As members of the United Nations Security Council (UNSC), Ireland has played an active role in two of the 21st century’s deepest conflicts: the US/UK invasion of Iraq in March 2003 and the Russian invasion of Ukraine in February this year.
Irish responses and the conviction of Irish policymakers in their reactions to these conflicts were markedly different.
Both invasions are similar insofar as they were conducted without UNSC approval. The US and UK had sought to circumvent UN policy on the basis that it was disarmament, and not war, that motivated the decision to attack. The cultivation of narratives surrounding Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMDs) was used as a vehicle to generate fear within the international community and to limit international opposition to the invasion. Crucially, the UN had ruled in November 2002 that there was a ‘proliferation’ of WMDs within Iraq through UN resolution 1441, despite the fact that there had been no significant evidence to support this claim. This resolution was subsequently used to justify the invasion of Iraq in 2003. Multilateral platforms such as the UN and UNSC provided platforms for the dissemination of false evidence about the proliferation of WMDs. This has become well known in current media coverage as a “false flag operation”.
President Putin in a similar manner has described the invasion of Ukraine as a means to ‘demilitarise and denazify Ukraine’. The language used to justify the Ukrainian invasion – where claims of Nazism and indeed WMDs -provided a solid replication of US and UKs narratives from 2003. Putin has not only echoed similar narratives to those used by the US in Iraq, but he has also directly referenced the US invasion of Iraq to justify Russian policy in Ukraine.
The response to Putin’s efforts to create a false flag has, however, been entirely different. Condemnation from the international community towards Russia’s invasion has been swift and united and Russia has been left largely isolated both economically and politically.
Ireland’s response to the US invasion of Iraq in 2003 represented a sea change in Irish foreign policy. Prior to the Iraq War, Ireland had traditionally maintained a certain independence and its voting history showed that it challenged the policies of global superpowers which were viewed as having a detrimental impact upon the needs of developing nations. However, external political pressures established through economic dependency on the US and the UK contributed to the marked shift in Irish foreign policy. Ireland’s divergence from its traditional voting patterns led to suggestions that Irish foreign policy was being dictated by the US and UK on issues surrounding Iraq domestically and at the UNSC. This led to an erosion of Ireland’s traditional neutrality and to decisions such as the approval of UN resolution 1441, permission to use Shannon Airport as a military stopover for the US and the unwillingness of members of the government to denounce or criticise the invasion of Iraq.
The invasion of Ukraine has again raised questions about some of the most basic tenets of Irish foreign policy. The issue of Irish neutrality has been explicitly questioned and the potential benefits of NATO membership openly debated. Regarding Ukraine, Ireland has been supportive politically, but has remained militarily neutral, opting against sending arms to Ukraine. Politically the Irish government has steadfastly aligned to EU positions through the expulsion of Russian diplomats, the support of EU sanctions and opposition to Russia at the UNSC. These are all actions which Ireland failed to take against the US and UK in 2003.
Ireland’s strong stance against the war has been impacted by the key policy goals established prior to its term on the UNSC for 2021-22, which focused upon building peace, strengthening conflict prevention, and ensuring accountability. These policies have been adopted given the criticism of Irish foreign policy during the country’s last period on the UNSC and through the recognition that Irish policy had been influenced by external pressures exerted on Ireland on the international stage during the invasion of Iraq, which impacted upon the international community’s perception of the independence of Irish policy. Russia is of much less significance to Ireland economically, politically, and socially and the governments opposition to the war has been made easier given the almost unanimous position of the international community, which Ireland has helped shape through its presence on the UNSC in a manner which it was unable to do during the invasion of Iraq.
Author: Brian Murphy, Intern at GDSI Limited