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39 - Syria and Iraq

Grade: C-
Unity 2/5
Resources 2/5
Outcome 2/10
Total 6/20
Scorecard 2012: C (8/20)
Scorecard 2013: C (8/20)
Scorecard 2014: D+ (5/20)

As the crises in Syria and Iraq escalated, Europe’s role has remained marginal and impeded by internal divisions, despite limited military action.

The worsening of the Syria crisis, including the ISIS surge into Iraq, marks a continued failure of European aims: initiating a political transition of power and containing the conflict. While Europe has launched military action in Iraq, its role remains marginal and, on Syria, hamstrung by division. ISIS has provoked unity around a counter-terrorism agenda. Fourteen EU states joined the anti-ISIS coalition, with five conducting military action in Iraq. France and the UK made the most significant contributions and Denmark has been active on both the military and political tracks. Germany’s decision to provide armed support to Iraqi Kurds was a significant step for Berlin. But Europe’s contribution has been limited – the US directed strategy and conducted more than 85 percent of air strikes. Despite four EU countries being part of the Friends of Syria group, the US and the Gulf States set the agenda in Syria.

European states have been unwilling to conduct anti-ISIS military operations in Syria. Some, notably France, have pushed for more aggressive action to target Assad; others are focused on supporting the new UN envoy’s approach. European states are cognisant of the need to address the core problem underlying the rise of ISIS–the Syrian civil war – but they have neither leverage nor a common approach to policy. Europe has done little to pursue a political track since the collapse of the Geneva II talks and hasfailed to engage Iran. Europe’s unquestioning support for military action now risks exacerbating the crisis in both countries, in part by relieving regional actors of responsibility and making the West more of a target for retaliatory acts of terrorism.

The EU – and particularly the UK – is among the biggest humanitarian donors to the crisis, but only Sweden and Germany have accepted significant numbers of Syrian refugees (see Chapter 6). Still, this remains an area in which an underperforming Europe can play a more meaningful role if the biggest humanitarian crisis so far this century is to be managed.