Test Case for European Power

In Times of War, it is Difficult to Appreciate Opportunities For Peace

Opinion | Vienna Review | October 2006

In times of war, it is difficult to appreciate opportunities for peace. Such an opportunity now exists in Southern Lebanon, and 5,000 United Nations Interim Forces, Unifil, are now in place. But the mission is daunting. Ideally, they would separate the warring parties, disarm Hezbollah, and assist Lebanon in gaining sovereignty over its territory for the first time in over thirty years.

In reality, though, they report struggling in a web of restrictions that allow little initiative.

"We will not get involved in any domestic or regional politics," Milos Strugar, a senior advisor to Unifil, told The New York Times.  What the commanders tell the press at every turn is that they are there to support the Lebanese army.

Unlike previous Arab-Israeli wars, neither the United States nor the United Nations, are central to the solution.  The Israelis do not trust the United Nations.  The Americans are not prepared to put a single soldier in the sights of Hezbollah. Russia, China, and India may add forces eventually, but they too are cautious, tied up in conflicts less risky and closer to home.  This time, the burden of peace falls squarely on Europe.

The thought of EU forces reoccupying Lebanon may also seem understandably abhorrent to many Europeans.  Two weeks of Israel’s unyielding aerial bombardment and Hezbollah’s constant launching of missiles have led to hundreds of thousands of refugees, the destruction of Lebanon’s infrastructure, and the death of two European blue helmet observers.

Any force assigned to the task of demilitarizing Hezbollah will have to fight and kill.  Any such mission will take years, there will be casualties, and many body bags draped in Europe’s new flag.

Europeans are peaceful people.  Two World Wars, they say, have taught them the futility of war.  Indeed, so peaceful has Europe been for so long, that many of its citizens now believe they have discovered a new model of international relations.  A common European foreign policy, they say, should promote and perpetuate global peace.

Such a policy, however, can be implemented only by a great power.

Is Europe such a power?  Economic growth, expanded social welfare and sixty years of peace have helped shaped their self-image of a rising global player - a new united union, free from the vestiges of hard power that wrought such misery for so many and so long - but Europe has yet to achieve any major foreign policy success.

No country has adopted the European system of interstate relations.  Europe failed to call Darfur a genocide.  It could not prevent the Gulf War.  Its efforts to negotiate peace between Arab and Israeli have faltered.

Why?  Simply stated, Europe has been unwilling to use force to back up its goals.  The current crisis in Lebanon offers an opportunity to change that.  From the ashes of the Cedar state, Europe’s phoenix may rise at last.

Peace in the Middle East needs European soldiers on the ground, disarming Hezbollah.  This alone will settle Israeli nerves long enough for them to stop shooting. It will provide Lebanon the ability to get control of its territory.  It will dramatically reduce the influence of Syria and Iran in the country, further reducing the trend toward religious extremism they are both financing for fancifully different reasons across the entire region.  It will allow the legitimate transformation of Hezbollah from a militant organization to a peaceful political party, and it will set the stage for a final peace agreement between Israel and its two northern neighbors.

Europe has an opportunity to prove it is a global power, one which demands respect and equality at the negotiating table. Intriguingly though, European force is essential to that goal.

Europe clearly wants to be a great power, and it is time to start acting like one.  So far there are Italians among the forces to the region, and German ships off shore.

But their mandate will not currently allow them to do what’s needed, to separate the parties and disarm Hezbollah.

Doing so would achieve more for global peace than any other action it can take, demonstrating that Europe has cast away its decades-old shadow of weakness.

Lebanon needs Europe.  The question is if Europe  will respond.


S.R. Schubert is the co-author of The Asymmetric Power of Terrorism.  An American political analyst, he researches, lectures, and frequently publishes on issues of terrorism, international security, and the Middle East.

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