The so-called “European Neighborhood Policy” has, so far, been a curious thing. There is much talk about it in the European Union, but little practical effect. It was meant as an alternative to the ever-increasing number of accession rounds, say, involving the countries in the southern Caucasus. But the war in Lebanon and its consequences have caused a sudden and fundamental change in the leisurely pursuit of this policy.
The Lebanon War has served as a harsh reminder to the European Union that it has “strategic interests” – security interests first and foremost – and that, should it choose to ignore them, the price will be high. Moreover, the division of labor between the US and Europe isn’t functioning in the time-tested manner of old: the ongoing war in Iraq is gnawing at America’s military capabilities and resulted in a crisis of moral and political legitimacy of the US across the Arabic/Islamic world.
With the decision of its member states to send several thousand soldiers to Lebanon to implement the UN cease-fire resolution 1701, the European Union has taken the most significant decision yet within its Neighborhood Policy. Can the EU in fact be able to emerge as a stabilizing political force in the most dangerous area of conflict within Europe’s immediate geopolitical neighborhood?
After the Balkan Wars of the 1990’s, the Near and Middle East is at once the most dangerous and also – given security considerations – the most important neighboring region for the EU today. Why? Because the main threats to European security at the beginning of the 21st century stem from that region. The threats concentrated in the Middle East are diverse: regional conflicts, totalitarian religious ideologies, terrorism, nuclear armament programs, blockades to modernization, unstable regimes and hegemonic ambitions.