Declan Power: 'Whatever its faults, the EU's rules foster a peace that we must never take for granted'
It was ironic this week to view a commemoration of D-Day, which set Europe free and cemented the long-term modern relationship between Europe and the US, that was being presided over by one of the most anti-Europe US presidents in recent history. Indeed, the current polarity between Donald Trump and Europe has echoes of yesteryear, which should be a warning to us all.
World War II, of which D-Day was a pivotal event, came about in a Europe that was polarised between big powers and which existed on an axiom of 'might is right'. War came about not purely through aggressive stances by the Nazis and the appeasement of the other European powers. It came about because the culture of the time in Europe lacked a respect at state level for the rule of law. It was this cultural attitude and the lack of other diplomatic and conflict management instruments that gave us World War II.
Today we celebrate a free Europe, that while far from perfect and definitely in need of reform, is a massive step forward from where we were 75 years ago. Today we have a Europe that gives small states like ours a voice and an influence we simply would not have. This stems from the foundation of the European Union as a rules-based institution.
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This accepted concept and the myriad of instruments and institutions that have arisen in Europe to expedite rules are often ridiculed by Europe's detractors, but it is this rules-based approach that has taken the spectre of war from the European stage. It has also allowed for clusters of co-operation between member states for a variety of projects.
However, this is not to sugar-coat realities. We in Ireland have seen the good and the bad of the modern Europe. We got royally shafted during the financial crisis of the downturn era, but we have seen our State receive backing that has stopped the negatives of Brexit being shoved down our throat, so far anyway. The Europe we have today is what we make of it. It is up to us, the member states, to develop it and shape it in the direction we want to go. It will be no use standing on the sidelines shaking our fists.
Many of you reading this may well be en route to protests about the visit to Ireland of Mr Trump. You may not like his policies and also, you may be concerned about the future of Brexit and the future paths the EU may take.
Mr Trump believes in unilateralism and going it alone. He's entitled to his opinion, as are the American people, but it was unilateralism and an 'our way or no way' approach that gave us World War II. We in Ireland would do well to remember this. The men who sacrificed themselves to free Europe 75 years ago included many Irishmen, as my former colleague Dan Harvey recounts in his fine book, 'A Bloody Dawn: The Irish at D-Day'.
Harvey's book reminds us that declarations of neutrality don't keep you completely out of a war that is fought on your doorstep. Today many Irish people are consumed by fears of a European army and of militarism taking over the EU. It is certainly true that there are elements in France and Germany, in response to US apathy about European security, who would like to increase and harden the Euro defence capability.
However, at this point in time there are no command and control mechanisms being developed to facilitate this.
An EU army would require a unified force under one operational command and control and under one clear political authority. Any EU military manifestations are a long way from this and the majority of members states wish to keep it that way. Most EU states prefer that Nato be the instrument for defence heavy lifting.
This leaves the EU free to do what it has done best, that is apply soft power to effect peace and stability in Europe and internationally. The Irish State has been to the forefront in designing the current architecture of the EU's Common Security and Defence Policy. This has demonstrated that security and stability can be achieved by means other than purely war-fighting.
Modern day Europe, through a combination of light military training and assistance, humanitarian engagement and judicious funding, has helped liberate countries across Africa and the Middle East from terrorism and internecine tribal conflicts. Countries like Mali, northern Nigeria, South Sudan, the Ukraine and Iraq have benefited from the exercise of a mix of soft power via training, mentoring, financial support and military and humanitarian assistance.
War-fighting capability is necessary when all other means have broken down. However, today's EU, by virtue of applying a rules-based approach and developing what is known as 'instruments for containing conflict', has provided mechanisms for limiting conflict before it descends into all-out war.
Of course it's not perfect, but developing this type of Europe further is surely worth pursuing. This is not a militarised Europe, but a blended team of nations pursuing a path that gives voice to the smaller player and steps in to prevent things getting worse.
Finally, to play our part in future EU developments, we must equip ourselves with a true knowledge of what those developments are based on. Arguing with ourselves without the facts leaves us making important decisions in ignorance. A zone no sensible country wants to be in.
Declan Power is an independent security and defence analyst