The Defence Forces do not operate in a vacuum but as a vital component of the national security architecture. While there are arguments as to whether Ireland should be neutral, non-aligned or a member of a collective security arrangement few would disagree with the argument that Ireland is militarily defenceless. That weakness in defence not only manifest itself in personnel and military hardware shortages but also in the field of intelligence, counter-intelligence and counter-espionage. Ireland is the weak link in European security. This is at a time when there is a conventional war being fought out in Ukraine with a threat of nuclear conflict, and espionage, especially by Russia and China, against Western states is reported to be at a higher level than during the Cold War.
In its report The Commission on the Future of Policing addressed the subject of national security, however, it would be very difficult for anyone to defend its Report on the subject of National Security. Weaknesses in the state’s national intelligence capabilities not alone puts the security of the state at risk but also that of the Defence Forces, neighbouring states, and the EU. To compound existing weaknesses the 2012 reorganisation of the Defence Forces weakened the internal intelligence and counter intelligence capabilities of the Defence Forces.
Intelligence to be successful requires professionalism. The Defence Forces do not have a professional intelligence corps and as a result personnel wishing to protect their promotion prospects cannot remain in an intelligence appointment for long, this combined with structural weaknesses results in Defence Forces vulnerability.
In recent years the Defence Forces have been lucky not to have suffered casualties otherwise intelligence flaws might have been highlighted; this combined with no Intelligence inspectorate oversight from an external body hides internal intelligence and counter intelligence deficiencies.
The lack of national intelligence and Defence Forces intelligence and counter intelligence capabilities need to be addressed.
Part 1 -Thanksgiving Turkey
The Defence Forces operate as a vital component of Ireland’s national security architecture but that architecture is incoherent, dispersed and flawed. The government’s ‘fingers-crossed’ approach to national security is best understood by the analogy with Nassim Taleb’s ‘Thanksgiving Turkey’. He writes ‘consider a turkey that is fed every day. Every single feeding will form up the bird’s belief that it is the general rule of life to be feed every day by friendly members of the human race; “looking out for its best interests” as a politician would say. However, on the afternoon of the Wednesday before Thanksgiving something unexpectedly happens to the turkey. It will incur a revision of belief when the farmer wrings its neck. …’The Turkey problem can be generalised to any situation where the hand that feeds you may very well be the hand that wrings your neck. (Taleb 2010, 40).
The Republic of Ireland situated on the western periphery of Europe has had a charmed international security existence. Neutral in the Second World War it survived from being occupied by the Nazis because of the tenacity of the United Kingdom and its allies. During the Cold War without being a member of or without paying a financial cost to the organisation Ireland was protected from the Soviet scourge by the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO). Our location and our ability to survive on the cheap without having to pay for security or defence, has conditioned our national psyche resulting in a national laissez-faire attitude towards defence, intelligence, and security. But as threats in the physical and cyber domains increase, as the international security environment darkens, the threat to Ireland’s national security could spring at any time from any place. Similar to Taleb’s Thanksgiving Turkey, Ireland, could have its neck wrung unannounced and unexpectedly.