A strategic approach for Syria

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Yesterday, ECFR published the fourth edition of the 2014 European Foreign Policy Scorecard, a comprehensive evaluation of European foreign policy in six key areas –relations with the United States, China, Russia, Wider Europe, and the Middle East and North Africa, and Europe's performance in multilateral institutions and in crisis management – and of the EU28 Member States. 2013 was a good year if compared to the previous three: among the improvements was the performance in relations with the MENA region.
 
But, despite the positive grade that Europe gained for this improvement, Syria still remains a crucial and unsolved issue. If Iran ends up being a successful story for Europe, then other relevant actors in the region, such as Syria, will have clearly missed the message underlining Europe’s political and strategic vision. Europe failed with its European Neighbourhood Policy, but this did not prevent some member states, such as Italy, France, the UK, Germany, Poland, and Sweden, from supporting the creation of a strategy to address the crisis.
 
With regard to Italy’s approach toward Syria, the government has always maintained that a political solution is the only way to solve the deadlock. However, the priority now is to stop the bloodshed. The Italian government is working to stop the massacre following three tracks: an immediate ceasefire, an increase in humanitarian aid, and chemical weapon disarmament.  
 
The most urgent action is to convince the Syrian government to immediately stop the violence. During her speech at Geneva II, Foreign Minister Emma Bonino clearly asked for an immediate ceasefire noting the state’s responsibility to protect its own citizens. A pluralistic and democratic Syria can be built, but it will take a long time and concerted efforts on the part of all stakeholders; in the meantime, the Syrian population has to be saved.
 
Humanitarian aid must be part of the political strategy as “it is not possible to talk about the future if we cannot give a present to the Syrian population”, Bonino said during a meeting of the Friends of Syria Group in Paris. Italy has been serious in its efforts to address Syria’s humanitarian tragedy. As a matter of fact, according to the 2014 scorecard, Italy has been a leader in the management of the Syrian refugee issue by putting a “significant percentage of its limited funds towards the crisis”. Moreover, as a proof of its engagement, on 3 February, Italy will host an international humanitarian conference on Syria upon the request of Valerie Amos, the under-secretary-general and emergency relief coordinator for the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, to find shared options for a rapid ceasefire and to facilitate the delivery humanitarian aid to the local population.

Last but not least, chemical weapons disarmament is the final component of a comprehensive resolution to the conflict. Italy has played an important role in the disarmament operation so far. Sixty containers of Syria’s chemical agents will be transferred from a Danish ship to a US cargo vessel at the port of Gioia Tauro, in the south of Italy. During a recent parliamentary hearing, Nobel Prize winner and Director-General of the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) Ahmet Üzümcü judged Italian contribution as fundamental for achieving the difficult purposes of both disarming Syria and building an area in the Middle East that is free from chemical weapons.  
 
The continued and outstanding efforts of the Italian government to engage in the resolution of the Syrian conflict are confirmed by the scorecard’s results. According to the report, Italy made a noteworthy comeback in 2013: while in 2010 and 2011 Italy mainly focused on its internal problems, since 2012, and particularly in 2013, Italy managed to be at centre-stage at both the European and international levels: it led on nine components out of 66 and slacked on only two components – financial resources for humanitarian aid and the energy issue vis-à-vis Russia. 
 
These conclusions illustrate how often impact on foreign policy depends on political will and not necessarily on the resources available.

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