learned by the Irish political establishment. Dan O’Brien offers an insight into why. And the causes are not recent. O’Brien argues that they are generational, cultural and structural:

…on the eve of Ireland taking over the rotating presidency of the EU, then taoiseach Bertie Ahern conceded that Ireland was perceived as having drifted to the periphery of Europe.

That the man at the country’s helm for the previous six years could observe such drift, in the manner of a casual bystander, says much about the importance the political class attaches to foreign matters and the unwillingness and inability to pursue the country’s vital interests.

European engagement is a core national interest for Ireland; guaranteeing security is an eternal interest for all states. And here Ireland’s record is unique. When Nato was established in the aftermath of the second World War, Ireland remained neutral.

But unlike those other European countries who voluntarily chose that stance – Sweden and Switzerland – Ireland made no effort to guarantee its neutrality. Where the Swedes and the Swiss committed resources to their militaries, Ireland left itself undefended because it knew that its allies would protect it.

This is called free riding. No Irish person should be proud of it. But rather than being clear about this, self-deception took hold.

Non-participation in the Atlantic alliance came to be portrayed as noble aloofness from the conduct of the cold war. Implicit, if not explicit, in this position was that alliances among states for the purpose of enhancing security were in some way morally suspect.

Sustained self-deception more often than not has serious consequences. It certainly has for Ireland. As the EU logically expands its role in the provision of security, the decades-long failure of the political class to educate, persuade and lead comes home to roost. Fantasies abound of the EU morphing into a war machine and of Irish youth being press-ganged into some Euro-imperial army.

Ireland has simply not developed the national means to become a functioning world citizen. Not least, he says, because of the deep embedding of powerful and eloquent vested interests like the farmers:

Economic security has suffered even greater neglect. Multilateralism is the organising principle that every small country wishes to see operate in world affairs because it internationalises the rule of law. The weak benefit most from enforceable rules because they provide protection from the arbitrary actions of the strong. The World Trade Organisation is the most effective global multilateral construct that has ever existed.

The interests of any small, politically powerless country that is highly dependent on foreign trade dictate that it support ardently that organisation. Ireland does the opposite; consistently working against its own interests. Each time an effort is made to advance the Doha round of trade talks, Ireland is the most vocal opponent among the EU 27.

This position is seen abroad, by those who care to look, for what it is – the granting to a small vested interest (in this case farmers) of the power to determine policy to the detriment of the wider economy.

Lastly, government cabinets should be about capacity building, not just covering a party’s geographical bases:

What accounts for these failings? One must look first to the calibre of the country’s politicians in general, and foreign ministers in particular. The current Iveagh House incumbent is a school teacher. His four immediate predecessors were, respectively, a solicitor, a solicitor, a barrister and Ray Burke. None had any background in international relations or diplomacy. None had ever lived, worked or studied abroad. None had ever worked for a foreign company in Ireland. No other developed country entrusts its foreign relations to unqualified amateurs with no experience of the world.

In recent decades the international political and economic environment has been benign for Ireland. The years to come will be far more challenging. The most parochial and least cosmopolitan political class in western Europe has not been up to the task of conducting a strategically coherent foreign policy in the good times. One must fear for how it will fare in the stormier times ahead.

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  • “Ireland left itself undefended because it knew that its allies would protect it.”

    Perhaps some examples could be given of credible threats in that period, and how NATO actually rather than theoretically committed resources to our specific protection.

    We have few enough advantages in Ireland – that an enemy would have to get at us by the long way round (or an ICBM) can’t surely be so heinous. In any case, rather than tooling up for taking on Uncle Joe, the money we did spend abroad on UN missions and on the UN School in the Curragh was probably more help to the human race than any number of NATO exercises.

  • Mick Fealty

    Mark, the underlying point is that Ireland as an independent state has never taken foreign policy with the seriousness it clearly demands. Particularly since no domestic policy can withstand the impact of global events.

