RTE News reports concern from Ireland about the intention of Russian Naval Units to carry out exercises including live firing to the South of Ireland in the Celtic sea area approx 200 miles South West of Cork. Russian naval units are currently deploying to the Mediterranean to bolster forces being built in connection with alleged aggression agaimst Ukraine.
The exercises will take place in the Irish EEZ but outside of Irish territorial waters. The RTE article quotes deficiencies in Irish Defense preparedness and the fact that Ireland which is outside of NATO has a policy of neutrality.
However it is hard to see what Ireland could do in relation to such exercises even if its Defence (both Air and Sea) capability was much stronger than at present. UNCLOS (the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea does not preclude such military exercises in an EEZ area. Indeed the US and other countries have used this argument to reject complaints by countries such as China over exercises near their coastline. UNCLOS does place some constraints (see article 19 in the attachment) however these apply inside the territorial sea area. Additionally given that Ireland is crossed by several International air routes the governing principles of International Law (particularly the Chicago Convention) do not preclude such activity. Indeed the UK for many years conducted missile tests (from Aberporth) in the South Central Irish Aea and of course NATO annually conducts the JW NATO exercise around these Islands.
That aside, the Russian intention to carry on exercises on Ireland’s doorstep is provocative and it’s right that the Minister for Foreign Affairs is lodging a protest with the Russians. In the longer term Ireland should look to expanding the Defence Forces in light of the destabilized security situation. Additionally and more pertinently it should raise at the UN at the earliest opportunity the deficiencies in both UNCLOS and the Chicago Convention which allow States to conduct belligerent naval exercise activity in their EEZ.
AGS Celtic League (24th January 2022)