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NATO membership and Irish unity

by Frank Schnittger Thu Apr 27th, 2023 at 05:43:26 PM EST

Journalists, politicians, and political writers have a tendency to project their own political preferences onto their visions for the future, and nowhere is this more evident than when Irish writers express their visions for a united Ireland. Fintan O'Toole and Andy Pollak have frequently lamented the state of Irish society and vented their feelings about how things must change, allegedly to accommodate unionists, but in reality, to satisfy their own political preferences.

Former TD, MEP, and government Minister, Gay Mitchell is the latest to join the throng. Writing on the letter's page of the Irish Times he opines:

NATO and Irish unity - Letters, Wed Apr 26, 2023

Sir, - John Maguire (Letters, April 24th) is quite right. Sean MacBride expressed opposition to NATO in 1982, and at other times. By then he was a recipient of the Noble Peace Prize (1974) and shortly afterwards the Lenin Peace Prize. He was addressing a very broad audience at that time, in an international capacity. Nevertheless, it was he who based Ireland's opposition to joining NATO, on its formation, solely on partition. The ending of partition, if it ever comes about, will put the issue of NATO membership centre stage.

Brendan Butler (April 24th) is right that countries are free to leave NATO but other countries are also free to oppose such moves in a democratic manner.

My point is that negotiations on a united Ireland would require agreement of the UK and, very likely, the support of the US and EU states to bring it about, just as the Belfast Agreement did. We can hardly expect those states which are part of NATO to be cheerleaders for Northern Ireland to leave NATO.

As I have already stated, those who are most vociferous in seeking a border poll are equally vociferous in opposition to NATO.

If this is their reaction to this one issue, how difficult would it be to agree a united Ireland with NATO membership, Commonwealth membership, dual currencies, equality for both British and Irish identity throughout the island, continued consultation rights for the British government on issues related to what would be the British minority (as the Irish Government currently has in Northern Ireland), regional parliaments, a role for the British monarch, and, dare I mention it, the circa €15 billion annual subsidy to Northern Ireland currently paid by the UK?

There is need for much more research and debate on what a united Ireland could entail. - Yours, etc,

I was particularly concerned with his assertion that:

"My point is that negotiations on a united Ireland would require agreement of the UK and, very likely, the support of the US and EU states to bring it about."
Nowhere in the Belfast Good Friday Agreement is there any reference to a united Ireland only being possible through negotiation with other countries and Ireland meeting their demands in respect to membership of NATO or any other requirement.

So, I responded in the Irish Times as follows:

NATO and Irish unity - Progressive and peaceful changes to the world order
Letters - Thu Apr 27, 2023

A chara, - Gay Mitchell lists all the many compromises he considers necessary for the creation of a united Ireland, including membership of NATO (Letters, April 26th).

In reality, there is only one pre-condition for a united Ireland, and that is a majority vote in favour within Northern Ireland, as provided for in the Belfast Agreement. The UK is obligated by that international treaty to transfer sovereignty over Northern Ireland to Ireland without further preconditions in that circumstance.

Of course, the Irish government of the day will want to foster good relations with the UK and the unionist community in those circumstances, just as we seek to do now, but any decision on NATO membership and the other issues Mr Mitchell mentions will be a matter for the new sovereign united Ireland government and its people, including the unionist community.

Whether unionists seek to retain NATO membership as a matter of priority remains to be seen, but any promise of such membership is unlikely to sway many unionists to vote for a united Ireland in any border poll, while it may sway some of the electorate to vote against it.

We must distinguish between what is required to make a united Ireland possible and what the sovereign government and people of that new political entity will choose to do in the future. No doubt policy and constitutional changes will be sought by some unionists to make them feel more comfortable in the new state. Others may choose not to identify with the new state regardless of any changes proposed.

Sovereign states have a tendency to chart their own course, and of course that includes fostering good relations with neighbours, at home and abroad.

But who can say with certainty what the future holds for all of us in a world that is yet to be created?

Unionists could surprise us all and demand progressive and peaceful changes to the world order. There is, after all, a strong Quaker tradition in Northern Ireland. - Is mise,

It is almost an article of faith, in conservative Irish establishment circles, to observe that Ireland is freeloading on the security provided by NATO in Europe as a whole. According to this world view, the world is irrevocably divided into good and bad guys, and we must protect ourselves against the bad guys by becoming part of a military alliance of the good guys.

Never mind that for much of NATO's history, it has been instrumental in the invasion or subversion of third countries such as Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya or Syria which have been more to do with neo-colonial geo-political conflicts of little relevance to Ireland. We too, have experience of colonial domination, allegedly for our own good, and know what that feels like on the receiving end.

But my purpose here is not to argue the merits or demerits of NATO or Irish membership thereof. That is an ongoing debate, and will no doubt survive any transition to a united Ireland. Unionists becoming part of the Irish polity will no doubt influence that debate, and many may indeed favour a united Ireland joining NATO. But that is a discussion for another day.

