The 56th Infantry Group completed the first week of their ‘mission readiness exercise’ in preparation for their forthcoming deployment to the United Nations Disengagement Observation Force (UNDOF) in the Golan Heights in October.
This phase of training is a culmination of three months of intensive preparation for deployment overseas. The Mission Readiness Exercise puts commanders and soldiers through a series of demanding scenarios based on potential threats that may be encountered in the mission area.
Troops secured, extracted and evacuated personnel involved in a complex scenario. The 56th Infantry Group will rotate into the mission area under the command of Lieutenant Colonel Dermot Hanifin. They have a wide range of capabilities including Armoured Force Protection, Patrolling and Mobility, Communications, Medical and Operational Expertise.
Yesterday, The Hub – Ireland started to receive phone calls about animals being shot. From what we can gleam from emotional phone calls: in South Monaghan the farmer/owner was made bankrupt and the receivers moved in.
100 animals (beef bullocks and cows), well fed and well looked after were loaded onto a truck, six heifers could not be fitted in: bad loading: receivers kind of do that.
The owner said he would load the remaining 6, the answer was no.
Unsure of what to do he returned to his home: the next thing just amazes us. The remaining six animals they shot them dead with riffles,
And it get so much worse: like a plan comes together: They had a Licensed abottoir there to collect the bodies and cart them off to the market.
Aisling Nic Ardaile adds:
I can verify that yesterday at 11am the army surrounded the farm, opposite the family home. They were lined out in the field along the fence firing shots at the animals who tried to flee them. The owner was outside the house adjacent to one of the animals who had the army on the other side….
He tried to chase the animals so they wouldn’t get shot. Nearly getting himself shot in the process, but no matter, what help he could have tried to give the animal would have been useless as he was defenceless and trying to save his animals that he reared himself.
From top: Overseas deployment map; Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade, Charlie Flanagan inspects Irish troops attached to the UNIFIL peacekeeping force in Lebanon last February
French President, Francois Hollande’s, recent invocation of article 42.7 of the Lisbon Treaty has called on all EU member-states to aid and assist France by all means in their power.
This is the first time since the Lisbon Treaty’s formal adoption in 2009 that the so-called mutual defence clause has been activated – meaning we’re all wading deep into unchartered waters.
Ryan McCarrel writes:
Francois Hollande’s request came with a further wrinkle – the French army is already thinly stretched across much of sub-Saharan Africa, from Djbouti along the Gulf of Aden to Senegal on the Atlantic.
Therefore, president Hollande and his cabinet have apparently made it plain that they want other EU member states to send their military support to either Mali or Lebanon, essentially to act as stand-ins for France’s overstretched forces, so they can be redeployed in order to beef up security at home and redirect their attention towards fighting ISIS in Syria.
It is entirely unclear, and indeed, debatable as to whether this is what the authors of the treaty had in mind when they drafted the mutual defence provision in the first place.
What is clear, however, is that increasing the amount of Irish soldiers deployed on overseas missions, to approximately 850, was already on the government’s agenda long before the attacks in Paris – even if relatively few bothered to pay attention.
So it should have come as no surprise when Irish defence minister, Simon Coveney responded favorably to the French request for more soldiers – in fact, he doubled down on the strategy after attacks in Mali on Friday left 21 dead, many of whom were foreign nationals, at the Raddison Blu hotel in Bamako.
At the same time, Coveney charged that those – including myself – who have openly questioned the wisdom of sending more Irish soldiers to France’s deeply fractured former colonies, were “trying to create a story that is unfair.”
Insisting that any request to deploy more soldiers would come through the United Nations adding a further assurance that if such a request were received it would conform to the ‘triple lock principle,’ and therefore, would not violate Irish neutrality.
First, it must be said that if anything ought to be considered “unfair” here, it is Minister Coveney’s framing of IDF deployments as Ireland’s moral and legal responsibility explicitly in response to the attacks in Paris, given that the government had already decided to send an additional 180 soldiers to Lebanon beforehand.
There’s little reason to excuse this politicking, considering raising net deployment numbers has long been part of a 10 year defence strategy that the Minister himself oversees.
Second, when we take a closer look at the history of Irish foreign policy, including past deployments, it becomes increasingly clear that the idea of the so-called triple lock – and with it Irish neutrality – is as much myth as it is reality.
The triple lock principle is a rhetorical trope invented by Tanaiste Mary Harney in 2001 that essentially refers to the political process that ought to take place prior to the deployment of Irish soldiers internationally.
It was clarified in 2002 by then Taoiseach, Bertie Ahern, when he said that any deployment of Irish soldiers abroad must first 1) be approved by the Dáil 2) and the Irish government; and, 3) must be endorsed by the UN – even if only loosely.
Much has changed since then.
