6 February 1997 Edition

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Barrett defends move to NATO

BY MICHEAL MacDONNCHA

The creeping campaign to lure the 26 Counties into the NATO nuclear alliance through involvement in the so-called Partnership for Peace has now reached a crucial stage.

Fine Gael Minister for Defence Seán Barrett told a meeting of the Representative Association of Commissioned Officers (RACO) last week that the possibility of affiliating to NATO through its Partnership for Peace (PfP) is being ``fully examined''. Barrett made the by now ritual statement that this has no implications for military neutrality. But the next step will be the decision on whether to send forces to former Yugoslavia where they would be under the direct command of NATO. The so-called peace-keeping operation in that country is under the command of US General Bill Crouch, Commander of NATO Allied Land Forces in Central Europe. If the Coalition decides to send troops it will be the first time 26-County forces have been placed under direct NATO command.

The sending of troops will be portrayed as `humanitarian' and the small size of the contingent - probably a platoon of military police - will be stressed in order to quell opposition.

When news of the proposal emerged on 22 January Fianna Fáil duly reacted by giving qualified support. An indication of the government's lack of an independent outlook on foreign affairs was given by Barrett when he defended the proposal by saying that only the ``micro-states'' in Europe like the Holy See, Andorra, Liechtenstein and Cyprus, as well as the states of former Yugoslavia, had not joined PfP.

PfP is in fact a key part of the strategy to extend NATO and its European arm, the Western European Union, giving them the central role in the planned ``common security and defence policy'' of the European Union. The plan to send a small number of Irish troops to former Yugoslavia is not about peacekeeping or humanitarian aid but is a political manouevre. This was confirmed by a senior NATO official who was quoted on 23 January as saying that even if an Irish contingent was very small ``we would be delighted to have an Irish presence because of the political importance of being able to co-operate with Ireland''.

This should be seen in the context of the statement from German Foreign Minister Klaus Kinkel on 31 December when he called for ``an EU foreign and security policy expressed with one voice''. He stressed the importance of current efforts (initiated by the Irish presidency of the EU last year) to ``reduce individual countries' power of veto''.

A key factor in the drive towards a European nuclear-armed superstate is the role of career militarists in the Western European armies. These have a vested interest in keeping military budgets high. The relatively small defence forces in the 26 Counties are also susceptible to this and Barrett's speech to RACO last week was pitched at a group worried that future cutbacks might end their careers; many of them see involvement in EU militarism as their lifeline. PDFORRA, the representative body for privates and NCOs, heard at their conference last year how restructuring was proceeding to ``create a defence force capable of actively co-operating and integrating with the military forces of our European partners''.

But there must be many in the defence forces who reflect the general desire among Irish people to retain our neutrality. Speaking at the RACO conference in 1994 Commandant Dermot Donnelly of the Air Corps made this memorable statement in relation to the European role in the Gulf War:

``Do we want to be part of the genocide? Do we want to be responsible for children in Iraq at present having operations without anaesthetics and dying for want of cheap and readily available drugs? Had we been in a European army we would share some of the responsibility for these obscenities.''

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