The decision of the British parliament on Wednesday to extend the mission of its forces in Iraq to include bombing runs in Syria is not a surprise. If you have some awareness of Middle-Eastern politics, you’ll know that this is yet more of the same policy doctrine that the United Kingdom has adhered to for over 20 years.
Having long since lost its prestige as a leading player in the international system, the UK seems content now to act as little more than a wingman for the United States in its execution of policy objectives worldwide.
Any sense you might have of the British government taking the bull by its horns here is a testament to the power of public relations managers who are no doubt working overtime at this very moment. This resolution is reactionary, and if we look beyond the spin it’s painfully obvious that the imminent meeting between British Brimstone* and Syrian soil is no more than a kiss of death.
These bombing runs will not stem the radicalisation of poorly integrated communities of migrants in European capital cities. They will not stop a repeat of Paris. And they will certainly not turn the tide on ISIS, regardless of how much firepower is directed at the region.
Despite the impassioned speeches made in Westminster, the decisions made there are poor. This will no doubt become obvious in due course as those being bombed seek to strike back against those attacking them. Time will tell if the actions of this loose coalition will result in the people it seeks to protect turning to ISIS.
The Irish Question
All of this raises once again the question of where we here in Ireland stand. Ireland in 2015 is far more integrated with its European neighbours than it ever has been before. Arguably, we are now closer to Britain than we ever were when we were joined with them in union and with our shared histories it is only natural that we keep a close eye on their affairs.
This , more often than not, takes the form of Irish policy following that of the United Kingdom. Not least because many of their approaches to problems are easily mapped to our own. As often happens when there is great upset on the international stage, proponents for the abandonment of Irish neutrality come out of the woodwork.
An interesting take on this appeared in the Trinity News earlier this week. The writer, Rory O’Sullivan, discussed not only abandoning neutrality but actively engaging in a “full-scale military occupation” of Syria.
Ireland’s neutrality is of course not proper neutrality at all. Its lack of clear codification and slapdash application have seen Irish soldiers involved in NATO missions, despite not being a member. There have been Irish soldiers in Afghanistan and Iraq. There are Irish soldiers in Syria now as part of a UN mission to observe the ceasefire in disputed territory in the Golan Heights.
Members of the Defence Forces provide world class support to soldiers from other countries across the world, particularly in the fields of bomb disposal and special operations. In the same way that our allowing of American refueling at Shannon can be considered to be breaching our neutrality so to can the provision of this support be considered tacit partiality.
The argument as to what constitutes genuine neutrality and why Ireland can never realise that ideal has been had countless times. We are not in a position to defend ourselves nor are we in a position to project force beyond our own borders. A status quo exists and we call it neutrality.
However when Ireland goes to war, and it does, it goes under very specific circumstances. Our soldiers are peacekeepers. And they have been trained as such. They do not fire in anger, only in self-defence. Because of this, we have grown up in a society where the concept of sending young men to far flung places to fight and die is an alien one.
An unintended consequence of this is that it has become very easy to romanticise the idea of war. Fighting the good fight and taking down the most evil ideology since national socialism in Germany are noble endeavours, there’s no question about this. But it’s important to remember that the old trope of war being hell, like all tropes, is based upon certain realities.
So to suggest that Ireland now, despite our long history of non-partisanship, abandon this in favour of engaging in a costly, pointless war is simply foolish. Ireland should do what it is best placed to do, support, observe and when all is said and done keep the peace and provide aid.
If we are to commit to anything, it should be to picking up the pieces when the dust settles. Ours is a foreign policy which is compassionate and pragmatic, if a little archaic. We should not now nor should we ever put boots on the ground. That is not our place.
The idea that we would fly into the Middle-East, dicks swinging in the breeze as we bring the pain to evil is appealing, but let’s keep it to toy soldiers.
*Brimstone is a missile system in use by the Royal Air Force which comprises of a 6kg non-fragmentation warhead and millimetre radar guidance. It’s very accurate provided you fire it at the right place.
- Seán O’Reilly, Editor