    Someone is going to have to start peddling hard, otherwise LIsbon II will go by default the way Lisbon I has…

  • Frank Sinistra

    Mick,

    I’d suggest the debate on NAMA in Sept will be much more of a scene setter and the outworking of that debate could echo through to Lisbon II. Public reaction to that and An Bord Snip may have a major impact on confidence, already damaged, in government to truthfully present arguments and give analysis and medicine that doesn’t protect vested interest at the top over the masses.

  • “Ireland as an independent state has never taken foreign policy with the seriousness it clearly demands.”

    That’s a pretty sweeping dismissal of people like Frank Aiken, Sean MacBride and the Cruiser for three.

  • “What accounts for these failings? One must look first to the calibre of the country’s politicians in general, and foreign ministers in particular. The current Iveagh House incumbent is a school teacher. His four immediate predecessors were, respectively, a solicitor, a solicitor, a barrister and Ray Burke. None had any background in international relations or diplomacy. None had ever lived, worked or studied abroad. None had ever worked for a foreign company in Ireland. No other developed country entrusts its foreign relations to unqualified amateurs with no experience of the world.”

    Something terribly ironic about his analysis. He wants us to trust in the judgement of what he calls “unqualified amateurs with no experience of the world” when it comes to the Lisbon Treaty, but not on domestic policy. 🙂

  • Frank Sinistra

    Mark,

    In more recent times on a European level there have been Irish polticians that had/have a great influence on European policy:

    McGreevy – internal market reform
    Cox – fingers in many pies
    de Rossa – assisting drafting the Constitution

    I have a feeling Mick’s broad brush may be due to not really understanding the role of Irish politicians in the EU and listening to a pro-Lison media led narrative of Ireland on the fringes.

  • Frank Sinistra

    McCreevy of course, apologies.

  • Dave

    “Should the forthcoming referendum sink the Lisbon Treaty once and for all, Ireland will place itself in the path of a historical dynamic of enormous momentum. There should be little doubt about what will happen if that irresistible force meets the fragile object that is Irish rejectionism.”

    Little doubt about what exactly? Unspecified scaremongering? Nothing will happen except (a) the EU will have to abide by its own rules and recognise that the treaty requires unanimous ratification under them and that it is rejected, or (b) the EU will abide by its fascist traits and force the Irish government to once again reject the result of a free and fair referendum, wherein the people will likely respond by demanding the resignation of the government.

    “That the country is in such a perilous position owes much to the neglect and complacency of the political class.”

    Sacremogering about the “perilous position” again. This clown really doesn’t grasp democracy. In this statist view, the will of the people should be the result of sustained brainwashing by the state and this brainwashing should be conducted on behalf of foreign organisations, so that if the people’s will is contrary to the will of the EU federalists, then that is the fault of the government. The people – being mere plebs – were left to their own democratic devices by the requirement of the constitution and said plebs placed themselves in terrible danger, with the government failing to save the people from themselves.

    Now why does this clown think that people should transfer the sovereign powers of their state to a foreign organisation that retains the facade of benign ruler when all is going its way but which morphs into a menacing superstate that acts like an “irresistible force” against the people when they exercise a democratic choice?

    The contempt that these europhiles have for democracy is astounding. Those states who value democracy should have nothing to do with this foul organisation. By the way, under its own projections, the EU will account for less than 4% of the global population by 2050 and the median age of its population will be 52. In other words, it will be a small and economically backward state with its younger citizens working to pay the pensions and other entitlements of its older populations. That is the ‘brave new world’ that awaits these europhiliac muppets. The closer it gets to its own fate, the more states will dump it. Transferring sovereign over Ireland monetary system has destroyed this state, just like transferring sovereignty over the farming industry destroyed that industry keeping it subsidy-dependant, backward, and the country full of fields with absolutely nothing growing in them, and just like transferring sovereignty over Ireland’s territorial waters has decimated the fishing industry and led to the member states of the EU extracting somewhere between 100 and 200 billion worth of fishing stock from those waters, ete, etc. Everything that the EU has touched in this country it has destroyed. WE need to exist this regime and start operating this state in accordance with our national interest.

