Private Members' Business. - Partnership for Peace: Motion.

I move:

That Dáil Éireann approves of Ireland joining Partnership for Peace.

I wish to share my time with a colleague.

With whom do you wish to share time?

I believe it will be Deputy Shatter.

This debate goes to the heart of where Ireland sees her role in the world? Do we as a people continue to develop our proud tradition of maintenance of peace in the world by joining the pinnacle forum in Europe through which such co-operation and peacekeeping missions are increasingly being organised, Partnership for Peace, or do we shout encouragement to others from the sidelines? Are we, as a State, self-confident enough to enter such a forum, knowing our values and principles, ready to argue for them and, in so doing, make our distinctive contri bution to the maintenance of peace and security in the world?

This debate in Dáil Éireann is overdue. Contrary to the spin from Government circles, it was not initiated before Christmas by the Taoiseach and the Minister for Foreign Affairs, rather it began more than three years ago with the public consultation process on and the publication of the White Paper on Foreign Policy by the rainbow Government. It is worthwhile recalling what the White Paper states. It states that the overall objectives of Partnership for Peace are consistent with Ireland's approach to international peace and European security. It also states that the Government had decided to explore further the benefits that Ireland might derive from participation in PfP and to determine the contribution Ireland might make to the partnership.

Fine Gael followed up initiation of the debate with the publication of the policy document, Ireland and the Partnership for Peace Initiative in January 1998. The then Chief of Staff, Lieutenant-General Gerry McMahon, in a widely reported speech, argued for Irish membership of PfP in a speech to the policy institute in Trinity College in June 1998. The Joint Committee on Foreign Affairs has discussed the issue on many occasions and it has been the subject of consideration in foreign affairs questions in this House on at least five occasions since the Government took office. In an article inThe Irish Times before Christmas, the Minister for Foreign Affairs argued that we should debate joining PfP and, more recently, the Taoiseach echoed those comments at a meeting in UCD.

We have had a long debate. Even if it is only in recent weeks that the Government seems to have come down in favour of this, the time has come for this House to decide, in principle, that Ireland should join Partnership for Peace.

Many wild claims have been made about PfP so it is important to set out what it is, what Irish membership would mean and why Ireland should now join without further delay. Partnership for Peace was launched at the NATO summit in January 1994 as a co-operative security initiative designed to intensify political and military co-operation in Europe, promote stability, reduce threats to peace and strengthen relationships by promoting practical co-operation among its participants. Since its launch, PfP has attracted the support of almost all members of the OSCE, including the 16 NATO members, Russia, all but one of the states of the former Soviet Union and traditionally neutral states like Sweden, Finland, Austria and even Switzerland.

The Austrian Ambassador, in evidence to the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Foreign Affairs on 1 July 1998 said:

Austria's legal advice came to the conclusion that obligations under Article 103 of the UN Charter were on a higher level than the special obligations of a permanently neutral state. We thought that measures decided by the security council under chapter 7 should be regarded as actions of the UN and not as war in terms of international law. There is a clear distinction between military actions taking place under chapter 7 and international law. A war in terms of international law has not happened over the past 20 or 30 years.

The paper circulated by the Ambassador also contained Austria's position on UN peace keeping and the OSCE. He continued:

Experience in recent years shows that international crisis management has changed its profile. Among other aspects, demand for peacekeeping forces has changed as may be seen from former UN Secretary-General, Boutros Boutros Ghali's remarks in 1996 that a mandate for peacekeeping by lightly equipped forces can hardly any longer meet its purpose. In light of this development and in continuation of Austria's traditional commitment to international solidarity, it became imperative for us to achieve and improve inter-operability of Austrian peacekeeping forces with other participants in such missions, mostly from NATO countries.

In Austria's view, Partnership for Peace must be seen as the most appropriate instrument to achieve this goal. By signing the framework document for participation in PfP in February 1995, Austria stressed its political commitment to work together with other partners towards the scopes of the Partnership for Peace. From an Austrian perspective, these include in particular the maintenance of the capability and readiness to contribute to operations under the authority of the UN and or the responsibility of the OSCE, subject to constitutional considerations. This scope also includes the development of co-operative military relations with NATO for the purpose of joint planning, training and exercises to strengthen the ability of partners to undertake missions in the fields of peacekeeping, search and rescue, humanitarian operations and others as may subsequently be agreed.

The Swiss Ambassador told the same meeting:

As the 20th century draws to an end, the threats to most European countries are non-military yet very serious. They do not recognise borders or neutrality and no European country can eliminate them on its own, even by classic military means. The threats I am referring to include: terrorism, civil wars, drugs, mass migrations, environmental disasters and the misuse of means of mass destruction. In our fight against these problems we feel increasingly enmeshed in a continental community of destiny – not neutral but a party with its own legitimate interests to defend alongside like-minded neighbours.

As the networks to defend such interests are expanding geographically, they are also becom ing tighter and more interwoven; NATO; Partnership for Peace; the EU and its common foreign and security policy and the Western European Union, an OSCE which specialises in preventative diplomacy and the promotion of democracy; the Council of Europe as a promoter of civil and human rights; and the UN which not only has 10,000 personnel in the OSCE area but also provides legitimacy for coercion measures in the interests of peace and democracy.

With the exception of Partnership for Peace these security elements are not new. What is new is the increasing convergence in their aims and their pragmatic co-operation. It is no coincidence that the Partnership for Peace framework document, before stating the practical aims of the partnership, reaffirms general principles of democracy and human rights, previously adopted by the UN and the OSCE. The practical aims of Partnership for Peace put the emphasis on transparency and civilian control of armed forces as well as on the use of military forces for purposes which are not so much military or unilateral in the traditional sense, but political and humanitarian, and always on the basis of a large consensus. In our view the wide membership of Partnership for Peace, including all previous Warsaw Pact members – as well as Russia and Ukraine through special arrangements – makes it very difficult for anyone to claim that the partnership is incompatible with neutrality.

The Swedish Ambassador stated:

The purpose of Partnership for Peace is to increase the participating countries' capability and readiness to take part in international peace support operations, to improve search and rescue operations, to improve the efficiency of civil defence and emergency planning and to strengthen democratic control of armed forces. Sweden participates in PfP on the basis of its policy of military non-alignment and we decide on the level and scope of our involvement. The European Atlantic Partnership Council, or EAPC, formed last year, gives the practical PfP co-operation a political dimension in order to further develop the PfP and consult on a broad agenda from peace support operations to civil emergency matters. In addition, the EAPC will allow the PfP countries a greater say in the peace support operations to which they contribute troops.

The totality of the changes in NATO, the enhanced PfP, the EAPC and the founding act between NATO and Russia are positive and important steps towards a Euro-Atlantic security order. The experiences in Bosnia-Herzegovina prove NATO and partner countries are able to work together towards European security. Practical co-operation within the PfP framework serves the important objective of avoiding new dividing lines in Europe. If a state wants to share the responsibility for European security, it must prepare itself for these tasks. The enhanced Partnership for Peace programme is an essential tool in this respect...

Our membership of PfP comes from a strong belief that even if one is not a member of a military alliance one has a responsibility as a European country to contribute to the security of Europe.

The Finnish Ambassador told the committee:

I will list some of the benefits accruing from the Partnership for Peace. From a political point of view, participation in the EAPC and the PfP is for Finland a means, first, to promote international security, stability and co-operation; second, to obtain information and ensure our own influence in decisions which concern us and third, to show that Finland does her share when it comes to crisis management in the Euro-Atlantic region.

