LONDON -- It is now almost one year since the European Union committed to stabilize Lebanon following last summer’s war. With its decision to send thousands of soldiers to Lebanon to implement United Nations Security Council Resolution 1701, the EU took its boldest step yet in creating a common foreign and security policy. But it remains an open question as to whether the EU will actually be able to stabilize the most fractured polity in the most dangerous area of conflict in Europe’s immediate neighborhood.
The Israel-Hezbollah war of 2006 reminded the Union, once again, that its strategic interests do not always coincide perfectly with those of the United States. Because the Bush administration took a “hands off” approach to the Israel-Hezbollah war in south Lebanon, and given the military straitjacket the US finds itself in because of the Iraq war, the EU had to take the lead.
The EU remains – for now – relatively uncontaminated by America’s disintegrating reputation in the Middle East. But the Union could see its reputation worsen if it allows its commitment to Lebanon to become part of the emerging US strategy of isolating Iran by hardening today’s regional Sunni-Shia divisions. To avoid this fate, the EU’s commitment in Lebanon needs to be supplemented with a nuanced political strategy that seeks to avoid isolating Lebanon’s long suppressed Shia population.
The threats emanating from the Middle East are diverse: regional conflicts, totalitarian religious ideologies (mainly led by Shia Iran and Wahhabi Saudi Arabia), terrorism, nuclear armament programs, obstacles to modernization, and unstable regimes. All of these affect Lebanon, and are aggravated by the country’s own peculiar socio-political dynamics – i.e., its Maronite, Sunni, and Shia divisions.