• November 22, 2019

In light of the recent disturbing revelations about the behaviour of British troops in Iraq and Afghanistan Ireland should rethink the military training pact it entered into with the UK in 2015.

At the time the Pact was signed I drew a comparison between the well earned reputation of Irish Defence Forces on UN Peacekeeping duties and the British counter insurgency philosophy of ‘gangs, counter gangs and brutality’ as detailed by Frank Kitson when he headed the British Army staff college.

The points I made are still as relevant today as it was four years ago and I set out the argument again below:


“Katsumi Ishizuka’s careful and reflective study of Ireland and international peacekeeping makes an important contribution to our understanding in three significant areas. The first of these is the broad general topic of peace-keeping in the modern world, characterised by Irish service in, for example, the Congo, Cyprus and the Lebanon and, more recently, service in peace enforcement in the Balkans. Here the Irish experience as a partner in such operations can be extremely illuminating and instructive. Second, Ishizuka’s work provides a valuable case-study of how a small-sized power can itself play a significant part in international affairs. The evidence of the book is that Ireland has, indeed, been able to ‘punch above its weight’ in the global context and reap clear international rewards for its contribution to peace-keeping”

These, the opening comments in a Foreword by Keith Jeffrey to Katsumi Ishizuka’s detailed study “Ireland and International Peacekeeping Operations 1960-2000” sub-heading “A Study of Irish Motivation”, give a graphic insight into the ill-judged and flawed decision of the current Irish government to enter into a military training ‘Pact’ with the United Kingdom.

Ishizuka’s work in painstaking detail sets out over 234 pages to chart the progressive steps taken by Irish Defence Forces to establish a record for peace-keeping fairness and impartiality in conflicts in Africa, Cyprus, the Middle East and the Balkans.

Ishizuka’s work not only documents the well publicised UN peacekeeping role over the past fifty years but also outline Defence Forces contribution to 17 non – UN missions for bodies such as the OSCE, EC, EU, ICFY, WEU, SFOR, KFOR and INTERFET.

Anyone who is ambivalent about the opposition to this ‘Pact’ by bodies such as the Celtic League (and others in Ireland e.g. PANA) should read Ishizuka’s work and then contrast it with a very different study. “British Counter-Insurgency: From Palestine to Northern Ireland” by John Newsinger.

In his book Newsinger demolishes some of the myths about the British military’s post war record.

In the introduction to his 220 page work Newsinger says:

“The British state has been involved in major counterinsurgency campaigns in Palestine, Malaya, Kenya, Cyprus, South Yemen, Dhofar and Northern Ireland since the end of the Second World War. These have produced a large celebratory literature, ranging from military memoirs, most recently the avalanche of SAS memoirs, to scholarly histories and analyses, many of them of high quality. The overall perception, it is fair to say, is that Britain’s counterinsurgency campaigns have been conducted with considerable success. The contrast with the French experience in Indo-China and Algeria, with the Dutch in Indonesia, with the Portuguese in Angola and Mozambique, with the Americans in Vietnam and with the Russians in Afghanistan could not be clearer. This is a distortion. First of all the British postwar record includes defeats in Palestine and South Yemen and the failure, despite overwhelming numerical and material superiority, to successfully destroy their opponents in Cyprus and in Northern Ireland”

Whilst Ishizuka’s work sets out a steady, successful and competent range of peace-keeping duties undertaken by Ireland over the past fifty years Newsinger’s work catalogues a series of failures in counter-insurgency operations by the British which became progressively more brutal and destructive as they were waged.

In the section on the British military suppression of the struggle by the Land and Freedom Army (sometimes called Mau Mau) in Kenya in the 1950s Newsinger says;

“One has to go back to the 1850s to encounter such murderous methods. Despite this slaughter, Frank Kitson, could still complain that the security forces in Kenya ‘had firmly fastened one of their hands behind their back with the cord of legal difficulties’. Why one has to ask, was the Mau Mau rebellion suppressed with such savagery.”

