Europe's Disgrace in Syria

Der Leiter der Münchner Sicherheitskonferenz, Wolfgang Ischinger gibt am 24.01.2013 in München (Bayern) eine Pressekonferenz. Die Sicherheitskonferenz findet vom 01. bis 03.02.2013 statt. Foto: Tobias Hase/dpa +++(c) dpa - Bildfunk+++
Wolfgang Ischinger, head of the Munich Security Conference, Picture Source: DPA
  • Why it matters

    Why it matters

    Hundreds of thousands of refugees have fled war in the Middle East for the safety of Europe, creating political tensions across the continent.

  • Facts


    • Russia and the United States helped negotiate a nationwide ceasefire in Syria in early September.
    • The agreement collapsed in just a week when an aid convoy was bombed.
    • The Russian-backed Syrian government has launched a renewed attack against the besieged city of Aleppo, triggering condemnation in the West.
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It’s easy to point the finger at Russia or the United States for the renewed bloodshed in Syria, but Europe should have done more to guarantee the success of the short-lived ceasefire agreement, the head of the Munich Security Conference told Handelsblatt.

“Europe could have used political and economic incentives to force the belligerents to make concessions,” said Wolfgang Ischinger, who also served as Germany’s ambassador to the United States and the United Kingdom.

Mr. Ischinger told Handelsblatt that the European Union should have offered the warring parties a reconstruction package in the tens of billions of euros in exchange for abiding by the ceasefire.

“It's easy to point the finger at the Russians and the Americans. But the Europeans have completely failed to assume their responsibility.”

Wolfgang Ischinger, Head of Munich Security Conference

In early September, Russia and the United States negotiated a rare nationwide truce in Syria with the aim of jump-starting stalled negotiations to end the five-year conflict. But the ceasefire agreement collapsed after only a week when an aid convoy was bombed.

With the ceasefire in tatters, Syrian government forces have launched a renewed offensive against Aleppo, pounding the besieged city with warplanes. The German government on Monday joined the United States and the United Kingdom in condemning the aeriel bombardment as “barbaric.”

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov has rejected “the tone and rhetoric” of the United States and the United Kingdom as “unacceptable,” warning that it could “damage the settlement process.”

The Russian ambassador to the United Nations, Vitaly Churkin, said reaching a negotiated solution to the war is “almost an impossible task” due to the proliferation of armed groups.

Mr. Ischinger sharply criticized the European Union for largely sitting on the sidelines of the civil war, saying that “what is happening in Syria is a disgrace for Europe.”

“It’s easy to point the finger at the Russians and the Americans,” Mr. Ischinger told Handesblatt. “But the Europeans have completely failed to assume their responsibility.”

Though the German government has ruled out military intervention, Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier called last week for a temporary no-fly zone to allow humanitarian aid to reach Syria.

Mr. Ischinger, who has long supported setting up safe zones along the Syrian-Turkish border, warned that those who call for a no-fly zone would have “to be ready to implement it militarily.”

“That would also count for Germany,” Mr. Ischinger said.

But Russia, which supports the Syrian government militarily, would likely oppose a U.S.-led no-fly zone for fear that it would be turned against the Assad regime. Mr. Ischinger said that Russian President Vladimir Putin is trying to “create a new world order.”

“Putin is using the last months of the Obama administration to take a wrecking ball to the so-called ‘Pax Americana,” Mr. Ischinger said. “He wants to create a new world order and he’s counting on being able to create a new strategic deal with the next U.S. president – at eye level.”

The Munich Security Conference headed by Mr. Ischinger is the top annual forum for defense and security experts and policymakers from around the world.


Torsten Riecke is Handelsblatt’s international correspondent. To contact the author: riecke@handelsblatt.com

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