European diplomacy, led by France and the UK, was unsuccessful in leveraging help to end the conflict in Syria.
As the Syrian crisis intensified in 2012, Europeans sought to advance a political transition to meet the aspirations of the population and save the country from a descent into deep conflict. France and the UK led efforts to secure international action in the UNSC, but this was predictably and repeatedly blocked by Russia and China. However, Europeans, as part of the “Friends of Syria” initiative, also contributed to the failure of international diplomacy by failing to fully back the efforts of the UN–Arab League envoys, through their unconditional support for an opposition unwilling to countenance any deal with the regime, thereby excluding key Assad backers Iran and Russia. Europeans were also quick to engage in finger pointing at the expense of serious problem solving, which further damaged much-needed diplomatic channels.Having failed to give the political track full support, Europe also only offered half-hearted support for strengthening the rebel movement and its ability to win the battle militarily. A lack of political appetite for involvement in a new conflict and an EU arms embargo meant Europeans offered only meagre financial and non-lethal support, which in turn gave them little leverage among internal actors and in particular the moderate forces they wanted to support.
At the end of the year, France, Spain, and the UK recognised the new Syrian National Coalition opposition body as the sole legitimate representative of the Syrian people. Other EU member states followed suit at the year-end “Friends of Syria” meeting. France (which has been most forward-leaning in providing support to the rebels) and the UK have suggested considering arming the rebels but the EU arms embargo was renewed in early December for three months (instead of the default option of a year). In the face of these efforts, the civil war – which has growing sectarian and jihadist undertones – worsened, with at least 40,000 Syrians now dead. While Bashar al-Assad is slowly losing ground, he remains in power. The country and wider region now face a growing humanitarian crisis, with four million Syrians in desperate need of support within the country and external refugees numbering over 600,000.