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  1. #1
    Brigadier General
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    Jan 2011
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    Why it's time for tough thinking on Ireland's national security

    Why it's time for tough thinking on Ireland's national security

    Opinion: The next couple of decades are likely to mean some hard choices on security and defence for Ireland

    The Covid-19 pandemic has exposed the vulnerability of all states and societies to the challenges of a globalized world. A year ago the idea that a disease would infect at least 37 million people (probably many more), kill over a million, lead governments to impose radical lockdowns on society and trigger the worst global recession since the great depression was the stuff of Hollywood movies. Experts had warned that such a pandemic was likely, but governments and international institutions were nonetheless ill-prepared.

    Covid-19 is now the most prominent example of the way in which globalization increases the vulnerability of states and societies to developments elsewhere in the world. The wave of migration across the Mediterranean from 2015 showed how Europe can be impacted by developments in Africa and the Middle East. Dynamics such as the greenhouse gas emissions that cause climate change happen everywhere and nowhere.

    Many states have formal national security strategies, laying out how their governments intend to address national security threats. Since the 1980s, each US presidential administration has been required by the Congress to produce a national security strategy. Ireland is unusual amongst European states in not having such a strategy. The previous Fine Gael-Independent government proposed the development of national security strategy for the period 2020-25 and undertook a public consultation exercise on national security in late 2019. The new programme for government does not include a commitment to develop a national security strategy and the results of the 2019 public consultation exercise have not yet been published.

    However, the current programme for government does include a commitment to establish an independent Commission on the Defence Forces to examine the particular challenges in the defence area. Whether or not the government develops a formal national security strategy, Ireland is likely to face significant security challenges and dilemmas over the next two decades.

    One concept which is gaining increasing prominence in foreign and security policy circles is resilience. This refers to the ability of states and societies to withstand the impacts of the ever-widening range of external security challenges. For Ireland, this may include the ability of tracking-and-tracing arrangements and the healthcare system to respond to future pandemics like Covid-19 and the need to strengthen physical infrastructure and support systems to deal with the consequences of increasing severe weather events resulting from climate change.

    There is also the need to strengthen defences to protect computer systems, data hubs and critical infrastructure and to protect the political system, electoral processes and the media against malicious cyber/social media 'attacks' by external actors. On the latter point, consider a possible future referendum on Irish unification. For Putin’s Russia, stirring up extremists on either side or casting doubt on a vote’s outcome could simply be one more low-cost way of stirring up instability in a Western democracy. In these and other areas, strengthening resilience will require governments to make significant changes to institutional and legal frameworks - and to spend money when budgets will already be stretched by the Covid-19 induced recession.

    At the European level, developments within the European Union may also pose challenges for Ireland. The EU has shown remarkable solidarity with Ireland over Brexit but other EU states may expect Ireland to show similar solidarity on other issues at some future point. This might include corporation tax rates, migration burden-sharing or EU foreign, security and defence policy.

    On foreign and security policy, both the current and previous European Commissions have proposed the introduction of qualified majority voting to overcome the problem of a single member state being able to halt action because of unanimity-based decision-making. Ireland has not taken a position on this issue, but it may not be able to sit on the fence forever. On defence policy, the difficulty for even the largest EU member states in maintaining military capabilities points to a long-term logic of increased European integration. Here, Ireland may face a choice between following that logic or being marginalised.

    At a global level, we face a world of increasingly assertive authoritarian great powers in China and Russia and likely polarisation between democratic and authoritarian states. In January, Ireland will start a two-year term as one of 10 non-permanent members of the United Nations Security Council, alongside the five permanent members. Ireland will seek to strengthen the UN as a multilateral system and to balance security, development and human rights as the three pillars of the UN’s activities.

    Should crises emerge, in particular over Taiwan or Belarus, and the big Western powers (the United States, France and Britain) bring issues to a vote in the Security Council, Ireland may face difficult choices over how to position itself (even if a Chinese or Russian veto precludes the Council from taking action). Beyond the country’s Security Council term, a world of increasing tensions between democracies and authoritarian states may create tensions for Ireland between a policy of ‘independence’ and standing up for principles such as democracy, human rights and the rights of small states.

    In the military area, Ireland faces an on-going recruitment and retention crisis. The Defence Forces have been unable to maintain the 2015 White Paper on Defence target of a force ‘at least 9,500’ personnel. More broadly, this comes on top of a decades-long trend of reducing the size of the forces and cutting defence spending. Although the outgoing government decided to increase defence spending, Ireland remains one of the lowest spenders on defence in the world, alongside micro states and some of the poorest developing countries, in per centage of gross domestic product (GDP) terms. The planned Commission on the Defence Forces faces no easy task in trying to address these issues.