In participating in PfP's planning and review process we have been able to develop our inter-operability of forces in crisis management activity, which is essential in participating in a NATO led mission. By sending officers to the partnership staff elements, Finland has an opportunity to participate in joint planning of operations with NATO headquarters and our staff officers will be able to familiarise themselves with NATO planning procedures..

PfP's value is widely recognised in Finnish society. The policy of non-alignment has actually become more credible thanks to our participation in the Partnership for Peace.

Professor Patrick Keatinge of Trinity College Dublin said at the same meeting:

Where co-operative security is concerned, there is precious little to be neutral about. Nothing is achieved by abstention.

Why is Ireland more neutral than all the other European neutral countries? The answer is that we are not. We find ourselves having a continuous national debate, simply because Fianna Fáil, when in Opposition, presented a policy document which the Fianna Fáil parliamentary party was not given the opportunity to change. This made outrageous claims about Partnership for Peace.

The Fianna Fáil 1997 election manifesto opposed Irish participation in "NATO led organisations such as the Partnership for Peace". In the Dáil last December the Taoiseach repeated that we would not join Partnership for Peace without a referendum. In May 1996 he told an audience in Oxford that Partnership for Peace would "send the wrong signals about our future intentions" and continued that any decisions involving closer association with NATO or the Western European Union would represent a substantial change in the State's defence policy and would have longer term implications for our neutrality.

Deputy Ahern, as he then was, stated "Any such proposal must be put to the people in a ref erendum, before any decision is taken". He continued "I would like a cast-iron pledge now from the Government [of the day] that it will not make any move without first consulting the people in the interests of openness, transparency and accountability".

During the debate on the foreign policy White Paper presented by the last Government, he told the Dáil that any attempt to join Partnership for Peace without a referendum would be "a serious breach of faith and fundamentally undemocratic". He was against involvement with Partnership for Peace, saying it involved joint exercises in NATO. He asked "Will they take place in Ireland?" and "Will we have British troops back in the Curragh, the French in Bantry Bay, the Germans off Banna Strand, the Spanish in Kinsale and the Americans in Lough Foyle?". Those quotes speak volumes about the research that went into the opposition to Partnership for Peace.

As late as December 1997, the Minister for Foreign Affairs, Deputy Andrews, speaking in the Dáil on Partnership for Peace, said: "The PfP is a back door to NATO". He continued "The association between the Partnership for Peace and the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation, NATO, is too close for comfort in the context of our military non-alliance and the need to preserve our neutrality".

In November 1997, in replies to questions from me, the Minister, Deputy Andrews, stated:

Partnership for Peace does not reflect my views, because I regard it as a door opening process to NATO. Our neutrality is important. An engagement in a peripheral organisation related to a military alliance is not the basis of our foreign policy.

Within weeks, the Taoiseach was telling a different story to the Kevin Barry Cumann at UCD and the Minister for Foreign Affairs, Deputy Andrews, was writing in theIrish Times that we should start a debate on the PfP issue. This debate has long since started.

What Fianna Fáil is looking for is a way out of the trap it has made for itself. Having dug a hole, it continued to dig and now, in the knowledge that its position is untenable, irresponsible and misleading, it is trying to give the impression that it is leading the debate for a considered approach to this issue. The country has been hoist on the petard of Fianna Fáil political game playing, at the expense of the country's reputation internationally, and it is clearly damaging to our case for a seat on the UN Security Council, for which we are currently campaigning.

The Progressive Democrats, like Fine Gael, support Irish membership of Partnership for Peace and took this position in the last general election. Labour's 1997 general election manifesto stated: "It could be a legitimate and proper role for Ireland to participate, in due course, in the pan-European structure of the Partnership for Peace", noting that:

This has already been joined by other European neutral states, such as Switzerland, Austria, Finland and Sweden. The Partnership for Peace is not a military alliance. Ireland would be free like all other countries to negotiate its own terms.

It is clear there is a majority within the Fianna Fáil parliamentary party which, if allowed to speak its mind and given an opportunity to have an input into policy making in this area, would support membership of Partnership for Peace, as does Fine Gael, the Progressive Democrats and clearly the Labour Party.

Ireland stands outside the PfP, along with the states involved in the Balkan conflict – Bosnia-Herzegovina, Croatia and Yugoslavia – Cyprus, Tajikistan and the tiny states of Liechtenstein, Monaco, San Marino, Malta, Andorra and the Holy See. Why? PfP is an extremely flexible arrangement. It allows each member to choose the areas in which it wishes to co-operate.

The first step taken by participants in PfP is to subscribe to a framework document which sets out the basic purposes and objectives of PfP. The purposes include the projection and promotion of human rights, the safeguarding of freedom, justice and peace, the preservation of democracy, the upholding of international law and the fulfilment of the obligations of the UN Charter and OSCE commitments. The objectives of PfP include the facilitation of transparency in national defence planning budgets; ensuring democratic control of defence forces; maintenance of the capability and readiness to contribute to operations under the authority of the UN or the responsibility of the OSCE; and joint planning, training and exercises to strengthen states' abilities to undertake peace-keeping, search and rescue and humanitarian missions.

In a subsequent step, participants then present NATO with a document known as the presentation document, which sets out the areas in which the participant state wishes to co-operate through PfP. PfP is a flexible concept, in that each participating state determines the areas of interest and the level and extent of involvement in PfP activities it wants. The range of countries involved illustrates the flexible and inclusive nature of the PfP.

Certain aspects of the framework document, such as the commitment to transparency in defence budgeting, are aimed at former Warsaw Pact states and are largely irrelevant to Ireland. Other aspects of the PfP, such as consultations on further association with NATO, would not need to apply in our terms of partnership. In effect, PfP presents us with a menu of options from which we can pick and choose. Our presentation document, prepared by Irish Ministers and officials, would set the agenda for the terms of our involvement.

I have set out at some length what the PfP is and what membership of the PfP involves. I have done this because some of the arguments made against joining are so wild and inaccurate as to almost beggar belief.

The line most often thrown out is that PfP membership would amount to "second-class membership of NATO", a military alliance with mutual defence obligations, and, as such, would mean an end to Irish neutrality. Let us be clear, PfP is not a military alliance. It carries with it no mutual defence obligations, rather it is a co-operative structure in which participants themselves pick the areas in which they wish to co-operate. It is for this reason that ultra neutral Switzerland, which is not even a member of the UN because of the obligations it imposes on a member, is able to join PfP. It is why other traditional neutrals, such as Sweden, Finland and Austria, were willing to join PfP.

The second argument is that PfP represents a step on the slippery road to full NATO membership. Indeed, it is true that both NATO and some PfP members see the possibility that some PfP members may eventually join NATO, but that would be entirely a question for that state and for the existing NATO members.

As I have already mentioned, each state determines the parameters of its own partnership agreement and can restrict it to whatever area it wishes. For Ireland, the position on possible NATO membership is clear. In a joint statement prior to the Maastricht referendum in June 1992, the leaders of Fine Gael, Fianna Fáil, Labour, Democratic Left and the Progressive Democrats gave a commitment that there would be no change in Ireland's traditional policy of neutrality without there first being a referendum of the people. This was echoed in section 4.115 of the White Paper on Foreign Policy in 1996 and in party manifestos in 1997. Irish membership of PfP would not affect our neutrality, as PfP involves no mutual defence obligations. Indeed, Irish neutrality will only be ended if the Irish people so decide in a referendum.

