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EU role in areas of conflict comes under scrutiny

Europe’s role in neighbouring areas of ongoing conflict came under scrutiny at a London meeting called to consider the topic, ‘The Europeans and interventionism: all or nothing.’

European opinion is increasingly divided on how to respond to multiple threats emanating from areas contiguous to EU territory, the spectre of the Islamic State/ISIL terror franchise reaching out to Europe’s impressionable young and attendant risks to European society from radicalising citizens and ever larger numbers of displaced persons seeking refugee in Europe.

The discussion under the auspices of European Council on Foreign Relations centred on the view that Europe’s unwillingness to intervene is fraught with major risks, compounded by EU’s recent tendency to outsource crisis management and security. Panellists Nick Witney and Richard Gowan in a simultaneous publication advocated a more proactive European approach, including military interventions where warranted.

Europe should expect ever-increasing pressure from refugees on its southern borders unless it is prepared to bear the cost and risk of military operations to control conflict in Europe’s southern neighbourhood, according to their policy paper, Why Europe must stop outsourcing its security. While the growing refugee problem generated by conflicts in the Middle East and Africa calls for a more interventionist response from the EU, Europeans have preferred to leave the job to others, notably the UN.

In effect, they point out, the EU is “outsourcing” its crisis-management responsibilities to the UN, the Economic Community Of West African States (ECOWAS), a regional group of16 founded in 1975 or the African Union – while confining its own role to logistical, financial and training support.

In Why Europe …, Gowan and Witney argue that this approach saps European influence in the world – and is anyway not working. UN peacekeeping, stretched as never before, is now in crisis while the EU’s Common Security and Defence Policy (CSDP) “has become a smokescreen behind which money and advice substitute for early, rapid and robust intervention.” The authors cite the EU’s response to the Ebola epidemic in West Africa and ongoing crises in Mali and the Central African Republic as examples of the policy’s “moribund culture”.

They suggest EU High Representative Federica Mogherini initiate a review of CSDP concentrating on Europe’s southern flank and urge a new partnership role with the UN – while noting that a collective EU approach would have advantages over efforts by individual member states.

The EU, they argue, is a “good brand” that can avoid charges of neo-colonialism, which could be levelled at individual member states’ intervention in Africa.

The EU is better placed than individual member states to draw on significant complementary resources such as humanitarian aid, they point out.

The EU can facilitate readily available start-up finance for common funding of rapid response operations.

The EU can be a powerful “force generator” coordinating specialist capabilities and making it harder for laggards to duck out.

The EU can provide the most efficient mechanism for operational planning with the UN, point out Witney, a former British diplomat and senior policy fellow at the European Council on Foreign Relations and Gowan, research director at New York University’s Center on International Cooperation, and associate director of its Managing Global Order Programme.

Their paper’s conclusions and arguments featured prominently during the discussion, which drew interest from international groups and organisations active in the crisis regions. The Global Network for Rights and Development, a Norway-based NGO pursuing humanitarian projects in the conflict areas, cited Witney’s comment that only a limited number of European countries are actively involved in the fight against ISIL despite “the terrible situation in the Middle East and the worsening refugee crisis.” Meanwhile, the UN and the African Union, called to step in, remain under resourced in conflict areas that are casting their long shadows on the EU.

Despite the advocacy of EU interventionism, independent analysts see little prospect of a substantive policy shift in Brussels.

Meanwhile, stopgap responses to the refugee influx and the gathering threat from ISIL and other terror franchises seem likely to remain recurrent features of what passes for European policy on these key issues amidst an all-consuming preoccupation with the eurozone woes.

Cost concerns overshadowed by the eurozone crisis alone appear set likely to discourage any collective European shift toward a more comprehensive intervention in Africa, the Middle East or Ukraine, according to independent analysts.

Author: Editor

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