Unionists, quite rightly, in my view, refuse to engage in substantive discussions of Irish re-unification as that would be to undermine the very basis of their unionism. They need to maintain solidarity within their own community, and that community's sense of self, of their own identity, is linked to the union with Britain, for better or worse.

It is, of course, quite natural for nationalists to argue that that union with Britain is, increasingly, for the worse, and to seek to persuade the persuadable that the time has come to unite with Ireland instead.

But that should not include disingenuous claims that Ireland can become more and more like Britain by joining NATO, the Commonwealth, and accepting a role for the British monarch and government in the future governance of Ireland.

A united Ireland, as a sovereign nation, will plot its own course, dependent only on the democratic will of its own people, then including unionists, and anything which is put into the constitution in response to pressure from other countries can be taken out again, by popular referendum. The history of the Irish state is one of constant evolution, with constitutional amendments playing a prominent role.

Even membership of the EU can be revoked, if that is the will of the Irish people, including unionists, at the time. There is nothing set in stone for evermore. Conservative nationalists may seek to make common cause with conservative unionists to promote membership of NATO, the Commonwealth, and a degree of re-union with Britain. - Yes, there is a significant anglophile section within the Irish establishment who would welcome such closer ties.

Some may also seek to roll back the liberalisation and secularisation of Irish society by creating alliances between nearly all the religious communities around issues like abortion, marriage equality and divorce. Historical change is not necessarily always one way.

But what I am objecting to in Gay Mitchell's letter is the faux necessary connection he makes between Irish re-unification and the realisation of his conservative agenda. A united Ireland is NOT dependent on negotiations and agreement with Britain, Europe or the USA on membership of NATO or any other organisations. It is ONLY depended on the will of the Northern Ireland people as expressed in a border poll.

Adding all sorts of other conditions to Irish re-unification is like Ian Paisley jnr. Seeking to change the 50%+1 majority vote enshrined in the Belfast Good Friday agreement into a requirement for a supermajority, as if the will of a minority should over-ride the will of a majority.

The other thing I object to is the seeming assumption that just because unionism has been led by extremely conservative and reactionary leaders in the past, that will necessarily always be the case in the future. When you meet unionists outside of the current political context of Northern Ireland, you frequently find them to be as cosmopolitan, progressive, and diverse as anyone else.

The fear in some progressive circles in the south that an influx of large numbers of very conservative unionists (and nationalists) into the Irish polity could roll back the tide of progressive change since the 1980's is, in my view, very misplaced. People can change, and generally do, when the political context in which they must operate changes.  

Without a union to defend, unionists could experience an utter transformation in the political, economic and social opportunities open to them. If they can be so pro-active and progressive when outside Ireland, why not within a united Ireland as well?

I have no doubt that some unionists will never accept the result of a border poll in favour of Irish unification. Some will live in denial, and retreat into their own communities. Some may emigrate. A few may even threaten violence. That, sadly, is the way of much of the world.

But the vast majority of unionists could also accept the democratic result, embrace the new Ireland, and make a major contribution to making it a success, much as the small protestant minority in the south has done.  And Ireland will be the richer for it.

But what we must not assume is that a united Ireland will be created in the image of what has gone before, north or south, preserving existing elites, attitudes, and government or party political priorities. Unionists should not allow themselves to be used as an excuse by southern conservatives to promote an agenda that would otherwise be opposed by the vast majority.

The fact is, we do not know who would emerge as leaders in Northern Ireland post re-unification, and what their policy priorities would be. Some will no doubt continue to proudly proclaim their British identity, and advocate for closer links to Britain. That would be their democratic right.

But others, freed from the constraints of current fears and anxieties, might choose another road to proclaim a uniquely northern Irish contribution to Irish, European, and world politics.

We can see it now in sport, in the arts, in community initiatives, and in new business ventures and technologies. Never let your vision of what is possible be limited by others, and especially not by an older generation whose vision has been curtailed by the pain and constraints of the past. It is time to see beyond the old battles and embrace the challenges of a new era.

The world is not a simple place divided into good guys and bad guys, communists and capitalists, western and eastern values, unionists and nationalists. We do not always have to fight the same battles, along the same fault lines, and with the same results. Indeed, a better future depends on us identifying and addressing the real new challenges we all face, and not let ourselves be distracted or deflected by the dualities of the past.

Outstanding vision and wise arguments Frank,

"When you meet unionists outside of the current political context of Northern Ireland, you frequently find them to be as cosmopolitan, progressive, and diverse as anyone else."

Each and every generation should have a perception they can move forward on their ideals. Youth has the future of a nation. By definition conservatism retains the old and status quo, void of change to more progressive ideals. As leading politicians stay in power for decades longer than in the 20th century, conservatism wins by perpetuation.

Gerontocracy: the oppression the youth of the country encounter... | by Osei-Poku Legon university - April 16, 2013 |

The Brezhnev era is clearly ending. This October he will mark his fifteenth year as the head of the Party, a span at least four years longer than Nikita Khrushchev's official term. In December, he will be 73 and next spring he will, if he holds on, pass Stalin as the oldest Soviet leader ever to hold the top Party position.

