From the CIAO Atlas Map of Europe 

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Explaining the End of the 'Long War' in Northern Ireland — Bringing in the Cold War

Michael Cox

International Studies Association
41st Annual Convention
Los Angeles, CA
March 14-18, 2000



If students of international relations can readily be accused of failing to take the Northern Ireland seriously enough, then analysts of the conflict in the North can be criticized with equal force for ignoring the complex ways in which the outside world has impacted upon the province since the struggle for civil rights rapidly and tragically evolved into a military campaign in the late 1960s. This is not only historically indefensible insofar as the tangled web of relations between Britain and Ireland make no sense unless they are situated within a wider international context. It is also analytically parochial. Indeed, far too many historians of the Troubles have discussed them as if they stood in some splendid isolation from the rest of the world. The approach adopted here is quite different, and while in no way seeking to deny either the local causes or the specific character of the conflict, insists that the conflict in its various phases can only be fully explained if we ‘bring in the international’. Northern Ireland does not stand and has never stood outside of international history. It was certainly not true when the Troubles began - and as we shall see below, has not been the case in the 1990s when the ‘long war’ finally began to show very clear signs that it was coming to an end.

But how should we set about explaining the deeper causes of the end of the war and the quite extraordinary events that began with the Good Friday agreement in April 1998 and concluded with the creation of a new Northern Ireland executive in December 1999? While in no way ignoring the role of key individuals like Hume or Trimble, the negotiating patience of US Senator George Mitchell, or the critical part played by republican persuaders like Gerry Adams and Martin McGuinness, theorists of the peace process have tried to explain the new politics of Northern Ireland in one of three ways.

First, there are those who see the winding down of the conflict in terms of what some like to call public opinion and others ‘people power’. According to this thesis, the voiceless and the powerless in Northern Ireland had simply had enough after twenty five years of civil disorder, and conveyed this directly and indirectly to the main paramilitary organizations. 1 Not surprisingly, this populist explanation is rejected by the ‘realists’. Not for them romantic stories about popular pressure for peace, but the hard logic of power and the successful long-term containment of the IRA by the army and the intelligence services. Some would even insist that loyalist terror also played its part in persuading the IRA to give up the gun. Taken together, these pressures, it is suggested, forced republicans to rethink their militant tactics and in the end (and somewhat reluctantly) accept a cease-fire followed by serious negotiations. 2 Lastly, there is a very powerful school of thought that would explain the ending of the war not in terms of a changing balance of power between conflicting parties, but as the result of organized co-operation between the two states which had most to lose if the war continued. The combined efforts of both Ireland and the United Kingdom, it has been argued, first helped isolate the republican threat though the instrument of the Anglo-Irish agreement of 1985; and then drew republican leaders in from the cold through a series of carefully designed accords whose ultimate purpose was to undermine the case for violence by implying that there might be another, non-violent way of them achieving their goal. The basic reason for the war coming to an end in Northern Ireland, therefore, had less to do with the exercise of military power, than policy-makers from legitimate states working together to resolve a conflict that most people had hitherto thought to be insoluble. 3

The thesis advanced here does not reject what might be termed ‘internalist’ explanations of the end of the IRA war but rather suggests that we cannot isolate the ‘peace process’ in the North from changes taking place in the wider international system. 4 Nor should we try to do so, and while in no way seeking to downplay the importance of other factors such as war weariness, military containment and inter-state co-operation, it is argued here that the winding down of the ‘armed struggle’ was also the result of transnational pressures upon the most immediate reason for the conflict: the Provisional IRA. The IRA may well have been a quintessentially Irish phenomenon. However, it could not escape the world or ignore what was happening outside Ireland. In particular, it could not escape the impact of the several tidal waves thrown up by the collapse of the Cold War system in the late 1980s. This is not to imply a simple reductionist relationship between the end of the Cold War and the conclusion of its campaign of violence. Nor is to argue that the end of the war in Northern Ireland is reducible to a single ‘essential’ cause. What is being suggested however is that the conclusion of the Cold War made it far more difficult for the IRA to continue with its military campaign - not because the organization did not have the capacity to do so, but rather because in the post-Cold War era, its campaign of violence could no longer be so readily justified. 5 Furthermore, the ending of the Cold War precipitated a number of critical changes in the wider structure of the international system. These not only weakened the republican movement’s rationale for fighting the British presence in Ireland, but even more importantly perhaps, made it possible for a ‘Third Party’, the United States, to play a far more decisive role in Northern Irish affairs. Finally, as a self-proclaimed revolutionary organization with a project of changing Ireland, it was inevitable that as the tide of global radicalism began to retreat after 1989, this would feed into republican thinking. Indeed, there is strong evidence to suggest, that as radicalism around the world began to ebb in the 1990s, this had a marked influence on a number of key figures in the republican movement; enough it seems to force some of them at least to rethink what they had been doing since the heady days of the 1970s.

