The signs are everywhere, all over Ireland, but particularly here in Dublin. Some just say “Yes” or “No,” but everyone knows what they mean. The newspapers are full of the debate. Both sides battle on the radio and television. For Ireland, it is déjà vu all over again. In June 2008, Irish voters rejected the Lisbon Treaty — which strengthens the foreign policy and military institutions of the European Union — by a clear margin of 53% to 46%. Next month, on October 2, Ireland will go to the polls a second time to vote on largely the same treaty.
European leaders and much of the Irish political elite are urging voters to vote yes to Lisbon. But the Irish anti-war movement begs to differ.
The Peace and Neutrality Alliance (PANA), a leader of the No camp, argues that the Lisbon Treaty is simply a shot in the arm for the European military-industrial complex. It undermines Irish neutrality and pushes Europe in the direction of empire, as either a junior partner to the United States or as an imperial force of its own.
In recent years, Europe has been building up its military capacities — within NATO and also as part of new pan-European institutions. Under the European Security and Defense Policy, the EU has conducted missions in more than 20 countries, and has ongoing military deployments in Bosnia, Macedonia, Chad, Congo, Guinea-Bissau, and Sudan. In 2007, the EU formed rapid deployment battle-groups to have a standing capacity. The European Defense Agency, created in 2004, identifies gaps in military capabilities and promotes increased military expenditures. As major backers of this new agency, European military contractors are responsible for nearly one-third of global arms sales.
The Irish peace movement in particular is deeply troubled by these developments. Strongly supportive of the country’s “triple lock” on overseas military deployments that requires government and parliamentary approval along with a UN mandate, the Irish peace movement is worried that the Lisbon treaty will be a kind of backdoor entrance of Ireland into NATO. Irish participation in UN peacekeeping is a good and necessary thing. But Irish involvement in military operations like the current war in Afghanistan is another matter entirely. Ireland already has a small contingent in Afghanistan. Thousands and thousands of U.S. soldiers go through Shannon Airport on their way to fight in Afghanistan, making the airport into an informal military base.
“An increased EU military role is bound to bring increased military costs upon Ireland and the Irish taxpayer — whether it be via the new military start-up fund, a GNP ratio, or the EU Union budget,” writes PANA research officer Carol Fox. “This is of course quite apart from the obligations we have undertaken to ‘progressively improve’ our military capacity.”
PANA is saying no to Lisbon. But it isn’t saying no to Europe. As PANA chair Roger Cole argues, the Irish peace movement wants a new treaty that excludes Ireland from “involvement with or paying for the militarization of the EU.”