Tuesday 22 October 2019

Jason O'Mahony: 'Like it or not, we share a military duty with our allies in Europe'

Flying high: Major General Morten Klever, programme director of the Norwegian Fighter Aircraft Programme, in front of the first two Norwegian F-35 fighters
Flying high: Major General Morten Klever, programme director of the Norwegian Fighter Aircraft Programme, in front of the first two Norwegian F-35 fighters

Jason O'Mahony

There's an ad from the Norwegian Armed Forces currently doing the rounds on social media. It's a very slick affair, all fighters, submarines, tanks, and good-looking Nordic soldiers of both genders looking like they'd give you a good hiding if you as much as looked at their orderly, well-run social democratic paradise.

But what's really striking about the ad is the message (in English) it conveys.

That Norway is buying 52 F-35 Lightning II Joint Strike Fighters.

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In case you don't know, the F-35 is probably the most advanced jet fighter in the world, with a price tag of between $90m and $120m (€105m) each, depending on what bells and whistles you get with them.

The more expensive ones can take off vertically like a Harrier jump jet.

Any country that plans to attack you by air knows it will come up against a plane that will almost certainly shoot you down unless you too are flying one.

They're not just buying planes. They're buying submarines, too.

And standing foursquare behind their membership of Nato.

That's not the bit that struck me the most though: what really makes you sit up is that the narrator asks a question every Irish viewer asks watching it.

Why are they doing this?

Why are they spending money on this? Why are they sending their young men and women into the snow and the forests to drill and practice over and over?

What, the ad asks, do we expect to happen having done all this?

The answer is: nothing. Absolutely nothing.

Norway hopes that any aggressor (cue side-eye to the man in the Kremlin) will see that Norway takes its defence seriously.

That there is a price to threatening Norway.

That the price of a Russian boot on Norway is a bloody nose and more.

From an Irish perspective it's bizarre. As the 'Irish Examiner' reported yesterday, the naval service is to tie-up two of its ships in port indefinitely due to a deepening manpower crisis.

We simply don't comprehend the idea that war is something that happens without your consent.

To us, war is a choice. If you don't like it, it won't happen to you.

The Norwegians have known what it is like to have foreign troops in your capital executing your own fellow citizens, and have chosen to learn a lesson from it.

Curiously, we too have experienced an occupying force on our streets, and yet have chosen to learn a different lesson.

The party that bangs on the most about Irish sovereignty is also the party most opposed to spending any money defending it.

On one hand, we are right.

Norway shares a border with Russia, and has offshore assets that need defending.

The chances of us being physically invaded by anyone are very slim indeed.

If Russian troops are coming down O'Connell Street, it means they're probably coming down the Champs-Élysées as well and we're all banjaxed anyway.

But we do have national security issues?

We are, as a modern industrialised nation, as vulnerable to cyberattack as any other western nation. We are, thanks to foreign direct investment, a target-rich environment for terrorists and especially those with access to technology.

Do we believe we're as capable of cyber defence as comparable nations?

Anyone think we could safely shoot down a suspicious drone over Croke Park?

Or deal with an extortion attempt involving bringing down our air traffic control system?

We don't even have a dedicated domestic intelligence service, and all these capabilities involve spending money and having someone to sell you the equipment and train you how to use it (Pesco), both of which we have political problems with.

Our response to issues of national security, if we ever consider them, is to regard them as fluffy "thoughts and prayers" issues, with reference to the United Nations and the need for empathy and understanding of all sides, a form of "Nazis have feelings too, you know".

Most parties don't even have national security policies, wrapping the subject up in a foreign policy based on wringing our hands at other countries to do stuff with their resources.

When the Defence Forces are mentioned, it is inevitably in the context of pay and working conditions for the military (a not unimportant issue, by the way) and the local impact of barracks closures.

We hardly ever talk about what a military is for.

Indeed, there are many in Ireland who would in fact be horrified on learning that this year alone we'll spend around €869m on defence, regarding it as "toys for the boys" in a way we never regard much greater expenditure on MRI machines or social housing.

As if giving our soldiers the best equipment we can is some sort of male ego-stroking.

We spend that amount with a population of around 4.6 million.

Norway, with a population of 5.3 million, will spend around €6bn, and that's an increase on previous years.

We obsess with the idea of our young people being conscripted to fight in some foreign colonial adventure, whereas there are only two issues that will really confront us.

Do we have the capability to deal with actual threats that may occur here, be they terrorist or otherwise, physical or virtual?

And what do we do if the rest of Europe actually has to fight an invasion?

Imagine how our support in the EU will look as British (yes, Brexit Britain), French, Polish and Estonian troops die defending Tallinn as we do a Pontius Pilate.

Can we live being the slíbhín nation that runs for the door when trouble starts?

Perhaps. It's the easy way out, and will certainly save Irish lives.

I suspect our teeth will start to grind, however, as our near neighbours remind the rest of Europe that IRA stands for Irish Ran Away.

Irish Independent

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