The complex narrative of how the IRA was finally persuaded against all known expectation to try the unarmed road has been told in a number of compelling accounts of the peace process. The purpose here, therefore, is not to retell a story which others have already told, but to explain how and why the end of a larger competition which apparently had very little to do with the local conflict in Northern Ireland, had such a big impact upon the theory and practice of the Irish republican movement. 6


Farewell to national liberation

The Provisional IRA did not begin life in 1970 as a fully formed guerilla organization, but as a poorly equipped group whose first task, as they saw it, was to defend the besieged Catholics of the North against the perceived threat posed by the Protestant majority. 7 Those who created the Provisionals also saw their job as rebuilding a movement along traditional and authentically Irish lines. Thus, according to the early ‘Provos’, there was no need for republicans to look outside of Ireland for inspiration or guidance. Indeed, at a time when national liberation movements around the world were exciting the sympathy and the support of student radicals in western Europe and the United States, the Provisional leadership almost seemed to go out of its way to distance itself and the new IRA from these other struggles - especially if they were led by revolutionary Marxists. Yet in spite of this apparent narrowness of outlook, the IRA was impelled by both military necessity and a genuine sense of political solidarity to forge links with other movements of national liberation. This move was also hastened by the collapse of the IRA’s original scenario of quick victory over the British. 8 This not only caused a shift in its tactics, but also led to the emergence of those in the organization more sympathetic to socialist ideas and more inclined to build serious bridges to other revolutionary groups and regimes. Even Cuba began to get a more sympathetic hearing, which Castro later appeared to reciprocate during the Hunger Strikes when he praised the bravery of the freedom fighters of the IRA. Of course, this hardly made the republican movement agents of the Soviet Union, as some on the conservative right argued at the time. 9 On the other hand, its continuing campaign against America’s most special ally - the British - certainly made the USSR sympathetic towards their cause. It would be something of an exaggeration to talk, as one writer has done, of the IRA now becoming ‘Pravda’s Provos’. 10 Nevertheless, Soviet coverage of the situation in Northern Ireland remained broadly sympathetic to the republican cause and only changed significantly following the collapse of the USSR itself in 1991.

There was and remains no simple or direct connection between the settlement of other regional conflicts after the Cold War and the change of strategy by the IRA. Some have even argued that because the relationship between the conflict in Northern Ireland and the larger Cold War was somewhat tenuous, that it would be wrong to believe that an end to the larger struggle had very much impact on Ireland. 11 As a leading figure in the republican movement noted at the time, ‘only a fool would argue that there are direct parallels’ between the situation in the North of Ireland and other Third World conflicts. 12 However, as Mitchell McLaughlin also conceded, those who had already gone through the difficult transitional process leading from war to peace elsewhere, might have something to teach the Irish. He even admitted that those who had made peace in other countries had given ‘tremendous support’ to those in Ireland trying to do the same. 13 The Sinn Fein President, Gerry Adams, made much the same general point. Ireland, he accepted, was different and it would be a ‘mistake’ to think otherwise. Nonetheless, if conflicts as apparently intractable as those in the Middle East and South Africa could be resolved, then this obviously held out hope for the people of Ireland. Furthermore, because these other conflicts had been brought to an end, according to Adams it created ‘an international climate’ which made the resolution of all conflicts, including the one in the North, far more likely. Northern Ireland might have been different. But it was neither unique nor immune to change taking place in the wider international system. 14

In effect, having become part of a wider revolutionary project, Irish republicanism could hardly avoid being affected by its collapse in the latter half of the 1980s. Logistically of course they could fight on, as they did most effectively with weapons supplied by Libyan leader President Qadaffi. But having the capacity to bomb and shoot was one thing: this was hardly the same as being part of a broader movement whose larger aim was nothing less than the destruction of imperialism as a system. And inevitably, as this movement began to retreat, republicans in Ireland started to lose their various points of ideological and political reference around the world. Even more critically perhaps, those who earlier had made solidarity with their ‘Irish brothers and sisters’, now began to advise them to follow the path of peace. It was one thing when your enemies suggested you abandon the armed struggle. It was something else entirely when those with enormous moral standing in the republican movement - figures like Mandela and Arafat - told you to do the same. 15