Earlier in this section Newsinger sets out that fifty prisoners a month were being hanged. It is now estimated that up to 1000 prisoners detained by the British security forces were hanged many others of course perished before the British Army and police units returned to barracks.

By the 1970s nothing much had changed in terms of the British military’s approach to ‘peace-keeping’ indeed the same ‘Frank Kitson’ (a Captain in Kenya now in N. Ireland a Brigadier) was still to the fore and very much becoming the architect of British military strategy towards insurgents. There was little time for peace-keeping of the type that by this time the Irish Defence Forces had honed to perfection in the Congo and Cyprus.

For the British Army in Ireland ‘peace-keeping’ involved the culture of gangs and pseudo-gangs that would result in bombings and murder on both sides of the six county border.

In his book ‘War without Honour” (page 29) Holroyd writes about a lecture Kitson gave at the British Army base at Ashford (The Joint Services Intelligence Training Centre) in 1973. Speaking of Kitson he says:

“He was rightly considered the top man in his field. Kitson spoke very clearly and very slowly, almost as if he was addressing a crowd of schoolchildren; and I realised the tactical philosophy he was expounding was rather different from that normally associated with the British Army. The logic of the use of infiltration, pseudo-gangs and deep interrogation, to defeat terrorist opposition was nonetheless compelling. I was yet to see how it worked in practice – and just how it could involve breaking the law and imitating terrorism to achieve its ends.”

Kitson’s ‘tactical philosophy’ was soon being put to ‘good use’ in Ireland.

In Newsinger’s book (page 169) he says:

“Kitson was also responsible for developing the use of covert operations in Northern Ireland. This was hardly a new development but was a feature of every British postwar counterinsurgency campaign. Certainly the activities of the Military Reconnaissance Force (MRF) and other similar detachments were effective at fighting the IRA with its own methods. Robin Evelegh actually laments the fact that during his tours in Northern Ireland he was not allowed to put more than 20 per cent of his battalion into plain clothes and argues that 50 soldiers in civilian dress were more effective that 400 in battledress.

Nevertheless, covert operations have their own inherent drawbacks. As historian Charles Townshend has pointed out, this ‘mimetic process’ holds considerable dangers with an inevitable tendency for the army’s counter- or pseudo-gangs to run out of control and resort to assassination”

Kitson went on from N. Ireland to Commandant of the British Army Staff College at Camberley. His book ‘Low Intensity Operations’, and other papers he wrote are part of the ‘cultural DNA’ of the British Army.

This is the same British Army that, following the signing of what the British MOD are calling a ‘historic’ agreement with Ireland on Monday of this week, we are now told will learn ‘peace-keeping’ skills from its Irish counterparts.

It is clear from this brief appraisal that the Irish Defence Forces have developed and perfected, over fifty years, the role of open small scale targeted peace-keeping via a framework regulated by International law. They have been effective and are well respected.

In contrast the British Army has developed a strategy of covert often brutal operations sustained by material superiority and often operating outside the rule of law. In some countries that they have operated in they are loathed and despised and have been the subject of International condemnation.

The ‘training’ Pact is now signed but this Irish government and its successors may yet come to rue the day they entered into this ‘unholy alliance’.


Ireland and International Peacekeeping Operation 1960 – 2000 (Katsumi Ishizuka) ISBN 8-7146-84406 (Publisher Frank Cass Portland Oregon)

British Counter-Insurgency; From Palestine to Northern Ireland (John Newsinger) ISBN 0-333-79385-4 (Publisher: Palgrave)

War Without Honour (Fred Holroyd) ISBN 1-872398-00-6 (The Medium Publishing Co).”

This article was written in January 2015. However the contradictory culture of the UK military was set out graphically in the recent Panorama report which detailed, murder, torture of prisoners and sexual abuse.

Bernard Moffatt

Assistant General Secretary

Celtic League (Posted 22nd November 2019)

British Counterinsurgency From Palestine to Northern Ireland

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