European military intervention in Syria

European military intervention in Syria

While the question concerning US boots on the ground has been quickly ruled out of order, the European Union needs to correctly assess the risks and opportunities of sending land-forces into Syria and Iraq in order to fight the Islamic State.

The coalition’s primary response to the Paris attacks in November of 2015 was to intensify the airstrike’s campaign in order to stop ISIS’ expansion in both Syria and Iraq. Indeed, the United States is strongly condemning any intervention with land-military forces, certainly too afraid to face the disastrous management of post-war Iraq.

In light of this, Europe might have an interesting card to play.

Continuing to face ISIS’ domination and cruelty, as well as constant airstrikes from the international coalition, refugees are increasingly fleeing to Europe. The long-lasting ally is leaving the European Union alone, which has to address the current issue of refugees by committing to find a concrete political solution to Syria and Iraq.

Left alone to deal with the XXI century biggest crisis47000 deaths and 7.6 million displaced inside Syria – it is clear that a long-term solution must come from the European states. Therefore, can a European military intervention be the best response?


  • Stopping ISIS’ territorial expansion

Considering the impact of the intense airstrike campaign – ISIS loses 40% of its territory in Iraq and a fifth of its once-controlled territory in Syria – a European military intervention on Syria’s soil could indeed stop ISIS’ territorial expansion.

By securing neighbouring borders, especially Lebanon, Jordan and Turkey, the European coalition would inevitably contain the territorial ISIS threat, and would commit to a strategy of confinement that, on the short-term, will physically destroy the group.

  • Training local armies

Furthermore, a European intervention would give an opportunity to frame and train local armies in order to integrate national components to the resolution of the conflict, instead of being an outside force that intervenes against a state’s sovereignty.  

The solution cannot come from an external army; it must be solved by the locals, as illustrated by the existing training camps in Jordan, Saudi Arabia, Qatar and Turkey that encompass more than 3750 volunteering Syrian fighters.

But most of all, reconstructing the country will require Europe’s help. The idea is to find a balance between European aid and training the population in order to give them the keys to ensure a viable political system.

  • Restoring peace in Syria and Iraq will forge the EU identity

If the long-term strategy that encompasses both military intervention and a post-war framework in combination with political support is a success, this will strengthen Europe as a whole. Restoring peace in Syria and Iraq strongly requires the European States to upgrade their coordination and cooperation level.

Reaching this goal would be synonymous of resolving the biggest humanitarian crisis of the XXI, creating a strong feeling of pride among all Europeans, helping to forge the EU identity that is missing today.

Moreover, the effective integration of different communities in European societies during wartime will forge a unique European identity and create solidarity that is crucial to facing the following crises.

Such crises are essential to building future generations and teaching them that solidarity is a better reaction than building out-dated fences led by fear of the other.


  • Who is intervening?

Intervening on the ground would require a huge time investment, as well as material and human resources from every European country and a strong effort to coordinate and cooperate, which is far from reality looking at the European cacophony that currently exists when it comes to managing the refugee crisis.

Lacking common European military forces, NATO appears to be an ideal solution. Stavridis argues that NATO’s victory in Libya showed a model for intervention highlighting how NATO is the perfect candidate to respond quickly and effectively to international crises.

Nevertheless, the military organization has kept quiet since the beginning of the conflict in Syria, and it might be justified.

First, the United Nations Security Council would not authorize NATO’s intervention. The main reason for this blockade is China and Russia’s veto on any military intervention as long as Assad holds power. Indeed, both countries have vast geostrategic and economic interests to keep Western countries out of Syria.

Second, the Syrian civil war has made it difficult to distinguish factions, thus making any military intervention incredibly thorny and complex. Population and security forces are strongly intertwined and sometimes terrorists might be integrated into the rebel forces – e.g. Al Qaeda – making it difficult for any outside forces to support any faction.

  • What is next?

Assuming that NATO intervenes on the Syrian ground, it would tie Europe to responsibilities regarding Syria’s future.

Indeed, considering the United Sates’ failure to efficiently lead the Iraqi government to a peaceful democratic transition, the European Union must not repeat the errors of its long standing ally.

It must address the issue on a long-term basis, thinking about what government will replace Assad’s regime and how the population will be included in choosing what government they want.

A military intervention will not tackle the roots of the Syrian civil war. It does not represent an end in and of itself. On the contrary, intervening on the ground means having to commit on a long-term basis by supporting the country in the post-war period.

  • The counterproductive solution: strengthening ISIS’ ideology

Europe’s intervention might face the biggest challenge yet. By sending troops on the ground, the European Union is falling into ISIS’ game. It will legitimize its discourse and strengthen recruitment channels.

Indeed, ISIS is aiming to solicit an extreme reaction from Western counterparts. Triggering a military intervention in Syria and Iraq would inevitably create chaos and backlash, helping ISIS’ propaganda.

On that same vein, ISIS is looking to cause division and exploit tensions that might arise following attacks targeting Europe. They want to provoke and exploit the weaknesses of modern multi-racial societies. They also want to create a feeling of marginalization within the Muslim community, pushing them to join the jihad.

Responding militarily to ISIS would only give it credit and legitimate its actions. The inherent media coverage would constitute a real risk that would not only expose people drawn to radicalism, but would also give them a reason to commit to the jihad, and would reactivate sleeping cells and existing European jihadist networks.

A European military intervention would be an opportunity in the short term but a risky action in the long term. Indeed, in the short term, a European military intervention would physically destroy ISIS. However, in the long term, Europe would have to deal with the resulting political system, ensuring an efficient democratic transition. Sending boots on the grounds cannot be the Syrian’s solution, but it can constitute the beginning of a long-term commitment.

About Author

Jason Dozier

Jason specializes in crisis management and the organizational development of terrorist groups. He currently works for the Embassy of Malta in Paris where he serves as Executive Assistant to the Ambassador. Jason holds a Master’s in Terrorism, Security and Society at King’s College London concentrating on a comparative analysis between Al-Qaeda and the Islamic State. He also obtained a Bachelor in International Relations from the Institute of International Relations in Paris.