From Socialist Voice, October 2010

Just how progressive would a Labour-led coalition be?

Just how progressive would a Labour-led coalition be? Take the issue of neutrality and foreign policy. Those who dominate the formulation of policy instinctively know that the best way to deal with a troublesome concept is to devise a suitably neutered version to be trotted out when necessary and for the rest of the time pretend that it doesn’t exist. The Labour Party are past masters at this.
     An example: there has only been one White Paper on Foreign Policy in the history of this state. The paper, Challenges and Opportunities Abroad, was produced in 1996 by Dick Spring, Labour Party Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs in the coalition Government of Fine Gael, the Labour Party, and Democratic Left, as part of the programme for government to “spell out the principles that underpin Ireland’s commitment to peace, security and cooperation.”
     A revealing passage: “Since the Second World War neutrality expressed in peace-time through Ireland’s decision to abstain from military alliances has taken on a significance for Irish people over and above the essentially practical considerations on which it was originally based.”
     In other words, a policy that for official Ireland had suited the exigencies of the Second World War had continued to have genuine popular support long after the end of the war. The White Paper was forced to acknowledge that “many have come to regard neutrality as a touchstone of our entire approach to international relations.”
     Now neutrality was a millstone round the neck of official Ireland, restricting its freedom of manoeuvre within an EEC/EU that was striving to become a military power.
     Martin Mansergh provides a typical example. He describes neutrality as non-membership of “pre-existing military alliances with mutual automatic obligations” and throws in for good measure that anyway Ireland’s foreign policy tradition is only partly described as neutrality.
     At one time Ireland had looked at international relations from the viewpoint of countries struggling for their freedom and self-development. These statements reflect the continuing process of socialisation of our political, civil service and social science elite to identify with big-power interests through the EEC and EU.
     The history of neutrality and the EU is one of progressive encroachment and whittling down of the content of the policy over the period of our involvement.
     According to Prof. Karen Devine, “the meaning and policy prescriptions of military neutrality can be changed by government decree because military neutrality is not defined in Irish legislation.”
     She goes on: “I argue with respect to the Irish Governments that military neutrality has been redefined to mean joining a military alliance under certain circumstances i.e. joining the WEU through the back door in a WEU/EU merger and assuming a mutual defence clause even though the definition contravenes previous government definitions and the legal concept of neutrality in the second Hague Convention.”
     It’s not surprising, therefore, that as a consequence there is still a wide gulf between the popular understanding of the values and policies implied by neutrality and the legalistic versions that have been crafted by officialdom to try to pull the wool over people’s eyes.
     So are the people wrong? Does officialdom know best?
     Seen from the outside, the European Union resembles a state, with its own common president, foreign ministry, diplomatic corps, able to negotiate and conclude international agreements on everything from trade to foreign and defence policy, with its common external borders, its common armed forces, and so on.
     The requirement for “mutual political solidarity” sounds the death knell of the remaining vestiges of neutrality.
     The EU regularly likes to present itself as a “peace project.”
     Europe’s elite wants to provide itself with its own military means to protect its interests independently from the United States. This means intervention far beyond the borders of the European Union, with no connection whatsoever to the defence of the territorial integrity of Europe.
     Eventually we will be put under pressure to involve ourselves in a range of “joint disarmament operations, humanitarian and rescue tasks, military advice and assistance tasks, conflict prevention and peace-keeping tasks, tasks of combat forces in crisis management, including peacemaking, and post-conflict stabilisation,” under the guise of contributing to “the fight against terrorism, including by supporting third countries in combating terrorism in their territories.”
     Under that article, European military forces could consider opting to interfere directly in internal armed conflicts, under the guise of combating terrorism.
     The regions where EU forces may want to intervene militarily are made clear in a paper of the European Defence Agency: “European security interests may be directly or indirectly challenged by tensions arising not only in the near neighbourhood but also further afield . . . Europe will be externally dependent for 90 per cent of its oil and 80 per cent of its gas. China and India will drive global energy demand and seek new sources in Central Asia, Africa and the Middle East.”
     The African continent, nearby and mainly consisting of former colonies, is the preferred theatre for European military action. There is now an EU-Africa Joint Strategy, with, among other elements, what is described as an African Peace and Security Architecture.
     This will complement measures for trade and regional integration for the “improvement of economic governance and investment climate in Africa”—reminding would-be collaborators, just to make things clear, that this concerns “private sector development, supported by foreign investments.”
     When it comes to peace, the European Union is not an alternative to the United States.
     The proposition that the EU is in some way a progressive stance, to abandon the fight for a policy of active neutrality in favour of signing up to a phoney EU peace project, is very wrong.
     Active neutrality means a foreign policy based on progressive principles, such as
• opposition to imperialist wars and the occupation of sovereign countries;
• the prohibition of all weapons of mass destruction and ending of the arms drive;
• the abolition of foreign military bases;
• total and universal disarmament under effective international control;
• the elimination of all forms of colonialism, neo-colonialism, racism, sexism, and other forms of discrimination;
• respect for the right of the peoples to sovereignty and independence;
• respect for the territorial integrity of states;
• non-interference in the internal affairs of states;
• the establishment of mutually beneficial trade and cultural relations based on friendship and mutual respect; and
• negotiations instead of the use of force in the settlement of differences between countries.

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