The third spurious argument used against PfP membership is that it involves us in activities with states possessing nuclear weapons. The reality is that Irish peacekeepers have served, and continue to serve, with peacekeepers from France, Britain, the US and Russia, all of whom possess nuclear weapons.

What we never hear from the opponents of Irish membership of PfP are the advantages such membership would bring, especially in the context of the changing security architecture in Europe and the changing manner in which the UN operates. We are rightly proud as a people of our contribution to UN peacekeeping over the years. We have an illustrious reputation, as mentioned recently by the UN Secretary General, having served in 40 missions, contributing 45,000 tours of duty and sadly suffering 75 fatalities.

Opponents of Irish membership of PfP claim it would damage our peacekeeping reputation and our ability to contribute to future missions. This ignores the reality that, increasingly, UN mandated peacekeeping operations are run by regional organisations, such as the NATO led SFOR in Bosnia, the Russian-led CIS troops in Georgia and Tajikstan and the West African Forces, ECOMOG, in Nigeria and Sierra Leone. The number of peacekeeping troops under direct UN command has fallen dramatically from a peak of 80,000 to approximately 14,000 today. The future lies in regional organisations taking the lead and as long as we stay outside we become marginalised and less able to continue our proud peacekeeping tradition in an effective way.

No less a person than the then Chief of Staff, Lieutenant General Gerry McMahon made this clear in a speech he made in TCD in June 1998, to which I have referred. He was clear on what our non-involvement in PfP means. He said:

For the Defence Forces it means we miss the opportunity to see and be involved in current peacekeeping and military training prevailing in neighbouring countries. Our ability to retain a competitive edge in the area of peace support is being eroded.

Rather than PfP membership weakening our ability to engage in peacekeeping, it would strengthen it and enable it to continue into the future.

The White Paper on Foreign Policy set out some of the other advantages of Irish membership of PfP. First, we would be working with OSCE partners on programmes of practical co-operation designed to reduce tension and promote overall security in Europe. Ireland has consistently called for and encouraged the development of such inclusive co-operative security arrangements. Second, it would enhance the capability of our defence forces to participate in UN or OSCE peacekeeping operations through training and exercises with countries with which we share a peacekeeping tradition and thus help to ensure that Ireland is in a position to continue to make an important contribution in the field of peacekeeping.

Third, it would enable the Defence Forces to make available to European countries which wish to develop their peacekeeping capacities the benefits and lessons of Ireland's long experience in international peacekeeping operations. Fourth, it would enhance Ireland's capacity to undertake search and rescue operations off our coast and to conduct humanitarian missions in response to national or other disasters. Fifth, it would provide a framework for practical co-operation and planning to deal with threats to the environment and drug trafficking.

We must also see the debate on Irish membership of PfP in the context of Ireland's role in the EU. Twenty six years of membership of the EU has been good for Ireland, enabling us to develop the vibrant, prosperous State we have today, albeit with serious problems to overcome in certain areas. On the basis of solidarity the rich states in the EU helped Ireland to develop through massive capital transfers.

The question now is what role does Ireland intend to play in the Europe of the 21st century? Serious unrest in the Balkans has seen tens of thousands killed, injured, raped and ethnically cleansed. The view from the UN is that Europe must take the lead in conflicts on its own continent. What is Ireland's role to be? To demand that somebody somewhere should do something about events, such as the mass murder in Srebrenica as long as they are Dutch, German, American or British? There is nothing moral about standing on the sideline as civilians are butchered.

Involvement in PfP is not about siding with one side. It is about siding with all other European states in being willing to contribute to maintaining peace on our Continent on our own terms and in our own way. It may mean peacekeeping and perhaps, if Ireland should so decide, peace-enforcing. Peace-enforcing is something we should be willing to consider. Sometimes force is necessary to ensure aid gets through or refugees in safe havens are protected. Never again must the world guarantee to protect and then fail to honour that guarantee, as it did with the unfortunate people of Srebrenica We can only make arrangements such as these with credibility if we too are willing to contribute.

The time has come for Ireland to join PfP. Due to the nature of the PfP arrangement it will take time to work out the detail of our involvement. We would set this out in the presentation document. However, the first step should be taken now by this House agreeing to Irish membership and the Government subscribing to the framework document.

We have debated this issue inside and outside this House for over three years, during the public consultations on and since the March 1996 publication of the White Paper on Foreign Policy. The time has come to send a signal to our partners in Europe that we are willing to work together in the PfP. It is also time to send a signal to those countries all over the world whom we are lobbying for support in the elections to the UN Security Council that we are willing to work in the regional structures which are the future of the UN authorised peacekeeping missions. In addition, it is time to send a signal to our demoralised Defence Forces that we continue to see a valuable role for them in the developing security architecture. We must not only be part of the changing security architecture, we must be one of the architects.

What role do we want for Ireland? What role do we want for Europe? If we wish to influence the future shape of European security architecture and not leave it to others to decide we must join with the other European neutrals in PfP. I commend the motion to the House.

I thank Deputy Mitchell for sharing his time with me and I wish to share the remainder of the time available with Deputy Shatter.

Carlow-Kilkenny): Is that agreed? Agreed.

I support the motion proposed by Deputy Mitchell. He has made the running in pushing the debate on this issue. He launched a detailed policy document more than one year ago. Partnership for peace is an invitation by NATO to individual countries to enter a partnership agreement designed to secure peace and stability in Europe through increased military co-operation. It is, in effect, a series of individual partnerships between NATO and the partner nations rather than one overall partnership or agreement.

Partnership for Peace was first conceived under the stewardship of Les Aspin, former United States Defence Secretary, in 1993. It was publicly launched on 10 January 1994 at the NATO Summit of the Heads of State in Government. The summit was attempting to address the problems of security and stability in Europe following the ending of the Cold War. There was an eagerness on the part of the former Warsaw Pact countries, fearing Russian instability and possible aggression, to join NATO. At the same time, NATO's member states were concerned that an accelerated enlargement of the alliance would destabilise Russian politics. Thus, Partnership for Peace was a compromise.

At the outset it received mixed reviews and was greeted with scepticism in several quarters. Some commentators viewed Partnership for Peace as a method to buy time for NATO as that organisation dealt with the enlargement issue. However, within a couple of years this view had given way to an altogether more upbeat evaluation. PfP is now seen as having an intrinsic value in its own right, and it is set to become a permanent fixture in the new European security architecture.

In the post-Cold War security environment, the nature of peacekeeping is changing. The experience of the UN and UNPROFOR in the former Yugoslavia underlines this. NATO's 60,000 strong IFOR operation in Bosnia has shown how important it may be in the future to have military forces with the means to enforce peace agreements. If this requires a greater military contribution than the UN is capable of delivering, the UN or regional groups such as the OSCE will need to be able to mandate military forces to act on their behalf.

What is the process for Ireland to join Partnership for Peace? To join, Ireland must sign the framework document. The level of commitment, speed of implementation and scope of involvement is then decided upon by that country in agreement with NATO. It is important to note that it is an individual agreement between each partner and NATO. Partner nations join for different reasons, and when drafting their unique agreement they select from a menu of offers from NATO. Thisa la carte approach is what makes Partnership for Peace attractive to so many nations with differing resources. It is what should make the concept of membership agreeable to Ireland.

