The recent events in Syria have stunned the whole world, as the media has been constantly reporting and showing tremendous footage that might have been shocking for the majority of TV viewers. Since the beginning of the uprising in 2011, Syria has been continuing to be embroiled in an armed internal conflict that causes far-reaching harm and damage. Moreover, the conflict is seen as the major threat for the world peace. While the world is divided into two camps, the EU hesitates and is divided into two camps as well: the major players such as France and the UK are supporting the military intervention into the Syrian territory, whereas Germany is hesitant which path to choose due to the forthcoming elections next year. Another influential political actor, Iran, has warned that a foreign military intervention in Syria will result in a conflict that would engulf the region. In this invidious situation, the main question today that has to be answered by the EU Foreign Affairs council is whether the military intervention is a solution to what has been happening in Syria, and what consequences it might have on Syria and the EU.
Following the big brother
The willingness to be the strongest and the most powerful is in the blood of Americans and the American Presidents are no exception. Once again, the USA is pushing for an intervention which would lead to a bigger hassle in the region, as troops would work on the intervening state’s behalf and not on the state’s that is in need for help. Besides, the intervention would show the superiority and power of those intervening as well as the weakness and inability to solve own problems of the unstable state. The exaggerated image of the US as a fighter for human rights would be highlighted and become the country’s slogan again; however, why doesn’t America solve its own problems regarding human rights (e.g. racial hatred) first? The military actions, that devastated Iraq and were probably the most unsuccessful foreign policy implemented by the US, were started after the 9/11 attacks. The US fought for and against many, but it has just been because of the willingness to show up and, of course, the money that a war might bring (if it happens not in your territory, of course).
As a European citizen, I reckon that the EU should keep out of affairs in Syria. It is up to the UN to sort it out, not David Cameron or François Hollande. The EU should stop blindly following America and have its own voice as today the EU is infeudated by the US, and is seen as an American henchman. The EU should support Syria as it has been doing since the beginning of the uprising in 2011 - by providing humanitarian aid and giving what is needed to the refugees in Syria and outside its territory. In case of EU intervention, I believe, that the EU member states would be jeopardised, as any Islamist group would be interested in taking revenge upon those who went against al-Assad’s regime.
Some philosophy: European political intolerance
Whilst the EU is observing the situation and is waiting for the results of the UN investigation to be released, I would like to emphasise the importance to look at Syria from cultural-historical perspective. What we in Europe see as Democracy, the Islamic world sees as a foreign product that is pushed to them. Throughout the history of the Middle East (and North Africa), the tribal system and societal division were obvious. Back in time, tribes always had one leader that was bound up with family ties with almost all members of that tribe. If we added this historical context to the successive political regimes in the Middle Eastern region, we could understand that most Middle Easters are adjusted to one-leader regimes. Bearing that in mind, it gets easier to understand the reasons why society is divided: a part supports the current regime of al-Assad whereas the other part opposes him. It is vitally important to understand that the reason of uprisings and social revolts in those regions might be the fact that the West pushes democracy where it cannot be accepted as it does not look naturally conventional. The Middle Eastern and North African states have their own traditional and nominal way of ruling which is acceptable and, most importantly, is their own. Democracy is ingrained in our societies and we take it for granted, we go against those who simply do not have it and/or go against it themselves. Remember that democracy was born in Athens and only then Europe pushed it all over the world and no other country tries to push its regime to Europe. We can call it ‘European political intolerance’.
A brief summary of EU-Syria relations since the beginning of the uprising in 2011
Syria is covered by the European Neighbourhood Policy (ENP) that is based on the values of democracy, rule of law and respect of human rights. The purpose of the ENP is to create a ‘safe and prosperous’ neighbourhood, create strong cooperative links, encourage highly skilled labour movement, and promote beneficial trading. The ENP framework is currently proposed to the 16 closest EU’s neighbours - Algeria, Armenia, Azerbaijan, Belarus, Egypt, Georgia, Israel, Jordan, Lebanon, Libya, Moldova, Morocco, Palestine, Syria, Tunisia and Ukraine. Note that Russia is not covered by the framework.
The EU funds various projects to make sure that those main purposes would be achieved. However, the bilateral cooperation between the Syrian government and the EU has been suspended due to the current situation in the country. Despite that, the Syrian population further receives large-scale EU humanitarian aid and it also benefits from the EU assistance. Moreover, with regard to the violent repression of anti-government protests in Syria from mid-March 2011, the EU took a number of restrictive measures: 1) an embargo on arms and equipment that can be used for internal repression and 2) targeted sanctions (a travel ban and asset freeze) against those responsible for or associated with the repression.
Notwithstanding the restrictions that the EU has enforced on Syria, the EU remains a leading donor internationally of humanitarian aid to those in need; it has repeatedly urged the Syrian government to allow humanitarian workers unhindered access to those in need. More than €400 million have so far been allocated for humanitarian aid.
EU High Representative Catherine Ashton states in her official statement on the latest reports of use of chemical weapons in Damascus that ‘any use of chemical weapons, by side of Syria, would be totally unacceptable’. She also urges the Syrian government to cooperate with the UN investigators and to allow full and unhindered access to any site in the Syrian territory according to the requirements.
Edited by: Marcel Wiechmann
Photo Sources: The Bustan Al-Qasr district of Aleppo after a mortar shell hit by Freedom House via flickr, Total deaths over time as a result of the Syrian civil war, based on data from the Syrian National Council by Futuretrillionaire via wikimedia, Free Syrian Army soldier walking among rubble in Aleppo (scene from a VOA video, public domain)