I A big idea for the Middle East?
I sat down with a former inhabitant of Tripoli, Lebanon, who is depressed about the situation in the Middle East. We agreed easily that the situation was not only a mess, but hopeless. He asked me if I had a big idea for the Middle East, because that was lacking.
I 1. I told him that if I had some advice to give to somebody who had any power, I would put it in the way of an underlying strategy, rather than as a big idea. I would prefer a policy of faits accomplis rather than declarations. The strategy would be very simple to understand and be tactically opportunistic.
My main intention would be to involve Europe (the European Union and NATO) in the power game of the Middle East with the intention to pacify the region.
My main instrument would be to create friends of Europe in the Middle East, and support these friends in every way possible, but especially with a commitment to the long term.
In return for the European friendship these friends would have to commit to certain conditions. Especially minority rights are important here, because most of the troubles of the Middle East start from there.
This strategy is beyond the immediate possibilities of the European Union, but could be tactically implemented by solutions ad hoc over the next ten years. It would imply the creation of European special forces and institutions for the Middle East.
The relations with America, Russia and the United Nations would be monitored in the light of this strategy.
I 2. Strategy
a. Lebanon should be turned into a friend of Europe, not in name, but in practice. It should not be excluded that it would become a member of the European Union.
The frontiers of Lebanon should be guaranteed by the European Union and a common defense of these frontiers should be implemented.
In return for this external shield, the Lebanon should respect and implement equal rights for all its minorities.
b. Israel should be turned into a friend of Europe, not in name but in practice. It should not be excluded that it could become a member of the European Union.
In return for this a one state solution should be accepted on the condition that Israel would respect and implement equal rights for all its minorities.
Internal arrangements could replace the Palestinian Authority. Gaza would be neutralized and perhaps become a temporary protectorate of the European Union, with a European army in place to prevent any military attacks from Gaza.
Israel would have to accept the reality that it is better to have a good neighbor (Europe) than a far friend (America).
If this settlement would be fully implemented NATO could guarantee the frontiers of Israel.
c. Syria would not be considered a friend of Europe but a buffer-zone between conflicting interests. The priority would be to freeze the conflicts there. Minorities should be given safe havens, under the military shield of the European Union.
A policy of faits accomplis could include the creation of military zones under the control of the European Union. To these zones the refugees in Turkey and Europe could return.
d. Turkey should become a friend of Europe, not in name but in practice. It should not be excluded that it would become a member of the European Union. The European Union should fully implement a common shield with Turkey within NATO.
In return for this European friendship Turkey should fully implement equality for its minorities, especially the Kurdish minority. It should settle the Armenian and Cyprus question.
e. Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Iraq should not be included as Friends of Europe and good relations should much depend on the attitude of these nation to their minorities, especially the Copts and the Kurds.
f. In the Maghreb Tunisia should be considered in the same way as Lebanon in the Middle East.
g. Certain states and minorities who would behave as enemies of Europe would be treated as such, for instance the Caliphate in Iraq and Syria (ISIS).
h. The political control of the Mediterranean Sea would be a priority for the European Union.
II A European Strategy, criticism and response
The proposed strategy for the European Union, with the aim of pacifying the Middle East, has drawn critical appraisal among my political, military, diplomatic and other knowledgeable friends.
The criticism may be divided into categories:
II 1. Political Criticism
The European Union is in disarray. Both on the level of its institutions and at the level of public opinion. So nothing can be expected by way of its leadership in the Middle East.
The option of doing nothing has left the pacification of the Middle East in American, Russian and Iranian hands. The absence of a European presence makes these into the de facto powers that decide in the Middle East. Also indirectly the future of Europe. It leaves Europe the victim of its inertia by having to react defensively to terrorism, refugees, civil wars.
A lack of leadership by the European Union will lead to disaffection of European public opinion and a rise of nationalist and populist movements. The paralysis of the European Union will split Europe and make it succumb even more to outside influences.
The option of doing nothing is basically a prescription for defeat.
In the Middle East nobody will listen to the wishes of the European Union, even if the European leadership and strategy is there.
The present situation is a result of the absence of the European Union as a pacifying actor in the Middle East.
The feeble interventions of European nations in providing humanitarian help, development aid, and ineffective military measures have made Europe a laughing stock in the Middle East. What is worst, it does not even create friends.
The presence of Europe in the Middle East can only be effective if there is a consistent strategy which makes it clear on what condition a state becomes a friend or an enemy of Europe. These conditions should have political, military and diplomatic consequences. It is up to the states of the Middle East to make this choice.
The choice is based on the readiness to stop making civil wars and respect the equal rights of minorities.
Those that declare war on the European Union, like Daesh, shall be treated as enemies.
The lack of influence argument is circular: absence creates lack of influence which creates absence. This is a defeatist view.
Even if the European Union would have the power to influence the pacification of the Middle East, what would be in there for the participants in the civil wars of the Middle East?
The states would be safe in their present boundaries. The minorities would be safe. Interstate wars would be impossible. The main menaces would come from outside the Middle East.
Certain states could adhere to the European Union and NATO after the pacification is fully achieved.
II 2. Military criticism
The European Union has no army and is fully dependent on the United States for waging war.
The pacification strategy is not contrary to and can even be adopted by NATO. There is no objection to a more active role of Europe in NATO.
The USA is not directly involved by its interests in the Middle East, like it is with Russia and China.
The potential capacity of pooling European military forces in a Middle Eastern intervention force is great. What is lacking is a common strategy, a common leadership, and common military means.
The long-term view implies the possibility of independent intervention by the European Union to pacify the Middle East. A short term view would accept a coalition of the willing European states, especially Spain, France, Italy, Greece and core powers within the framework of NATO.
As to the money spent, the know-how, the industrial capacity, the military hardware are not absent in Europe. The main task would be to provide adequate forces over the coming years by focusing on a southern strategy.
Only after a de facto creation of a European Army (South) it should be legalized by treaty.
II 3. Diplomatic criticism
One cannot dictate states in the Middle East to become friends of Europe. The positions of Israel, the Lebanon, Turkey are not the same. Civil wars complicate the trustworthiness of partners. Certain states will always be buffer-zones. Diplomacy is also necessary with enemies.
Of course it will be the task of diplomacy to manage relations with friends and enemies.
The diplomacy would be quietly based on the strategy, without overreach.
The diplomacy would have a few guiding principles:
-peace between and inside states,
-equal rights and safeguards for minorities.
It should be clear that terrorism is an enemy of the pacification, both within and across borders. Taking sides in minority disputes should be avoided, but the establishment of canton-like federal structures is in line with the strategy.
The means of a common European Middle East diplomacy are basically there, but could be more focused, by the creation of a special diplomatic taskforce of the countries willing to engage with the strategy.
The diplomatic management of military bases and membership of the European Union should be discreet.
II 4. Other criticisms
The history of the Middle East has created dynamics which may wreck the strategy. The Middle East never forgets old grievances. Israel wants to take revenge on the Roman dispersal . Shiites yearly evoke old battles with the Sunnites. Theocracy resents democracy, the desert the town. Turkey denies its massacres of the past.
Nationalism was based on rejection of imperialism, Russian, European and Ottoman.
This is all true but not in the interest of the strategy of the European Union. They should be considered as hindrances, like the specific geographic character of the Middle East. One should adapt to them opportunistically, but not make them an excuse for inaction.
AVDS 11/19 II 2016