What are enhanced Defence Forces for?

In the 26 Counties there is a housing crisis, a shamefully inadequate two-tier health service, a decrepit public transport system, and a grave shortage of affordable accommodation for third-level students. As always, the impact of this failure by the state is felt most acutely by working people.

It raises the question, therefore, of why, with so much of the Republic’s social infrastructure in dire need of financial support, the Dublin government has decided to devote an extra €400 million annually towards military expenditure. What madness has caused the coalition to embark on a spending spree described by the Department of the Taoiseach as “the largest increase in the defence budget in the history of the state.”¹

Of course there is a reference in the same press statement to the Russian invasion of Ukraine, claiming that it has fundamentally changed the defence landscape in Europe. How exactly war in eastern Europe will affect Ireland militarily is not made clear. Nevertheless the statement continues with an assertion that the 26 Counties is ill prepared to defend itself. The fact that the Republic spends a smaller percentage of annual GDP on its armed forces than several other European countries is seemingly to be used as evidence of the state’s vulnerability.

Meanwhile Micheál Martin is touring abroad making speeches designed evidently to lend weight to his government’s stance. In one instance, laced with unintended irony, he promised to help Volodymyr Zelenskyi rebuild Ukraine. Presumably that unfortunate country will not require public housing or a national children’s hospital. On other occasions the Fianna Fáil leader is found proclaiming his eagerness to help maintain what he likes to call the rules-based international order.

For dangerously tendentious nonsense, this new-found enthusiasm for armaments and foreign alliances takes some beating. Just how disingenuous the strategy is can be seen by the Government’s frequent use of that term “rules-based international order,” which in practice means upholding a system ordained by Washington and London—in other words, the type of so-called rules adhered to by John Bolton’s United States when organising CIA-directed coups in South America or by the British SAS when executing orders in Afghanistan.

Notwithstanding the unethical political rationale being advanced for this extravagant expenditure, there are very hard-headed practical questions to be asked about how realistic any of this is.

For a start, from where is any likely invasion to come? And who is the potential enemy? Undoubtedly this has to have been a crucial part of any assessment conducted by the Irish military’s advisers. Surely we should be informed, because if any superpower, such as Russia or China, is deemed a real threat, then an extra €400 million will make no difference whatsoever. Moreover, “tooling up” to participate in some EU-led force will not offer protection but would instead make this country a target for attack.

Bear in mind also that in this technological age any such strike would probably mean a catastrophic pre-emptive missile blitz with unstoppable ultrasonic warheads.

In reality, the most pragmatic, indeed only sane course of action is to maintain a position of strict neutrality in the event of a global conflict. Not only would this greatly reduce the risk of Ireland being targeted but it would afford this country the opportunity to use its moral authority to act as a peace-broker. Interestingly too, a neutral Republic might well provide a measure of protection for the North as well.²

In this light, it hardly needs stating that €400 million spent annually on any of the infrastructural sectors referred to above would help alleviate existing difficulties. Not only would the impact be immediate but it would also demonstrate the value of direct state aid. And this last observation about state investment may point towards a more credible, albeit no less disturbing explanation than Martin and Coveney preparing to resist an invasion.

There is at present a state of global economic turbulence, illustrated by high and rising inflation. The effect of this is visible everywhere, inflicting a painful cost-of-living crisis that is borne principally by the working class. Not surprisingly, workers and their unions are demanding wage increases to make good the shortfall. In turn, business and the state are resisting and thus raising the possibility of what is politely described as industrial unrest.

Under any circumstances, such a scenario would cause concern within the Irish establishment. Even if, as free-market economists assure us, inflationary pressures are temporary, contingency plans would be in place.

There is, however, a different narrative, suggesting that, because of its inherent instability, capitalism is experiencing a systemic challenge.

In a recent edition of Marxism-Leninism Today, Greg Godels explores an interesting theory elaborated in a book The Rise and Fall of the Neoliberal Order (2022) by Prof. Gary Gerstle.³ At the end of his lengthy and cogent article, “Towards a New Political Order,” Godels agrees with the author’s hypothesis that, thanks to neoliberalism’s failings, global capitalism is entering a new phase of instability.

Should this be the case—and the argument is convincing—the real rationale for enhancing the Irish military may well be domestic containment rather than international adventurism.

Let’s be clear: this is not pointing towards a Pinochet-style apocalypse. Think instead of an expanded role for the military, such as that recently proposed for it at Dublin Airport. Think too about an extra 2,000 personnel, including civilian HR experts and a digital transformation officer who will lead a digital transformation programme. Reflect also on the proposal accepted by Coveney’s department that the Defence Forces’ representative body will be permitted to apply for associate membership of the ICTU.

It is easy to see how convenient it would be to deploy this up-skilled, upgraded military if discontent over housing, health services or other inadequate provisions, exacerbated by a precarious economic climate, were to cause widespread industrial action. Indeed within the very recent past RTE has reported trade unions saying they would step up preparations for industrial action in an attempt to secure an improved public-sector pay offer.

Under such conditions a conservative state and its establishment would seek to maintain crucial sectors of the economy in order to frustrate and counteract any protest movement.

It is, of course, possible that no such thoughts of privilege-preservation entered the heads of our ruling class. Perhaps they are really just keeping a watchful eye, Skibbereen Eagle-like, on the man in Moscow.

On the other hand, it is still worth keeping in mind a phrase my grandfather often used when he would say that there may well be a method underpinning their madness.

  1. Department of the Taoiseach, “Government announces move to transform the Defence Forces and the largest increase in the defence budget in the history of the State,” 13 July 2022 (https://www.gov.ie/en/press-release/b3c91-government-transform-defence-forces-largest-increase-defence-budget-in-history-of-state/).
  2. See Christopher Leebody, “Russian TV host claims Northern Ireland should be spared from nuclear destruction threatened against England, as province will ‘unite with Ireland’,” Belfast Telegraph, 19 July 2022.
  3. Greg Godels, “Towards a New Political Order,” Marxism-Leninism Today, 17 July 2022 (https://mltoday.com/towards-a-new-political-order/).