Approval of Memoranda of Understanding regarding Ireland’s Participation in the Nordic Battlegroup
Minister O'Dea’s Speech to Dáil Éireann 5 April, 2007
Today provides a good opportunity to discuss in detail, Ireland’s participation in the Nordic Battlegroup. As you will recall we have previously discussed the issue of Ireland’s participation in EU Battlegroups, in particular when we debated the Defence (Amendment) Act 2006, last summer. The issue now before the House relates to the terms of agreement for Ireland’s participation in the Nordic Battlegroup. Before going through the specifics of the MoUs, I would like to just set out some of the background to our proposed participation.
The ambition of the EU to be able to respond rapidly to emerging crises has, and continues to be, a key objective of the development of European Security and Defence Policy. In the Headline Goal 2010, the EU set itself the objective of being able "to respond with rapid and decisive action, applying a fully coherent approach to the whole spectrum of crisis management operations covered by the Treaty on the European Union". A key element of the Headline Goal is the capability to deploy forces at high readiness, broadly based on the Battlegroups concept. The purpose of the EU Battlegroups is to undertake operations known as the Petersberg Tasks, which include humanitarian and rescue tasks, peacekeeping tasks and tasks of combat forces in crisis management, including peacemaking. These tasks are consistent with our national traditions in peace-keeping and peace support operations.
As I have done on many previous occasions, I would once again emphasise that the creation of Battlegroups does not alter the scope or purpose of European Security and Defence Policy or the Petersberg Tasks. These are firmly rooted in the Treaty on European Union, as amended by the Treaty of Amsterdam, both of which the Irish people approved by referendum. Nor are Battlegroups linked to the concept of a possible EU common defence. The purpose of Battlegroups is, very simply, to enable the Union to be more effective in contributing to international peace and security in support of the United Nations by putting in place a rapid response capability. In this regard, I would like to again recall the strong support of the United Nations for the EU’s efforts in this direction.
In January of this year, the EU achieved full Battlegroup operational capability, which means that two Battlegroups are continually on standby for a period of 6 months at a time.
In an informal decision, taken at its meeting in January 2006, the Government agreed that I could enter into discussions with Sweden and other like-minded nations in relation to Ireland's contribution to EU Battlegroups. Representatives from the Departments of Defence and Foreign Affairs and the Defence Forces have met with their Swedish counterparts on a number of occasions to discuss possible participation by the Defence Forces in the Nordic Battlegroup. Following these discussions, Sweden, as the framework nation for the Nordic Battlegroup, advised that it would welcome a contribution from Ireland to the Nordic Battlegroup, subject to Ireland's agreement to sign the Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) for the Nordic Battlegroup and the Memorandum of Understanding regarding the use of Northwood in the UK as the Operational Headquarters for the Nordic Battlegroup.
In July last year, the Defence (Amendment) Act 2006 was enacted by the Oireachtas. The Act provided for, amongst other things, participation by the Defence Forces in overseas training and field manoeuvres, in Humanitarian Operations and for early pre-assembly and dispatch of contingents. While not solely related to our possible participation in EU Battlegroups, these were important provisions in facilitating and furthering our engagement with the participants in the Nordic Battlegroup. Following enactment of the legislation, discussions with Sweden continued in earnest and the detailed provisions of Ireland’s participation in the Nordic Battlegroup were agreed subject to Government and Dáil approval.
At its meeting of 14 November 2006, the Government formally approved the arrangements for Ireland’s participation in the Nordic Battlegroup, agreeing to provide a contingent of the Permanent Defence Forces to participate in the Battlegroup and to sign the Memorandum of Understanding for the Nordic Battlegroup, subject to the approval of Dáil Éireann.
I would now like to outline to the House, the detailed elements of Ireland’s contribution to the Nordic Battlegroup. The Defence Forces will contribute an EOD/IEDD contingent with its own security detail, together with staff posts at the Operational and Force headquarters. (EOD/IEDD means Explosive Ordnance Disposal and Improvised Explosive Device Disposal. EOD relates to normal type munitions whereas IEDD generally refers to devices devised by terrorist groups, such as car bombs) It is expected that between 80 and 100 Defence Forces personnel will be involved. This level of commitment will only arise should the Battlegroup be called upon to undertake an operation. The number of personnel involved operationally during the standby period, where the Battlegroup has not been mobilised to undertake an operation, will be approximately 15. Any contribution to a Battlegroup will be met within the context of the overall ceiling of 850 personnel serving overseas at any one time set in the White Paper on Defence and will have no adverse impact on our existing peace support operations. It goes without saying that any deployment of the Irish element of the Battlegroup on an operational mission will, as always, be subject to the requirements of the Triple Lock.
