A re-orientation of European Union (EU) policy towards the Assad regime is a matter of time, since the EU will face growing pressures to upgrade its current minimalist and largely ineffective approach. Such pressures include a re-entrenching regime that exports instability, deepening humanitarian misery extending to Europe, Syria’s neighbours wishing to turn the page, lawlessness in southern Syria, the Kurdish question and the durability of the regime. A strategy to contain the broader fallout of the Syrian civil war should be enacted with urgency. This is likely to be the most effective choice out of the range of policy options assessed in this policy brief.
Such containment should consist of seven measures:
- refit humanitarian support inside Syria to reduce the extent of regime capture
- increase such support to address growing poverty
- provide more refugee support in the region to improve legal rights to residency and work
- accept more Syrian refugees in Europe to demonstrate solidarity
- intensify global efforts to hold the Assad regime accountable
- rebuild the relationship with Turkey as a key buffer and partner
- lift general EU sanctions to help prevent economic collapse in Syria.
The aim of creating greater stability in this manner is to prevent the situation from getting worse, without ignoring the wartime behaviour of the Assad regime and its allies. The forthcoming Brussels-IV conference and discussions about a new
EU Special Representative for Syria offer opportunities to initiate a policy upgrade. The Syrian conflict does have a military solution. It is being implemented in front of our eyes. Not being prepared for its consequences would amount to a sizeable failure of European foreign policy.