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Small state identity in the Cold War 1955–75

In the twenty years after Ireland joined the UN in 1955, one subject dominated its fortunes: Africa. The first detailed study of Ireland's relationship with that continent, this book documents its special place in Irish history. It describes the missionaries, aid workers, diplomats, peacekeepers, and anti-apartheid protesters at the heart of Irish popular understanding of the developing world. It chronicles Africa's influence on Irish foreign policy, from decolonisation and the end of empire, to apartheid and the rise of foreign aid. Adopting a fresh, and strongly comparative approach, this book shows how small and middling powers like Ireland, Canada, the Netherlands and the Nordic states used Africa to shape their position in the international system, and how their influence waned with the rise of the Afro-Asian bloc. O’Sullivan details the link between African decolonisation and Ireland's self-defined post-colonial identity: at the UN, in the Congo, South Africa, Rhodesia, and Biafra – even in remote mission stations in rural Africa. When growing African radicalism made that role difficult to sustain, this book describes how missionaries, NGOs, and anti-apartheid campaigners helped to re-invent the Irish government's position, to become the ‘moral conscience’ of the EC. Offering a fascinating account of small state diplomacy and identity in a vital period for the Cold War, and a unique perspective on African decolonisation, this book provides essential insight for scholars of Irish history, African history, international relations, and the history of NGOs, as well as anyone interested in why Africa holds such an important place in the Irish public imagination.

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Kevin O’Sullivan

This chapter outlines the key themes of the book: the importance of Africa, decolonisation and the legacies of empire in shaping the fortunes of the small and middling powers in the Cold War; and the special role Africa played in defining Ireland's identity. It argues for a more nuanced reading of the Cold War narrative, to take account of the close inter-relationship between national histories, cultures, social structures and foreign policy. It introduces the ‘fire brigade’ states – Canada, Denmark, Finland, Ireland, Norway and Sweden, a group of small and middling powers valued by the international community for their support of collective security and the primacy of international law – and their contribution (collectively and individually) to a changing international system. It explores the manner in which Africa defined the parameters in which they operated. And it examines the special place of Africa in the Irish consciousness.

in Ireland, Africa and the end of empire
Ireland and the decolonisation of Africa
Kevin O’Sullivan

This chapter outlines the key role played by decolonisation, the ends of empire, and the emergence of independent Africa in shaping Ireland's post-war identity. Missionary links fostered an interest in, and a sense of responsibility towards, Africa, and connected Irish actions with African nationalist aspirations. An official emphasis on the shared legacies of empire created a self-defined post-colonial identity for the state. This chapter links these nation-level currents of debate with an evolving international narrative in which circumstances allowed the ‘fire brigade’ states a disproportionately forward role in international politics. It shows how involvement in debates on African decolonisation at the UN allowed those states to marry national values with the assertion of diplomatic independence. It identifies an important shift between the imperial and post-imperial eras: as Africa's political status changed, the ‘fire brigade’ states adapted accordingly, not least by re-directing their focus to the field of foreign aid. In the midst of those changes this chapter explores a theme that is at the heart of this book: the marriage of idealism, pragmatism, national concerns and international trends that shaped small state identities in the Cold War.

in Ireland, Africa and the end of empire
Congo, peacekeeping and foreign policy
Kevin O’Sullivan

This chapter outlines the difficulties that faced the ‘fire brigade’ states in their efforts to translate their vision of international stability based on collective security into practice. On the surface, involvement in the UN peacekeeping operation in the Congo (ONUC; 1960–64) offered an opportunity to match anti-colonial rhetoric with practical action. In that sense the experience proved successful: peacekeeping became an important outlet for expressing Irish commitment to the UN. Yet the episode was, in large part, a chastening one. With its role limited by the influence of the Cold War powers, by the relative powerlessness of the UN, and by an increasingly vocal Afro-Asian bloc, the Congo experience forced Irish officials to come of age: to recognise the limits to their actions but also to accept their standing as pro-Western, pragmatic, European states.

in Ireland, Africa and the end of empire
The birth of the Irish Anti-Apartheid Movement
Kevin O’Sullivan

This chapter, along with chapters six and seven, explores the emergence and consolidation of co-ordinated international opposition to apartheid and minority rule in southern Africa in the 1950s and 1960s. It begins by describing an important shift in Irish rhetoric: from the anti-British, pro-Boer nationalism of the early twentieth century to the anti-colonial, pro-African discourse employed at the UN and beyond. In diplomatic terms that approach was an obvious extension of ‘fire brigade’ support for decolonisation. Yet the emergence of a strong anti-apartheid movement across northern Europe and North America in the 1960s changed the playing field completely. The second half of this chapter paints an image of that emerging coalition, viewing the creation of the Irish Anti-Apartheid Movement in 1964 as part of an international campaign to match local reaction with transnational action.

