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[Editorial] Forgotten conflicts can blow up in your face

(B2) In quick succession, Europeans have just been reminded of unresolved conflicts at their borders. By force.

Europeans love to show off force... But they have given up on exercising it (Photo: MOD Germany - evacuation of Sudan - Archives B2)

Three blows to European tranquility

The latest Hamas attack against Israel launched on October 7, the resurgence of violence in North Kosovo with several Serb and Kosovar deaths on September 24 (read: [News] Armed clashes in North Kosovo between Kosovars and Serbs. At least four dead) or the successful Azeri offensive on September 19 on Nagorno Karabakh, annexing this enclave populated by Armenians to Azerbaijan, are not comparable.

However, these events have in common that they are conflicts forgotten for some, frozen for others, which could not be dealt with in time. In a few weeks, there are three additional blows to European tranquility which add to the high-intensity conflict triggered, more than a year ago in February 2022, by Russia against Ukraine.

Frozen, forgotten, contained conflicts

In the West Bank and Gaza, the violence had never really stopped. They continued at a slow, weak, almost inaudible pace. But they have been underestimated, regularly being the subject of press releases condemning Europeans, sometimes of illegal colonization under international law, of violence or of Palestinian terrorist attacks. Communiqués so routine and repetitive that they fell by the wayside.

In Eastern Ukraine until early 2022, the low-intensity conflict was considered contained. As long as it did not spill over from Donbass and exceed a few deaths per week, we could somehow live with it. And the discussion process (in the “Normandy format”) between the parties to the conflict had exhausted itself.

In Azerbaijan, the frozen Nagorno Karabakh conflict which awoke in the fall of 2020 ended three years later with the recovery (or occupation depending on the parties) of the landlocked territory within its territory. And the spirit of European mediation was shattered by the reality of force.

Falling asleep on the bases

In these different cases, we fell asleep on a belief that the existing precarious balance could be maintained over a long period of time and evolve peacefully towards peace, with a little effort, a little money, a few admonitions or promises of on either side. It is not so.

Europe today faces a new world where force is law. A world where she doesn't really have any arguments, having given up on stabilization and pacification interventions. Either through lack of will (Syria, Middle East, etc.). Or by feeling of failure (Afghanistan 2001, Iraq 2003 (1), Libya 2011, Sahel 2012). Or because Europe had other concerns (2015-2016 migration crisis, 2019 elections, Covid-19 2020, etc.). As a result, we are reduced to being tossed around by the strategies of tension nourished by others.

Invest or suffer

What has just happened between Israel and Hamas along the Gaza Strip is a serious reminder of these realities. Europe cannot lose interest in the world, or no longer invest in it (see box). Or else she will have to learn to endure, setback after setback, the tensions that run through her neighborhood.

Between unlimited interventionism (notably of time) and distant concern, there must be a happy medium. Europe must also urgently focus its efforts on still frozen crises or manageable conflicts: on its Eastern facade (Abkhazia and South Ossetia, Transnistria), South-East (Bosnia-Herzegovina, Kosovo (2)) and South ( Libya, Tunisia).

(Nicolas Gros-Verheyde)

A sluggish European Council

Except for the Russian war in Ukraine and Belarus, the European Council remains relatively unconcerned or seized with world conflicts. How much time did the 27 devote to the Middle East peace process or the situation in Nagorno-Karabakh before conflicts broke out? Let's not talk about the persistent conflicts in Africa, from Somalia to Libya to Sudan. Only the Sahel received a glimmer of attention.

However, it is the European Council that has the role of establishing the strategic orientations of the EU's foreign and security policy (read: [Analysis] Von der Leyen's media coup in Israel: a real institutional coup?). And it is up to him to do “ regularly appear » an analysis of the threats (terrorism, etc.) weighing on the European Union. We must believe that despite what is said, the Middle East or Armenia have not constituted either a threat to European security or a real political concern.

  1. Several countries, starting with France and Germany, clearly opposed this intervention triggered by the USA. But many European countries participated (Spain, Italy, Poland, United Kingdom) committing their troops and responsibility.
  2. One of the rare examples where Europeans have invested, combining diplomatic dialogue, an armed presence (KFOR soldiers and EULEX Kosovo police) and incentives/pressures in the accordion-shaped negotiations on membership of the European Union. But the attack by Serbian paramilitaries must be a serious alert.

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).