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How Europe can help Lebanon to avoid a descent into chaos – sanctions against Hezbollah are not the way forward
After more than a year of conflict in Syria, neighboring Lebanon is increasingly vulnerable. The civil war in Syria is amplifying Lebanese divisions, fuelling militancy and pushing Syrian President Bashar al-Assad to stir up regional instability. Most significantly, the Syria conflict is shifting the Lebanese balance of power, opening up new possibilities for those intent on weakening Hezbollah, the country’s dominant political and military force.
For the moment key political actors – particularly Hezbollah – are intent on preventing wider conflict, and the country has strong resilience mechanisms in place.While outright civil war therefore remains unlikely, the country is facing a period of prolonged instability. In a worst case scenario tensions could still push the country into the abyss.
In a new ECFR policy brief, “Lebanon: Containing spillover from Syria”, Julien Barnes-Dacey argues that Europe should use its influence to support efforts aimed at forging political consensus and deescalating tensions. In particular, European states should - in firm contrast to US policy - continue to talk to Hezbollah in order to assuage fears about an international conspiracy against the movement and contain its more incendiary instincts.
Calls by the British and Dutch foreign ministers last Friday for EU sanctions on Hezbollah’s military wing should be rejected. European pressure on Hezbollah at this moment could provoke an offensive response to the detriment of Lebanon’s fragile stability. Current uncertainties should not be seen as an opportunity to weaken Hezbollah – and by extension its patron Iran.
What Europe should do:
The author of the paper, Julien Barnes-Dacey is available for comment and analysis on the crisis in Lebanon and Syria:
“Lebanon can overcome the challenge of destabilisation. But Europe must do all it can to support this process. Its support, pressure and dialogue with all parties can act as a force for both stability and positive reform.” - Julien Barnes-Dacey
This paper, like all ECFR publications, represents the views of its author, not the collective position of ECFR or its Council Members.
The European Council on Foreign Relations (ECFR) is the first pan-European think-tank. Launched in October 2007, its objective is to conduct research and promote informed debate across Europe on the development of coherent and effective European values based foreign policy. ECFR is independent and funded from a variety of sources. For more details go to http://ecfr.eu/content/entry/
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