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Syria: Europe in the cabbage

845 Naval Air Squadron training in Jordan, August 2013 (credit: British Army)
Europe is somewhat lost in the cloud of the Syrian conflict. Helicopter of 845 Naval Air Squadron in training Jordan, August 2013 (credit: British Army)

(BRUSSELS2) Europe dreamed of being an actor in its neighbourhood, active in the search for a political solution, it finds itself a spectator, observing the exchanges on both sides. The Syrian crisis - and weapons victims - could well make, by ricochet, after the British government (see below), a second political victim, the European Union. Faced with a possible intervention in Syria, by the voice of arms, Europeans are divided. This is nothing new. It is even obvious.

A structural divergence

Structurally, opinions diverge. It would even have been surprising... if it had been otherwise. On the use of the army as on the possibility of external operation, the Europeans do not have the same history nor the same approach, strategic and political. On the question of the Middle East, idem. But what seems surprising is the slowness of the process of reflection and decision-making at a particular time, when a European summit will be held in December, devoted to defence.

One of the political issues of the year

It will be (very) difficult to explain to public opinion and to political leaders that Europe is thinking about its defence, pooling and sharing, its role in stabilizing the world, the risk of terrorism, etc. while she is unable to put herself in a common defensive position on one of the bloodiest and longest events that has occurred on her borders for twenty years. The natural question that will immediately come to mind will be: what is it for? is it up to the challenge? Honestly, it's hard to answer that.

A serious risk in a close neighborhood

There is a sort of regrettable political irresponsibility and lack of voluntarism and notable initiative. It's not entirely new. But this poses a problem. Because Syria is located in the neighboring countries. Looking at a map, it is also today at the same distance from its borders as Yugoslavia was in the 1990s.

Certainly the risk of an explosion is significant. But it is as much with military action as without! The European Union may suffer direct consequences, whether through a wave of refugees, an increase in the terrorist threat... not to mention the moral and political values ​​it defends...

The European position - the political solution above all, not a military solution - is justified and entirely to be supported. But in this acceptance, it would be necessary to put the means there and to activate in a way at the same time discreet but also open. Diplomacy is good. Efficiency is better. Visibility is necessary.

A very slow thinking process

However, the slowness of the establishment of a European reaction is notable. The first meeting of ambassadors on the issue was only held on Friday (August 30), which is very late! And again, according to the information I was able to gather, it was just an exchange between the ambassadors on the situation. The subject has not yet passed the door of the Ministers

The foreign ministers were certainly meeting urgently on August 21, at the very moment when the use of chemical weapons in the suburbs of Damascus was revealed. But did not take up the issue, apart from a few statements or discussions on the sidelines in the corridors. But the main subject of the meeting was...Egypt (quite rightly too).

The point of the use of chemical weapons in Syria is not even officially put on the agenda of the informal meeting of Defense Ministers followed by that of Foreign Ministers which will take place in a few days in Vilnius. (Lithuania)! The meeting is only informal " and he " do not hear conclusions we explain in the entourage of the High Representative. No decision-making meeting of ministers has been scheduled on the subject and even less of Heads of State and Government.

No response to questions asked

When Europeans say they support and want a political solution, you don't really feel a push in this direction (like a rugby pack). And we have the impression that this is a solution to kick in touch with the question posed. After the use of chemical weapons, 2 million refugees and more than 100.000 dead, what do we do? Are military means used or not? If yes, how ? If not, what do we do? Are we expecting the milestone of 200.000 dead and 4 million refugees?

Europe does not intend to show its strength. Here, training of British soldiers from 845 Naval Air Squadron in Jordan August 2013 (credit: British Army)The British Defeat

Previously, no one doubted the British commitment in the military field in general, and particularly in Syria. London was one of the hardest on this position advocating arms deliveries to opponents. We will now have to take into account a certain friability of the power which sees its capacity for intervention restrained and preventing it from keeping its political commitments. London is no longer Washington's 100% sure ally and becomes a solid support but "without participation". Like Berlin... Leaving Paris alone the role of safe ally of the Americans. A double defeat for the Cameron government.

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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).