  • Chris Donnelly

    Mick

    “Mark, the underlying point is that Ireland as an independent state has never taken foreign policy with the seriousness it clearly demands.”

    Regarding wasting millions on developing a stronger military a la Sweden and Switzerland, a more accurate assessment would certainly conclude this to be a refreshingly intelligent decision of consecutive administrations in Ireland, based on the fact that history clearly illustrated that, short of the State joining those few possessing nuclear weapons, the island could be forcefully taken with relative ease by a stronger foreign power- as history confirmed.

    That the Irish determined instead to offer the services of their armed forces to the UN shows a willingness to take its responsibilities as a member state of the world community seriously.

    This is a dicey narrative at best, and the paragraph suggesting the professional background of the State’s leading politicians conveniently ignores the fact that such a profile is pretty consistent across the western world.

  • The Crofter

    Have the nation which is in possesion of a substantial part of your country as a military ally – hardly likely. And what is this great threat to Irealnd apart from its partial occupation that it needs to be so concerned about?

  • Pete Baker won’t answer my question

    Dave,

    absolutely spot on. Well said, especially your first paragraph in relation to the thinly veiled threats now being directed, once again, at the Irish people. This “treaty” would have been buried long ago had the Brtish etc. had the guts to put it to their people. Instead, their pathetic collective cowardice shines through as always – even the Conservative Party is beginning to renege on its promises. And then they wonder why UKIP and the BNP now represent threats to the cosy, hegemonic Westminster political elite.

    I predict that Lisbon will be voted down again in the 26 and by at least the same margin as it was last June. The economic and political situation in the south has the potential for serious social disorder in the coming months. Watch out for the latest unemployment figures tomorrow.

  • When Nato was established in the aftermath of the second World War, Ireland remained neutral.

    But unlike those other European countries who voluntarily chose that stance – Sweden and Switzerland – Ireland made no effort to guarantee its neutrality. Where the Swedes and the Swiss committed resources to their militaries, Ireland left itself undefended because it knew that its allies would protect it.

    There is some evidence that NATO felt Sweden needed a bit of encouragement from time to time:
    http://www.fredsakademiet.dk/library/tunander.pdf

  • Wilde Rover

    Dan O’Brien,

    “There should be little doubt about what will happen if that irresistible force meets the fragile object that is Irish rejectionism”

    Rejectionism? That isn’t even a word, but I liked the violent imagery used in this sentence.

    “The failure yet again to step up to the plate during the campaign has resulted in one of the smallest member states becoming the largest obstacle to the implementation of reforms agreed by 27 governments.”

    Funny, but I thought that governments were servants of the people. Silly me. Maybe you’re right though. This whole European constitution thing is too important to be decided by indentured serfs.

    “This is a dangerous position for a small and powerless country to be in.”

    Nice. It’s like how a mobster would tell you that your children are beautiful and that it would be terrible if something bad happened to them.

    “Where the Swedes and the Swiss committed resources to their militaries, Ireland left itself undefended because it knew that its allies would protect it.”

    Allies? But I thought that the whole point of neutrality was that you didn’t have any military alliances.

    “This is called free riding.”

    Riding on what, the imaginary unicorns that are the alliances Ireland is not a part of?

    “No Irish person should be proud of it.”

    I know. To think of it, Ireland could be helping to occupy poor countries so we could take their stuff, but we were just a bunch of pussies who did girly men things like UN peacekeeping. The shame is unbearable.

    “Fantasies abound of the EU morphing into a war machine and of Irish youth being press-ganged into some Euro-imperial army.”

    Funny, but people who said twenty years ago that there would be a European constitution were told that this was a fantasy, and yet here we are.

    “None had any background in international relations or diplomacy.”

    Not cosy enough with the cliques for your taste, eh Dan?

    “The most parochial and least cosmopolitan political class in western Europe has not been up to the task of conducting a strategically coherent foreign policy in the good times.”

    And yet these are the ones campaigning for a Yes vote.

    All in all, a fairly decent stab at scaremongering, and I look forward to seeing how the gloom and doom merchants refine their spin as Lisbon II draws closer.