Writing in 2013, UCD Professor, Ben Tonra, noted that the triple lock “appears no where in Irish legislation” adding that, “In truth, the only ‘lock’ that exists … is the self-imposed legal requirement for some class of UN authorisation.”
Yet even this self-imposed requirement for UN authorisation, is no longer a guarantor of neutrality – in part, because what constitutes UN authorisation has, for the Irish government at least, slowly eroded over the last decade.
Authorisation used to mean a UN resolution explicitly establishing a peace-keeping force, this is no longer the case. In fact, since the Daíl passed the Defence Act of 2006, what counts as UN authorisation has grown into a ‘laundry list’ of terms, including “supports, endorsed, approved, or otherwise sanctioned.”
The slow erosion of what constitutes UN authorisation was, and continues to be, an intentional maneuver to circumvent the UN security council. In particular, in response to growing weariness on the part of some Irish politicians who are tired of countries like China, using their position on the UN Security Council to veto international missions that the government would otherwise support.
Of course, if we take that last point seriously, what it really means is that by 2006 the Irish government was looking for ways to side-step what was increasingly being regarded as an overly restrictive definition of neutrality.
This, then, is the non-legally binding triple lock mechanism which supposedly safeguards Irish neutrality, that Defence Minister Coveney refers to when offering his assurances. A weakly worded commitment to only partake in missions that have some level of UN support. Perhaps this slow erosion helps explain why Irish soldiers are currently deployed in 13 countries.
It would be unfair to group all of these overseas deployments together of course. The Irish Defense Forces deployment to help with the Ebola epidemic has little to do with their deployment to Afghanistan, for example. And yet grouping these missions under the same UN banner is exactly what looser definitions of ‘UN endorsement’ allows the government to do ().
It’s this grouping that allows the minister to so casually discuss IDF deployments to Mali and Lebanon as if they are interchangeable even though they vary widely. Each conflict has its own context specific dynamics and potential risks and consequences for Ireland’s national security and the the safety of Irish soldiers that must be taken into account, regardless of UN endorsement.
With regards to Mali, the growing possibility that the peace accord will fall apart, or that it was never fully implemented in the first place, means that there may be no ‘peace to keep’ – while extremists there have made a habit out of targeting peacekeepers and aid workers specifically. These, in addition to France’s colonial legacy and particular set of national security and regional economic interests, were only some of the contextual factors that Minister Coveney wanted to so quickly write off as an “unfair story.”.
Yet falling back upon rehearsed rhetorical tropes that boil down to the UN’s tacit approval of some interventions and not others does not in-of-itself provide an indicator of a mission’s legitimacy or moral standing – much less does doing so provide detailed reasons as to why Irish bodies in particular ought to be expected to fill in for French soldiers were they to redeploy to bolster security at home or ‘bring the fight to ISIS’ so to speak.
The UN’s checkered past of powerful states manipulating resolutions to their benefit, and ongoing scandals involving UN peacekeepers, including allegations of sexual abuse, can attest to the first part.
As for the second – Ireland needs to seriously consider the implications of sending more soldiers abroad, at a time when the very safeguard protecting Irish neutrality, the so-called triple lock mechanism, continues to suffer from legislative erosion AND when interlocking security arrangements between the EU, NATO, and the UN muddle what would otherwise be a fairly clear picture of what we could safely consider ‘neutral’ peace-keeping missions.
Indeed, the unprecedented invocation of Article 42.7 by Hollande, in addition to the further French government’s clarification that this aid and assistance ought to take the form of military support for EU-led UN ‘endorsed’ ‘peace-keeping’ missions in their former colonies – so they can redirect their soldiers to fight in yet another conflict beset with its own geopolitical intrigues – just goes to show how muddled this picture has already become.
Ryan McCarrel (@ryanmccarrel) is a PhD candidate in Geopolitics University College Dublin where he specializes in NATO’s relations with its non-member states.
From top: French soldiers in Mali; Minister for Defence Simon Coveney with Irish Army recruits
Ireland is expected to send a contingent of peacekeeping troops to Mali to allow France to deploy troops elsewhere.
But, argues Ryan McCarrel, the risk to Irish lives and Irish neutrality must be known.
Irish Defence Minister, Simon Coveney, has recently told The Independent that sending a large Irish troop contingent to Mali, in support of the ongoing French military operation there, is the government’s most likely response in the wake of the terrorist attacks that struck Paris last week.
His announcement comes after the French government’s invocation of Article 42.7 of the Lisbon Treaty on Tuesday that directs European Union member states to provide aid and assistance in the event of an attack on another member.
EU defence ministers are to meet today [Friday), and are expected to make several important decisions about how to do so. Yet sending a contingent of Irish soldiers to Mali is not a decision that should be taken lightly.
