The battle in Syria has been happening for over a decade. That’s lengthy sufficient for the worldwide group to grow to be desensitized to any destructive information from the nation. As has been the case for a number of years now, pro-government forces management a lot of the territory, apart from pockets of the north, and there are increasingly questions on the way forward for the Syrian state and its relations with the remainder of the world. That is as true for the European Union (EU) as it’s for different main worldwide actors.
EU establishments and particular person member states stay dedicated to the peaceable settlement of the battle, however after 10 years the query of what to do subsequent appears most urgent. Will the EU be a passive bystander, idly watching the actions of different worldwide gamers like Russia, China, Iran, or Saudi Arabia, or will it tackle a extra lively position? And what would such a task appear like? To reply these questions, it’s value analyzing the EU’s present involvement in Syria and exploring what its leaders may do to make the EU’s stance more practical.
From a European standpoint, an important problem relating to Syria is safety. This isn’t solely about potential navy or, extra possible, terrorist threats, but in addition these associated to inhabitants migration and the refugee disaster. Most European politicians deal with refugees as a matter of concern, however on the similar time EU establishments are doing every part they’ll to assist them within the international locations neighboring Syria, moderately than letting them enter the EU itself. The settlement concluded between the EU and Turkey in June is the most effective instance of this. The EU is even prepared to show a blind eye to the actions taken by President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan in Turkey if it helps maintain the potential risk of one other migration disaster away from its borders. Nonetheless, it’s value emphasizing that on account of this, the EU is the most important assist donor to these affected by the battle. It has supplied almost €25 billion to assist Syrians since 2011. Furthermore, it has additionally organized annual conferences on “Supporting the way forward for Syria and the area” in Brussels since 2017. Over the past one, in March of this yr, the worldwide group pledged €5.3 billion for Syria and the neighboring states internet hosting Syrian refugees.
The specter of a migration disaster doesn’t change the truth that the EU continues to concentrate to potential terrorist threats. Assaults by militants linked to ISIS in years previous left their mark on the actions and attitudes of main EU politicians. In June 2021, Josep Borrell Fontelles, the excessive consultant of the EU for international affairs and safety coverage, attended the Ministerial Assembly of the International Coalition towards Daesh, declaring with different ministers that “a complete and collective effort stays mandatory to realize a full and enduring defeat of Daesh/ISIS worldwide.” Though ISIS has misplaced its territorial base in Syria and Iraq, the EU doesn’t downplay the continued risk posed by this terrorist group and is able to cooperate with any entity that shares its place on the matter.
Reconstruction and battle decision
Whereas EU international locations have the required capital, expertise, and human sources to be concerned in Syria’s post-war reconstruction, so long as the nation is dominated by President Bashar al-Assad, that appears unlikely to occur. It’s tough to think about that Assad would permit European corporations and social organizations to function in Syria. He definitely remembers the clear dedication of some EU international locations, particularly France, to taking motion towards him. For its half, the EU doesn’t intend to assist the reconstruction course of whereas Assad stays in energy to keep away from legitimizing his rule. In March 2021, on the event of the tenth anniversary of the outbreak of the battle, Borrell made this clear in an article on his weblog, writing, “There can be no finish to sanctions, no normalization, no assist for reconstruction till a political transition is underway. That is the long-standing place of the European Union.”
Regardless of the EU’s incapacity to interact in battle decision in Syria itself, EU establishments haven’t ignored the scenario and so they do attempt to actively assist varied tasks and counter potential threats, reminiscent of one other migration disaster or terrorist assaults. After all, the query is whether or not extra could be executed. To date, the details recommend that as a result of lack of direct relations between the EU and President Assad and the dominant affect of nations like Russia and Iran in Syria, it’s tough to think about that EU international locations may do rather more, particularly within the political sphere.
Borrell stays of the place that solely Syrians ought to negotiate the phrases of a peace settlement and has come out towards initiatives taken by different international locations, particularly people who attempt to bypass the United Nations. Because the excessive consultant wrote in his just lately revealed e-book, “The way forward for Syria is for the Syrians to determine. The political negotiations on Syria’s future have to be Syrian-owned and Syrian-led. How Syria will appear like a yr from now will rely upon the dedication of the regime to the implementation of the UN Safety Council Decision 2254. Not for our profit, not for theirs or their supporters’, however for the good thing about all Syrians” (Borrell, 2021: 195). Nonetheless, one could ponder whether such a place is an expression of helplessness and consciousness of the EU’s lack of affect on the course of occasions in Syria, or whether or not it outcomes from Borrell’s personal idealistic perspective. Regardless of the EU’s vital dedication to humanitarian assist, there are a lot of indications that the previous is nearer to the reality. The EU is, no less than for now, a passive bystander.
What can the EU do?
So what may European leaders do to make the EU’s stance extra constructive and efficient? The EU ought to search an settlement with key exterior gamers supporting Assad to place extra political stress on him concerning respect for human rights and the formation of a compromise transitional authorities. This is applicable primarily to international locations supporting the Astana peace course of. Within the case of Russia, this might solely occur as a part of a broader dialogue on a lot of contentious points, particularly the scenario in Ukraine. Within the case of Iran, nonetheless, the EU has vital funding and financial leverage. Extending the negotiations on the nuclear program to incorporate the problem of Iranian involvement within the conflicts in Syria and Yemen can be doable if the Iranians obtained EU assist for his or her efforts to elevate U.S. sanctions, together with clear declarations of deliberate funding inflows. If, on the similar time, U.S. assist for these initiatives could possibly be obtained in alternate for safety ensures from Iran within the broader Center East area, the EU could possibly be the guarantor of such a regional compromise. Essentially the most critical impediment, nonetheless, could also be Assad’s future. It is rather unlikely that the EU will cease pushing for accountability for battle crimes, human rights abuses, and violations of worldwide humanitarian legislation, together with the confirmed use of chemical weapons talked about in its 2017 technique on Syria. Nonetheless, Assad’s international backers may not defend him if their broader geopolitical and financial pursuits had been secured.
Przemysław Osiewicz is a non-resident scholar at MEI and an affiliate professor at Adam Mickiewicz College in Poznan, Poland, specializing in EU coverage in the direction of the MENA area, Iran, and Turkey. The views expressed on this article are his personal.
Photograph by VIRGINIA MAYO/POOL/AFP by way of Getty Photos