Address by the Minister Cowen to the 10th Junior Command and Staff Course, Military College Part 1
Thank you for your warm words of welcome. It is a great pleasure for me to accept Colonel Coughlan=s invitation to address the students of this 10th Junior Command and Staff Course.
Looking at the sea of green uniforms in front of me, I am immediately reminded of the enormous contribution which the Defence Forces have made to peacekeeping over several decades. Many of you will already have acquired practical experience of peacekeeping through service abroad. We have so much to be proud of in the way the Defence Forces have conducted themselves during many difficult missions.
Ireland=s commitment to collective security has of course traditionally been pursued through the United Nations. The contribution of the Irish Defence Forces to UN missions since 1958 has been a great source of pride to successive Governments and to the Irish people. Earlier this month, An Taoiseach reviewed the last Irish battalion to leave for service with UNIFIL in South Lebanon and spoke of the pride of the Irish people in the Defence Forces. They have earned an unrivalled reputation as peacekeepers in as diverse locations as South Lebanon, Congo, Cyprus, East Timor, Bosnia, Kosovo and other places of conflict around the world. The accumulated experience of the Defence Forces equips the Irish soldier with a valuable understanding of the requirements for successful performance in often dangerous situations. Ireland=s record in this area is second to none. I am determined to play my part in seeing that record maintained and developed.
Irish peacekeepers are among the most sought after from the community of troop-contributing nations. Whenever new missions are being set up, the UN Department of Peacekeeping Operations is quick to enquire whether Ireland might be able to contribute personnel. During our campaign for Security Council membership, I met with Foreign Ministers from all over the world and heard so many expressions of admiration and gratitude for the work of our peacekeeping personnel. This is a great tribute to men and women like yourselves.
The Government, contrary to misguided speculation, remains determined to continue to contribute actively to UN peacekeeping. Our future contribution, will, of course, take into account the changing and more complex nature of peacekeeping, which involves additional tasks such as humanitarian assistance, the protection of human rights and civilian police work.
I would like to acknowledge also the work of UNTSI (The United Nations Training School Ireland) which was established in 1993 here at the Curragh as a school of the Military College. It has the principal aim of ensuring that the Defence Forces training for peacekeeping is of the highest standards in all aspects of today's complex peace support operations. The work of the School is greatly enhanced by the exceptional range of experience gained by Irish peacekeeping soldiers on many missions worldwide. The School already has a strong international reputation. Officers from around the world benefit from the annual International Courses for Military Observers and Staff Officers. I am in no doubt that this reputation can only grow in the years ahead.
What sort of challenge is UN peacekeeping facing?
The UN has often been criticised for its failure to intervene quickly enough in some crisis situations or for inadequate responses at other times. But we must remember that the UN is only as good as the sum of its parts. The Member States of the UN must give the organisation the resources and support to enable it to fulfil its responsibilities for international peace and security under the Charter.
With this in mind, in March 2000 Secretary-General Annan appointed a high-level panel chaired by former Algerian Foreign Minister Brahimi to review all aspects of UN peacekeeping. The Brahimi Report was issued on 23 August 2000. The Panel noted that without a commitment to significant institutional change and increased financial support, the UN will not be able to fulfil the peacekeeping and peace building tasks with which it is mandated. The Government fully agrees.
Among the key recommendations in the Report are:
$ That UN peacekeepers should be capable of defending themselves and the mandate of the mission with robust rules of engagement;
$ That there is a clear chain of command and that Member States that commit units to a mission should have access to Secretariat briefings to the Security Council on matters affecting safety and security of personnel, particularly on use of force - Ireland, as a long-standing troop contributor and a current member of the Security Council, fully supports this recommendation;
$ That rapid deployment capacity be strengthened and that civilian police be made more widely available by Member States for peacekeeping.
Brahimi also envisages substantial internal restructuring of the Department of Peacekeeping Operations. The availability of additional financing to the Secretary-General for this purpose and work is crucial. Work is already underway on this aspect of the Report. Overall, we welcome the impetus that the Brahimi Report has given to the process of strengthening UN peacekeeping. We support the emphasis on extra resources, access to full information for troop contributing countries and the linkage with human rights issues. We strongly echo the call for significant institutional change and increased financial support.
Since the end of the Cold War the UN has been responding to an increasing number of conflicts. Where appropriate it has encouraged regional organisations to use their own potential, under a UN mandate to carry out peace support missions. Ireland=s participation in SFOR in Bosnia-Herzegovina and in KFOR in Kosovo is a clear example of this development. Here is a practical example of European Governments cooperating to prevent conflict and maintain peace. What is striking is that former adversaries are working together in the Western Balkans to build and preserve peace.
Ireland is playing its full role in contributing to international efforts in response to the terrible events in the Balkans over the past decade. It is a lesson of these appalling events that we need to be able to move quickly and effectively in response to humanitarian crises. In its emphasis on cooperation, and not on confrontation, the new patterns of security cooperation reflect values which have always been at the heart of Irish foreign policy.
As good soldiers, you place a great emphasis on planning and on readiness to deal with the contingencies which might arise. Each of you are also planning your own futures and, through participation in this Junior Command and Staff Course, equipping yourselves for the challenges which you may have to confront in five, ten or fifteen years time. An obvious question to ask is what role Ireland is going to have in the security and defence area? Where will Ireland be? What involvement will we have? These are all legitimate questions for soldiers and the wider population to ask. They are questions that lie at the heart of planning for future contingencies.
In answering these questions, we have to look at how the European Union fits into these new patterns of security cooperation. How has the EU been adapting itself to the process of transition in European security? The EU has been developing its common foreign and security policy as a means of playing a greater role for peace, stability and security in Europe.
It was the Amsterdam Treaty, as approved by the Irish electorate in May 1998, that defined the operational focus of the EU on tasks of peacekeeping and crisis management in Europe B known and described as the Petersberg tasks, after the name of the conference centre in Germany where they were outlined. Based on the provisions of the Maastricht and Amsterdam Treaties, the Union=s practical approach in this area was guided first by the Cologne European Council in June 1999, which defined the Union=s approach as a AEuropean Security and Defence Policy@.
Then, through decisions taken at successive European Councils at Helsinki, Feira and Nice, the Union has gradually set up decision-making structures so that it can undertake humanitarian and crisis management tasks. The Cologne European Council agreed that a Political and Security Committee should be established, comprised of national representatives and based in Brussels which, under the authority of Foreign Ministers, would coordinate the Union=s common foreign and security policy on a day-to-day basis. The establishment of an EU Military Committee was also envisaged which would give military advice to the Political and Security Committee. A former Chief of the Finnish Defence Forces, General Haaglund, has now been appointed as Chairman of the Military Committee. General Haaglund has a strong record of involvement in UN peacekeeping and is well known to the Defence Forces having been formerly Force Commander of UNIFIL.
An EU Military Staff has also been established. This provides military advice, and supports the European Security and Defence Policy. It also has an important role in giving early warning for potential conflict situations. Ireland, in common with our partners in the EU, is participating in the Military Staff and can bring a great deal of expertise to bear. In particular, we can offer the wide experience we have acquired in the humanitarian and crisis management area through our participation in UN missions. The senior Irish officer serving with the EU Military Staff is of course Brigadier-General Sean Brennan, who has responsibility for communications and information services. His experience and UN record exemplifies the contribution we can make.
What, then, is Ireland=s role and contribution? What is at stake, after all, is the possibility for us to play a constructive role in promoting peace and stability in Europe. Contrary to the suggestion that has been made in some quarters, this is not an area where we would choose to opt out - ostrich-like - and isolate ourselves. Top