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Pluck of the Irish

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At the edge of Europe, in Ireland's Shannon Airport, they conduct surveillance on the U.S. empire.

ShannonWatch, a group of a dozen or so peace activists led by a former Irish commandant and peacekeeper, scrutinizes the commercial and military planes that pass through Ireland to bring troops and hardware to Afghanistan. Such transports take place in other European countries, like Germany. But Ireland is a special case. It has a long tradition of neutrality. It is not a member of NATO. And Shannon is a civilian airport.

Ireland was once more scrupulous. Years ago, the Irish government wouldn't let U.S. soldiers pass through the country's airports if they'd been involved in military exercises, much less a military conflict. Today, however, Shannon not only serves as a supply link for the Afghanistan war, transporting over 20,000 U.S. soldiers a week, but also facilitated the CIA's rendition of terrorism suspects. Since 2003, two U.S. military officers have been permanently based at the airport, without parliamentary approval and even without public knowledge until news leaked out last week. Shannon Airport has essentially become an unofficial U.S. military base.

ShannonWatch is part of a larger Irish effort to oppose the growing militarization of Europe. As I write in Postcard from...Dublin:

In recent years, Europe has been building up its military capacities -- within NATO and also as part of new pan-European institutions. Under the European Security and Defense Policy, the EU has conducted missions in more than 20 countries and has ongoing military deployments in Bosnia, Macedonia, Chad, Congo, Guinea-Bissau, and Sudan. In 2007, the EU formed rapid deployment battlegroups to have a standing capacity. The European Defense Agency, created in 2004, identifies gaps in military capabilities and promotes increased military expenditures. As major backers of this new agency, European military contractors are responsible for nearly one-third of global arms sales.

The focus of the European peace movement right now, though, is Afghanistan. Many Germans are outraged over their military's complicity in the recent NATO bombing of fuel tankers in Kunar that claimed an unknown number of civilian lives. Voters in Britain have turned against the war. European governments, despite their public show of support, have been reluctant to supply soldiers for what has now become Obama's war.

Here in the United States, eight years after September 11, the tide of public opinion on the war is also shifting. Once considered by public and pundits alike as the "good war" in comparison to the Iraq conflict, the Afghan occupation is now rapidly losing support. In the United States, an all-time high of 57% of Americans oppose the war according to a recent CNN poll. Key pundits have changed their mind, including conservative columnist George Will. (For an excellent rundown of the numbers on Afghanistan -- cost, casualties, public opinion -- check out Tom Engelhardt's new analysis.)

During the Bush regime, several European leaders like Britain's Tony Blair and Spain's Jose Maria Aznar were more than happy to help out the U.S. military in Iraq and Afghanistan. These leaders suffered at the polls as a result of their enthusiasm. The transatlantic alliance, at least the one based on military cooperation, is in trouble. NATO, its fighting capabilities challenged on the ground in Afghanistan and its institutional solidarity challenged by dissenting European leaders, is increasingly looking like an organization without a mission. Will Afghanistan, the graveyard of empires, bury NATO as well?

Europe stands before three forking paths. Down one road is Europe 1.0, which involves a rejuvenated NATO and a continued junior partner status to the United States. Down the second path lies Europe 2.0, with a largely independent military structure that develops its own preemptive and intervention capabilities. And down the third path is Europe 3.0, a demilitarized Europe that leads the globe in reducing military expenditures, restraining the arms trade, and restricting its overseas deployments to UN peacekeeping missions. This third Europe is the one that ShannonWatch and the Irish peace movement envision.

What we need now is a new transatlantic alliance -- a transatlantic alliance from below -- that can bring us to this Europe 3.0.

Cross-posted from Foreign Policy In Focus, where you can read the full post. To subscribe to FPIF's e-zine World Beat, click here.