The Soviet threat and after

If events in the Third World after the Cold War increased the IRA’s sense of isolation, developments in the larger strategic landscape helped undermine its analysis of why it was necessary to fight the British. To explain why this should have been so, we have to understand the republican movement’s theory of why it believed the British were in Ireland in the first place. 16

According to republicans, Britain remained in Northern Ireland because this provided them with a vital (albeit costly) platform from which to exercise economic control over Ireland as a whole. As a Sinn Fein document of 1988 argued, though the annual British subvention to the North was high, it would be quite ‘wrong to conclude that this level of spending negates any British economic interest in Ireland’. But economics was only one part of a complex set of ties linking the two countries. Of even greater importance was an abiding British fear of what might happen if Ireland were ever to be united. For locked as it was into what seemed like a permanent Cold War conflict with Russia, Britain - according to republicans - stayed on in the North to secure one part of Ireland for NATO and to prevent the creation of a united and neutral Ireland outside of the NATO alliance. Economics might have been important in maintaining the Union. There was even something to the argument that the ‘British establishment’ had an historic attachment to the Union, if not necessarily to Unionists themselves. But these were second level explanations of why Britain went to such ‘lengths’ to ‘remain’. As one republican source put it before the Berlin Wall came tumbling down, though Britain’s ‘continuing involvement in Ireland’ was based upon a number of calculations, including an exaggerated fear of Ireland becoming a ‘European Cuba’, by far and away the ‘most important’ consideration ‘now’ was its concerns about Irish neutrality and the serious threat which that posed to NATO and Britain’s ‘strategic interests‘. 17

The collapse of communism in Eastern Europe in 1989 followed two years later by the implosion of the USSR itself, clearly posed enormous problems for the republican movement’s analysis of why Britain hung on to Ireland. After all, with no Soviet Union, there could be no Soviet threat; and this inevitably left Sinn Fein in desperate need of a new argument to explain both the British presence and why force was needed to remove it. It also created an intellectual opening for John Hume, leader of the Social Democratic and Labour Party. Hume was already involved in detailed negotiations with Gerry Adams about the best way of resolving the situation in the North. Significantly, part of these negotiations had revolved around the critical issue of British intentions. Adams, not surprisingly, insisted that the British had powerful reasons for staying in Ireland, and the only way to get them to go therefore was by physical means. Hume, on the other hand, believed that the British were either agnostic about or indifferent to Irish unity. In fact, as he pointed out to Adams, they had already indicated as such in Article 1 of the Anglo-Irish Agreement of November 1985 where it was clearly stated that if a majority in Northern Ireland wanted a united Ireland, the government of the United Kingdom would not stand in the way. Now, four years later, with Soviet power in retreat across Europe and the Warsaw Pact in free fall, it seemed to Hume that the republican argument (and the strategy which flowed from it) was now more than ever quite fatally flawed. 18

In a quite deliberate move designed to support Hume in his discussions with Adams, the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, Peter Brooke, made a significant intervention. In a remarkable speech in London in November 1990 he outlined British policy towards Ireland, in the course of which he not only displayed a genuine sensitivity to nationalist history, but insisted that the government itself had no ‘selfish strategic or economic interest in Northern Ireland’. 19 The response of Sinn Fein to this very real challenge was to cast doubts on both Brooke’s motives and analysis. Nonetheless, its display of bombast could not hide its very real uncertainty about what to do next. Indeed, in private, some of its leaders at least were beginning to accept the possibility that Britain’s declared neutrality ‘might be real and that the IRA might, therefore, be open to persuasion on the merits of armed struggle’. 20

In of itself, the collapse of the Soviet threat would not have induced an IRA ceasefire. That said, it would wrong to underestimate the impact which the change in the wider East-West relationship had upon the republican movement; and in particular upon the leadership of the movement and its ability to persuade the sceptics that because of new global realities, there was not much point fighting an enemy which might want to go anyway now that it had no reason for staying. Martin McGuinness in particular played a crucial role in convincing the hard-liners about the need for a deal; and one of the ways he was able to do this was by stressing that he too was now certain that ‘in the new European and post-Cold War situation, Britain no longer had any strategic interests in Ireland’. 21 Furthermore, once it became apparent to the two governments in London and Dublin that the question of British interests was critical, they did everything in their power to address the issue in an attempt to convince republicans that violence was no longer necessary. It was no coincidence of course that the crucial Downing Street Declaration of December 1993 reiterated the now familiar post-Cold War line that ‘the British government’ had ‘ no selfish strategic and economic interests in Northern Ireland’. 22 It would be plainly absurd to suggest that the inclusion of this phrase led directly to the first IRA ceasefire. However, without it, a cessation of violence would have been unthinkable


No longer ‘Special?’