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  3. #2
    Corporal irishrgr's Avatar
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    Jan 2004
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    Good article, adds to the growing body of opinion on Irelands inadequate security posture. Since independence, Irish strategy has varied between "we're neutral" to "ah, sure, we're the Irish, everyone loves us because we're not colonials" to "ah, sure, who'd be bothering us now..." The mandarins in Dept. of Defense must be delighted with the idea of a commission. Like most Irish commissions, it'll take years to form, gather inputs, produce a document which the government of the day will "take into consideration" and nothing will change really.

    The author of the above makes a strong point about the EU forcing Irelands hand on security. As much as a pain in the arse as the EU can be, they've helped drag Ireland into the 21st century in many ways. This largesse (including support on Brexit) will come with a price, which could be a common security and defense policy amongst other things. And before I get completely shouted down about the EU, I'd point to Irelands current state of national security as an example of being left to our own devices.

    There is the old joke about a Garda, Soldier and Dept. of Defense rep standing on a rooftop as a missile approaches Dublin. "What should we do?" goes the cry! "Shoot it down" says the Soldier. "Call the Super" shouts the Garda. The civil servant says "No, we need to form a commission of enquiry with broad frames of reference, inputs from concerned parties, publish a paper for comment and make a recommendation after all opinions have been heard"

    I'll leave it at that.....

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  5. #3
    Lt Colonel EUFighter's Avatar
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    Apr 2016
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    The article is basically touching on the concept of Total Defence, which we have also discussed in the thread on the "Commission", that defence is not just about having soldiers. Total defence as a concept started in Austria, then was taken up by Switzerland, Sweden and then Singapore, seems to be a pattern (not that last three all start with "S"). The first three were the neutrals in Europe, the real neutral countries. They saw that the other elements of Total Defence need to be incorporated in their defence strategy, "societal cohesion and resilience are as important as defence hardware and systems".

    This means that the Commission on Defence needs to also think about, Military, Civil, Ecomonic, Social, Digital, and Psychological Defence. The current Covid-19 pandemic is a good case in-hand, were we prepared for a pandemic, did we have a strategy and infrastructure to tackle it? We know the answer is no. Did Singapore have a strategy and infrastructure there the answer is yes, it was not perfect and was built upon lessons learnt, but one of the the things they had were 900 rapid response public health preparedness clinics (PHPCs) across the country, ear-marked for improved response to pandemics and outbreaks. Their responce was not perfect and their numbers of infected was higher than our but very few people died (28 for a population of 5.6m) and they so far have no second wave.

    Are we prepared for Brexit despite have more than 4 years of warning?

    There is one aspect of Brexit which many have overlooked and that is the the UK stance on European defence allowed us to continue our "neutrality strategy", as we never had a defence strategy. Their continued blocking of more integration allowed us to down play our defence forces but that blocker has now gone. The rest of the EU are raising their defence budgets even in the middle of the pandemic. They are co-operating much more than we saw in the first 25 years after the fall of the USSR. The EU pulled us out of the 19th century into the 21st and their will be an expectation that as one of the leading mid-sized nations we play a full part. It is why we will be one of the highest net contributors to the EU budget. When an Estonian PM looks out over a military exercise and sees all the contributing nations they see who is not there. And this is repeated all over the EU, when the Swedes, Finns and others have a joint exercise do they see the Irish contributing?

    Many will point to the EU battlegroups to which we have committed, but that has been small and not continuous. Take the Nordic Battle group which has two of our closest military partners Sweden and Finland. Do we send a company sized elements on a joint exercises every year? Do we pursue to try and have common procurement to increase interoperability? If we were committed to real support of the EUBG concept we would be doing that. And what should not be over-looked is the effect that this would have on recruitment. Tales of barrack life has never drawn many to the armed forces, people want action even if it is only simulated in the field.

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  7. #4
    Moderator DeV's Avatar
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    May 2003
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    Total defence is basically an interdepartmental & cross-functional coordinated approach to mitigate risks

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  9. #5
    Commander in Chief
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    Quote Originally Posted by DeV View Post
    Total defence is basically an interdepartmental & cross-functional coordinated approach to mitigate risks
    In this country, total defence is every other government department getting to take advantage of the DF assets, without having to fund any of it, and calling it ATCA or ATCP.
    German 1: Private Schnutz, I have bad news for you.
    German 2: Private? I am a general!
    German 1: That is the bad news.

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  11. #6
    Brigadier General
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    Comment: A decade of neglect has left the Defence Forces in a mess

    The pandemic has exposed new chinks in the military’s armour, but if three straightforward measures are implemented, a process of renewal can begin

    Cathal Berry

    Recent events have reminded us that the world is an unpredictable place. The combined threats of a global pandemic, a worldwide recession and a potentially hard Brexit have arrived simultaneously on our shores.

