This page was archived on October 2020.



45 - Syria and Iraq

Grade: C-
Unity 3/5
Resources 2/5
Strategy 1/5
Impact 1/5
Total 7/20
Scorecard 2012: C (8/20)
Scorecard 2013: C (8/20)
Scorecard 2014: D+ (5/20)
Scorecard 2015: C- (6/20)

Europe remained marginal, driven by an ISIS security perspective even as the situation demands a more realistic political approach

Five years into the Syrian conflict, and over a year after ISIS swept across northwest Iraq, Europe is facing a more direct threat from ISIS than ever, as well as the influx of hundreds of thousands of refugees. Europe’s stated goals – the defeat of ISIS, a political transition away from Assad, and more representative government in Iraq – all remain elusive.

Until the refugee crisis hit in summer 2015, Europe’s response was almost entirely conceived through an anti-ISIS lens. Belgium, Denmark, France, the Netherlands, and the UK have all taken part in air strikes in Iraq, while France and the UK are also now bombing in Syria (with Germany providing military support). While there have been symbolic victories in Kobane, Tikrit, and Ramadi, ISIS controls approximately 70 percent of what it held when the campaign began, highlighting the disconnect between military action and realities on the ground, notably the ongoing failure to address the core political drivers of the conflict and secure effective ground partners. Meanwhile, ISIS has strengthened its international presence, most notably for Europe with the devastating November attacks in Paris.

The growing ISIS threat and the refugee crisis have pushed attention back to addressing the core problem, but Europe has little meaningful leverage and continues to play a secondary role. While it joined the Vienna Process in October, it was excluded from the core quartet driving the initiative. Towards year-end there was movement towards a more realistic European position, including on the Assad question and engagement with Iran. France and the UK are slowly hinting at more pragmatic stances, while Germany has played a relatively vocal role on this issue. But there remains a distinct lack of a coherent European strategy.

Europe also played a secondary role in Iraq, where political progress faltered. While Europe provided security sector support, and participated in air strikes, serious engagement with the weak Baghdad government was lacking and attention was increasingly concentrated on the Kurds.