in Ireland, Africa and the end of empire
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Ireland, Nigeria and the politics of civil war
Kevin O’Sullivan

The key to this chapter lies in the twin themes of challenge and response. The attempted secession of Eastern Nigeria (Biafra; 1968–70) and the civil war it precipitated marked the first challenge to the doctrine of self-determination in post-colonial Africa. How the ‘fire brigade’ states responded – by translating their support for decolonisation and international law into respect for African sovereignty and a commitment to peaceful, negotiated change – said much about their efforts to adapt to a rapidly crystallising post-colonial international system. But challenge also came in a different form. The public attention afforded to the Biafran cause by the sizeable Irish missionary community based there forced a radical shift in the government's relationship with the media and public opinion. This chapter concludes by arguing that the clash between old- and new-style diplomacy these debates engendered represented a blurring of state boundaries and the growing power of transnational phenomena in shaping government policy.

in Ireland, Africa and the end of empire
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The Biafran humanitarian crisis
Kevin O’Sullivan

This chapter examines the rise of two new, and related, forms of international relations that simultaneously bolstered and bypassed traditional channels of diplomacy: aid and humanitarianism. It describes the powerful impact the Biafran humanitarian crisis had on inter-state relations, shifting aid and emergency relief to centre stage in the ‘fire brigade’ states’ relationship with the developing world. Diplomatic support for the decolonisation process was translated into economic and humanitarian support for ailing independent states. But, as this chapter shows, this shift was significant primarily because it was accompanied by the emergence of a new global discourse on aid and humanitarianism, and a new group of transnational actors whose work bypassed traditional political structures to emphasise the power of ‘people-to-people’ action: NGOs.

in Ireland, Africa and the end of empire
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Southern Africa, popular protest and foreign policy
Kevin O’Sullivan

This chapter tackles two of the themes that are at the heart of this book. First, it argues that the radicalisation of Afro-Asian demands at the UN – most visibly in the response to minority rule in Rhodesia, Portuguese Africa, South Africa, and South West Africa – not only distanced the ‘fire brigade’ states further from the anti-colonial cause, it forced them to seek out new policy avenues, and new ways of expressing their identities in a changing international system. Second, this chapter shows how the growing strength of the international anti-apartheid movement, combined with the rise of the counter-culture and the tensions that spread throughout Europe and North America in the late 1960s, drew individuals, politicians, and local pressure groups into global conversations and measures for a global reaction. The result, described here in the response to the 1970 South African rugby tour of Britain and Ireland, was a further shift in the location of political and popular action.

in Ireland, Africa and the end of empire
Ireland, the EC and southern Africa
Kevin O’Sullivan

This chapter extends the key themes of chapter six – the ‘fire brigade’ response to Afro-Asian radicalism, and the growing influence of the international anti-apartheid movement – into a new decade. It shows that the principles that allowed the ‘fire brigade’ to gain prominence in earlier years were re-shaped to fit a changing international context in the 1970s. In the Irish and Danish cases that meant using their progressive approach on issues such as apartheid and minority rule to shape new identities for themselves as members of the European Community (EC) from 1973. While those core values were being re-articulated and re-defined at official level, anti-apartheid movements in Europe and North America continued to be a thorn in the side of the South African, Rhodesian and Portuguese regimes. This chapter describes the 1970s as a time of ever-increasing integration and inter-dependence in the campaign against minority rule, and asks, what impact did that have on Irish politics and society?

in Ireland, Africa and the end of empire
Irish foreign aid
Kevin O’Sullivan

This chapter describes the conflagration of forces from above (the rapid expansion of the foreign aid regime) and below (the rise of an increasingly powerful NGO sector) that transformed aid and humanitarianism into key constituents of international relations in the 1970s. It illustrates how these twin themes became the defining elements in the ‘fire brigade’ states’ relationships with the developing world. The resulting description acts as a distillation of several key narratives at the heart of this book. It describes increasing Irish government interest in foreign aid (including the birth of the official aid programme in 1974) as a result of changes in the international environment, pressure to match the contributions of its peer group of states, and the obligations of its membership of the European Community, but also as a response to growing domestic debate – not least the consolidation and expansion of the NGO sector in the post-Biafra period. The chapter concludes by emphasising the important link between aid and Irish state identity: as an extension of the country's colonial and missionary heritage, its anti-colonialism, and its approach to international relations (the pursuit of justice, collective security, and the creation of a stable international system).

in Ireland, Africa and the end of empire