    Individuals take out insurance to protect themselves from unexpected events. Countries use militaries as insurance to mitigate risk and provide national resilience in times of great crisis.

    It is no secret that successive Irish governments have skimped on their premiums. Consequently, Ireland’s national insurance policy, its military, is now unrecognisable from the proud organisation that existed a mere decade ago. Closing half the state’s military installations and reducing the number of personnel from 10,500 to its current strength of 8,500 has had a devastating effect on capability.

    It is not unreasonable to expect a nation’s armed forces to have the resources to offer basic security services. Counter-terrorism, the securing of critical state infrastructure, and the policing of airspace and territorial waters are fundamental requirements of sovereign states. As a result of successive cutbacks, however, these operations have been seriously compromised.

    While great credit is due to the significant number of Defence Force personnel who selflessly worked and continue to work on the frontline of this crisis, the pandemic has exposed other chinks in the military’s armour.

    Military hospitals, stripped of equipment, can no longer accept in-patients. Mobile field hospitals, which would have been ideal for the current crisis, have been decommissioned. Meanwhile, the number of military doctors, nurses and paramedics has been greatly reduced.

    When civilian airports and airlines ceased operating, air forces from other small nations flew their citizens home. Unsurprisingly, there were no Irish military aircraft to repatriate our people or even our own troops from remote missions overseas.

    For years, our Reserve Defence Force (RDF) has been systematically undermined as funds specifically allocated by the Oireachtas for its upkeep were diverted elsewhere. Today, the RDF has just 30 per cent of the personnel required to make it effective and responsive to the needs of society.

    Reserve personnel could have been used to run the entire contact tracing system for the HSE. Already interviewed and security-vetted, the reservists could have been mobilised in response to fluctuating Covid case numbers. A properly functioning contact-tracing system would have greatly reduced the necessity for national lockdowns.

    The reason for the decline in our armed forces is multi-faceted. Military personnel are prohibited from engaging in any form of industrial action so their representative associations had little bargaining power at successive national pay talks. As a result, instead of being rewarded for their commitment, military personnel were exploited. Meanwhile, negotiators representing other groups were offered lucrative side-deals upfront and further concessions following industrial action over the lifetime of their agreements. As this trend continued, the pay gap widened and Defence Force personnel became the lowest paid employees in the public service.

    The military culture of loyalty, obedience and “soldiering on” in the face of adversity has meant that troops continue to work for €4 or €5 an hour before tax for additional rostered security work at night and over the weekend.

    Moreover, the closures of barracks mean that long commutes, sometimes between Donegal and Dublin, are commonplace. Soldiers are out of pocket just getting to work, and family life is suffering.

    Morale has plummeted and personnel are leaving for better employment opportunities and improved quality of life elsewhere. These structural problems were repeatedly highlighted by military commanders and representative associations for years, but their concerns were dismissed. Last year, in an unprecedented intervention, President Michael D Higgins publicly expressed his dissatisfaction with his troops’ pay and conditions. This was also largely ignored.

    In spite of this, glimmers of hope are beginning to emerge. There have been some small but noticeable improvements in recent months. The appointment of a new Minister for Defence and the replacement of the Secretary General of the Department of Defence has significantly improved the atmosphere. A 3 per cent increase in the 2021 Defence budget, minor tweaks to tax credits for sailors and financial recognition of the sacrifice of troops forced to quarantine in barracks prior to deploying overseas are all to be welcomed.

    Defence Minister Simon Coveney has also announced that he will shortly table legislation to modernise the RDF, allowing reservists to deploy on operations both at home and overseas.

    To sustain this progress, however, three things need to happen in the next three months. Firstly, it is imperative that the terms of reference for the Commission on Defence, due before cabinet shortly, will allow for the review of the entire Defence organisation.

    The credibility of the Commission will be undermined if it can only examine the Defence Forces without also reviewing the Department of Defence.

    Secondly, in order to facilitate investment in new aircraft, the Air Corps should be considered for at least part of the country’s next search-and-rescue contract, the tendering process for which is to be discussed in the new year.

    Thirdly and most importantly, the quantum assigned to the Defence sector during the upcoming public sector pay talks must be sufficient to address the historical legacy of the military’s shoddy treatment at this forum and to facilitate the implementation in full of staff retention measures already committed to by government.

    It has taken ten years for our Defence Forces to get into this mess, so it will take some time to emerge from it.

    If the three measures suggested above were implemented, however, we could then say with confidence that a process of renewal is underway and that this long period of darkness will soon be behind us.

    Cathal Berry is an independent TD for Kildare South and a former army ranger

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