Prof Ben Tonra speaks to Defence Forces about 'Strategic Autonomy'

As part of their 41-week 2019 Joint Command School, the Defence Forces held a day-long seminar on European security and defence on 27 March in the Curragh. Among the speakers was SPIRe's Professor Ben Tonra who spoke on 'Strategic Autonomy and Implications for Ireland'. Professor Tonra outlined the underlying debates which give rise to efforts on the part of the European Union and its member states to develop a military/defence capacity. These include long-standing arguments on the transatlantic relationship and 'burden sharing' therein, new security threats in Europe and now Brexit. While the concept of the EU's 'Strategic Autonomy' has wide spread political buy-in - and strong public support across Europe - it is important to bear in mind that it can mean  different things to different people.

For some, strategic autonomy is all about the EU and NATO allies therein, building a capacity so that EU member states can contribute more meaningfully to international peace support operations and that the EU's NATO members can make a more balanced contribution to NATO's defence. For others it is about 'hedging' against the possibility of a reduced US commitment to European defence and getting European allies to fill any resulting gaps. For some - certainly a minority - it is even about emancipating Europe from its dependence on the US and getting Europe to a point at which it can play an appropriate global role in pursuit of its own interests and values.

While these understandings differ, Professor Tonra argued that each entails its own challenges for Irish policy makers. He insisted that with accelerated EU defence cooperation and even greater defence integration on the horizon, a 'status quo' response from Irish policy maker was unsustainable. It was time - arguably past time - he said for there to be debate on precisely what contribution - if any - Ireland was willing to make to Europe's security and defence. Such a debate would have to focus on the role, structure and resourcing of the Defence Forces and assest the costs and benefits of contributing to the Union's 'Strategic Autonomy'.