Events over the last year – beginning with the Greek debt crisis and including economic malaise as well as the refugee and terrorist challenges – represent an existential threat to Europe’s unity and wellbeing. Europe should not have to face this threat alone.
By Gerard M. Gallucci*
I recently suggested that the European Union would come apart this year under the blows of an apparently unstoppable refugee flood and the resulting popular political backlash. Unless the EU either somehow absorbed all those seeking a better life or put troops and resources into the Mid-east and Mediterranean border states to stabilize and rebuild them, mass forced-returns, fragmented and disrupted economies, and deepened political and national rivalries would be the result. Now there is the additional blow of an ISIL terrorist campaign apparently aimed at radicalizing both the Muslim and non-Muslim communities of Europe and thereby destabilizing what it sees as the incipient European vilayet of its caliphate. The recent attacks in Brussels – the EU’s capital city – being ISIL’s latest in the series going back to Paris. Events over the last year – beginning with the Greek debt crisis and including economic malaise as well as the refugee and terrorist challenges – represent an existential threat to Europe’s unity and wellbeing. Europe should not have to face this threat alone.
Europe has not dealt well with the challenges facing it. The Berlin approach to the Greek crisis did not resolve the imbalances between enforced austerity and the lack of central political and financial institutions. The EU’s deal with Turkey over Syrian and other refugees may be illegal under international law and has yet to prove its effectiveness even on its own brutal terms. (Latest reports suggest refugees are now seeking to use a Greece-to-Italy route.) Even so, the political winds within Europe were already blowing in the direction of increased nationalism before the latest terrorist attack left many Europeans – in governments and beyond – less inclined to accept Muslim migrants and more inclined to break EU ranks.
If one had to bet, it would be short odds that Europe will indeed break. But this would be a dangerous step backwards for everyone. The Western Alliance – if the term has any meaning – cannot allow it to come to pass. There are no easy answers but it’s possible to discern the outlines of an approach that may be the only way to avoid the worst outcome. It would require significant efforts by the Europeans and by the United State and would entail two interconnected efforts, one within Europe and the other vis-a-vis Syria and Iraq.
First of all, ISIL must be eliminated on the ground in Syria and Iraq and thus denied any territory for its so-called state. (Similar efforts may need to be made in the Maghreb.) The US and allied ground effort has been too little and too slow. Whatever political arrangements that must be made with Russia, Iran and the Syrian and Iraqi governments should be made and sufficient military forces introduced to do the job as quickly as possible. Everyone would be far better off today if President Bush had shown President Obama’s caution over intervention. But the ISIL apparatus exists and must be shut down for everyone’s benefit. Further delay will be costly.
Eliminating ISIL on the ground in Iraq and Syria will not defeat ISIL as a terrorist organization and network. Indeed, it may well generate more of a threat as jihadists return “home.” Therefore, secondly, Europe must overcome its own internal barriers on information sharing and law enforcement cooperation perhaps creating central institutions similar to Homeland Security in the US. The US must provide full intelligence and operational assistance. Meanwhile, Europe must focus on fully accommodating its own Muslim population inside its democratic institutions and economy while avoiding Islamophobia.
Thirdly, Europe must make provisions for processing asylum seekers and accommodating as many legitimate migrants as possible. They cannot be left on EU borders or in Greece or entrusted to the tender mercies of Erdogan. Given the political resistance in many EU countries to accepting refugees, it may be necessary to look also to creating safe areas in Syria and elsewhere (Libya?). As NATO and other forces clear out ISIL, full scale stabilization efforts must begin to assist those who remain in Syria and eventually help others return. This will be hugely expensive but worth it if it also saves Europe.
Finally, over all of this must sit a political approach to replacing a set of broken states with viable political entities that can form the necessary framework for a long-term process of nation building. Broken states don’t heal themselves. With ISIL eliminated, and working with the existing governments and players on the ground, arrangements must be reached that reflect who can live with who and how. It is unlikely that the conflicting parties can come to such an arrangement themselves. It will have to be imposed. The only way to do that would be a joint effort by the US, Russia, Iran, Saudi Arabia and Turkey with Washington in the lead (because of it’s leverage over some and what it can offer the others). The UN Security Council could provide the necessary mandate.
Many in the US wonder why we should get into another ground war. We seem relatively safe behind our oceanic walls. Generally speaking, it might also seem best for outsiders not to mix in the internal affairs of others and especially in the ongoing conflict within Islam between Sunni and Shia and secularists and fundamentalists. But the US cannot afford to see Europe fragment and be left to slide down a path that in fact creates further space for radicalization on all sides. The US also bears a large share of the responsibility for having created the conditions for ISIL’s rise. President Obama must sense this as it appears that he has placed 5000 troops back into Iraq. But that is not enough. Much more must be expected of the US. If America remains too distracted by its crazy presidential circus, Europe should loudly and clearly demand it.
*Gerard M. Gallucci is a retired US diplomat and UN peacekeeper. He worked as part of US efforts to resolve the conflicts in Angola, South Africa and Sudan and as Director for Inter-American Affairs at the National Security Council. He served as UN Regional Representative in Mitrovica, Kosovo from July 2005 until October 2008 and as Chief of Staff for the UN mission in East Timor from November 2008 until June 2010. He has a PhD in political science, taught at the University of Pittsburgh, University of Arkansas, George Washington University and Drake University and now works as an independent consultant.
The views expressed in this article do not necessarily reflect the views of TransConflict.