August 28, 2013
|Plenty to ponder over Syria|
Following the alleged use of chemical weapons by the Assad’s regime in Syria, the stakes have been raised. But as the calls for international military intervention grows louder, how have Europe’s various players been lining up? Well, the EU is certainly not “speaking with one voice.” Somehow neither the Lisbon Treaty, nor the EEAS nor the arrival of Cathy Ashton has managed to magically replace 28 individual foreign policies with a single EU one. (We remain shocked!)
So when it comes to Syria, there are now three key questions for the member states: whether to take part in military action; whether to back military action without necessarily taking part and, crucially, whether to do either of these two without a UN mandate. The last is obviously key as Russia is liley to veto any UN resolution with teeth, and has already made it clear it would consider any intervention without a UN mandate a “crude violation of international law”.
So far, we count three EU countries that have signalled willingness to participate militarily even if a UN mandate isn’t forthcoming – the UK, France and Denmark. France and the UK – that between them account for most of the EU’s military spending – are as usual the key players in the EU when matters are moved into the domain of hard power. David Cameron will today present a draft resolution proposing action against Assad’s regime in the UN Security Council “authorising necessary measures to protect civilians” in Syria. Writing in the Telegraph today, British Foreign Minister William Hague argues that:
“this is the moment for democratic nations to live up to their values…We cannot allow the use of chemical weapons in the 21st century to go unchallenged. That would send a signal to the Syrian regime that they will never face any consequences for their actions, no matter how barbarous.”
Meanwhile, French President Francois Hollande said yesterday that “France is ready to punish those who took the heinous decision to gas innocents,” while French foreign minister, Laurent Fabius told Europe 1 radio on Monday: “The only option that I am ruling out is to do nothing.”
Both, it would appear, very much keep the option open to press ahead without the UN.
Germany is more hesitant. There is virtually zero chance of Berlin playing a major part in any military operation of any sort. The question is – and this is what the German debate is centred around – will it back military action without a UN resolution. Remember, Germany ended up on the same side as Russia and China – against the UK and France – in abstaining on a UN Security Council vote on Libya back in 2011. However, this move was also triggered a domestic and international political backlash, which the Germans haven’t forgotten. The country’s Foreign Ministry has welcomed the UK’s motion at the UN.
And there’s no lack of scepticism. Phillipp Missfelder, the foreign affairs spokesman for German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s CDU party, said that,“The [German] army has, through its current international operations, already reached the breaking point,” and that military action without a UN mandate is “hard to imagine.” However, interestingly, fellow CDU MP Ruprecht Polenz, Chairman of the Foreign Affairs Committee of the Bundestag, said that military action against Syria without a UN mandate could be “legitimate”, citing Kosovo as a precedence, adding that the use of chemical weapons was a “serious, brutal taboo, which may not remain without consequences”. However, he stopped short of explicitly calling for German involvement.
The SPD’s chairman Sigmar Gabriel has suggested that German involvement should be limited to the diplomatic front, specifically that Chancellor Merkel ought to fly to Moscow to convince Russian President Putin to change his policy.
According to Number 10, Chancellor Merkel and David Cameron discussed the situation and “agreed that such an attack demanded a firm response from the international community.” (Not that this fairly generic statement tells us much.) Germany clearly remains nervous about foreign policy meddling.
So far Italy is leaning back too. “Italy will not take part in any military solutions without a UN Security Council mandate,” according to its Foreign Minister Emma Bonino. “Even the option of a limited intervention risks becoming unlimited,” said Bonino, adding that Italy was “already stretched and even over-stretched” militarily in other parts of the world.
Despite Poland’s support for the EU developing a stronger and more coherent military presence, Polish Prime Minister Donald Tusk confirmed today that “Poland does not envisage taking part in a military intervention in Syria. In any form.”
Like many others, Spain hasn’t yet made up its mind but it is sticking to the hope of a UN resolution. Deputy Secretary General of the Partido Popular, Carlos Floriano, said Wednesday, that the Government will decide its stance “[once it is] aware perfectly of every detail.” Meanwhile the Spanish Foreign Ministry said it hoped the UN Security Council “can make decisions that comply with international law.”
Of the smaller countries, “non-aligned” Sweden is as usual calling for “the broadest international support possible” but leaving it open how to approach a US/UK/France led operation absent a UN solution. Fellow “non alinged” country Austria is also staying quiet. Portugal says it won’t comment on potential action, with the Ministry of Foreign affairs simply issuing the generic statement that “it is in close coordination with its partners and allies.”
NATO-member Denmark, on the other hand, yesterday signalled that it’s willing to take part in military action even absent a UN-solution, with a series of pretty robust statements from senior Danish politicians. According to an opinion poll published today, 64% of Danes are opposed to such a move, however.
Greece is likely to come under pressure to open up its strategically important bases to the US but ANSA quotes Greek officials as saying they have themselves “ruled out the possibility of active military involvement”.
So what about the EU institutions themselves? We wouldn’t want to forget those. They are sticking to the ‘UN Security Council’ line. As Baroness Ashton said on Monday, “Of course the Security Council is extremely important in this. It is the role of the Security Council to look and see how the international community can and should respond.”
With Hermann van Rompuy, President of the European Council, also urging similar action on Syria via the UN Security Council, this begs the question, what happens if that isn’t forthcoming and the UK/France and US continue to push for military action? This then has the potential to become one of the biggest foreign policy clashes between the UK/France and Brussels since the new EU foreign policy architecture was put into place.Open Europe blog team