As already noted, the key structure underpinning Ireland’s WGA to international security crises is the sub-cabinet-level Interdepartmental Committee for Peacekeeping. Originally designed to manage Irish contributions to UN peacekeeping operations, the committee’s remit has effectively been expanded in recent years to encompass all Irish multilateral engagement with international security operations across EU, UN and NATO platforms. This is supplemented by formal structures within particular government departments, such as the Conflict Resolution Unit (CRU) within the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, whose remit is to assess and direct policy towards areas of conflict management and to promote reconciliation strategies more broadly based on Ireland’s national experience and its own peace process.
On the face of it, without a large, all-encompassing policy doctrine to support them, these limited structures lack institutional depth. Indeed, while Ireland’s WGA to external crises and conflicts is not formalised into any strict legal mechanism or organisational response, its informal nature has served well to direct Ireland’s engagement in international security operations. The character of that engagement has been praised for its high degree of communication and efficiency, and it has improved the ability of the state and its defence forces to react quickly to crises in regions external to the EU. Operationalisation of a WGA towards international security crises is therefore effectively directed by key policy players operating in concert within a clear national context developed over 60 years of continuous UN engagement. While ‘success’ in this context is difficult to determine, there is no doubt but that Irish engagement in peace-support operations has consistently enjoyed strong public support across all demographics and political parties, is deemed central and critical to the mission of the Defence Forces of Ireland, and is regularly showcased within Irish foreign policy as a key feature of the country’s global engagement. Its relevance may further be judged by the fact that this is a key highlighted policy within Ireland’s 2021 campaign for a seat on the UN Security Council.
‘Success’ in terms of policy outcomes in third countries, of course, is more difficult to assess. Ireland’s engagement in international security operations have ranged from the traditional ‘blue hat’ UN ceasefire-monitoring efforts to the most robust UN interventions using military forces. With the end of the Cold War, Ireland extended that UN engagement to wider international peace-support operations. First by joining NATO’s Partnership for Peace in 1999 and then later through the EU’s development of its Common Security and Defence Policy, Ireland adapted itself to much greater interoperability and engagement in a variety of command structures, such as the UN, NATO and the EU. Over the last 20 years, hundreds of Irish troops have served across thousands of individual deployments in international security operations in Europe (Kosovo), the Middle East (Iraq, Israel, Jordan, Kuwait, Lebanon and Syria), Africa (Central African Republic, Chad, Congo, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Ivory Coast, Liberia, Mali, Somalia and Uganda), and the Asia-Pacific region (Afghanistan and East Timor). While calculating the ‘success’ of Irish contributions to each of these operations is a complex undertaking, the fact that Ireland is subject to repeated and ongoing requests to contribute to such operations is at least some testament to its success as a small security provider.
In terms of management, the efficacy of Ireland’s WGA is less a function of its institutional design than of the country’s political commitment, bureaucratic culture and public administration. This is marked by a high level of informal communication, a lack of bureaucratic hierarchy, permeable institutional and agency borders, and the limited number of policy players. Together, this gives rise to a structure that is nimble, flexible and potentially creative in response to policy challenges. Policy disablers are largely the obverse of its enablers. The small size of the Irish policy network also means that it will have few resources, limited policy specialisation and a somewhat generalist approach to crises. Furthermore, the lack of institutionalisation and the small size of the supporting infrastructure can also give rise to policy capture by special interests and a disproportionate degree of influence from personalities and individual entrepreneurship. While these risks do exist, to date they have not given rise to significant policy failures or weaknesses.