Wednesday 14 November 2018

How Ireland helped avoid nuclear war

Key role: Ireland’s former external affairs minister Frank Aiken
Key role: Ireland’s former external affairs minister Frank Aiken
Cormac McQuinn

Cormac McQuinn

Ireland's role in reducing the risk of a nuclear holocaust when Cold War superpowers were on the brink of conflict has been detailed in newly declassified documents.

The papers, published by the US National Security Archive, show that American diplomats were initially opposed to Irish external affairs minister Frank Aiken's bid to stop the spread of nuclear weapons.

However, they also show how the Irish proposal later formed the basis of the non-proliferation treaty that helped prevent the Cold War turning hot.

The first record is an October 1958 telegram from the US mission at the United Nations to then President Dwight D Eisenhower's State Department outlining the Irish idea.

Fianna Fáil minister Mr Aiken was suggesting a resolution that would seek an undertaking from nuclear powers not to make weapons available to other countries. At the time, this would have limited possession to the US, the Soviet Union, the UK and potentially France.

The State Department said the "Irish resolution" was "potentially dangerous" and outlined six reasons why it should be opposed.

Further diplomatic communications say Mr Aiken was "not impressed" by US arguments, and US officials assessed the prospect of further attempts to persuade the Irish diplomat as "futile". Mr Aiken introduced a non-proliferation resolution to the UN each year from 1958 to 1961.

The National Security Archive website says president John F Kennedy's administration was more willing to work with Mr Aiken.

Both the US and USSR voted in favour of a modified Irish resolution in December 1961. It was the first time the superpowers voted the same way on an arms control issue at the UN. The 1968 Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty was signed seven years later. Mr Aiken was the first minister to sign the treaty at the Moscow ceremony.

Irish Independent

Today's news headlines, directly to your inbox every morning.

Also in this section