Broadsheet.ie kindly shared a follow-up post I wrote about neutrality in lieu of Friday’s attacks in Mali and the government’s likely decision to send more Irish soldiers either there or to Mali. Have a read:
– French President, Francois Hollande’s, recent invocation of article 42.7 of the Lisbon Treaty has called on all EU member-states to aid and assist France by all means in their power. This is the first time since the Lisbon Treaty’s formal adoption in 2009 that the so-called mutual defence clause has been activated – meaning we’re all wading deep into unchartered waters.
But Hollande’s request came with a further wrinkle – the French army is already thinly stretched across much of sub-Saharan Africa, from Djbouti along the Gulf of Aden to Senegal on the Atlantic. Therefore, president Hollande and his cabinet have apparently made it plain that they want other EU member states to send their military support to either Mali or Lebanon, essentially to act as stand-ins for France’s overstretched forces, so they can be redeployed in order to beef up security at home and redirect their attention towards fighting ISIS in Syria.
It is entirely unclear, and indeed, debatable as to whether this is what the authors of the treaty had in mind when they drafted the mutual defence provision in the first place. What is clear, however, is that increasing the amount of Irish soldiers deployed on overseas missions, to approximately 850, was already on the government’s agenda long before the attacks in Paris – even if relatively few bothered to pay attention.
So it should have come as no surprise when Irish defence minister, Simon Coveney responded favorably to the French request for more soldiers – in fact, he doubled down on the strategy after attacks in Mali on Friday left 21 dead, many of whom were foreign nationals, at the Raddison Blu hotel in Bamako. At the same time, Coveney charged that those – including myself – who have openly questioned the wisdom of sending more Irish soldiers to France’s deeply fractured former colonies, were “trying to create a story that is unfair.” Insisting that any request to deploy more soldiers would come through the United Nations adding a further assurance that if such a request were received it would conform to the ‘triple lock principle,’ and therefore, would not violate Irish neutrality.
First, it must be said that if anything ought to be considered “unfair” here, it is Minister Coveney’s framing of IDF deployments as Ireland’s moral and legal responsibility explicitly in response to the attacks in Paris, given that the government had already decided to send an additional 180 soldiers to Lebanon beforehand. There’s little reason to excuse this politicking, considering raising net deployment numbers has long been part of a 10 year defence strategy that the Minister himself oversees.
Second, when we take a closer look at the history of Irish foreign policy, including past deployments, it becomes increasingly clear that the idea of the so-called triple lock – and with it Irish neutrality – is as much myth as it is reality.
Map of IDF overseas deployments
Map of French military bases in Africa (http://uk.businessinsider.com/frances-military-is-all-over-africa-2015-1?r=US&IR=T).
Map of France’s former African colonies (http://www.globalissues.org/article/84/conflicts-in-africa-introduction).