Monday, March 4, 2024

Has the Syrian crisis undermined the credibility of European Defense?

- Advertisement -

Washington's about-face on the Syrian issue and its ambiguity with regard to the Turkish offensive have once again thrown transatlantic relations into disarray. Some members of the Alliance, first and foremost France, are questioning the “mode of operation” of the Organization. Its secretary general, Jens Stoltenberg, refuses to condemn Turkey, at the risk of offending a strategic ally: let us condemn the acts, but not the perpetrators.


- Advertisement -

Turkey has been, from the first years of the Alliance's existence, an essential link in collective security. Its accession in 1952 made it possible to consolidate an essential block of NATO defense on the southern flank of the USSR and then to contain in recent years – as much as possible – the jihadist threat at the gates of Europe. However, through its military initiative, Turkey is dangerously unbalancing the security context in North-East Syria, thus directly undermining the security of the European continent, NATO's raison d'être. For Olivier Breton, director of study at EHESS, Turkey is “ like a wolf in the sheepfold  ” and its retention within the Alliance must be debated, at the risk of pushing it into the arms of Moscow .


However, the role of the United States is also to blame. By playing their own card on the Syrian issue , and having paid little attention to the Kurds of the PYD who fought for five years against the Islamic State, they gave Russia the best role: it imposed itself in number one mediator while managing “ to impose on the Syrian Democratic Forces the acceptance of a unified Syria under the control of Bashar al-Assad, and this without having to quarrel with Turkey  ”. For Nicolas Gros-Verheyde, a journalist specializing in European defense issues, what is happening today is “ out of proportion ”. It seems in fact unprecedented that one member has – with the approval of another – launched a military operation, without prior joint consultation, in an area of ​​importance for the Alliance.

- Advertisement -


Some European partners are scalded by this factual situation, like France which, through its Minister of Foreign Affairs, Jean-Yves le Drian, questioned the relevance of the “transatlantic link” by emphasizing that onaround thirty countries, the main players in this coalition. Two countries have caused trouble in the solidarity of this coalition: we must draw conclusions together .” On the German side – although we know the deep attachment to NATO – the tone is also harsh and German Defense Minister Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer declares that “we are faced with the fact that a country, Turkey , our NATO partner (…) has annexed territory in violation of international law, populations are being expelled, and we cannot leave things as they are.

But confusion reigns within the ranks of the Alliance. Some openly denounce the Turkish intervention (France, Germany, Netherlands) while others advocate moderation for fear of a renewed migratory influx (Italy, Greece) or out of a desire not to alienate a ally at the time of Brexit (United Kingdom).

- Advertisement -


NATO is going through a period of unrest that is probably beyond measure and a rethinking is necessary if not essential: it can now be prevented from within. But presuming NATO's demise seems even more foolish than the Trump administration's unilateral actions. In a scenario where the Europeans would like to gain their security independence immediately, they would quickly find themselves confronted with powerful obstacles, a major challenge if they were to not inherit the command structures of the Alliance. What's more, financially and politically, the Europeans could not compensate for the expenses injected by the United States.

Europe must today question its own role in the collective defense of the continent and its desire – or not – to erect a true European pillar within the Alliance. So much for the ideal, the reality is quite different. Although Germany has made a bold proposal – creating an internationally controlled security zone on the border between Syria and Turkey – none of the European countries has come out clearly and distinctly in favor of sending troops into the region. However, given the state of disintegration of the American guarantee of protection, if the Europeans are not able to manage certain unrest and disorder on their peripheries, no one will do it for them.


Thus, the political explosion within the transatlantic institution could prove to be unprecedented. The credibility of NATO is at stake: is it today the best guarantor of European defense? Is it not unreasonable to artificially link the collective security of the continent to a State whose strategic interests diverge significantly from ours? The credibility of the Alliance is compromised and French President Emmanuel Macron, who had muted his exhortations to Europe as a power and which had so irritated the European partners two years previously, stepped into the breach again: “ The Near and Middle East is a strategic and neighborhood region for Europe (…) we must rebuild Europe's strategic and capability autonomy (…) we can no longer be the minority partners of others, even if they are our allies  .”

A moment of reason would lead us to think that on this collective security mission, Europeans should be able to define their contribution and their function in this task. And that for the other missions, there is an urgent need to think about how they must organize themselves to carry them out in the event of NATO failure. But upstream, they should be interested in what their own contribution means to their own security, inside and outside the Union. Finally, making its return to Russian television, the Syrian issue was an opportunity for a number of presenters to joke about transatlantic solidarity, like Dmitri Kisselev who officiates on the first state channel: “In view of "From the way the Americans betrayed the Kurds, the Poles have good reason to be worried  ."

Axel Trinquier – European defense issues

- Advertisement -
Fabrice Wolf
Fabrice Wolf
A former French naval aeronautics pilot, Fabrice is the editor and main author of the site. His areas of expertise are military aeronautics, defense economics, air and submarine warfare, and Akita inu.

For further


Last articles