Taken together the collapse of the Warsaw Pact and the disintegration of the wider revolutionary project, created a set of international conditions which made an IRA ceasefire feasible. There was always a possibility however that in spite of this critical convergence of circumstances, one of the key actors would fail to act decisively. The Conservative government in particular had good reason to be cautious. After all, on two occasions the IRA had tried to kill its key leaders and had murdered two of Mrs Thatcher’s closest friends. Many in the government also doubted whether Adams and McGuinness could deliver a ceasefire; and even if they could, whether such a ceasefire would last. Moreover, they feared that if they were now to include Sinn Fein in the political process, it would create enormous political problems in terms of their relations with the main Unionist parties at Westminster. Finally, as formal guardians of the Union and keepers of the faith on law and order, the Conservative Party could hardly be expected to be enthused about negotiating with those whose method was murder and primary aim the destruction of the link between one part of the United Kingdom and the rest.

The likelihood therefore of a Conservative government seizing the opportunity and pushing ahead with some sort of agreement was never likely to be high. This is why the US role in the early stages of the peace process especially, was to be crucial. 23 The details of what happened are now fairly well known. As an aspiring presidential candidate, Bill Clinton had forged a close alliance with the Irish-American lobby, a fact which did not go unnoticed by Sinn Fein. Naturally enough this lobby expected him to play a more active role over Northern Ireland than his predecessor. He did not disappoint them. First, in the autumn of 1993 he backed an important, and fairly high level fact-finding delegation to Ireland. Significantly, while it was in Ireland, the IRA announced a temporary ceasefire. In December 1993, the US then played what many regard as a crucial back stage role supporting Dublin against London in the difficult negotiations that in the end led to the signing of the Downing Street Declaration. Finally, and critically, in January 1994, President Clinton reversed an earlier decision, and against the advice of the State Department, the CIA and the FBI, personally sanctioned a visa for Gerry Adams to visit the US. Though a crushing defeat for the British government, this decision and the extraordinary visit which followed in February was of enormous importance in the peace process. Certainly, without it, the IRA would not have declared a ceasefire six months later. 24

It might well be argued that Clinton’s decisive intervention on Northern Ireland had very little to do with the end of the Cold War as such, and was simply another example of an American President playing the Irish card for reasons of domestic politics. Clinton’s activism might also be read (and indeed has been) as reflecting the growing influence in the United States of a new type of Irish-American: powerful instead of poor, organized in the boardrooms and not just in the Democratic precincts of Chicago and New York, and desperately keen to help Ireland in a constructive way rather than sending money to Ireland to help the ‘boys’. It could also be seen as the measure of the power of the Kennedy family - including that of the new ambassador to Ireland, Mrs Jean Kennedy Smith. Some have even argued that Clinton’s intervention was a pure act of revenge against his political enemies in the British conservative establishment who had done everything in their power to get one George Bush and not William J. Clinton elected to the White House back in 1992.

Though there is clearly some truth in all these various explanations of Clinton’s Irish policy, they do not add up to the whole story. They can hardly explain, for instance, why Clinton was prepared to ignore the advice of key foreign policy officials over the decision to admit Adams into the United States. Nor do they really help us understand why he tilted as far as he did towards Dublin. And most importantly of all, they cannot account for a series of decisions which almost seemed designed to alienate the one country which many still regarded - even in the post-Cold War era - as America’s special ally. And alienated the British undoubtedly felt. Hence, when John Major was informed of the White House decision to allow Adams into the US he is reliably reported to have been ‘furious’, and for a short time thereafter refused to talk to Clinton. This in turn was followed by a campaign of vilification against Clinton in the British press that rumbled on for months. In fact, well over two years later, Clinton’s policy on Ireland was cited on the front page of The Times no less as an important indication of his general foreign policy ineptitude. 25 Even in Ireland itself many were genuinely astonished by how far Clinton had been prepared to go. As one highly astute and well-placed analyst later put it, there is little doubt that the ‘US input’ on the North was ‘tough for [the] British to swallow’. 26

