Ireland: an important partner in peace and security
This week, Anders Fogh Rasmussen became the first NATO Secretary General to visit Ireland. Over the past 15 years, the country has worked closely with NATO to promote peace and security in support of operations mandated by the United Nations, first in the Balkans and then in Afghanistan. Ireland has identified developing the capacity of the Irish Defence Forces to participate in multinational crisis-response operations as a priority, and also shares its expertise in areas such as humanitarian operations, peacekeeping and countering improvised explosive devices.
Ireland joined NATO’s Partnership for Peace and the Euro-Atlantic Partnership Council in 1999.
“Ireland is not a member of NATO. But it is a very important partner,” said the Secretary General, addressing security experts and media at the Institute of International and European Affairs. “It shares NATO’s values. And it shares NATO’s commitment to strengthening the role of the United Nations as the guarantor of international security and the rule of law.”
“NATO and Ireland also share the same faith in freedom. Dedication to democracy. And loyalty to the rule of law,” he added. “We share the same determination to build a better world – one where we are all safer and more secure.”
Having assumed the rotating Presidency of the European Union at the beginning of January, Ireland is a particularly important partner this year. Mr Fogh Rasmussen was invited to attend the informal meeting of European Union defence ministers in Dublin on 12-13 February.
One of the Irish EU Presidency’s priorities is to further develop deployable military capabilities in support of the EU’s Common Security and Defence Policy – and it is important to ensure strong coordination in this area with NATO.
“NATO, the European Union and the Defence Forces of Ireland all need to have the right capabilities to conduct the tasks required of them. Yet acquiring and developing such capabilities during a major economic crisis represents a particular challenge,” said the Secretary General.
He encouraged Ireland to consider getting involved in some of the projects launched under NATO’s ‘Smart Defence’ – a new approach which seeks to better align the collective requirements and national priorities of NATO’s Allies and key partners. Multinational solutions are being sought, where it is efficient and cost-effective, including in areas such as acquisition, training and logistic support.
The EU is working along similar lines, through the “pooling and sharing initiative” led by the European Defence Agency – and NATO and EU staffs are closely coordinating this work to avoid overlaps between their respective initiatives.
Training and exercises
Another area that offers considerable potential for strengthened cooperation between NATO and Ireland is training and exercises. The Irish Defence Forces have a lot of expertise to offer given their extensive peacekeeping experience.
Forces need to be interoperable and accustomed to working together to be able to deploy quickly and effectively in crisis-management operations, whether they be led by the UN, the EU or NATO. In the coming years, following the completion of the mission of the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) in Afghanistan, the Alliance will be placing a greater emphasis on military education and training, including with partners.
Ireland contributes actively to a variety of activities under NATO’s Partnership for Peace, such as generic planning for peacekeeping and peace support, communications, command and control, operational procedures, logistics and training. The Irish Defence Forces also operate a UN peacekeeping school, which offers courses that are open to all Allies and other countries.
Moreover, since 2010, the Irish Defence Ordnance School in County Kildare has offered invaluable training courses on improvised explosive device disposal, which has helped protect both soldiers and civilians in Afghanistan.
Ireland has been a valued operational partner since 1997, when it first deployed a contingent of troops to support the NATO-led peace-support operation in Bosnia and Herzegovina, where many of its forces were part of an international military police company, primarily operating in Sarajevo.
The country has also made a significant contribution to the NATO-led Kosovo peacekeeping force (KFOR) since in 1999. It provided a truck cargo support company, an infantry company and staff officers, and also commanded Multinational Task Force Centre from 2007 to 2008. Currently, 12 Irish personnel are deployed as part of KFOR.
Since 2002, Ireland has also been providing staff officers and non-commissioned officers for the NATO-led force in Afghanistan. Currently, 7 personnel are deployed as part of ISAF, where an important part of their mission is to advise the Afghan national security forces on countering improvised explosive devices.