The framework document outlines the objectives of PfP which are: to develop co-operative military relations with NATO for the purpose of joint planning, training and exercises; to maintain the capability and readiness to contribute to operations under the authority of the United Nations or OSCE; to develop over the longer term forces better able to operate with those of the alliance; to facilitate transparency in national defence budgets; and to ensure democratic control of forces. On joining, nations agree an individual partnership programme with NATO. The main focus of this is to outline the overall military aims and objectives of the partnership nation, set out the education and training requirements of the partnership nation, and enlist the forces available from the partnership nation to participate in Partnership for Peace operations and training. Today we should be debating our individual partnership programme. Unfortunately, we are not.

The global has now become the local and, as distinct from the recent past, security problems are today seen as shared problems calling for shared solutions. The bonding of Partnership for Peace has assisted greatly in filling the vacuum following the ending of the Cold War, and it is important to remember that in Europe, in this century alone, some towns have been Russian, Austrian, Soviet, German, Czechoslovak and Polish. In 1938, as Hitler threatened to conquer Czechoslovakia, no European state would intervene at that time in what Neville Chamberlain dismissed as a quarrel in a far away country between people of whom we know nothing. There is a responsibility to uphold the ideals we believe in and an onus to practise the politics of responsibility.

Partnership for Peace is not about compromising our neutrality. It is not an institution and thus membership can be revoked at any stage. Those who seek to create a fudge are at best incorrect. Several neutral countries have joined, among them Austria, Sweden, Finland and Switzerland. The ambassadors of these countries gave a presentation to the Joint Committee on Foreign Affairs in July last year. None of them saw membership of Partnership for Peace as impinging on their neutrality. In outlining the benefits accruing from membership, the Finnish representative stated that the aims of Partnership for Peace were: to promote international security, stability and co-operation; to obtain information and ensure our own influence in decisions which concern us; and to show that Finland does her share when it comes to crisis management in the Euro-Atlantic region. Surely these are ideals with which we would wish to be associated.

In a recent interview the Chief of Staff of the Defence Forces spoke of being out in the cold as a military body in Europe. He said that participation in Partnership for Peace would result in many benefits to our Defence Forces by way of access to training and equipment heretofore unat tainable, participation in joint military exercises and access to valuable educational opportunities.

This debate, however, is not about giving a badly needed boost to our Defence Forces. It is about our willingness to make a contribution to safeguard the ideals in which we proclaim to believe. It is about strengthening our contribution to European security. It is about questioning our development as a nation and seeking to establish whether we are mature enough to step outside the rhetoric of fudge. The fudging of Partnership for Peace and neutrality took place in the debate on the White Paper on Foreign Policy published by the last Government. Partnership for Peace is not NATO, nor is it a back door to NATO. It has been established in response to the new security landscape of Europe opened up by the end of the Cold War. It offers a selective and flexible means of co-operation on military and peacekeeping matters to those who are anxious to break from the adversarial structures imposed by the confrontation between the two main military blocks surrounding the United States and the former Soviet Union. Prospective NATO members have joined Partnership for Peace, but so have Russia, the Ukraine and Austria, none of whom can be considered prospective NATO members. I am glad to commit this motion to the House.

I glad to have the opportunity to speak in support of this motion. I congratulate Deputy Mitchell on tabling it.

In this country we seem to be of the view that we can stand on a soap-box moralising to the rest of the world, telling other people what they should do, that they should place the lives of soldiers in their armies at risk to resolve conflicts that we will not contribute to resolving.

Partnership for Peace provides a unique and important mechanism to contribute to peacekeeping within Europe. The record of the European Union in resolving conflicts in Europe and in co-operating on European security and foreign policy issues has been patchy, to say the least. Partnership for Peace, in the words of the Minister for Foreign Affairs in an article he wrote inThe Irish Times on 28 November, is now generally recognised as having developed into a major framework for co-operation, training and preparation for UN mandated peacekeeping, humanitarian tasks and crisis management.

The Joint Committee on Foreign Affairs frequently debated the tragedy that was besetting Bosnia and that part of Europe during the course of various massacres that were taking place. We urged intervention. We urged the international community to do something about it. Because of our position, when it came to forces going into Bosnia to try to restore peace and order, to try to protect the lives of people and prevent further massacres, we contributed only to a minimal degree to the force that was put together. We are now looking at further tragedy befalling Albania and seeing a number of slaughters and what could be described as genocide in Kosovo. Intervention is inevitable to prevent Serbia perpetrating further appalling massacres on a larger scale than we saw in places such as Srebrenica.

Are we in this House going to urge Partnership for Peace as an organisation to intervene and save lives and, having satisfied our moral conscience, stand back and not contribute to that force? It is time we recognised that the world has changed and that the old concept of Irish neutrality is a false international currency. Partnership for Peace has the participation of 17 non-member states of NATO. It has the participation of all other European neutral states excluding Ireland, that is Austria, Finland, Sweden and Switzerland.

Deputy Andrews was right in his article inThe Irish Times when he said the time had come to move away from polarised views and slogans. The original polarised views and slogans derive from the political games former Deputy Ray Burke, as Fianna Fáil spokesperson on Foreign Affairs, started to play with this issue at the Joint Committee on Foreign Affairs. He made a pretence that joining Partnership for Peace in some way violated Irish neutrality.

It is regrettable that we all cannot join hands in this House in support of Deputy Mitchell's motion and that the two Government parties and the Labour Party are, yet again, kicking to touch on these issues. Such kicking to touch will undermine the credibility of views expressed by Members of this House in those parties on the horrors being perpetrated in European conflicts when we call for others to intervene and simply stand back and observe the carnage.

I move amendment No. 1:

To delete all words after "That" and substitute the following:

"Dáil Éireann reaffirms Ireland's policy of military neutrality and commitment to the peaceful settlement of international disputes and to the international rule of law; renews its pledge that, if at any time in the future the issue of entering a military alliance should arise, which involves a collective or mutual defence obligation, the people will require to be consulted by referendum; and consistent with that, in order to enhance Ireland's capacity to take part in peace-keeping operations in zones of instability in the European region, supports the commitment of the Government to build on Ireland's international vocation in support of peace and security, and favourably to examine further Ireland's participation in the Partnership for Peace, taking into account the ongoing public debate and subject to the approval of the Dáil."

With the permission of the House, I wish to share my time with the Minister Deputy Smith. On behalf of the Minister for Foreign Affairs, I extend his apologies for not being present this evening. As Members will be aware, he is away on business in Iran. He asked me to convey his apologies.

The Government welcomes this opportunity to debate and hear views on the question of Ireland's possible participation in Partnership for Peace. We regard this debate as a further contribution to the process of increasing awareness about PfP and its implications for Ireland which the Minister for Foreign Affairs has been encouraging in recent months, both in this House and elsewhere.

The House will recall that the Minister's two-fold priority has been, first, to enhance understanding and informed discussion of the realities of PfP and, second, in consequence, to move discussion away from the polarised views and slogans which seemed to characterise a good deal of such discussion as there had been about PfP on either side of the argument.

