The readiness – finally! – of Europe’s major powers to engage militarily with Islamic State in Syria offers hope that the European Union may yet survive its most serious crisis to date, and that IS may ultimately be stripped of the territory it needs to survive and to export terror.
First, the UK is preparing on December 2 to stage a free parliamentary vote on bombing IS in Syria as well as in Iraq. PM David Cameron appears likely to receive his mandate after opposition Labour MPs rebelled against their pacifist leader Jeremy Corbyn, forcing him to let them vote their conscience. Granted, Cameron’s bombs carry no guarantee that they will either hit IS or miss civilians, and may merely be intended to secure him a place at the table when it comes to shaping post-war Middle East affairs. But it’s a step in the right direction, not least because it underlines the gravity of the threat posed by IS to Europe.
Even more significant is German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s decision to send sea and air power along with a thousand ground troops to support France’s campaign in Syria (a parliamentary vote is scheduled for December 4, and is expected to confirm the Chancellor’s move). Despite Germany’s famous reluctance to fight beyond its borders since Hitler, Merkel knows that Europe cannot long remain united if Berlin fails to support Paris, especially after last month’s attacks. She also knows that her own policy of holding doors open to Syrian refugees is doomed in the Bundestag unless she addresses the other side of the coin, which is ending the Middle East conflicts that are driving migrants towards Europe.
Granted, launching even more bombers into Syria’s crowded airspace risks further inadvertent (?) conflict with the zealous Russians, and only makes sense if they are soon to provide cover for the Western ground troops that will be necessary to eradicate Islamic State. But it’s a crucial first step, because it suggests that Europe has finally realized the limits of soft diplomacy and impotent liberal anguish. Finally, too, the EU’s most powerful members understand they cannot outsource their defense to a reluctant America, or allow a bellicose Russia to turn conflict zones into theme parks for military hardware.
If Angela Merkel has genuinely crossed the Rubicon, the consequences for Europe will be sweeping. Such as her “coalition of the willing”, a nine-member “inner-track” group of EU countries that are willing to take in and share refugees directly from Turkey.
Tin-pot populists in eastern Europe, our own included, have been put on notice: Membership is not just about looting EU funds, and Europe is growing impatient with your knavery.
2. Dec 2015 at 15:17 | Tom Nicholson