Russia does not respect Irish neutrality and Ireland and the EU must focus more on defense, the French ambassador has said.
Vincent Guérend, who was appointed to Dublin in 2020 by President Emmanuel Macron, said neutrality failed to save countries like Belgium during World War I.
“Certainly, that was not the case a hundred years ago. It certainly won’t be the case this time,” she said in an interview.
Guérend said that Russia had committed so many breaches of international law recently that it was clear that it would ignore the concept of Irish neutrality if it wanted to harm the country.
He said Russia’s invasion of Ukraine poses “an existential threat” to the EU, particularly EU states near the Russian border. Other threats, he said, include China, which can be both a rival and a collaborator, and climate change.
The ambassador said that France respects Ireland’s neutrality and its defense policy, but that “this does not mean that this policy cannot evolve … or that it should not adapt to a new environment.”
Irish neutrality has evolved from independence to the present day, including during World War II, Guérend said. It is up to the Irish people and government to determine how that policy should evolve and at what pace, he said, “but like anything, it has to adapt.”
Neutrality does not mean that countries cannot cooperate with their neighbours, the ambassador said, pointing to the recently agreed EU Security Compass deal, of which Ireland is a member.
The Security Compass, agreed in March, will see increased cooperation between EU militaries and increased defense investment across the bloc. It also establishes a 5,000-strong “rapid deployment capability” to enable the EU to respond quickly to crises. It also calls for greater cooperation between the EU and bodies such as the UN, NATO and the African Union.
France has taken a leading role in promoting the agreement that has taken several years to negotiate.
Guérend said the deal does not compromise the neutrality of EU member states, but it does force countries to raise their guard. He said that Ireland has a different kind of commitment to the EU security apparatus, but registering with Security Compass will not present any legal difficulties.
The ambassador said that France has great respect for the Irish military and its history of peacekeeping. The Defense Forces and the French army cooperate in “modest” ways, such as through language courses and officer exchanges, Guérend said, adding that he was scheduled to meet with Defense Forces Chief of Staff Lt. General Sean Clancy.
“At the same time, it is true that we strongly believe, based on this strategic compass, that all EU member states, including France and Ireland, should probably strengthen their capacity in the face of a much worse international environment.”
Asked if France would like to see Ireland join NATO, the ambassador replied: “That is not for any of us, and certainly not for France, to decide, encourage or discourage.” Such matters are sovereign decisions, he added.