Committee Reports::Report - Partnership for Peace::31 March, 1999::MIONTUAIRISC NA FINNEACHTA / Minutes of Evidence


(Minutes of Evidence)

Joint Committee on Foreign Affairs

Dé Céadaoin, 28 Deireadh Fómhair 1998.

Wednesday, 28 October 1998.

Members Present

Deputy Briscoe Senator A. Doyle

Deputy Callely Senator Glynn*

Deputy Creed Senator R. Kiely

Deputy Deasy Senator Lanigan

Deputy De Rossa

Deputy G. Mitchell

Deputy O’Kennedy

Deputy B Smith

Deputy Spring

* Senator Glynn in substitution for Senator Mooney

Deputy O’Malley in the Chair.

Public Session.

Chairman: We are now in public session. Are the public minutes of the meeting of 14 October 1998 agreed? Agreed. Are there any matters arising from those minutes? No. I move to item 2, strategy statement of the Department of Foreign Affairs. Mr. Pádraic MacKernan, Secretary General of the Department is attending.

Deputy Briscoe: Regarding the minutes, I attended that meeting for a short while but it is not noted.

Chairman: We will note the Deputy’s presence in the minutes.

(Extract) Strategy Statement - Department of Foreign Affairs.

Chairman: Before my colleagues speak, I have one more question. I read your strategy statement and I did not come across a reference to NATO or PfP, maybe I missed a page. Does it seem strange that there is no such reference given the times in which we live? There was a passing reference to NATO in your opening remarks. Is it not part of the reality of security in Europe and the world? What is the Department’s view about Ireland not being a member of Partnership for Peace? We are in this alone among European countries and almost alone among European and Central Asian countries. Neutral countries such as Switzerland are able to join with benefit.

Mr. MacKernan: Of course NATO has a central and crucial role to play in security in Europe and it seeks to do so in the context of a changed security situation, as a result of the dissolution of the Warsaw Pact and the break-up of the Soviet Union. This has thrown up new tasks such as peacekeeping, peacemaking and conflict prevention. NATO has been changing in this regard. Much co-operation is taking place now in Europe involving NATO, the Western European Union and other organisations. Ireland is participating in many of these.

Partnership for Peace has been an issue of controversy and debate as Members will be aware.

Deputy B. Smith: There was no debate.

Mr. MacKernan: There has been some debate.

Deputy Doyle: Behind closed doors.

Mr. MacKernan: There is a debate taking place now. When answering questions on this, the Minister said he wished to stimulate a debate on Partnership for Peace and the desirability of Irish participation. I am confident this will happen soon. As the Chairman rightly stated, it is curious that Ireland has not decided to become a member of Partnership for Peace. It has obvious advantages, not just in regard to making a contribution to the security architecture of Europe.

For example, there are advantages for our Defence Forces and peacekeeping capacities. Increasingly the training, formation and inter-operability of such forces will be a factor in the selection of or requests for Irish participation in peacekeeping. Currently, almost all other countries participating in peacekeeping operations have defence forces accustomed to the idiom of military co-operation. Our Defence Forces would wish to have this advantage.

Without prejudging decisions which must be made by the Government and the Oireachtas, I feel there is much to be said for participation in PfP. There are factors which have to be taken into account and they involve the risks inherent in peacekeeping operations. This is perhaps increasingly so in the mixture of peacekeeping and peacemaking which has unfortunately become a feature of our involvement in the former Yugoslavia and the problems. Partnership for Peace, stripped of the distorted overtones attached to it because it was originally sponsored by NATO and which has almost universal participation in Europe, should be actively and sympathetically considered by Government.

Deputy G. Mitchell: I will take up where Mr. MacKernan left off and say that I welcome the forthrightness of his-----

Deputy Spring: Would it be useful to confine our remarks initially to this topic? I am sure we all want to comment on many aspects of the Secretary General’s report but if we concentrate on this aspect for a few minutes it might be more constructive.

Deputy G. Mitchell: I want to discuss both issues the Chairman raised. I have other issues I wish to come back to later when many Members are not present. I will stay for the entire meeting of the committee. I would like to get the two issues raised out of the way at the outset.

On Partnership for Peace, I thank the Secretary General for the forthrightness of his statement. It is untenable rather than curious for us to be outside Partnership for Peace. Not only is it untenable, it is doing serious damage to our credibility in influencing the changing security architecture in Europe in the post-Cold War situation. By remaining outside Partnership for Peace, we are not taking ourselves seriously. Those of us who wish to be disinfected after we use the word “NATO” should at least acknowledge the role of NATO yet again in alleviating the hardship of the people in Kosovo and Bosnia while the rest of us sat about making pious statements and platitudes. The sooner we join Partnership for Peace, the better. Negotiations for that should get underway.

Deputy Spring: Chairman, I take it that I have liberty to speak on all issues addressed by the Secretary General. I welcome the Secretary General and his colleagues and compliment them on their work.

I wish to raise a number of issues included in the Secretary General’s statement. Post Amsterdam, is Ireland’s hesitancy to join PFP becoming more conspicuous than prior to the Treaty? The Treaty is not yet in force but we would hope it will come into force as soon as possible. Most colleagues know where I stand on PFP. We should be in PFP for all the reasons the Secretary General outlined concerning our participation in UN missions and so on.

