The Triple-Lock, Neutrality, the UN and a Federal EU

The ink is barely dry on the report on Micheál Martin’s shambolic consultative forum where a rogues’ gallery of defence industry-funded “experts” decried the backwardness of the Irish public for having an “emotive attachment in some quarters to the concept of neutrality as part of our national identity.”[1] Martin, not missing a beat, announced on November 22nd that he will bring forward legislation to bin the triple-lock mechanism that ensures that more than 12 Irish defence forces may only be deployed to a peacekeeping mission if there is a United Nations Security Council mandate, clearance from the Government, and a vote in the Dáil.

Defending his move, Martin claimed there is “something morally wrong” in giving Putin “a de facto veto on how we, as an independent republic, deploy our troops.”[2] The new legislative proposal will do away with the requirement for a UN Security Council (UNSC) mandate and allow Irish forces to deploy on peace operations mandated by regional organisations or ad-hoc coalitions of states.

While there is nothing inherently wrong with these peacekeeping missions, there are serious questions about Martin’s motivations, the dangers of his argument, and connected developments in Brussels. We are witnessing a revival of great power competition that is reminiscent of the Cold War, and with growing tensions we need to preserve the multilateral forums that we have. Rising countries like China, Brazil, India, and South Africa are making repeated calls to reinforce the authority of multilateral organisations like the UN.

Martin claims our sovereignty is threatened by UNSC vetoes on where we may want to send our troops. This argument is tripe – of course other countries would have influence over which international peacekeeping missions are agreed upon, this is what it means to be part of the international community – we engage in a structure of collective decision-making that allows for collective security. If the triple-lock is not fit for purpose, then effectively Martin is saying the UN is not fit for purpose. At this dangerous juncture in world history, it is frankly bizarre to have Ireland, a supposedly neutral country, openly undermining the UN.

Although the UNSC’s record is not much to celebrate – it imposed the sanctions on Iraq in the 1990s that were responsible for half a million child deaths, it backdated UN approval for Bush and Blair’s illegal Iraq invasion with resolution 1483, and has done effectively nothing in all its years to address the endless crimes of Israel’s brutal apartheid regime – the UNSC is a site of a delicate balance of power. When it gets sidestepped we get destructive and destabilising events like the 2001 Afghanistan war, the 2003 Iraq war, and NATO’s illegal war on Yugoslavia.

Most worryingly, the same week that Micheál announced plans to get rid of the triple lock, citing concern about sovereignty over defence matters, the European Parliament voted in favour of changes to the EU treaties including ushering in qualified majority voting at the European Council for matters related to common security and defence policy. A formal request is now sent to the Council who will vote on opening the EU reform convention. If this process gets a simple majority vote at the Council, we will be looking at the EU changing into a much more federalist project, where the central powers lord it over the smaller peripheral member states.

Ireland is jettisoning its requirements for a UN mandate for peacekeeping missions at the same time as the EU is busy claiming more competences and centralising control over what military and peacekeeping missions are approved for action. Irish neutrality has never been so threatened, our sovereignty never so endangered.

[1] Report on Consultative Forum on International Security