WELL over half of the United States Defense budget of $290 billion goes for the defense of Western Europe, according to Sen. Ted Stevens (R) of Alaska and the Department of Defense. Why then worry about the $120 million that Congress has voted to hand out to Ireland over the next three years? Because the Irish handout is a nearly perfect example of how our NATO partners and other Europeans are using an overly generous Uncle Sam to avoid creating a more united Europe that could pay for its own defense.
Not all of Ireland belongs to NATO, only the six counties in the North that are still governed by Britain. The rest of the country is run from a government in Dublin that proclaims itself neutral.
The Dublin people have edged a bit closer to NATO in recent years through membership in the European Community (EC).
According to Anne Barrington, spokeswoman for Dublin's embassy in Washington, the Irish have been dissuaded from joining NATO by the NATO diplomats and staff members with whom they rub shoulders in Brussels, home of both NATO and EC headquarters.
According to Ms. Barrington, the NATO people are telling the Irish that there is nothing Ireland could do for NATO so they might as well stay out.
Now that is a stunner. American aircraft, storage, and supply depots are jammed together in a narrow belt in Central Europe and Britain, prime targets for Soviet air and missile attack.
Underpopulated, underindustrialized, and desperately poor, Ireland offers the means to greatly lessen that problem. And that would provide jobs for young Irishmen and women who are now on EC-financed welfare rolls.
Why, then, would NATO diplomats discourage Irish membership?
Because Ireland in its present state of turmoil would be more of a liability than an asset. Also, Britain's effort to maintain its strategic foothold in Ireland - and in Gibraltar and the Falkland (Malvinas) Islands as well - goes to the heart of delusions of independence, sovereignty, and grandeur nurtured not only by Britain but other European NATO members, notably France and Spain, as well. In fact, of course, all European NATO members are totally dependent upon one another. Thus, in his most recent book, ``A Grand Strategy for the West,'' former West German Chancellor Helmut Schmidt warns that Britain's attempt to maintain imperial illusions through the ``special relationship'' with Washington is blocking the West European unity needed to enable the United States to begin withdrawing its troops from Europe.
An Ireland economically and politically crippled by the British-imposed partition of 1921 can never be a healthy candidate for NATO membership. Yet, according to Irish spokeswoman Barrington, the $120 million grant from the United States is intended to maintain that nettling problem.
``We do not want the British Army to leave Ireland,'' Barrington stated in an interview with this writer on Sept. 16. ``They are desperately needed to support the Royal Ulster Constabulary,'' that is, to prevent any change in the political situation that would force the Dublin government to accommodate its 1.5 million erstwhile countrymen in the North. That means tying down indefinitely British forces whose NATO mission must be assumed by Americans at a cost, conservatively estimated, of about $2 billion a year. Also, every cent of the American grant to Ireland is or will be money transferred from other foreign aid programs, such as helping third-world countries overcome malnutrition.
Thus we have been led into financing a program that is in direct conflict with our own best interests in Europe and throughout the third world.
How much longer are we going to go on financing this and other aspects of a European fantasyland?
William V. Kennedy is a journalist specializing in military affairs.