Mr. MacKernan: It was implicit in what I said that we are continuing to look at PFP in light of current developments, including the implementation of the Amsterdam Treaty. This is also the case in light of events in Kosovo and the need for us to contribute to the monitoring mission which is underway. We are also looking at PFP in light of EU enlargement and its security implications. There is an active discussion within the Department. Papers are in preparation and under review by the Minister. They will take account of the points made and which are implicit in the Deputy’s comments. Enlargement will probably result in membership for a greater number of states which are already participants in PFP. This will further underpin the need for Ireland to decide what we are going to do.

Senator A. Doyle: I join in the welcome to Mr. MacKernan and his colleagues. I have always found the Department to provide an excellent service and I have been proud of its work, particularly on my travels abroad when I have always been very well looked after. I hope that is a common experience. Is there resistance in the Department to joining PFP? Could the Secretary General at least rehearse for me the arguments against it? Most of us around this table expressed the opinion that we would be for joining PFP. For completeness of argument and debate, will you rehearse the arguments against it and maybe indicate from where they come?

Mr. MacKernan: On the first question about resistance in the Department of Foreign Affairs to membership of PFP, the Department of Foreign Affairs’ role is to advise the Government and the Minister regarding the options for and the conduct of foreign policy. We are not there to make political judgments as such. However, it is well known - I reflected some of the public reality of this in my earlier statement - that most of the objections to PFP were founded on the fact that it was originally a NATO inspired initiative aimed at taking account of the new realities in Europe and the fact that a great many states which had previously been within the ambit of the Warsaw Pact were now either actively seeking to become members of the European Union or members of NATO.

It is important to separate fact from fantasy. The reality is that PFP, although sponsored by the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation, is not part of the NATO alliance. It is important for the Department of Foreign Affairs to ensure that the debate that is conducted and the decisions which are made - these are essentially political and must be taken by those charged in our democracy with making such decisions - are informed and based on the facts. As to a judgment, within the Department - this is reflected in what I stated already - There is a concern that our peacekeeping role which is honourable and well recognised should continue to be efficient and effective. This entails taking account of the fact that forces are currently and increasingly required to take part in fairly major operations which could develop as a result of the situations to which I alluded earlier. Therefore, the Irish Defence Forces and diplomatic and other officers who have been involved in EU monitoring and peace-keeping missions, must well trained in inter-operability and in knowing what to expect and how to deal with situations. That is essentially what PFP does; it is not an alliance, it is a system of training and preparation. These are the facts.

Of course it is also a fact that PFP is linked with NATO. At the outset, some of the countriess who were participants in PFP viewed it, and indeed it was represented as a stepping stone or anteroom to NATO membership. That is not the case as far as Ireland is concerned, nor is it the intention of countries such as Sweden, Austria or Finland, to become members of NATO, but they are active and enthusiastic members of PFP.

Proinsias De Rossa: Can I take it that when Mr. MacKernan spoke of the distortion of the view of Partnership for Peace because it was a creature of NATO that it does not imply that it is no longer such and that, if Ireland were to apply for membership, it would be to the Secretary General of NATO? In terms of evaluating Partnership for Peace, has the Department examined the extent to which Partnership for Peace can move away from the objectives of NATO? Is it the case that there is a major debate in Sweden about moving towards full membership of NATO having first joined the Partnership for Peace?

With regard to the situation in Kosovo, can the Secretary indicate if Ireland has any intention of offering personnel for the monitoring operation and will that operate under the mandate of the UN or NATO? Is it not the case that Sweden has a major arms industry and that part of its rationale for joining the Partnership for Peace and applying for NATO membership is that it wants to ensure it retains its share of the market? Will the Secretary comment on the ethics of members of NATO arming Milosevic on the one hand and threatening to use the same arms against him on the other?

Mr. MacKernan: I will answer the factual questions first. It is the case that a country must apply to NATO for membership of the PFP.

Mr. MacKernan: The PFP is a creation of NATO. Whether it is a creature of NATO is another matter. Participation in the PFP is voluntary and one chooses the type of operations one becomes involved in. I tried to be careful in my answers not to make political points. As far as possible, I tried to make factual points about the origins of the PFP and its role.

NATO’s objectives are set out in the NATO treaty. The central tenet of the treaty is contained in Article 5 which commits members of NATO to co-belligerency in the event of war. That is the essence of the alliance character of NATO. No such obligation is involved under the PFP. If the defence of its member states is seen as NATO’s primary objective, Members can rest assured it is not a function of the PFP.

Deputy Of Kennedy: That is linked to the issue of Partnership for Peace and disarmament. Who could be against it? Its very title is a euphemism but, if as Deputy De Rossa rightly suggested, some partners for peace are also partners in supplying armaments for destruction, suffering and murder, is there not then a role for Ireland again to consider whether it has a unique role outside of partnerships of that nature unless and until it is satisfied that all the partners for peace will not also be engaged in partnership for destruction?

I am pleased that some of Mr. MacKernan’s associates who have given considerable commitment in the foreign service in Africa and elsewhere must be conscious of the fact that much of the destruction that has been wrought in Africa and the suffering of developing countries has derived from armaments supplied by some of the partners in this NATO sponsored organisation. Mr. MacKernan’s presentation, the devil’s advocate in terms of PfP, was a little less than forceful because he found it curious that Ireland was not a member. There are arguments for and against that might be presented more forcefully.

The Joint Committee adjourned at 2.06 p.m.