I hope the current debate will take account of those objectives. Much useful work was done by the Joint Committee on Foreign Affairs in the course of last year. The committee heard the views of representatives of the four neutral states who are participating in PfP. I refer to Austria, Finland, Sweden and Switzerland. A representative of the NATO secretariat also provided information to the committee, and the committee has heard views both in favour of and opposed to Irish participation in PfP.

The Minister for Foreign Affairs briefed the Government on the issue towards the end of last year, with particular reference to the fact that PfP has developed into a major framework for co-operation, training and preparation for UN-mandated peacekeeping, humanitarian tasks and crisis management.

It was, and remains, the intention of the Minister for Foreign Affairs to bring the issue to the Dáil for further debate in due course in the light of full consideration of all aspects of this issue. For this reason, we consider Deputy Mitchell's motion premature. As the Taoiseach indicated in his statement at UCD some days ago, should Ireland participate in PfP arrangements with NATO it would be on our own terms, as all the other European neutral states and Russia have done. If the Government decides in favour of Ireland's participation in PfP, such a decision, which would make clear the nature and scope of Irish participation in PfP, would be submitted by the Government to this House for its approval.

The amended motion underlines the commitment of this Government to Ireland's policy of military neutrality, and recognises the reality that participation in PfP would not be in conflict with our neutrality. The Government amendment also reaffirms the commitment, made at the time of the Amsterdam Treaty referendum, that if, in the future, the issue of a mutual defence commitment by Ireland were to arise, it would be put to the people for their decision in a referendum. The amendment recognises the commitment of the Government to build on Ireland's international vocation in support of peace and security, and the importance of Irish peacekeeping in this regard. It is in this context that the issue of Irish participation in PfP should be examined.

The origins of PfP lie in the situation in Europe following the end of the Cold War. The divisions of the Cold War have been replaced by a new approach based on co-operative approaches to security. This development reflects principles accepted by all European states, including Ireland. Traditional conceptions of security and defence have given way to general acceptance that peacekeeping and crisis management are key to ensuring stability and security in Europe. This evolution goes in the direction of Ireland's approach which has always emphasised conflict prevention and peacekeeping. A clear example of this new approach to security issues can be seen in the EU's Amsterdam Treaty which has accorded priority to the Petersberg Tasks of humanitarian, rescue, peacekeeping and crisis management tasks.

The ending of the Cold War has had many positive effects. The polarisation of Europe into two hostile camps has been replaced by inclusive approaches to co-operation between the states of Europe. The Cold War nightmare of a massive military confrontation on our Continent has effectively disappeared. Many of the institutional developments since the end of the Cold War have put great emphasis on the importance of collective security arrangements which recognise that security transcends the purely military aspects. My party's founder, Éamon de Valera, was a strong advocate of collective security in keeping with the principles of international law.

New and complex challenges, however, have emerged. I need only mention the conflicts and ethnic cleansing in Bosnia in the first half of this decade, and the tragic and continuing repetition of such events in Kosovo.

I want to summarise some important factors which should inform this debate. First, for the past 40 years, Ireland has been actively engaged in UN peacekeeping. Peacekeeping is a defining element in Irish foreign policy, and a matter of justified public pride. The tributes paid in recent days to the Irish peacekeeping record by the Secretary General of the UN and the historic visit by the Taoiseach to our peacekeepers in Lebanon are vivid reminders of the importance of the Irish peacekeeping contribution to the UN and of the reality that peacekeeping is an integral element of how we see ourselves in the world.

Second, a major evolution in UN peacekeeping has been taking place. The UN is increasingly reliant on regional security organisations to support and carry out missions on its behalf, as we have seen in Bosnia and Kosovo where the UN, NATO, OSCE and the European Union co-operate as a matter of routine. Ireland has already moved into the new UN approach to regional peacekeeping through our participation. alongside many other non-NATO states, in the Dayton Stabilisation Force in Bosnia, SFOR, which is mandated by the UN Security Council but is conducted on the UN's behalf by NATO.

Third, one of the new realities of the post-Cold War age is that no one state or institution can by itself deal with the humanitarian, political and refugee crises and the complex threats to international peace and security that we have seen in recent years. That is a reality acknowledged throughout the international community – in the UN, the OSCE and the EU. New models of co-operation at regional level have been endorsed by the UN and by the OSCE. PfP should be seen in that perspective.

Co-operation has rightly replaced outmoded notions of competition between the various security institutions in Europe. Ireland's approach is based firmly on the principle of mutually reinforcing co-operation between security institutions, a principle which has been endorsed by the UN Secretary General and by the OSCE at summit level. Bosnia and Kosovo have clearly demonstrated that co-operation involving the UN, NATO, the EU, and OSCE has become not only necessary but is an everyday element in efforts to prevent conflict and maintain peace in those troubled areas.

Fourth, there is no doubt that in the Defence Forces, which have done invaluable work in peacekeeping over the years, there is a strong view that participation in PfP is of great importance for Ireland's continuing role in peacekeeping. It is Government policy that Ireland should stay in the mainstream of European peacekeeping. Our Defence Forces must have a full voice in preparations for peacekeeping missions. Understandably, the Government does not want to see Ireland absent when matters in which we have a legitimate interest are being discussed. It believes that this can best be done through participation in PfP.

The UN Secretary General, during his recent visit to Ireland, identified clearly the change in the character of UN peacekeeping which came at the end of the Cold War. He reflected on the importance of the evolution of UN peacekeeping from the traditional kind of patrolling ceasefire lines to the modern, more complex manifestations of the post-Cold War era, and commented on the difficulties involved in this process. He emphasised the importance of effective means to undertake peacekeeping in the post-Cold War era. He also observed that peacekeeping today requires not only rethinking the means but also the method of implementing the mandates set out by the UN Security Council.

While commenting that traditional observer missions may still be enough in certain situations, the UN Secretary General has specifically cited the joint NATO-UN peacekeeping and peace-building mission in Bosnia as a model of credibility and legitimacy in peacekeeping. The importance of regional support for UN peacekeeping and conflict prevention should not be underestimated. There is a developing practice of meetings at UN headquarters in New York, chaired by the Secretary General and involving a range of organisations from different regions such as the EU, NATO, OSCE, Western European Union, the Islamic Conference, the Organisation of African Unity and the Organisation of American States.

What then does membership of Partnership for Peace involve? PfP is a voluntary, non-binding and co-operative security framework of co-operation between NATO and non-members of NATO. When it was launched in 1994 by President Clinton, it was seen primarily as a means of outreach and reassurance to the new democracies in Eastern Europe. PfP has, however, developed far beyond that aspect and is now a major framework for co-operation, training and preparation for UN peacekeeping, humanitarian tasks and crisis management. Currently 43 countries are involved in PfP, 27 of whom are non-members of NATO. The participating countries include all of our EU partners, the neutral states, Austria, Finland, Sweden and Switzerland, and even Russia.

While PfP involves voluntary co-operation by partner countries with NATO in selected areas, membership of NATO is completely different from involvement in PfP.

The Minister is reading my speech.

I do not think anyone would claim that Russia or Switzerland, for example, is an associate member of NATO because of their participation in PfP.

It sounds more solid when he says it – it has more authority.

The seal of the commoner.

Whatever the outcome of the debate on this issue, I wish to make one point very clear: there is no conflict whatsoever between participation in PfP and our policy of military neutrality. The Government would not have the issue of Irish participation in PfP under active review if there was any doubt in this regard. The procedure for participating is voluntary and straightforward. No treaty is involved. Participation in PfP is based on the principle of self-differentiation, that is, a participating state selects the nature and scope of its participation in PfP. The other neutral states, for example, have focused on practical co-operation for peacekeeping and crisis management.

