“Making peace by making war is what we are trying to do – but it doesn’t work”, stated Edward Horgan, former commandant in the Irish Defence Forces and Shannonwatch spokesperson as he addressed the public meeting on ‘Peace and Neutrality: International and National Perspectives’. Peace can only be achieved by positive neutrality.
One country which has pursued the path of positive neutrality is a country with approximately the same population as Ireland: Costa Rica. Costa Rica disbanded their army in the 1940s and the President at that time, Jose Figueras, declared that the military budget would be used on healthcare and education instead. Figueras believed it was pointless for a country the size of Costa Rica to have an army as it would never be able to compete with a larger country. Costa Rica has since become renowned for its neutrality and peaceful stance in foreign affairs.
Despite that stance, however, the Costa Rican government joined George Bush’s ‘Coalition of the Willing’ and approved of the U.S. military invasion of Iraq in 2003. Roberto Zamora, then a law student, decided to take a case against his own government for supporting this war – on the grounds that it violated Costa Rican neutrality – and won. This was an important case as, while neutrality was something that the Costa Rican government had proclaimed, it was not written in their constitution. Since the Zamora legal victory, however, neutrality has now been enshrined as a constitutional right.
Zamora spoke in Dublin about his decision to take a case against the government and emphasised that you don’t need to be a lawyer or the smartest person in your class to take such a case but just to have a sense of what’s right and wrong. He reminded the audience that, as defined by the United Nations, peace is not just the absence of violence and war but freedom from fear and from want.
Costa Rica provides a vision of what Irish neutrality could look like, argued Carol Fox of the Peace and Neutrality Alliance. Despite the fact that 78% of Irish people are in favour of neutrality according to a 2013 Red C poll, Ireland has pursued a number of avenues that violate neutrality, such as the ‘dual purpose’ clause which enables Ireland to be involved in the arms trade, and the government allowing military flights – including rendition flights – to pass through Shannon airport. Carol mentioned that there is an upcoming opportunity to get neutrality enshrined in the constitution in a bill that will be brought forward in the Dáil soon and urged the audience to engage with their local politicians on this issue.
Afri was pleased to host this public meeting as part of our ongoing opposition to war and militarisation.