Engaging in the conflict cycle in other countries to gain outcomes favourable to one’s own interests is akin to playing in the champions league of foreign policy. Doing this effectively and responsibly requires a coherent and full-spectrum political strategy as well as the diplomatic, financial, developmental and military means to deliver it. It is clear from the scope of the security interests articulated in the European Union’s (EU) Global Strategy (2016) and its many associated foreign policy statements that the EU intends to meet these requirements. However, study of EU institutional policies and interventions in the Syrian and Iraqi civil wars highlights that it falls well short of doing so. As a result, EU institutions are not well placed to intervene effectively in high intensity conflicts with existential features such as these two civil wars.
With this problem in mind, the core recommendation of the paper is to increase the effectiveness of EU interventions in high-intensity conflicts by institutionalising full-spectrum decision making, policy implementation and force deployment modalities for the EU as a whole, as well as for EU coalitions of the willing. The parallel existence of such tracks will enable the EU to act jointly in conflicts where Member States have more or less compatible foreign policy preferences with matching intensity preferences, and to act in part in conflicts where Member States have more or less compatible foreign policy preferences with a mixed distribution of intensity preferences (like Iraq or arguably Syria). EU foreign policy inaction, including institutional paralysis, will continue to occur where Member States’ foreign policy preferences are largely not compatible and have high-intensity preferences.
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