Russian President Vladimir Putin has done wonders for NATO. He has united the alliance in a manner not seen since the Cold War. Moreover, were it not for his invasion of Ukraine, neither Finland nor Sweden would likely have applied to join the alliance. Finland has become a member; Sweden may join now that Recep Tayyip Erdogan has been re-elected president of Turkey.
Some NATO officials speculate that Erdogan will reverse course on Sweden in time for the alliance’s Vilnius summit. That may be too optimistic, but Stockholm’s accession sometime this summer is more than likely.
Ireland has already confronted Russia in the very recent past. In mid-January 2022, Moscow announced that the following month its Northern Fleet would conduct a major exercise about 150 miles off the Irish coast. Given the timing of the drill — just weeks before the Russian invasion of Ukraine — it appeared that it was meant to intimidate Britain, so that London would not take a strong stance against the impending Russian military campaign.
The Russian announcement alarmed the Irish government, which sought and failed to persuade Moscow from going ahead with the exercise. A group of fishermen from County Cork took the matter into their own hands, however. They announced that their boats would maintain a continuous presence in the vicinity of the exercise, thereby interfering with the Russian fleet’s activities. A few days after the fishermen publicized their plan, Moscow backed off and moved the exercise elsewhere.
Armed of Forces of Ireland are not ‘fit-for-purpose’
The Russian invasion of Ukraine shows the need for Ireland to have a “fit-for-purpose” military, the Defence Forces’ chief of staff has said.
“We are experiencing a truly stark time in our collective history; something none of us could have imagined only a few months ago. The situation in Ukraine and in a wider, geopolitical and global security environment points to an increasingly complex set of challenges that the world faces,” Lieut Gen Seán Clancy said.
Lieut Gen Clancy’s comments come three months after the Commission on the Defence Forces reported that the military was not currently capable of credibly defending Ireland against attack. It also put forward various proposals for increased funding.
Unprotected undersea cables
Given its concern about Atlantic undersea cables, Ireland will likely participate in NATO’s newly created, Brussels-based Critical Undersea Infrastructure Co-ordination Cell.
Ireland’s membership in the European Union already commits it under Article 42.7 of the EU Treaty to come to the aid of any member state that is the victim of an attack. In addition, Ireland is a member of NATO’s Partnership for Peace (PfP). Although most of its activities as a NATO partner have thus far focused on peacekeeping, under the mantle of the PfP Ireland has also worked closely with NATO in counter-IED (improvised explosive device) training and it has joined NATO’s Cooperative Cyber Defense Centre of Excellence, based in Estonia.
NATO is horrified at the prospect of the Irish Navy, currently without any operational ships due to a staffing shortage, defending vital deep sea cables supporting the global internet with the Irish Defence Forces suffering from a staff retention crisis due to a worsening cost of living crisis.
The Republic has long been inching towards joining the NATO alliance despite a lack of public support with Ireland already partaking in NATO cyber defence initiatives and EU Battlegroups.
French Position on Irish Neutrality
Russia has no respect for Irish neutrality and Ireland and the EU must focus more on defence, the French ambassador has said.
Vincent Guérend, who was appointed to Dublin in 2020 by president Emmanuel Macron, said neutrality failed to save countries such as Belgium during the first World War.
“Certainly, it was not the case a hundred years ago. It will certainly not be the case this time,” he said in an interview.
Mr Guérend said that Russia had committed so many breaches of international law recently that it was clear it would ignore the concept of Irish neutrality if it wished to harm the country.
He said Russia’s invasion of Ukraine poses “an existential threat” to the EU, particularly EU states near the Russian border. Other threats, he said, include China, which can be a rival and a co-operator, and climate change.
The ambassador said France respects Ireland’s neutrality and its defence policy but that this “doesn’t mean that this policy cannot evolve…or should not be adapted to a new environment”.
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