Judy Asks: Is Europe Powerless in the Middle East?
Kristina Kausch - Senior resident fellow at the German Marshall Fund of the United States
No—but power is clearly slipping out of Europe’s hands, due to competition, complacency, and disunity.
Taking advantage of U.S. and EU hesitation, geopolitical competitors have been filling political and security voids in the Middle East. Russia’s intervention in Syria was a success for Moscow in upgrading its weight on the world stage through the Middle Eastern back door. Russia’s engagement in Libya suggests Moscow may be seeking to extend a winning strategy to other parts of the Arab world. Europeans need to become quicker in anticipating and acting on power vacuums, or they will be outpaced by global and regional disruptors such as China, Iran, Russia, Saudi Arabia, or Turkey.
Rather than filling voids, the U.S. administration is likely to create new ones. President Donald Trump shares Moscow’s preference for anti-Islamist strongmen and is keen on refocusing U.S. Middle East policy on countering terrorism, away from inclusive nation building. The EU, struggling with disintegration and a make-or-break election year, is not up to major forays Southward. Even where European leverage remains unrivaled, such as in Morocco, EU member states’ vested interests turn the bloc into an unprincipled geopolitical dwarf. Disunity, both in the EU and across the Atlantic, undermines Western influence in the Middle East—at Europe’s peril.