Photo credit: Kristaps Gulbis, Ārlietu Ministrija (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0 https://bit.ly/3rZhWOD)

Irish politicians are trying to fool you out of Irish military neutrality

Just imagine, for a moment, the following terrifying scenario.

Suppose you were lying on a gurney waiting to receive very serious life-or-death surgery on your brain. Naturally, you’re quite nervous already because of the inherent danger of such a delicate procedure. One wrong slip on the part of the surgeon and it could be the end of the line for you.

Then the surgeon walks in wearing his white scrubs and blue rubber gloves, and he rolls out his kit of shiny scalpels and surgical instruments. He places the general anaesthetic mask over your face to put you to sleep. And then, right before you doze off, you overhear him say to the nurse in hushed tones: “The problem is, the patient’s brain isn’t pumping blood to the rest of his body.”

“Wait, what?!” you think, startled. “But my brain isn’t supposed to pump blood to the rest of my body – that’s the heart’s job. Does this doctor even understand what the brain does?”

But it’s too late – you’re already half asleep. And the last thing you remember is that your vital organs are in the hands of a man who doesn’t even grasp what those organs are supposed to do.

Would that situation scare you? Would that make you uncomfortable and uneasy?

Well, that is not far off the situation Ireland finds itself in as regards military neutrality. We are being told to do away with a treasured, time-tested policy, by people who do not even understand what the policy means.

And one of those people is Fianna Fáil TD and Minister of State for European Affairs, Thomas Byrne.

As reported by RTÉ over the weekend:

“Russia’s invasion of Ukraine is forcing Ireland to rethink its long tradition of military neutrality, Minister of State for European Affairs Thomas Byrne has said…

“Public opinion is not in favour of Ireland joining military alliances. But also I think the public is seeing now that defence is different to offence,” Mr Byrne said.

Ireland is currently concerned that submarine cables carrying trans-Atlantic internet traffic may be vulnerable to attack, which could cause havoc for European networks – a worry exacerbated by recent explosions destroying part of the Nord Stream pipelines for which Western governments have blamed sabotage.

“We’ve seen what happened at Nord Stream,” Mr Byrne said.

“The submarine cables are partly in Irish waters. We have to defend our cables, we have to defend ourselves.”

“In Ireland we probably need a new conception of what defence is, a new concept.”

Now this is truly impressive and rare stuff – you’d actually be hard pressed to find sophistry like this outside of a used car dealership or Leinster House. Future generations of eels will study this RTÉ article for tips on how to become more slippery.

The logic here – if you can call it logic – is that because of the apparent sabotage of the Nord Stream pipelines (the culprit for which is still unknown, by the way), Ireland must end our neutrality so we can defend our own undersea pipelines from similar attacks.

For what it’s worth, if Byrne had said “Our pipelines are vulnerable – therefore we should invest in our military defence,” I would never have written this article. In fact, I’d wholeheartedly agree with him. It absolutely makes sense to beef up the army, navy, airforce and cybersecurity wings of the Defence Forces as we face into a turbulent decade of potential conflict.

In my view, to go on a slight tangent, Ireland should have the same national defence policy as a bumble bee.

A bumble bee is small. It means no harm – it’s just going about its business. It can’t kill you – you could crush it. But you steer clear of it, because provoking it is painful, and you have nothing to gain from doing so.

This is how Ireland should conduct itself internationally.

We should at once be neutral, not giving big countries a reason to feel antagonised by us. But also have a painful sting in the form of a well-funded military. We’ll never be able to beat a superpower outright in a conflict, but if we can have the capacity to hurt them, that’s enough of a deterrent to keep us safe.

So if Byrne had simply advocated for increased military-spending, I’d have absolutely no issue with that.

There’s just one small but fatal flaw in this analysis, however – you don’t need to end neutrality to defend yourself.

Neutrality, at its most fundamental level, means “We will defend ourselves if we are attacked, but we won’t get involved in other people’s conflicts.” That’s the definition of neutrality. So obviously, if a foreign state attacked critical energy infrastructure within Irish waters, we would defend ourselves as a neutral state – just as we would if they dropped a bomb on Dublin, or sent tanks rolling into Cork.

Neutral countries defend themselves – anyone who claims that you need to do away with neutrality to protect yourself from attack is either doesn’t know what neutrality means, or they’re lying.

This argument is just as absurd as it was when Micheál Martin made it earlier this year, saying:

“We know from the attack on the HSE last year that we can’t be neutral on that either and we have to work with like minded states.”

As I said at the time, it’s quite telling that not only would the Taoiseach make an argument this patently absurd and fallacious, but that nobody in the press pool would dare to call him out on it.

Again, the HSE cyber attack by criminals could not possibly have less to do with neutrality – he may as well have said “I’m wearing boxers from Dunnes Stores – therefore we should end neutrality.” The two facts would be about as relevant to one another. It is the absolute definition of a red herring.

And then of course we had the Minister for Defence Simon Coveney, who thinks that neutrality means being able to pick and choose which battles we fight in – which again, has absolutely nothing to do with the reality, as outlined in the piece linked below.

On most issues, when politicians get it wrong, it’s kind of amusing. You can poke fun at them and slag them for it, and have a bit of a laugh. But when the world appears to be teetering on the cusp of nuclear conflict, with superpowers threatening to “annihilate” each other, there’s nothing funny about our politicians acting like Bozo the Clown regarding our ability to stay out of foreign wars.

At the end of the day, there are two possibilities here: either we have leaders who are so grossly ignorant that they don’t know what neutrality means – which, like your surgeon not knowing a brain from a heart, is terrifying.

Or alternatively, they do know, and they are attempting to deceive the people into willingly giving up our traditional foreign policy because they’re scared that we won’t be able to defend ourselves otherwise.

Either way, this whole thing is nothing short of reprehensible.

It is the duty of every Irish citizen to call out these weak, flimsy, paper thin arguments every time they rear their little heads like a game of whack-a-mole. And the fact that journalists aren’t absolutely grilling them on this stuff at press conferences is a testament to just how useless our media class are.

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