Turning now to the issue at hand, the Nordic Battlegroup MOU is an agreement between the participants comprising the Nordic Battlegroup, namely Sweden, Norway, Finland and Estonia, which sets out principles in relation to the operation, deployment and management of the Nordic Battlegroup. The MoU has already been signed by the existing participants in the Battlegroup. Ireland will join to the MoUs through an exchange of letters with each of the existing participants in the form of the letter of accession included in the documents laid before Dáil Éireann on 22 March.
I would now like to outline each of the provisions of the MoUs.
Section 1 and 2 deal with the Definitions and Reference Documents respectively.
Section 3 outlines the Purpose of the MoU as a framework document, which sets out principles in relation to the operation, deployment and management of the Nordic Battlegroup.
Section 4 deals with the Scope of the MoU. I would like to draw the attention of Deputies to the fact that the MoU specifically recognises the sovereignty of each participant in terms of any decision to deploy its forces being in accordance with its own national law. This principle is reiterated in section 6 of the MoU. In Ireland’s case this means that any decision to participate in an actual Battlegroup operation, irrespective of our joining to this MoU, would be subject to a further decision in accordance with the provisions of the Defence (Amendment) Act 2006.
Section 5 sets out the Purpose of the Nordic Battlegroup as a means to support the development of ESDP through its participation in EU-led crisis management operations. This reflects the aim of the EU to react quickly across the spectrum of crisis management tasks, as outlined in the Headline Goal 2010.
Sections 6 and 7 set out the Principles for Deploying and Withdrawing the Nordic Battlegroup. The Battlegroup will only be deployed following the appropriate EU decision-making process. Each participant retains the right to deploy, or not to deploy, their forces irrespective of a EU decision to launch a Battlegroup operation. Equally, each participant retains the sovereign right to withdraw its contingent at anytime. In relation to the general withdrawal of the Battlegroup or elements of it, the MoU provides that such decisions will be made on the basis of consensus following EU decisions.
Section 8 outlines the Political-Military Consultation process. It envisages that regular consultation between participants will be required before and during the stand-by period. Sweden, as the Framework Nation, will lead the consultations. All decisions will be made on the basis of consensus.
Section 9 deals with the Establishment Phase. During this phase, co-ordination of the policy and military issues relating to the Battlegroup will take place in the framework of NORDCAPS. This is a cooperation arrangement between the Nordic countries for coordination and planning of peace support operations. Ireland and Estonia are not members of NORDCAPS, but will participate in its meetings when Battlegroup issues are discussed.
Section 10 details the arrangements for Force Contribution, Generation and Tailoring. Participants make their offers to the Battlegroup at co-ordination conferences and each contribution is laid out in a Technical Arrangement. The Force Commander may alter the overall makeup of the force for a specific Battlegroup deployment depending on the nature of the operation and the forces offered.
Section 11 discusses Command and Control arrangements. Sweden, as Framework Nation, will lead the Force Headquarters, with all participants able to hold positions there. The command of each Contingent remains under National control, with operational control delegated to the Operational Commander. This is in accordance with EU crisis management concepts and standard operating procedures in a multi-national force. This same arrangement applies where Ireland is engaged in UN “Blue-Hat” operations.
Training is discussed in Section 12. It will be necessary for the various participants of the Battlegroup to train together in accordance with EU standards. Most Battlegroup training will take place in the contributing member States - i.e. Irish troops will mainly be trained in Ireland. That said, some level of joint training with other Battlegroup elements will be required. It is planned that joint training of the Nordic Battlegroup elements, including field manoeuvres, will take place in Sweden in September/October, 2007, for a period of approximately 3 to 4 weeks. The full operational capability of the Nordic Battlegroup will then be assessed and the Battlegroup will be on standby from January 2008, for a period of six months. There will be no joint field training or exercises held in Ireland.
Section 13 notes that the Battlegroup will be Certified in accordance with agreed EU procedures.
Section 14 deals with the Status of Forces in terms of Jurisdiction and Discipline and Section 15 with Claims and Liabilities. When a Battlegroup participant is within the territory of another participant, the issues of jurisdiction and discipline and claims and liabilities of forces will be dealt with in accordance with the NATO PfP Status of Forces Agreement (SOFA).
A SOFA is an agreement in relation to the status of personnel engaged on overseas training and operations, whereby the host country agrees to extend certain rights and privileges to such personnel. These include arrangements in relation to jurisdiction in respect of certain crimes, powers of military police, enforcement of discipline by the superiors of the relevant personnel and determination of liability for damage to the property of third parties.In the case of the Nordic Battlegroup, the NATO/PfP SOFA is the one being used. The application of the agreement is a common requirement for participation in all EU-led and NATO/PfP-led peace support operations. It applies in the case of our participation in KFOR in Kosovo, ISAF in Afghanistan, EUFOR in Bosnia and Herzegovina and EUFOR in RD Congo. While all the other Nordic Battlegroup participants have signed the NATO/PfP SOFA, Ireland has not. We have previously acceded to the relevant provisions of the SOFA (Claims, Accidents, Liabilities and Jurisdiction) generally through an exchange of letters with the EU, NATO, or with the lead framework Nation for any operation on which we are engaged. The Attorney General has considered this matter in detail and has advised that there is no impediment to Ireland agreeing to be bound by the relevant provisions of the SOFA as provided for in this MoU. As a result, Defence Forces personnel will be subject to the terms of such agreements in terms of Jurisdiction and Discipline and Claims and Liabilities when in the territory of another participant. As no Battlegroup activities involving forces from other participants can take place in Ireland, Ireland will not be required to extend the relevant provisions of the SOFAs to foreign forces. This has been agreed with Sweden as Framework Nation for the Nordic Battlegroup.