Of course Clinton’s intervention, though critical in bringing about the first IRA ceasefire, could not in the end prevent it breaking down: and it was to take a good deal of effort by a new and energetic Labour government in Britain to persuade Irish republicans to restore the peace in July 1997. But with or without ‘New’ Labour and Clinton’s close personal ties to Tony Blair, the US was still going to pursue its own agenda in Northern Ireland. No longer would it defer to London or treat the question of Northern Ireland (as it had done until 1989) as an internal British affair. Moreover, even with a new UK administration in control of Northern Ireland, the peace process continued to require the support of the United States. Indeed, one of the key players in brokering the deals in April 1998 and then again in late 1999 was none other than the former Senate majority leader, George Mitchell. 27 But it was not just Senator Mitchell who made Good Friday possible. 28 It was Clinton too. In fact, it was only a ‘last-minute appeal by Clinton’ to the Irish Prime Minister, Bertie Ahern, to Unionist leader, David Trimble, and finally to Gerry Adams, that broke the deadlock on April 10th and made the Good Friday agreement possible. It was this same support through the figure of Mitchell that made the executive a reality eighteen months later. Little wonder that Blair later praised his political ally and friend across the Atlantic for his ‘unswerving support and commitment to the peace’ in Northern Ireland. 29


New Europe: New Ireland

Finally, any analysis of the republican decision to halt its campaign of violence, has to take account of the changing position of Ireland in Europe and changes in the very structure of Europe itself. 30 In fact, it might well be argued that it was these changes - as much as anything else that made the peace process possible. To understand why, we have to return beyond 1989 to 1972 and the Irish Republic’s original decision to become a member of the European Community.

Initially motivated by a recognition of the failure of economic nationalism to bring genuine prosperity to Ireland, Ireland’s decision to ‘join’ Europe transformed the country in a myriad of ways. In straightforward material terms of course it made Ireland altogether more prosperous and far less dependent on the British market. But more subtly, it brought about an important alteration in what has been termed the Irish national project. 31 Hitherto, Irish politics and culture had been dominated by the idea of Irish unity and opposition to British rule in the North. Now, as a result of deeper integration into Europe, this project seemed to make a good deal less sense. Indeed, as Ireland became more part of Europe, the old nationalist dream of making the country whole once again looked increasingly irrelevant. Certainly, in the minds of most Irish people, it seemed far less critical than the Common Agricultural Policy, getting large amounts of aid from Brussels, or proving to its European neighbours that it had at last become a ‘normal’ country. 32 Moreover, as the dreary military campaign in the North continued unabated, many in the South began to think about the costs of running the other part of Ireland: and wondered too whether or not their new found prosperity in Europe would be threatened by unification. And having concluded that it might be, began to revise their views about Ireland’s traditional claims to the ‘six (heavily subsidized) counties’ of Antrim, Down, Tyrone, Fermanagh, Armagh and Derry. 33

Joining Europe thus transformed Ireland, and in the process created a wider and wider gap between traditional nationalist or republican aspirations and new Irish realities. Hence, whereas old-style nationalists may have dreamed of fighting for Ireland (as they were still doing in the North) more and more citizens in the Irish Republic itself saw their future in acquiring an education and either working in Europe or possibly at home. Equally, whereas it had once been normal to call for the protection of Irish industries, in the new Ireland the state itself now made every effort to encourage foreign investment. Naturally, this was anathema to classical republicans who argued that this would both undermine a particular way of life and mean the loss of economic independence. The new political class in Dublin and the overwhelmingly mass of the Irish people brushed aside such objections. The more cynical amongst the Irish intelligentsia even suggested that there was only one thing worse than being ‘exploited’ by large multinational corporations which introduced new skills and new jobs into Ireland, and that was not being exploited at all! This may have been a poor joke, but in the Irish context was not an insignificant one and reflected an important shift in the wider debate about the nature of ‘imperialism’ and its impact upon Ireland. 34

If Ireland’s insertion into the wider European space undercut old republican truths, it also changed the nature of the Anglo-Irish relationship. Until joining Europe and becoming a partner of Britain’s, Ireland had had few real incentives in co-operating with the United Kingdom in the management of the North. However, the experience of partnership in Europe literally forced Dublin and London together. This did not change their different perspectives on Ulster. Nevertheless, by uniting the countries in the same organization it did help break down the distrust which had previously poisoned relations between the two. It also led them to the fairly obvious conclusion that their division had not only contributed to the conflict in Northern Ireland, but that the disturbances in the North posed a serious threat to Ireland as a whole. Thus the two - it was now clear - had to work in tandem to ensure that instability in Northern Ireland did not spill over and render Ireland ungovernable. This of course was the true meaning of the Anglo-Irish Agreement of 1985 and the Downing Street Declaration of 1993. Whilst both were designed to deal in the short term with the political and military threat posed by Sinn Fein and the IRA, neither could have happened without the longer term revolution that had transformed Anglo-Irish relations after Ireland and the UK joined the EC back in 1972. 35

