Foreign Policy Blogs

The EU and Syria – Waiting for Superman?

UN Photo/Mark Garten

UN Photo/Mark Garten


After a two-week marathon, wherein the world was expecting military strikes against Syria in order to punish the Assad regime, the situation is finally settling down. Two reasons behind this abrupt shift from missiles to diplomacy: Russia and western public opinions.

First, Russia, a close Syrian ally, has been trying to avoid any sort of military intervention against the Assad regime. Russia’s rationale is that the Assad regime is a better alternative and protection against radical Islamic groups than rebels. Radical Islamism is perceived by Moscow as one of the greatest threats to the stability of the Russian federation. Vladimir Putin has played wonderfully the diplomatic game by using the context in his favor: opposition of western public opinions. British citizens have appeared fed-up with military endeavors in the Middle East. This feeling was materialized by the rejection by the UK House of Commons in August to grant Prime Minister Cameron any participation to a Western military intervention against Syria. In the case of France, the Parliament wanted to have a say on the matter, but did not get a chance. Last in the US, a majority of Republicans, which had previously been in favor of the use of force, was going to block President Obama due to bipartisan politics. Ultimately, diplomacy had to be the only alternative for the Euro-Atlantic community in order to punish the Assad regime in one way or another.

Since mid-September the US and Russia, especially between US Secretary of State, John Kerry, and his Russian counterpart, Sergei Lavrov, have worked on solving the Syrian dilemma. The baseline is simple: putting all Syrian chemical weapons under international supervision. The UN inspectors, in their report, demonstrated that sarin gas was used on August 21, 2013, which is a clear violation of international law. On September 27, 2013, the UN Security Council called “for the elimination of the country’s chemical weapons, while endorsing a diplomatic plan for Syrian-led negotiations toward peace.” The UNSC Resolution 2118(2013) was unanimously adopted by the 15 Members of the Security Council. Under this resolution, Syria must give up all its chemical weapons. In case it fails to deliver, the UNSC – which would have to pass another resolution – “Decides, in the event of non-compliance with this resolution, including unauthorized transfer of chemical weapons, or any use of chemical weapons by anyone in the Syrian Arab Republic, to impose measures under Chapter VII of the United Nations Charter” (Point 21 of the UNSCR 2118(2013)).

REUTERS/Keith Bedford

REUTERS/Keith Bedford

French Foreign Minister, Laurent Fabius, made the French position quite clear  during the SC meeting underlining that in case of a non-compliance by Syria, France will seek for the use of Chapter VII of the UN Charter. Here are his comments:

LAURENT FABIUS, Minister for Foreign Affairs of France, said “tonight, in the midst of the Syrian crisis, the Security Council can finally live up to its name”.  The use of chemical weapons was obvious; all clues pointed to the regime.  No one in good faith could deny that fact.  The present resolution met France’s three requirements:  it determined that the use of chemical weapons constituted a threat to international peace and security; clearly stated that those responsible for such crimes must be held accountable; and decided that, in the event of non-compliance by the Syrian regime, the Council would take action under Chapter VII of the Charter.  The resolution was only a first step; now it must be implemented.  The Syrian regime, which until recently had denied possessing chemical weapons, could not be trusted.  The United Nations and OPCW should immediately deploy their joint mission; the timetable set forth in the present text must be enforced.

He added that “the cooperation of Syria must be unconditional, and fully transparent”.  The Council, which would be informed regularly, would be the judge of Syria’s commitment, and would impose measures under Chapter VII, if necessary.  France would remain “watchful”.  It wanted to capitalize on the Council’s unity to advance the political process and felt it was necessary to prepare the Geneva II conference within the framework of the Geneva Communiqué.  He had chaired a meeting on Thursday with the President of the Syrian National Coalition, who confirmed a readiness to send a delegation as soon as possible.  The Syrian regime’s supporters must make a similar commitment.  He urged the Secretary-General and his Special Envoy to move quickly in that direction. 

However, there is one missing player in this Syrian puzzle: the European Union. In a recent paper published with the EU Center of Excellence at the University of Miami, I argued that the EU has missed the train in contributing to regional security.

The crises in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA), since the beginning of the Arab Spring, have hurt the credibility of the EEAS and the CSDP. EU Member States have perpetually sidelined the EU as Libya, Mali and Syria proved it. But it appears that the Union has not been proactive behind closed doors, meaning playing the diplomatic game. Javier Solana, former High Representative, was able to include the EU during the 3+1 nuclear negotiation with Iran, increasing the visibility of the EU and its credibility as a foreign policy actor. HR Ashton’s only coup was when she met with the ousted Egyptian President Morsi. Unfortunately, she and the EU did not capitalize on it. In the case of Syria, the diplomatic negotiations took place between Moscow and Washington. Paris, London and Berlin were not present throughout the process, at least substantially, until it reached New York. Even during the G-20 meeting in Saint-Petersburg, France was waiting for President Obama. EU Member States need to understand that empowering the CSDP and EEAS will not undermine their national power and influence, but rather boost their credibility and influence. “In this latest turn of events and despite leading international aid,” I argued, “the EU and its Member States are only spectators and can only wait for Washington and Moscow to adjust their approach to the Syrian puzzle.” This situation should be a wake up call for the EU and its members; unless waiting on the sideline is an acceptable alternative.



Maxime H.A. Larivé

Maxime Larivé holds a Ph.D. in International Relations and European Politics from the University of Miami (USA). He is currently working at the EU Center of Excellence at the University of Miami as a Research Associate. His research focus on the questions of the European Union, foreign policy analysis, security studies, and European security and defense policy. Maxime has published several articles in the Journal of European Security, Perceptions, and European Union Miami Analysis as well as World Politics Review.