In December 2017, Ireland formally joined the EUs PESCO initiative
PESCO = so called permanent structured co-operation on defence matters.
PESCO centres on defence procurement and defence industry collaboration (where Ireland is not a significant player).
Decision to join provoked some controversy within the Dáil (ultimately facilitated by the two largest parliamentary parties).
This paper explains the PESCO initiative and then examines its significance and relevance from an Irish perspective.
The core research question posed is to what extent does membership of PESCO signify a marked departure from a traditionally low salience Irish defence policy and an ambiguous neutrality doctrine? Alternatively, does Irish participation in PESCO reflect continuity?
This paper draws on the literatures on small states defence policies (Archer and Bailes, 2014, Rickli, 2008) and the domestic limits and opportunity structures for successful multilateral participation by small states (Doeser, 2017; Hill, 2003; Elmann, 1995).
Vital to consider in this regard, is Irelands systematically low-levels of defence spending and the evolving balance between larger and small political parties as regards variable coalition formations. These variables suggest important domestic constraints for successful participation in multilateral defence initiatives.
CONCLUSION: such constraints are not inimical to participation, but they likely place boundaries on the scope of small state ambition within initiatives such as PESCO.
Moreover, rather than interpret Irish membership of PESCO as a dramatic departure, it seems more plausible to emphasise how it reflects continuity in Irelands somewhat marginal defence policy.