Finally, if dynamic change in Europe and in Ireland’s relationship to Britain did much to weaken the appeal of traditional republicanism, developments after 1989 seemed to undermine the republican case altogether. It did so firstly by showing that deep, and apparently permanent divisions could be overcome by peaceful means. Moreover, as many were quick to point out at the time, if it was possible to heal the scars that had once disfigured Europe, was it not feasible to do the same in Northern Ireland itself? Indeed, according to those engaged in trying to persuade the IRA to give up the armed road (notably the influential John Hume) unless and until the chasm between the two communities in the North had been overcome, there was little point fighting for Irish unity. It was also left to Hume to draw another lesson from the events in Europe. In the new post-Cold War Europe, borders, he argued, were becoming increasingly irrelevant. Hence, what exactly was the purpose of a military campaign aimed at eliminating something that was, in effect, just an imaginary line across the Irish countryside? Hume was quite blunt in his assessment. In an increasingly integrated Europe he argued - where the very notion of sovereignty itself was being brought into question - the IRA campaign and the pre-modern assumptions which underpinned it, were basically irrelevant. 36 Furthermore, what exactly were republicans fighting for anyway? Before 1989 at least the movement could claim (and key figures like Adams and Morrison regularly did) that its objective was to build an Irish form of socialism on the island of Ireland. But with the left now in headlong retreat across Europe, this project seemed like a utopian pipe-dream; a product of old thinking rendered irrelevant by the disintegration of the old European system.

Again, the extent to which these various changes played a part in transforming republican theory and practice is difficult to calculate with any mathematical precision. However, there is strong evidence to suggest that key figures in the leadership were not insensitive to the fact that irreversible alterations in the European landscape posed a series of difficult questions which traditional republicanism could not easily answer. A key figure in Sinn Fein indeed conceded that one of the important factors that made the peace process possible, was (to use his own words), ‘the Single European Act and the dominance of the EU on the island of Ireland’. 37 Certainly, the highly revisionist Sinn Fein programme of 1992 bore witness to the influence which changes in Europe was having upon republican thinking. One can also detect the same processes at work in the less radical language that key figures in the movement began to employ. Though a few clearly remained committed to their vision of a socialist Ireland standing outside of the capitalist club of Europe, most began to sound decidedly less enthusiastic about constructing what amounted to a siege economy in opposition to the European Union. Many also started to wonder about the wisdom of struggling for something in Ireland that had apparently failed elsewhere. As one of their number pointed out, though republicanism had traditionally been a movement of economic resistance, by the mid-1990s its attitude towards the market and private enterprise had undergone a good deal of change. As he put it rather pithily (at a time when Adams himself was trying to convince American multinationals to invest in Catholic West Belfast) republicans no longer had a serious ‘problem with capitalism’. 38 Before the ideological earthquake of 1989 such thoughts would have been considered pure heresy in an organization devoted to liberating the ‘men of no property’. With the passing of the old Europe and the collapse of planing across the continent, this was no longer the case. Neither Ireland it seemed, nor those who had fought to unite it for over twenty five years by violent means, could escape the irresistible logic of globalization.



I have been concerned in this chapter to show how and why a particularly brutal and lengthy military campaign, conducted by one of the more effective guerilla organizations of the twentieth century - against one of the most effective democratic states - finally came to an end. Whether the ‘war’ would have come to an end of its own accord, the result of war weariness and military stalemate between the British state and Irish republicanism, is of course an open question. 39 Nor should we forget the role of contingency in translating the possibility of peace into a reality. The election of a Labour government in 1997, the carnage caused by the Omagh bombing, and the replacement of Mo Mowlam by Peter Mandelson at a crucial moment in the discussions in 1999 all played a role in making some form of settlement more likely. No doubt, what key actors did and said, and said to each other, also mattered a great deal. However, this does not mean we should not look for deeper causes nor, in the case of Northern Ireland, treat the conflict as if it stood apart; and as I have tried to show here the winding down of the ‘Troubles’ were strongly influenced by shifts and changes in the larger international system. Born of the turbulent sixties, sustained indirectly by the Cold War in the 1970s and 1980s, it finally came to a conclusion in the settling 1990s - along with a number of other conflicts which had drawn more direct inspiration from the larger struggle between East and West.