Participants in PfP are expected to subscribe to a framework document which sets out the basic purposes and objectives of PfP. The purposes set out in the framework document include the protection and promotion of human rights, rededication to the principles of the Universal Declaration on Human Rights, the safeguarding of freedom, justice and peace, the preservation of democracy, the upholding of international law and the fulfilment of the obligations of the UN Charter and OSCE commitments.

Was the Taoiseach on the road to Damascus last week?

The objectives of PfP include matters such as democratic control of defence forces, which reflects the initial focus of PfP on the emerging Eastern European States. The objectives also focus on maintaining readiness to contribute to peacekeeping operations mandated by the UN or OSCE and there is a focus on joint planning, training and exercises to strengthen states' abilities to undertake peacekeeping, search and rescue and humanitarian operations.

A participating state also puts forward its "presentation document", which sets out its overall approach to PfP and identifies those areas of PfP in which it is interested. Other neutral states have, for example, made clear that they do not wish to join NATO and have identified peacekeeping co-operation as a priority area. The participating state would then develop in consultation with the NATO secretariat a practical programme of co-operation specifically tailored to the areas of interest to it.

In May 1997, NATO, in consultation with the states participating in PfP, decided to broaden and develop co-operation within the PfP framework, in view of the growing role and importance of PfP as an element in the European security architecture, and specifically in view of the lessons learned from the efforts of the international community in Bosnia.

PfP has now been complemented by a political consultation mechanism – the Euro Atlantic Partnership Council, which came into being in May 1997. This council has been an important forum for discussions on Bosnia, Kosovo and future peacekeeping as well as non-military areas of co-operation such as disaster relief in Europe.

The Euro Atlantic Partnership Council provides the over-arching framework for political and security-related consultations and for enhanced co-operation under PfP. It maintains the approach whereby partners are able to decide for themselves the level and areas of co-operation with NATO. One of the stated aims of this council is to provide an expanded political dimension for multilateral consultation and co-operation on a wide range of security and defence related issues, for example, regional matters, arms control, civil defence and disaster relief.

In the context of continuing evolution in the international sphere, the Taoiseach, in his statement at UCD some days ago, spoke of the dangers in opting out of, and standing back from, our traditional vocation of international engagement in co-operative efforts to solve the problems of the international community. As the Taoiseach stated, we have a responsibility as a Government not to inhibit for purely ideological reasons our Defence Forces from playing a full role in peacekeeping under changing conditions. We do not need to join military alliances but we must co-operate with the principal regional organisations involved to maintain peace and security in Europe, in keeping with our peacekeeping contributions.

A number of questions have frequently troubled people about PfP. One question that arises is whether there is an institutional link between PfP and the European Union. The answer is "no" but it is a reality, explained by the Government on a number of occasions in this House, that any large scale Petersberg-type operation, conducted by the Western European Union at the request of the EU, may have to depend on NATO's infrastructural resources since the EU is not, nor is it likely to become, a military organisation. The Western European Union would be largely dependent on NATO for such peacekeeping necessities as airlift, communications and other infrastructural support. PfP is a point of contact with NATO for other neutral EU states, as Austria, Finland and Sweden have demonstrated. Another frequently asked question is whether PfP participation entails acceptance of nuclear deterrents. Again, the answer is "no".

I am aware that there are divided opinions on the subject of PfP. Ireland is currently outside PfP and one option is to remain outside. For some in this House the prospect of co-operation with NATO on any matter, however voluntarily, will be unacceptable. The other option is to join PfP on our terms. Whatever the eventual decision, I hope that positions adopted will be based on a sober appreciation of the facts.

It is not true that participation in PfP would adversely affect Ireland's involvement in UN peacekeeping. It is not an issue of "either/or". Partnership for Peace is clearly a significant element in enhancing capacities, training and inter-operability for UN peacekeeping.

I invite the House to reflect on the words of the Taoiseach in recent days. He rightly recalled Ireland's international vocation and reminded us all that we no longer live in anyone's shadow. He suggested that the Ireland of the new millennium should become more active and involved in the world around us, and shed any remaining isolationist instincts or inhibitions. It is in that context that the debate on this topic should proceed.

And send them to the Middle East more often.

It is difficult, some three hours later, to come into the House to speak on Partnership for Peace when the Opposition parties devoted most of their time earlier to trying to break up a partnership, which they dismally failed to do.

The Minister's is a partnership for survival.

A partnership in pieces.

I am delighted to have this opportunity to speak in support of the Government's amendment. I am pleased the opportunity is now presented to debate the issue of Partnership for Peace and to explore the question of a possible future role for the Defence Forces in peacekeeping activities under PfP should it be decided at any future date to participate. I indicated in the House my support for an informed debate on this matter as recently as 9 December last.

It is important that regardless of whatever decision is ultimately reached regarding Ireland's positionvis-à-vis PfP, such a decision is preceded by and progressed through a constructive and informed debate, both inside and outside the House, where the views of all interested parties, whether political parties, individuals or organisations, can be heard.

An essential element in this process is a clear understanding of what PfP is all about. The statement tonight by the Minister for the Environment and Local Government, Deputy Dempsey, on behalf of the Minister for Foreign Affairs, clearly set out the nature and purpose of PfP and what membership entails. There are many misconceptions regarding PfP and certain of these misconceptions have led to some unfounded concerns.

Partnership for Peace is one element in the development of new inclusive co-operative security arrangements in Europe. It is a co-operative approach to security with the stated aim of intensifying political and military co-operation in Europe, promoting stability, reducing threats to peace and building strengthened relationships by promoting practical co-operation among its participants. While initially it was felt that PfP appeared to be geared to countries aspiring to eventual membership of NATO, it has since been joined by most OSCE countries, including Russia and the former Soviet Republics, as well as the neutral countries, Sweden, Finland, Austria and Switzerland. Currently 43 states participate in PfP.

The development of structures such as PfP reflects the need felt by some countries arising from the current transitional nature of European security. The emphasis has now shifted away from territorial defence towards issues of conflict prevention, peacekeeping, crisis management and the security threats imposed by international crime. Similarly, the approach in the Amsterdam Treaty reflects the trend away from territorial defence, with its focus on the Petersberg Tasks of peacekeeping and crisis management.

Deputies will be aware that the Petersberg Tasks were conceived in the context of support for the efforts of the United Nations and the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe which the European Union is now seeking to develop under the Amsterdam Treaty. Much of the planning and preparation for the Petersberg Tasks is now carried out by countries under PfP programmes.

The new European security architecture is essentially a Continent-wide interweaving in collective security in the new and emerging European relations. Within this architecture PfP is a voluntary, flexible non-binding co-operative security framework between NATO and non-members of NATO. It is the very flexible nature of the arrangement which no doubt has attracted so many countries to participate. In addition, PfP can be said to have built on the United Nations Charter. It is recognised that no one state or institution can by itself deal with the complex and diverse challenges to security of the post Cold War world. The former Yugoslavia is probably the best example of the new approach of mutually reinforcing co-operation between a range of institutions.

