The EU’s member states endured a frustrating year of multilateral diplomacy. They were unable to persuade Russia or China to approve action over Syria at the UNSC, while the Obama administration blocked progress towards a UN conventional arms-trade treaty – a European priority. For the second year in a row, the G20 summit was overshadowed by the euro crisis, which put European leaders on the defensive. However, the EU did take tentative steps towards revitalising its crisis management operations, authorising small, new security assistance missions to Niger, South Sudan, and the Horn of Africa. The European Council also mandated a larger mission to train Malian troops as part of a broader response to the country’s collapse. These missions may be cost-effective alternatives to larger military and civilian deployments, but it is possible that they lack the resources and ambition to make much of an impact.

Diplomacy at the UN was dominated by the issue of Syria as it became clear that the Arab League could not manage the crisis on its own. The European members of the UNSC in 2012 (France, Germany, Portugal, and the UK) led efforts to address the crisis, despite Chinese and Russian opposition and US doubts about the value of the UN-based approach. France and the UK were initially strong backers of Kofi Annan’s mediation efforts but lost faith as the war escalated. After Annan’s resignation in August, they increasingly looked for alternatives to UN diplomacy over Syria and increased support to the opposition. However, they continued to invest in UN-based responses to other crises. The UNSC responded firmly to the threat of war between Sudan and South Sudan early in the year and the UN and the AU made some military and political progress towards stabilising Somalia. The UK took a prominent role on the issue – an EEAS priority – by organising an international conference on the country in February.

By contrast, the EU, the UN, and African powers have struggled to agree a response towards the collapse of Mali, much of which is now under the control of Islamist forces. France led on the issue, both within the EU and at the UNSC, gradually orchestrating a plan for an African intervention with UN, European, and US support. However, much of this delicate diplomacy was rendered pointless in January 2013, when an Islamist advance in southern Mali led France to intervene militarily. The EU launched a police support mission to neighbouring Niger but, after more than a year, is still trying to devise an operation to help Libya secure its borders – which might hamper the flow of fighters and arms into Mali and Niger.

European diplomats were also incensed when rebels backed by Rwanda won a significant military victory in the eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) in November. Reports of Rwanda’s destabilising role in the DRC led a number of EU member states, led by the Netherlands, to cut development aid to Kigali earlier in the year. Others, including the UK, followed suit as the crisis mounted, and European and US pressure seems to have persuaded Rwanda to rein the rebels in, at least for now. The weakness of the DRC after 12 years of UN peacekeeping and European aid remains a tragic embarrassment.

However, there were frequent strains between the EU and US over crisis management in 2012. These reflected differences over how to allocate scare resources and, in the Syrian case, the Obama administration’s concerns over getting dragged into a new war in the Middle East especially during an election year. Electoral concerns also appeared to drive the US approach to negotiations on a conventional arms-trade treaty in July. European governments publicly invested a great deal of political capital in the negotiations, but the US, in tandem with Russia and China, eventually blocked an immediate agreement – and, in doing so, averted a clash with the domestic gun lobby.

There were more open transatlantic tensions, and splits within the EU, over the Palestinian Authority’s bid for recognition as an observer state by the UNGA. The Czech Republic was the only EU member to vote against the Palestinian bid in November, along with the US and Israel. Meanwhile, traditional backers of Israel including Germany and the Netherlands abstained and a majority of the remaining member states voted in favour. This split suggests that the Obama administration and its European allies may face further clashes at the UN in the future. The US and most EU members lined up to oppose a new UN treaty threatening internet freedom at the end of the year.

Europe’s position in other multilateral institutions also seems to be deteriorating. The G20 had an indifferent year, despite solid chairing by Mexico, but its main summit in Los Cabos centred on the euro crisis. The European Commission and European Council presidents stole headlines with a press conference defending the eurozone, which made them look rattled rather than reassuring, but the meeting had little concrete effect. Russia will chair the G20 in 2013, further reducing the likelihood that the forum will achieve great things. There was no progress towards a new international trade deal in 2012 either. The newly re-elected Russian President Vladimir Putin did not even attend the G8 summit hosted by the US. Talks on climate change in Doha delivered very limited procedural gains. Although the EU committed to the extension of the Kyoto Protocol, a number of other Kyoto signatories (including Japan, Canada, and Russia) have already withdrawn from the agreement. 

While the European Commission continues to lead for the EU on climate and trade issues, the EEAS is beginning to play an important role on Africa, and EU officials dealing with crisis management – a relatively low priority in Brussels in recent years – now have their hands full with new, albeit small, missions. The EEAS also provided useful technical help to the short-lived UN monitoring mission in Syria. Yet bigger European states – notably France – have continued to drive policy over Syria, Mali, and other crises rather than deferring to Brussels. The multilateral directorate within the EEAS, which lagged behind other parts of the new organisation, is finding its feet but may struggle to influence the big European powers. 

Key Elements of the International System - Grade: B-
Category Unity Resources Outcome Total Grade
65 - European policy in the G8 and G20 and Bretton Woods Institutions 3/5 5/5 4/10 12/20 B-
66 - UN reform 2/5 2/5 3/10 7/20 C-
67 - European policy on non-proliferation 4/5 4/5 3/10 11/20 B-
68 - European policy  on the World Trade Organization 5/5 4/5 4/10 13/20 B


International Justice - Grade: B+
Category Unity Resources Outcome Total Grade
69 - European policy on human rights at the UN 4/5 4/5 7/10 15/20 B+
70 – European policy  on the ICC and ad international tribunals 4/5 3/5 7/10 14/20 B+


Climate Change and Development - Grade: B-
Category Unity Resources Outcome Total Grade
71 – Climate change 4/5 3/5 6/10 13/20 B
72 - Development aid and global health 2/5 3/5 6/10 11/20 B-


Humanitarian Relief - Grade: B+
Category Unity Resources Outcome Total Grade
73 - Humanitarian response 4/5 4/5 5/10 13/20 B
74 - Drought in the Sahel 4/5 4/5 7/10 15/20 B+


Peacekeeping - Grade: B-
Category Unity Resources Outcome Total Grade
75 - UN Security Council and Syria 5/5 4/5 3/10 12/20 B-
76 - The Sudans and the DRC 4/5 3/5 4/10 11/20 B-
77 – Mali and the Sahel 4/5 4/5 2/10 10/20 C+
78 – Somalia 4/5 4/5 7/10 15/20 B+
79 – Afghanistan 4/5 3/5 4/10 11/20 B-