New Cold War: Irish military neutrality in the crosshairs

By Martina Stafford 

Since Putin’s brutal invasion of Ukraine in February 2022, the mainstream media in Ireland has been flooded with articles about the need to “reevaluate Ireland’s neutrality”. The capitalist establishment here has its sights set on entering military alliances and increasing militarisation. 

The government is doing its best to avoid any democratic accountability. It voted down a bill to have a referendum on the issue. Instead of forming a citizen’s assembly, as on many other issues, it has opted for a panel of “experts” in security policy, academics, and members of the public to take part in the forum designed to “build public understanding”. 

Part of a wider conflict 

In other words, they want to railroad their agenda of further weakening the state’s (albeit relative) military neutrality. Unfortunately, Sinn Féin also recently dropped its long/term pledge to withdraw from the EU common defence arrangement known as PESCO and the NATO-aligned Partnership of Peace. 

This is part of a wider militarisation drive throughout Europe which reflects the shifting sands of global inter-imperialist power struggles. There are two dominant blocs forming around the major rival imperialist powers of the US and China, who are constantly trying to shore up as much economic and political power as possible to protect their interests. 

Democracy and freedom for who? 

Leo Varadkar has stated that “..we’re not politically neutral. We’ve always been on the side of the West, on the side of democracy and on the side of freedom”. It’s true that the Irish state has never been genuinely neutral. However, it has not been on the side of ‘freedom or democracy’ but of the Western imperialist powers, especially the US. This reflects the fact that the capitalist establishment in Ireland is deeply tied to and subservient to US capitalism, as shown by the domination of US multinationals over the economy. 

An estimated 2.5 million US troops have passed through Shannon Airport on the way to Iraq and Afghanistan to viciously pursue its wars for oil, power and profit. Fianna Fáil, Fine Gael, the Greens and Labour are all complicit in the crimes committed in these wars.

Now the Irish state is moving towards further military collaboration with the EU as European powers recognise they will have different interests to US and British imperialism and therefore want to develop capabilities more independent of NATO. They have committed to being part of a 5,000-strong EU “Rapid Reaction Force” under the condition the name is changed to ‘something less militaristic’. As well as this, Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael want to free themselves up by getting rid of the ‘triple lock’ mechanism, which requires approval of the government, the Dáil and the UN before more than 12 military personnel can be deployed abroad. 

Opposing imperialist wars 

In 1918, a massive general strike was organised in Ireland in opposition to military conscription to the British army to fight in World War 1. This fed into a radical wave of struggle on a scale never before witnessed on this island. Instead of socialist change, however, we saw a counter-revolutionary offensive, partition, and the formation of two sectarian capitalist states, north and south. 

Today, the southern state’s shores and raw materials continue to be placed into the hands of the highest bidder with protection from the state’s growing military apparatus in collaboration with wider imperialist interests. Working-class people in Ireland have an active interest in opposing these imperialist and capitalist wars, cold or otherwise, and the moves towards militarisation. This struggle must be international, linking up with working-class people throughout Europe and the world, to oppose the drive to military destruction and to fight a democratic socialist world based on peace, solidarity and cooperation.

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