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Triple lock and Russia

This is not an April Fool’s joke. From today, Vladimir Putin will play an enhanced role in Irish Foreign, Defence and Security policy. Under the so-called ‘triple lock’ mechanism, Ireland cannot deploy troops overseas without a resolution of the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) or its General Assembly. From today, the Russian Federation takes up the Presidency of the UNSC for the month of April.

Under the United Nations’ Charter, the Security Council ‘has primary responsibility, , for the maintenance of international peace and security’. The role of the President of the UNSC is to oversee meetings and to decide questions relating to policy and oversee any crisis.

According to one academic, “The Security Council is the pivot of the United Nations in efforts to maintain and enhance international peace and security. The major function of its President should be to guide it effectively and expeditiously toward this noble goal”.

This comes just two weeks after the International Criminal Court (ICC) issued an arrest warrant for Putin arising from an investigation into the abduction of Ukrainian children. Investigators for the ICC are also looking into allegations of rape, torture and illegal detentions among a whole raft of breaches of international humanitarian law carried out by the military forces of the Russian Federation.

Twice, the General Assembly of the UN has voted in huge numbers to condemn Russia’s war of aggression in Ukraine. Ukraine’s right to defend itself from this aggression is set out clearly in Article 51 of the UN Charter.

It really is an extraordinary indictment of the UN that its main body, the Security Council, charged with its main and cherished objective, to maintain and secure global peace, is led by an alleged war criminal.

In a paper I published in February last year, I argued for the removal of the requirement for a UNSC resolution. Removing this requirement would give the Irish government greater freedom to make sovereign choices about our foreign policy rather than outsourcing such critical decisions to a body that is badly in need of reform.

Whether you are pro-neutrality, anti-neutrality, interventionist or isolationist, the idea that Ireland delegates any foreign policy decisions to autocratic leaders in Russia and China is lamentable. I do not see any circumstances in which Russia and China should continue to enjoy a veto over our defence and foreign policy decisions.

While other EU Member States have rapidly and decisively changed their foreign policy since February last year, the best example being Sweden and Finland applying to join NATO, Ireland’s defence capability has degraded since the Russian invasion. Ireland’s defence forces are in such a pitiable state that we were not even in a position to join the 21 other EU member states that supported the EU Civil Protection mechanism in response to the Turkey/Syria earthquake.

It is possible to overstate the significance of Russia taking up the Presidency of the UNSC. After all, it is only for a month and as a permanent member of the 15 member UNSC, Russia takes this role almost annually as does China.

In truth, the triple lock arrangement would be fine if certain members of the Security Council didn’t wield veto power.

As mentioned, the UNSC has 15 members, 5 of whom are permanent members wielding a veto. These are the victors from World War Two - Russia, China, UK, France and the US. It is a matter of enormous global inequity that there are no permanent African members or that the most populous nation in the world, India, is not featured.

While France and the UK very rarely wield their veto power, Russia, China and the US do so frequently.

So the entire structure is effectively a 1945 answer to a question that no one is asking anymore.

Reform of the UNSC might be a case of ‘be careful what you wish for’. Some of the demands for UNSC reform predated China’s open support for the Russian invasion. When President Xi told his annual congress last week that China must ‘dare to fight’, it sent a shiver down the spine of all those who wish to live in a stable and peaceful world.

There is an argument that it is better to have these two at the table than to see the global order break down completely.

However, at this dynamic geo-political moment, the triple lock leaves an important element of Ireland’s foreign policy in the hands of aggressors, the absolute opposite of what was intended. This is completely inappropriate and should be brought to an end.

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