Gulf Middle East

Europe half lifts its arms embargo. A very political choice

The sale of non-lethal material for civilian protection purposes is authorized (© NGV / B2)

(BRUSSELS2) The easing of the arms embargo against Syria – decided on February 18 by Foreign Ministers – comes into force today, after being validated on Thursday (February 28) by the EU Council of Ministers. It now very explicitly authorizes the supply of military equipment or services to the Syrian opposition.

Support, what support?

Certainly the type of equipment seems well defined and the objective is well defined = “protection of civilian populations”. There is thus no official question of providing weapons intended to lead the offensive, such as rifles, rocket launchers, etc. These will be provided by other means (cf. croatian arms). But, in fact, the scope of “non-lethal” can be quite broad. From bulletproof vests to sophisticated radar and the provision of satellite maps, the field of possibilities is wide. The fact of designating the “Coalition” also “legally” allows us to be able to provide this equipment (medical support type) directly in areas controlled by the opposition, and via border points controlled by it.

A very political choice of an “intelligent” embargo

This decision — which I commented on Thursday evening on Al Jazeera — marks an evolution in European Union policy, even if we do not go as far as the delivery of weapons. The previous regulation included the possibility of delivering weapons for “protection” purposes. Which was an open door to certain arms deliveries. But it wasn't very explicit. Here, there is a very clear position, legally recorded, and politically endorsed, to deliver certain equipment to the opposition but refuse deliveries to the government. An “intelligent” embargo in a way since it is “targeted”. The European Union has clearly “chosen” its side. But there is a risk of escalation of the conflict. Because Bashar's allies (Russia, Iran, etc.) can also decide to increase their aid.

Two possible readings for the future

As a result, two readings seem possible today for future developments. First optimistic version. The balance of terror and the creation of safe zones in the hands of the opposition pushes the negotiation of a political agreement. And we can then see a way out. With another risk, however, that of the creation of a green line, separating Syria into two zones. Second pessimistic version. Weapons flow from both sides. The regime is strengthening its repression (again). The opposition reconquers certain territories. But there is no safe zone created. The population fled to neighboring countries, further contributing to the dislocation of Syria and the destabilization of surrounding countries (starting with Jordan).

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Nicolas Gros Verheyde

Chief editor of the B2 site. Graduated in European law from the University of Paris I Pantheon Sorbonne and listener to the 65th session of the IHEDN (Institut des Hautes Etudes de la Défense Nationale. Journalist since 1989, founded B2 - Bruxelles2 in 2008. EU/NATO correspondent in Brussels for Sud-Ouest (previously West-France and France-Soir).