Mali has been embroiled in conflict since March 2012 when an armed Tuareg rebellion in the country’s north left the military embarrassed, leading to a coup that overthrew the elected government of President Touré.
The ensuing political crisis was seized upon by the Tuareg rebels in the north who quickly allied themselves with a radical Islamist group known as Ansar ed-Din in order to solidify control over the northern part of the country.
After declaring an independent state of Azawad, the Tuareg rebels with the support of several radical jihadist groups, including Al Qaeda, advanced southwards overtaking large parts of Malian territory as they went. French forces intervened in 2013 and pushed back their advances in conjunction with government forces, eventually retaking control of all of Mali’s major cities.
Though the situation is now relatively stable in comparison to Syria, attacks in Mali are still common and are often directed at UN and French peace-keeping forces.
In the last few months more than two dozen attacks have been carried out against humanitarian organizations alone.
The most recent of which happened just last week when an explosive device was detonated outside the entrance of non-government organization. Indeed, the fragile peace-deal brokered earlier this year might be in danger of falling apart completely.
In a video released earlier this month, Iyad Ag Ghaly, a radical jihadist most likely operating in Mali’s North, denounced the deal, saying the groups who signed it were ‘secular’ and accused them of ‘treason.’
In the video, he instructs his followers to answer Charlie Hebdo’s caricature of Mohammed with “your explosive belts, your remote-controlled charges and your booby-trapped devices.” His threatening remarks are directed as much at continuing the bombing campaign in Mali, as broadening these the campaign to include attacks abroad – and in particular, France.
It’s in this context that Minister Coveney has suggested that Irish soldiers ought to be sent to Mali in support of their French counterparts, while simultaneously vowing that Ireland would not put the lives of their soldiers at risk.
The question of course is whether the Minister can reasonably make such a guarantee for the safety of Irish soldiers – after all French forces have already suffered casualties – or whether participating in such an operation could potentially make Ireland a target of a future terrorist attack.
This is a fate the country has studiously avoided thus far with its staunch stance on neutrality and avoidance of overseas interventions. Indeed, the question should be raised as to whether the Irish defence forces are prepared to partake in counter-insurgency operations if it were to come to that, and perhaps more importantly, it must be asked whether the Irish should be involved in such a complex conflict in the first place.
Mali is a former colony of France. They have a special interest in maintaining a modicum of peace and stability there and elsewhere throughout western Africa, where they regularly intervene and have several military bases. Some have even gone so far as to suggest that France has taken on a “big brother role” in the region.
France’s colonial past is therefore a significant reason why it, and not other countries like Ireland, finds itself continually embroiled in a series of regional conflicts spanning more than 4000km from Bangui in Central African Republic, to Bamako in Mali – capital cities that the Irish would have little prior knowledge of let alone a military commitment to.
Furthermore, these conflicts have not come without high costs. Though precise numbers are difficult to corroborate civilians have been killed and wounded during earlier stages of the French operation, in addition to French soldiers, including a helicopter pilot who died in 2013. As a direct result of intervention, France has been singled-out by radical extremists like Iyad Ag Ghaly for attack.
None-the-less, Irish Defence Minister Coveney has stressed the Lisbon Treaty as the deciding factor in the matter – this despite his admission that sending more soldiers to Mali was already on the docket before the Paris attacks.
Given the current situation and the potential consequences at stake, we should be clear about what Article 42.7 does and does not require Ireland to do.
The treaty states that “if a member state is the victim of armed aggression, the other member states shall have towards it an obligation of aid and assistance, by all means in their power.” But goes on to stress that this assistance “shall not prejudice the specific character of the security and defence policy of certain member states,” notably among them, neutral Ireland.
Aid and assistance can take many forms outside of direct military intervention in overseas conflicts, including helping provide domestic security and policing in France, increased intelligence sharing, and humanitarian assistance.
In other words the treaty does not require Ireland to send soldiers abroad in the stead of French troops who are stationed there for reasons which may have little to do with European security, much less Ireland’s national interests.
If Irish soldiers are going to be sent into such a conflict, the decision should at the very least not be taken lightly or made in haste. Ireland’s long commitment to neutrality and avoidance of such operations in the past, though sometimes difficult while under pressure from its allies to ‘do more’, has paid peaceful dividends.
If Minister Coveney believes this should change now, he should make the potential risks and consequences well-known, so the public has a chance to decide whether it is the right course of action.
There is no doubt that Ireland has a responsibility to France and to European security more generally, but just how far that responsibility extends should be open for debate.
Ryan McCarrel (@ryanmccarrel) is a PhD candidate in Geopolitics University College Dublin where he specialises in NATO’s relations with its non-member states.
Reports say 170 people have been taken hostage at the Radisson Blu Hotel (above) in Bamako, Mali’s. capital.