The U.S., British and French strikes on Syria‘s chemical warfare facilities are over, for now. Militarily, they were masterfully done-on target, little collateral damage, and minimal risks of escalation.
Perhaps they will deter, for a while, another Syrian chemical attack on civilians. But the most significant aspect of the strikes was that the British and French participated, for this has great implications for the future.
More than twenty-five years ago the British and French, and slowly the Germans and others, recognized that civil war in a then-distant and obscure Yugoslavia posed a threat that could not be ignored. More than 100,000 killed, 2 million people displaced, horrendous war crimes committed.
Western Europe finally awakened to the threat to its interests and security, and responded, first through the UN with peacekeeping, and, ultimately, when that failed, with NATO and the U.S.
In Syria, after seven years of civil war, the rise of ISIS and its not-quite defeat, minimalistic U.S. actions, multiple efforts by neighboring powers and Russia to finish the fight militarily, the war there is finally winding down. The costs have been horrendous – perhaps three-quarters of a million killed, more than five million refugees, and a country of more than 23 million people devastated.
Syria is more distant than Yugoslavia, and Europe has been slower to react. But the challenge to its interests is even greater. The humanitarian tragedy and the political impact of millions trying to reach the security of Europe have been deeply unsettling.
The efficacy of the EU has been roundly challenged, destructive nativist and nationalist sentiments have taken root, Turkey has become not a buffer for Europe but a problematic partner, and Russia has been given new opportunities to make mischief.
But British and French military action indicates political movement toward a solution is possible. It is probably too late for the West to pull off another Bosnia-like rescue with peacekeepers and NATO. And after failures in Iraq and prolonged efforts on Afghanistan, there is little will to do so.
But Syria must, ultimately be reconstructed, and there is the opportunity for Europe and perhaps the U.S. to redress the tragedy: reconstruction requires money, and this is Europe’s great asset and leverage.
Syria must be rebuilt and it’s refugees and displaced millions given the opportunity to return home. Its oil industry alone may take perhaps $40 billion to be reconstructed, its cities