As participation in PfP would not involve membership of NATO, participation on appropriate terms would not affect Ireland's policy of military neutrality. Participation would not bring Ireland into any form of alliance involving mutual defence commitments. Neither would it constitute or imply any undertaking or intention to become a member of NATO in the future. The overall objectives of PfP, to which I will refer, are in accord with Ireland's approach to international peace and European security. PfP simply involves voluntary and non-binding co-operation with NATO.

As regards a possible role for the Defence Forces in peacekeeping activities under PfP, participants in PfP subscribe to a Framework Document which sets out the basic purposes and objectives of PfP. These include,inter alia, the protection and promotion of human rights, the safeguarding of freedom, justice and peace, the preservation of democracy, the upholding of international law and the fulfilment of the objectives of the UN Charter and OSCE commitments. In addition, individual states decide on the scope of their participation in PfP activities and in this regard agree an individual partnership programme covering the activities to which they wish to subscribe.

In Ireland's case, should it be decided at any time in the future to participate in Partnership for Peace, it is envisaged that these activities would include peacekeeping under a UN mandate, humanitarian and rescue works – all tasks in line with our traditional involvement and experience in those most worthy areas of service to our fellow human beings. Considerable benefits would also accrue to the Defence Forces in terms of the training opportunities and experience that participation in PfP activities would afford them. The areas of peacekeeping, search and rescue, etc. are expanding progressively.

Partnership for Peace is now seen as a dynamic programme in which the four European neutral countries are actively involved. The contribution which traditional peacekeeping contributing countries such as Sweden, Finland, Austria and Ireland can make to organisations which until the recent past had no peacekeeping expertise or experience is immeasurable, and this is evident in the SFOR mission in the former Yugoslavia. Ireland is playing its part in this troubled region through our contribution of some 50 military personnel, mainly military police, to SFOR.

It is important that we continue to stay in the mainstream of peacekeeping. Partnership for Peace has developed into a major framework for co-operation, training and preparation for UN mandated peacekeeping, humanitarian tasks and crisis management.

Should this House decide that Ireland would at a future date join PfP this development would facilitate our ability and desire to continue to play an active role in these areas under UN, EU or OSCE auspices in accordance with our strong tradition of military neutrality and commitment to active engagement in international efforts to support peace and security. There is no conflict between participation in PfP and Ireland's traditional policy of military neutrality.

Our experience of peacekeeping, probably because of our tradition and the way we do things, has been such that we have been welcomed throughout the world. Regardless of what decisions are taken for the future, we will always ensure that the ability and training of the Defence Forces will facilitate the best efforts Ireland can make to provide services, resources and commitment to places of conflict and trouble. We will not avoid our responsibility.

Ireland is described as the Celtic tiger. We should not shy from participation to the fullest extent possible in helping to solve problems. We understand famine, struggle and other difficulties. Now that we can afford to do more, we should try to do it.

I wish to share my time with Deputy Michael Higgins.

Is that agreed? Agreed.

Not only should we avoid the use of slogans and rhetoric in this debate, we should also avoid stereotyping each other's position. There has been a degree of that in some of the contributions tonight.

I have no particular wish for politicians to hold to the same views they held years ago but there is a distinct difference between the motion put down by the Minister for Foreign Affairs tonight and the statement of the then Leader of the Opposition, Deputy Bertie Ahern, in 1996 with regard to a guarantee of a referendum on joining the Partnership for Peace. I believe there is a constitutional imperative for such a referendum – that is simply a lay person's interpretation of the Constitution – because of the nature of Partnership for Peace. It is clearly related to NATO. It was established by NATO and in order to become part of the Partnership for Peace a country must make a deal with the High Command of NATO and sign an agreement of mutual interest, not mutual defence. I believe that would be con trary to the Constitution unless there was a referendum to approve it.

I might not have an opportunity to move the Labour Party amendment to the motion but I wish to read it into the Official Report. It states:

To delete all words after "That" and substitute the following:

"Dáil Éireann, conscious of the Irish people's long standing commitment to neutrality and their commitment to peacekeeping under UN mandates:

– acknowledges the Irish people's consistent support for full membership of the European Union and the sharing of our sovereignty, which this requires;

– welcomes the public debate, currently under way, on Ireland's role in the development of a European Union common foreign and security policy, based on the terms of the Amsterdam Treaty;

– endorses Irish participation in the development and implementation of such a common foreign and security policy;

– expresses concern at the continued existence of huge arsenals of nuclear weapons and urges continued support for efforts to reduce nuclear stockpiles and the production and sales of armaments;

therefore regards a decision to join the Partnership for Peace as pre-emptive in advance of a fully informed public debate.

That is not, as was suggested by a Fine Gael spokesperson, an attempt to push the issue away. It is a recognition that there must be a fully informed debate and not simply a categorisation of those who disagree with Partnership for Peace as isolationist and those who agree with it as humanitarian.

It has never been my view that Ireland should be isolated from the world. We live in a period of rapid political change. In the past ten years we have seen the collapse of the Berlin Wall and the map of eastern Europe change beyond recognition. New alliances are emerging. The Thatcherite tide that threatened to swamp Europe during the 1980s has been reversed, with 13 of the member states of the European Union now being ruled by left or centre left governments.

The European Union has developed at a rapid rate, moving closer to political and economic union with the enactment of the Maastricht Treaty, agreement on the Amsterdam Treaty and the coming into effect from 1 January of the single currency. Attitudes are changing, positions are being re-examined and views are evolving. There is now a Green Party Minister for Foreign Affairs in Germany who attends at and participates in meetings of NATO Foreign Ministers.

We have a very green one here.

That is evidence of change. However, I do not wish to apply simplistic views to this development. The Green Party in Germany is in a coalition government and it obviously has an agreement with its SPD partners on this matter. That is the nature of politics.

In this rapidly changing world it is not sustainable to repeat a meaningless mantra about the sacredness of Irish neutrality, as if we were still in the midst of the Second World War or still trapped in the dark days of the Cold War. In any event, as papers released this week indicate, our neutrality during the Second World War was not, in fact, as neutral as many people believed. In addition, any objective study of Ireland's role during the Cold War will show that it was a similarly lobsided neutrality. That is not to devalue our record of neutrality or the record of successive Governments in keeping this country out of military alliances.

Despite our neutrality, Ireland has never been an isolationist country. In the 1930s Ireland was an active member of the League of Nations and it has been a member of the United Nations for 40 years. Ireland served on the Security Council and on one occasion provided the President of the General Assembly. Irish troops have served with distinction in virtually every continent. Irish Foreign Ministers, such as Deputy Spring, served with distinction as President of the European Council of Foreign Ministers and in that role helped to broker solutions to many international disputes.

It is against this background that we should consider the Fine Gael motion. It is a simplistic motion in that it calls, without qualification or conditions, for the entry of Ireland into the Partnership for Peace. In the context of the Irish people's long standing commitment to neutrality and non-participation in military alliances, any proposal that Ireland should join the Partnership for Peace – effectively a NATO subgroup – was always going to be controversial.

There are different views on the issue in the Labour Party. We are engaged in a serious and wide ranging debate not only on Partnership for Peace but on how peace can be guaranteed in our world. There is a range of views on the proposal within Fianna Fáil and one would not have to dig deeply within Fine Gael to also find divergent views on the subject. Whatever decision is taken on membership of Partnership for Peace – it is no secret that I believe we should not join and I have a coherent and rational basis for that view – I am satisfied that any decision at this stage would be pre-emptive.