I had in concept a diary on this aspect of politics ...

'Sapere aude'

by Oui (Oui) on Fri Apr 28th, 2023 at 08:12:00 AM EST
And Biden will be 86 by the time his second term ends...

Index of Frank's Diaries
by Frank Schnittger (mail Frankschnittger at hot male dotty communists) on Fri Apr 28th, 2023 at 09:20:24 AM EST
[ Parent ]
A very good discussion is emerging on this diary at Slugger O'Toole.

Index of Frank's Diaries
by Frank Schnittger (mail Frankschnittger at hot male dotty communists) on Fri Apr 28th, 2023 at 09:21:20 AM EST
A day ago, I was willing to compliment the readers for a civil discourse on a obviously hot item in today's hostilities on Europe's eastern front of NATO.

I returned today and a complete reversal by bloggers willing to hijack your topic and wandering awayyy from the ranch to attack one another, and groups of ROI and NI. The mood has become hostile similar to what Jerome a Paris experienced on Daily Kos in August 2008 with Saakashvili and the Georgian attack on South Ossetia. Similarly, my blogging @BooMan was made impossible during and after the 2016 presidential election cycle for not blindly supporting HRC and her minions (Neocon CIA intelligence). The dodgy dossier by ex-MI6 agent Steele of Moscow infamy as pivotal moment. Statecraft and manipulation of foreign policy narrative.

For America and NATO one needs blindfolds and "don't tread on me" ... one of the reasons their foreign policy over the last four decades has been a disaster. America and the EU digging the hole deeper as we speak.

One line of comment I read, blaming the "left" as apologists for Russian war crimes, rape, etc. Shaking my head for such a general accusation without merit in an attempt to stifle debate on true arguments. After a few hours of excellent discussion, the hooligans took over. Pitiful.

'Sapere aude'

by Oui (Oui) on Sat Apr 29th, 2023 at 09:46:19 AM EST
[ Parent ]
When we had the pandemic, a lot of bloggers suddenly became amateur epidemiologists. Then we had the Ukraine invasion, and suddenly everyone is a defence analyst and strategist.

I steer away from those discussions, partly because I am no defence analyst,  but mainly because it strikes me a a "boys with toys" narrative. Computer gamers  transposing a virtual reality onto the real, world, which tends to be rather more complex.

I will get back to the main point of the diary in a future post: Joining NATO is not necessary for Ireland either now or in a united Ireland scenario.  Yes, Ireland's defence forces have been somewhat undermanned and resourced. I would prefer that to a macho military posture and culture.

A smart defence posture now would focus on intelligence gathering, cyber-security, drone surveillance  (both aerial and under water), and some limited missile capabilities. Bombers and fighter jets are hideously expensive and old school. The EU needs to take more responsibility for its own security, and rely much less on NATO. The US is losing interest anyway, and can be relied on only for its nuclear deterrence capability.

Index of Frank's Diaries

by Frank Schnittger (mail Frankschnittger at hot male dotty communists) on Mon May 1st, 2023 at 09:19:23 PM EST
[ Parent ]
A well considered article.

paul spencer
by paul spencer (paulgspencer@gmail.com) on Tue May 2nd, 2023 at 04:20:27 AM EST
I'll have to hand this Gay Michel one point: It is indeed easy for agreements to get unagreed when one party is a small and weak country, no matter what international law or democratic legitimacy say. And in a very familiar one-two step the fact that you have to deal with material conditions and the real world leads to the inevitability of all his pet policies.
Now to the main point I'd argue that the only real way Irish unification realistically happens is if it is just too much of a pain for everyone to not do it. And with UK state capacity being in line for a rather precocious decline, mainly caused by the total victory of rapid reactionaries over even the most milktoast reformers that point might arrive in the not so far future. And obviously you shouldn't let yourself be scammed into accepting any nonsense conditions for solving one of the bigger UK and EU headaches.
by generic on Tue May 2nd, 2023 at 03:31:18 PM EST
Unionists angry as Joe Biden says he visited Northern Ireland to 'make sure the Brits didn't screw around' | The Guardian |

Biden said the purpose of his trip last month was "to make sure ... the Brits didn't screw around" with peace in Northern Ireland, and "didn't walk away from their commitments".

The comments, relayed in a White House transcript, came as Biden addressed a Democratic party gathering in New York.

Earlier last month ...

DUP MP slams Joe Biden as a "bumbling bigot" after last night's Black and Tans gaffe.

Sammy Wilson said "The gaffe-prone President is so deeply embedded with his mother's bigotry that even in his senior moments his anti-Britishness reveals itself."

Just read some posts from Sammy Wilson and Ian Paisley ... speaking of bigots, NI and Srormint ... hopeless

'Sapere aude'

by Oui (Oui) on Fri May 12th, 2023 at 06:55:12 AM EST
by Oui (Oui) on Fri May 12th, 2023 at 07:26:53 AM EST
[ Parent ]

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