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O'Dea: Defence Forces in new phase of EU response

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  • O'Dea: Defence Forces in new phase of EU response

    [Not really news, so I thought I'd post it here.]

    Defence Forces in new phase of EU response

    Irish soldiers are for the first time on standby as members of an EU Battlegroup, writes Willie O'Dea

    From January 1st, the Nordic Battlegroup goes on standby for six months. It comprises Sweden, which serves as framework nation, along with troops from Norway, Finland, Estonia and Ireland.

    The purpose of these battlegroups is to provide a standby capability to address rapidly escalating crises or humanitarian disasters. The term "battlegroup" itself can be misleading. It is a standard technical military term to describe a coherent military force package capable of stand-alone operations.

    In the case of an EU battlegroup it means a force of approximately 1,500 personnel which can deploy at five to 10 days notice for a period of 30 and up to 120 days.

    While the term is understood in the military sphere, the word has connotations that some may wish to exploit to raise baseless fears and mislead the public. Nonetheless, it is the underlying concept we should focus on, not the word itself. What is actually meant by battlegroups in this respect is a core of troops which could respond quickly as a key enabler for stabilising potential conflicts before they get out of hand.

    The rapid-response capability they provide has not been available before. The United Nations has been calling for just such a capability, for some time.

    Speaking at McKee Barracks on October 14th, 2004, then UN secretary general Kofi Annan specifically stressed how important strengthened EU capacities, in particular rapid-deployment capabilities, are to the UN.

    Ireland has been, and remains, a staunch supporter of the Charter of the United Nations and of the primacy of the Security Council in the maintenance of international peace and security.

    In this regard, one of the most visible and tangible expressions of our commitment to the United Nations and our support for its principles has been the participation by Irish Defence Forces in UN peacekeeping operations.

    Our participation in the Nordic Battlegroup has additional significance this year, as 2008 marks the 50th anniversary of our first UN peacekeeping mission in 1958. Over the course of those 50 years, our troops have performed more than 56,000 tours of duty on 58 UN peace-support operations worldwide.

    The changing nature of peace-support operations has raised the bar considerably in terms of the demands on the Defence Forces and the men and women involved have risen admirably to that challenge. Our troops not only stand up to comparison with other larger armies, but are, in several key areas, at the leading edge, with technology and expertise second to none.

    Allied to our support for the UN is our active participation in missions operating under a UN mandate and led by the EU. The ambition of the EU to be able to respond rapidly to emerging crises is, and continues to be, a key objective of the development of the European Security and Defence Policy.

    The tasks to be carried out under the security and defence policy (the so-called Petersberg Tasks) are defined in the Amsterdam Treaty as "humanitarian and rescue tasks, peacekeeping tasks and tasks of combat forces in crisis management, including peacemaking".

    Our participation has been endorsed and supported in successive referendums on the Treaty on European Union, the Amsterdam and Nice treaties.

    The European Union has the potential to play an increasing role in responding to emergency crises, in providing humanitarian relief and in supporting the maintenance of international peace and security in furtherance of the aims of the United Nations and the UN Charter.

    Accepting this role is not just an EU ambition, it is an EU obligation and an obligation for Ireland as a member of both the EU and of the UN. Ireland's participation in EU battlegroups neither conflicts with our traditional policy of military neutrality nor our firm support for the UN.

    Our support for the UN is based on article 29 of our Constitution, which states that Ireland is devoted to the ideal of peace and friendly co- operation among nations, founded on international justice and morality. This belief in the peaceful settlement of international disputes and the principles of international law has been the stated policy of successive governments.

    In this context, battlegroups are simply another vehicle under which we can continue to demonstrate our support for the UN. Participation in any operation remains a national sovereign decision. Our commitment to the "triple lock" requirement of UN mandate, Government and Dáil approval before deployment overseas by our Defence Forces, remains fully in place.

    Battlegroups are no panacea. They will not take over the role of larger forces deployed by the UN on peace-support operations. They do, however, in specific circumstances, have the potential to stabilise a situation and create the conditions into which a more substantive force can be deployed.

    Ireland will contribute an improvised explosive device disposal team together with engineer support and a security unit to the Nordic Battlegroup. Together with headquarter support staff, our contribution will amount to some 100 Defence Forces personnel.

    Our personnel have been in training for some time here in Ireland and, over a period of two weeks in October/November, they completed a joint training exercise with other elements of the battlegroup in the north of Sweden near the Arctic Circle.

    I went to see and meet the troops on this exercise. I saw at first hand the professional approach and the confidence the personnel had in their capacity to undertake difficult and dangerous operations. I was proud to see their professionalism and to view how they were able to slot seamlessly into this multinational battlegroup.

    The investment in training and standards over the past years, together with the extensive investment in Defence Forces equipment, was very evident during the course of the exercise.

    The skill of the Defence Forces in supporting the battlegroup with both on-the-ground capabilities and professional headquarters support was commented on favourably by all the people I met there.

    As they commence their six-month standby period, I would like to wish the Nordic Battlegroup and the Defence Forces personnel involved with it the success they deserve. I hope we do not have a need to deploy the battlegroup, but I know, if it is called upon, it will be up to the job.

    Willie O'Dea is the Minister for Defence

    © 2008 The Irish Times

    Sorry, we've looked high and low, as we say here in Ireland and there's not a sign of that page. Why not go back to the homepage to find something else?
    "Why, it appears that we appointed all of our worst generals to command the armies and we appointed all of our best generals to edit the newspapers. I mean, I found by reading a newspaper that these editor generals saw all of the defects plainly from the start but didn't tell me until it was too late. I'm willing to yield my place to these best generals and I'll do my best for the cause by editing a newspaper"
    Gen. Robert E. Lee

  • #2

    Wouldn't be surprised if the EU battlegroup commanders and planners were pulling out their maps of Kenya.