There is a need for a full and informed debate on the implications of the security needs of the European Union and it is in that context that the question of whether to join the Partnership for Peace should be addressed. When that debate has run its course, the decision will then be appropriate, and initially at least, for the democratically elected membership of the Oireachtas to take. Ultimately it should be put to the people in a referendum.

This is a political issue and I feel a degree of concern that senior members of the Defence Forces and the representative bodies for the Defence Forces have come dangerously close to straying into the political arena in the comments they made on this matter in recent months. However, I welcome today's statement from PDFORRA, in relation to its submission on the White Paper, that this is a matter for the Government and the Irish people. Everybody should be clear about this.

Partnership for Peace and the security needs of the European Union are separate and distinct issues. The Partnership for Peace has nothing to do with the European Union as such. It was an initiative of the United States and is effectively a subgroup of NATO. Partnership for Peace treaties are negotiated directly with NATO High Command. There are many member states in the Partnership for Peace but only 14 are members of the European Union. The Partnership for Peace includes many countries which were formerly members of the Warsaw Pact and a number who were members of no bloc.

As a firm supporter of deeper European integration I accept this process would lead to a common defence and security architecture for the European Union. As a member state of the European Union where support for each of the developments in the Union has been approved by substantial majorities and successive referenda, we must be willing to play our part in this process.

The Partnership for Peace is now being described by its promoters as the "European Defence System" with the insinuation that it is a logical extension of EU integration. This could not be further from the truth. The NATO Partnership for Peace includes many states which, because of their human rights records, are explicitly excluded from joining the European Union – for instance, Turkey. The Partnership for Peace was designed as a vehicle to allow partial NATO membership to the European states which Russia would not simply tolerate as full members of a hostile military alliance. In addition, NATO Partnership for Peace strategy is designed not to assist the democratic integration of the EU but to pre-empt the emergence of a European security system deriving from the common foreign and security policy of the Union and to integrate Europe, through NATO, rather than through the EU.

I believe it would be preferable to have a European security structure ultimately subject to the European Union than the domination of European security affairs by the militarist trans-Atlantic alliance that is NATO. The major advantage of such a structure is that it would be ultimately subject to the democratic checks and balances of the member states and the European Parliament.

There are also a number of other myths about the implications of staying out of Partnership for Peace. Staying out of Partnership for Peace does not in any way hinder Irish participation in peace-keeping or peace enforcement operations throughout the world. Most of the operations in which Irish personnel are involved have been mandated directly by the United Nations. Even where peace-keeping operations have been subcontracted out, as in Bosnia, our Defence Forces are participating with personnel from 39 other participating countries, only 20 of whom are members of NATO or Partnership for Peace.

Contrary to the frequently repeated line staying out of Partnership for Peace would not rule out joint exercises between the Irish Defence Forces and those of other countries. These are already taking place and can continue as long as the Government considers them to be appropriate. Ireland already has observer status at the Western European Union, a decision taken by a Fianna Fáil led Government. Going in or staying out of Partnership for Peace would have no impact on this observer status whatsoever. Neither would staying out of Partnership for Peace in any way restrict or inhibit our involvement on the international stage.

One of the particular concerns I would have about the Partnership for Peace is the emphasis that its sponsor, NATO, places on the possession and potential use of nuclear weapons. Ireland has a long and proud record of opposition to the possession of nuclear weapons. As recently as last June the Government took a very welcome initiative with a number of other countries seeking to halt the spread of nuclear weapons and to limit those already in existence. I said at the time that it was a particularly positive development to see Ireland joining with other countries, both inside and outside the EU, who shared our concern about the continuing threat posed by the existence of these weapons. This initiative showed that, notwithstanding the development of a common foreign policy in the EU, it is still possible for an Irish Government to take initiatives in regard to foreign policy issues at UN level, provided there is a political will to do so.

The June initiative was particularly welcome as it was directed at existing nuclear weapons as well as those being developed by new countries and while the recent nuclear tests conducted by India and Pakistan have focused attention on the proliferation of nuclear weapons, the biggest threat to global safety by far remains the huge arsenal of nuclear weapons held by the big powers.

With the Cold War very much in the past the case for disposing of these weapons is more compelling than ever. It was an Irish initiative that was largely responsible for the conclusion of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty almost 40 years ago. That treaty had some success in limiting the spread of nuclear weapons but it has not stopped those countries which are determined to secure these weapons. As we approach the millennium it is now an appropriate time to launch another initiative aimed at freeing the world from the awful threat posed by these weapons of mass destruction.

These are obviously my views but I believe they are the views of a significant number in the Labour Party and that they reflect the views of significant numbers in other parties in this House. I look forward to a rational and informed debate on the matter in the Labour Party, in the Dáil and in the country generally. A balanced course must be mapped out between those who would rush this country into NATO at the earliest opportunity and those who make outlandish claims that every development in the European Union will lead to NATO troops on the streets of Irish towns and villages.

I wish to say something about the background to what is a thoughtful position outlined by my colleague, Deputy De Rossa, on behalf of the Labour Party, on this issue. An attempt has been made by all speakers so far to be open in what is a necessary debate. What we are asking is that a decision not be taken in the absence of a debate on teasing out these issues.

To arrive at a decision on membership of Partnership for Peace now or in the proximate future would require that certain matters be clearly articulated and this has not been done. I have some questions. First what is the relationship between the US-British Alliance and a European foreign policy? What did it tell those of us who are interested in the rule of law, in the primacy of the United Nations mandate, in the ability of people to solve their problems diplomatically through their inter-dependency as opposed to military solutions? My second question relates to the word "security". When I began to speak about foreign policy many years ago it was still possible to speak about food security, but "security" as used in this instance is much different, much narrower and more easily perceived through the spectacles of a military lens.

That in itself raises further questions. Why rush, without debate, to join – as Deputy De Rossa has said – a Partnership for Peace with its NATO connections giving it uncritical acceptance, ahead of any radical debate on the future role of the United Nations or the relationship between the United Nations agencies and other international agencies? With what moral authority do countries who suggest there is something limiting, backward and narrowing about Ireland's right to ask questions, actually pose such an assertion when they themselves are involved in illicit and illegal arms production, distribution and sales, when no discipline has been accepted between the moral imperatives of a non-military Europe and the economic benefit that can be gained from arms production and sales?

We need to begin this debate very carefully by looking not so much at the architecture of European security but at the geometry of international relations. Few people want to open the debate on the consequences, for example, of there being a single world power. Neither do they want to look closely and examine the features and character istics of our most recent experience internationally of there being such a single power.

I raise these questions as openers. What has it done in relation to the balance between the General Assembly and the Security Council in the UN? What has it done to the classical primacy of the Security Council resolution generating a mandate? If the conflict is defined in advance, is the role of the major global player made manifest and then a series of processes and adjustments presented as choices or is one suddenly asked whether one is participating. So suddenly "partnership" takes an entirely new meaning.

Partnership for Peace has to genuinely come out of foreign policy and foreign policy has to start with fundamental principles. For example, is it to be structured on the theory of interests? Does that theory include such economic interests as military production and sales, or does it come from a theory of interdependency? Does the theory of interdependency mean that we should stress diplomacy first? If you began with diplomacy, you might end up with forms of partnership.

Those of us who raise those questions, which are critical questions, are neither isolationist nor limitingly traditionalist; we are simply asking for a good debate accepting interdependency.

Debate adjourned.