Yet even though the ‘war’ in the North has come to an end like most other wars, 40 this does not in itself mean that the underlying causes of the conflict have completely disappeared. 41 It is one thing to make peace; it is quite another to construct a stable society where all can unite around the same institutions. It has not happened in the Middle East, it has not happened in Bosnia and there is still a chance it will not happen in the North of Ireland. Any number of issues from decommissioning, police reform and the establishment of serious North-South bodies can easily upset any negotiated political settlement. Then there is the even deeper issue of identity which neither the Good Friday Agreement nor the formation of a Northern Ireland executive are ever likely to resolve. 42 Many questions remain unresolved and possibly insoluble. That said, Northern Ireland has managed to travel an enormous distance from there to here, and where we now find ourselves as we enter the new millennium would have been inconceivable a few years ago when the Cold War - along with many other factors - continued to breathe life into what was once regarded as being one of Europe’s most intractable conflict.



Note 1: Thus writes one commentator of the peace process: ‘As so often happens, in real life, the power of the people in Ireland is triumphing over defective political theories and flawed political structures which they spawned’. See David Bleakley, Peace In Ireland: Two States, One People (London, Mowbray, 1995), p. viii. Back.

Note 2: This idea that the armed struggle was brought to an end by the successful containment of the IRA is articulated in Peter Taylor’s study (later made into a four part TV series) Behind the Mask: the IRA and Sinn Fein (New York, TV Books, 1998). Back.

Note 3: See Arwell Ellis Owen, The Anglo-Irish Agreement: the First Three Years (Cardiff, University of Wales Press, 1994). Back.

Note 4: See also Garrett FitzGerald and Paul Gillespie, ‘Ireland’s British Question’ Prospect, (Vol. 12, October 1996), pp. 25 -26. Back.

Note 5: A leading figure in Irish republicanism later conceded that ‘the end of the Cold War and its effects on the strategic and the regional interests of the West made it possible for a number of peace processes’ [including the one in Ireland] to emerge’. See interview with Mitchell McLaughlin, (23 July 1996), p. 1. Back.

Note 6: The two most detailed narratives are by Brendan O’Brien, The Long War. The IRA & Sinn Fein: from Armed Struggle to Peace Talks (Dublin, O’Brien Press, 1993), and Eamonn Mallie & David McKittrick, The Fight for Peace: the Secret Story Behind the Irish Peace Process (London, Heinemann, 1996). Back.

Note 7: There is now an extensive academic literature on the history of the modern IRA. This includes a range of work from the critical anti-republican left - see for example Henry Patterson The Politics of Illusion: Repubicanism and Socialism in Modern Ireland (London, Hutchinson Radius, 1989) - through to the more strategically oriented study by M.L.R. Smith, Fighting for Ireland? The Military Strategy of the Irish Republican Movement (London, Routledge, 1995). There are also a number more ‘journalistic’ studies on the organization. See, for example, Patrick Bishop and Eamonn Mallie, The Provisional IRA (London, Heinemann, 1987), Tim Pat Coogan, The IRA (London, Fontana, 1987) and Martin Dillon, 25 Years Of Terror: The IRA’s War Against the British (1994; London: Bantam edition reprinted, 1997). Back.

Note 8: Thus, according to a leading Irish republican in the early 1970s: ‘if we could continue to inflict high British casualties and step up the sabotage campaign, it would be difficult for them to bear the strain and drain on their economy and no government could be prepared to continue indefinitely in such a situation’. Sean MacStiofain, Memoirs of a Revolutionary (Edinburgh, Gordon Cremonesi, 1975), p. 261. Back.

Note 9: Claire Sterling, The Terror Network: the Secret War of International Terrorism (New York, Holt, Rinehart and Winston, 1981). Back.

Note 10: See Chris Skillen, ‘ Pravda’s Provos’: Russian and Soviet manipulation of News from Ireland’, Irish Political Studies (Vol. 8, 1993), pp. 73-88. Back.

Note 11: See Adrian Guelke, ‘The Peace Process in South Africa, Israel and Northern Ireland: A Farewell to Arms?’, Irish Studies in International Affairs (vol. 5, 1994), pp. 93 - 106. Back.

Note 12: Interview conducted with Mitchell McLaughlin, op. cit, p. 3. Back.

Note 13: Ibid. Back.

Note 14: See Gerry Adams, Selected Writings (Dingle, Brandon, 1997), pp. 274-275. Back.

Note 15: Both Arafat and Mandela visited Dublin in the early 1990s and had extensive discussions with the leadership of Sinn Fein. A delegation from Sinn Fein also visited South Africa in 1995. See An Phobacht/Republican News (No. 363, July - August 1995). For a fine discussion of the impact of the peace process in South Africa on Sinn Fein see Adrian Guelke, ‘Comparatively Peaceful: The Role of Analogy in Northern Ireland’s Peace Process’, Cambridge Review of International Affairs, (Vol. XI, No. 1, Summer/Fall 1997), pp. 28 - 45 Back.