Section 16 outlines the arrangements in terms of Financing. Individual costs, other than those deemed to be common costs, will be the responsibility of each Participant.
Section 17 notes that regulations in terms of Logistics are to be dealt with in Technical Arrangements.
Security Regulations are outlined in Section 18. All exchange of classified information will be handled in accordance with EU security regulations. Each participant will appoint a Designated Security Authority to deal with any security issues that arise.
Section 19 notes that third parties can be invited to participate in the Battlegroup based on consensus among participants.
Section 20 notes that the MoU will take effect from the date of the last signature. Participants may withdraw from the MoU with six months written notice.
Section 21 deals with Modifications, Amendments and Disputes. The MoU may be modified with written consent of all participants and any dispute will be handled through negotiation between participants.
In addition to the Nordic Battlegroup MoU, Ireland is required to enter into an MoU with the UK in relation to the use of Northwood and the staff to be based there.
The Operational Headquarters for the Nordic Battlegroup will be located at Northwood in the UK. An Operational Headquarters is a complex facility, providing strategic direction and advice to the force on the ground. There are only a small number of such facilities in Europe, mainly in the larger member States. Northwood has the necessary infrastructure, communications systems, facilities and support, which are not otherwise available within the member States contributing to the Nordic Battlegroup. The Operational Commander and the Headquarters staff for the Nordic Battlegroup, which will be drawn from the participating member States, will be based in Northwood for the duration of the stand-by period.
The MoU for the Operational Headquarters broadly follows the same structure as the main Battlegroup MoU and conforms to all EU agreed guidelines on Battlegroups. Its purpose is to define the aim, principles and responsibilities for cooperation with regard to the establishment and operation of the EU OHQ in Northwood for the command and control of the Nordic Battlegroup. It details the right of access to the OHQ for appointed staff of the Nordic Battlegroup during the establishment, pre-activation, activation and re-deployment phases.
Section 9 outlines the Command and Control arrangements. As in the MoU for the Nordic Battlegroup, the Operation Commander will be appointed by the Council, but all personnel contributed by individual Participants remain under full command of the sending Participant. The designated Operational Commander for the Nordic Battlegroup is a Lt General from the Swedish Armed Forces and, in accordance with the MoU, he will exercise operational command and control over the Nordic Battlegroup forces. While the UK will provide an important technical and support element for the Headquarters in the facility in Northwood, there is no question of the UK or of UK Forces exercising any direct command and control responsibilities over the Nordic Battlegroup or over Battlegroup personnel.
Section 10 notes that the OHQ Provider will provide the necessary facilities and administrative backing for the operation of the OHQ and will be responsible for the Force Protection of all personnel on site.
According to Section 11, as in the Nordic Battlegroup MoU, each Participant will be responsible for the costs they incur, except for those deemed to be common costs, which will be funded via Athena the common financing mechanism for ESDP military operations.
Section 12 outlines the procedures for dealing with Claims and Liabilities. Most claims will be covered by the provisions of the MoU or the NATO PfP SOFA. The cost of those claims not covered will be borne equally by all Participants, or in a manner approved by all Participants.
Section 13 deals with the Status of Forces in terms of Jurisdiction and Discipline. When Battlegroup personnel or personnel from the OHQ provider are within the territory of another participant, the issues of jurisdiction and discipline will be dealt with in accordance with the NATO PfP SOFA.
The language of the remaining sections dealing with Security Regulations, Third Party Participation, Entry into Effect of the MoU and Modifications of the MoU generally mirrors that of the Nordic Battlegroup MoU.
Officials of my Department, members of the Defence Forces and officials from the Department of Foreign Affairs have attended a number of the formal Nordic Battlegroup meetings recently. In addition, a member of the Defence Forces is on pre-deployment fact-finding and familiarisation training at the Operational Headquarters in Stockholm. However, this is being done on the basis of an invitation extended by Sweden on behalf of the other participants. We do not currently attend meetings as full members, as we have not yet signed the MoU. It is vitally important at this stage that our participation is formalised, by signing these MoUs, so as we can fully participate in the structures of the Nordic Battlegroup and influence the overall development of the Battlegroup, together with the practical management and technical arrangements.
I commend the motion to the House.
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