War in Ukraine: Irish establishment moves to end neutrality

U.S. troops sent to areas bordering Ukraine in February 2022, as part of Nato forces (Photo: public domain)

The Russian state’s invasion of Ukraine marks a sudden rupture in world affairs which will have long-lasting consequences. In the Republic of Ireland, it has been cynically invoked in yet another attempt to undermine military neutrality. A ferocious media offensive is underway in an effort to persuade the majority that now is finally the time to join NATO. In the vanguard of this offensive are the usual suspects: politicians from the right-wing bosses’ party, Fine Gael, europhile academics and right-wing newspaper columnists.

So far, the offensive has not made much headway. A recent Edelman Trust Barometer report showed support for military neutrality remaining solid at 71%. However, the Southern political establishment is clearly determined to use the war in Ukraine to push forward their agenda of NATO membership and to bring about a decisive end to neutrality.

That end may, to all intents and purposes, have already happened. For instance, Simon Coveney, the Minister for Foreign Affairs, was quoted in the ‘Irish Times’ as stating that on Ukraine: ‘…we are not neutral. In fact, we are actively funding and supplying equipment to the Ukrainian military to help them to defend themselves and the civilians of the country.’

Taoiseach [Irish prime minister] Micheál Martin, meanwhile, has called for a ‘citizens’ assembly’ on neutrality to take place after the war in Ukraine has concluded. The direction of travel is all one way: towards the formal ending of military neutrality. This would inevitably mean joining NATO (North Atlantic Treaty Organisation).

What is NATO?

NATO is an aggressive militarist project aligning the interests of European junior imperial powers (the UK, France, Netherlands, Portugal) with those of dominant US imperialism. The United States exercises decisive control over NATO and takes all the major decisions. A US General is always the Supreme Commander of NATO and a condition of membership for each country is accepting US bases. NATO takes a keen interest in the politics of its European member states and it would never, for instance, tolerate any left-wing government coming to power on a programme of leaving NATO.

Understandably, many people in Eastern Europe see NATO membership as a guarantor of protection from dominance by the Russian state. And that state’s actions in Ukraine will have hardened that perception. However, for revolutionary socialists, there can never be any genuine security for the working-class majority in Europe through NATO membership. The sense of ‘security’ provided by this membership is ultimately reactionary as it depends on pitting Russian workers against Eastern European workers. Capitalist states, which all NATO members are, have no fundamental interest in security for their populations but are instead vehicles for the interests of their domestic capitalist class and US capital.

Security for working people can only be guaranteed by cultivating workers’ unity across state boundaries based on internationalism, the common class interests of workers and the transformation to socialism. Security will not be built on the basis of contending nuclear-armed capitalist power blocs. The present war in Ukraine shows where the latter approach inevitably leads.

NATO styles itself as a ‘defensive’ alliance, yet this so-called ‘defensive’ alliance has, since the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, engaged in a series of disastrous military campaigns.

These include its illegal bombing of Serbia in 1999; its participation in the destruction of Libya in 2011; and, its 20-year campaign in Afghanistan which ended in ignominious retreat last year. NATO member states such as the US and UK have, of course, illegally invaded Iraq, leaving a million people dead. Again another military campaign ended in failure and left chaos in its wake. NATO member France continues to use its military strength to interfere in the affairs of its former colonies in Africa. NATO members are currently arming and assisting Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates in their murderous war in Yemen which has, so far, killed over 300,000 civilians and pushed over 20 million into starvation and famine.

NATO has made clear it will not intervene directly to oppose the Russian invasion of Ukraine. However, it will continue to supply weapons and equipment to the Ukrainian military to fight Russia. This opens up the prospect of a protracted campaign in Ukraine with a huge cost in human lives and the destruction of Ukraine’s infrastructure. While responsibility for the present invasion lies primarily with Vladimir Putin and the Russian State, NATO’s role in creating the conditions – an aggressive and reckless eastward expansion over the past three decades – which led to the present war will, inevitably, become clearer in time.

Irish workers would pay price for NATO membership

This is what the Irish establishment is working feverishly to push us into. Costly membership of a military alliance with an unbroken track record of disaster after disaster, at the cost of millions of lives and ruined and broken societies.

The terms of NATO membership include a demand that members spend at least 2% of the annual gross domestic product on defence. Membership of NATO would, therefore, entail an increase of the annual defence budget in the South from EUR 1.1 billion per year at present, to over EUR 7 billion. As every working person knows the government will not be asking businesses and the wealthy to fund this massive increase. No, the cost of NATO membership will be placed firmly on the backs of the working class majority through even further reductions in public services and increases in PAYE, USC, VAT and the local property tax.

The chronic housing and public health crises in the South will be even further relegated by a massive increase in spending on military hardware; much of which will never be used. Nor will NATO membership likely signal any improvement in working conditions for members of the military. Massive turnover, abysmally low pay, lack of trade union rights, bullying and sexual harassment and generally poor working conditions remain the lot of the working-class people who serve. Indeed, the Irish Naval Service has most of its fleet tied up in port due to chronic staff shortages caused by low pay.

Revolutionary socialists can have no part in this. Militant Left (CWI Ireland) opposes membership of NATO. We have no trust in NATO and believe it should be disbanded. Most left public representatives in the South have correctly opposed the headlong rush to join NATO and end military neutrality. However, more will be needed in the period ahead. Sinn Féin, in particular, needs to make clear where it stands on the issue of NATO membership.

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March 2022