Note 16: On the strategic dimension in Anglo-Irish relations see G.R.Sloan, The Geopolitics of Anglo-Irish Relations in the Twentieth Century (London: Leicester University Press, 1997). Back.

Note 17: The information in this paragraph is drawn from the discussion in Eamonn Mallie & David McKittrick, op. cit., p. 83. Back.

Note 18: See John Hume, ‘A new Ireland in a new Europe’ in Dermot Keogh and Michael H. Haltzel (eds)., Northern Ireland and the Politics of Reconciliation (Washington, Cambridge University Press), pp. 228-229. Back.

Note 19: Speech by Peter Brooke, Secretary of State for Northern Ireland (London, 9 November, 1990). Back.

Note 20: Brendan O’Brien, op. cit., p. 212. Back.

Note 21: Ibid., p. 305. Back.

Note 22: Joint Declaration, Downing Street, (15 December, 1993). Back.

Note 23: For important background see the excellent study by Irish Times journalist, Conor O’Clery, The Greening of the White House (Dublin: Gill and Macmillan, 1997). Back.

Note 24: For an assessment see Paul Arthur, ‘American Intervention in the Anglo-Irish Peace Process: Incrementalism or Interference’, Cambridge Review Of International Studies (Vol. XI, No. 1, Fall 1997), pp. 46-62. Back.

Note 25: ‘US links with Britain "worst since 1773"’, The Times (London, 16 August, 1996). Back.

Note 26: See Garret FitzGerald, Irish Times, (9 December, 1995). Back.

Note 27: For details on the role of George Mitchell between 1993 and 1996 see the numerous entries in Paul Bew and Gordon Gillespie (eds.), The Northern Ireland Peace Process, 1993-1996 (London, Serif, 1996). Back.

Note 28: After the Agreement, David Trimble, the leader of the Ulster Unionists, praised George Mitchell ‘whose patience and fairness won universal praise’. See David Trimble, ‘Ulster should say ‘Yes’, The Daily Telegraph, April 13, 1998. The American Senator also became something of a star figure amongst the British media. See the profile on him by Nicola Jennings, ‘George Mitchell: Man in the middle’, The Guardian, April 6, 1998. Back.

Note 29: See the Financial Times, April 11/April 12, 1998, p. 1. Back.

Note 30: This section on Europe draws heavily upon the excellent work by Professor Elizabeth Meehan. See in particular her ‘British Irish Relations in the Context of the European Union’, Review of International Studies, forthcoming (1999). Back.

Note 31: See Richard Kearney, Postnationalist Ireland - Politics, Culture, Philosophy (London, Routledge, 1997). Back.

Note 32: By the end of 1995, total net transfers to Ireland from Europe amounted IR£18.45 billion. The bulk of these came from the Common Agricultural Policy and the Structural Funds. See Challenges and Opportunities Abroad: White Paper on Foreign Policy (Dublin, Department of Foreign Affairs, 1996), p. 59. Back.

Note 33: On the rise of historical revisionism in Ireland see John Whyte, Interpreting Northern Ireland (Oxford, Clarendon Press, 1996), pp. 119-133. Back.

Note 34: For a guide to Ireland in Europe see Patrick Keatinge (ed) European Security: Ireland’s Choices (Dublin, Institute of European Affairs, 1996) and Paul Gillespie (ed) Britain’s European Question - the Issues for Ireland (Dublin, Institute of European Affairs, 1996). Back.

Note 35: See the essays on Ireland’s place in the new Europe, collected in Irish Studies in International Affairs (Vol. 8, 1997). Back.

Note 36: See Derry Journal (18 February, 1994), p. 10. Back.

Note 37: Interview with Mitchell McLaughlin, op. cit, p. 1. Back.

Note 38: Quoted in Suzanne Breen, ‘Sword in the Stone’, Fortnight, (No. 340, June 1995) p. 7. Back.

Note 39: See Anthony McIntyre, ‘Modern Irish Republicanism: The Product of British State Strategies’, Irish Political Studies, (Number 10, 1995), pp. 97-121. Back.

Note 40: Fred Ikle, Every War Must End (New York, Columbia University Press, 1977). Back.

Note 41: Karin Aggestam and Christer Jonsson, ‘(Un)Ending Conflict: Challenges in Post-War Bargaining’, Millennium, op. cit., p. 792. Back.

Note 42: On the relationship between identity and interest in Northern Ireland see Bill McSweeny, ‘Identity, Interest and the Good Friday Agreement’, Irish Studies in International Affairs (forthcoming), Volume 9, 1998. Back.