- - Monday, December 28, 2015

As the world celebrates the holiday season with messages of “peace on Earth,” European security is facing difficulties within and without. There are at least three major concerns threatening unity, stability and prosperity on the continent.

First, for the European Union, economics call for greater unification; euro (financial) stresses seem to push in the opposite direction. And terrorism pushes for both greater integration of law enforcement, and reimposition of (separating) border controls.

Second, Russia has been flexing its muscles, first in Ukraine and now in the Middle East, bringing NATO into play in the latter case.

Finally, the current mostly Muslim refugee stream toward Europe represents the greatest such movement since World War II. And Paris has been the target of two horrendous Islamic terror attacks in 2015. In non-European Syria, all these concerns are currently exemplified and interconnected.

More specifically, European integration still pulls on the imaginations of many. The European Union includes most of both the population and area of non-Russian Europe. And the euro, the “European” currency, has similar coverage. But there are countervailing forces. “Eurocratic” rules from Brussels often exasperate Europeans and do not seem to be democratically legitimated. And intra-EU border controls are being reintroduced in the wake of the 2015 terrorist attacks in Paris and the arrival of hundreds of thousands of Muslim refugees. The euro has been undermined by the imbalance among the euro economies. It is ironic that the poorest euro country, Greece, is also the most important refugee gateway to Europe.

Russia is once again a problem. What is the long-range strategy of Russian President Vladimir Putin, besides much greater control of the Russian “near abroad” and recognition of Russia as a great power? Russia’s aggression in Ukraine awakened Europeans and the United States. But is the West’s reaction equal to the Russian threat?

The Russians’ sudden military move into Syria in late September to shore up their ally, Bashar Assad, was at the same time a partial abandonment of Russia’s position in Eastern Ukraine. After ISIS, or the Islamic State, shot down a Russian airliner with 224 people aboard over the Sinai on Oct. 31, Russia immediately announced it would start bombing ISIS, but has mostly bombed moderate U.S.-backed rebels who are in the front line against Mr. Assad.

In January 2015, France suffered Islamic attacks in Paris. Far worse, Paris was targeted again by ISIS in November, with the loss of 130 lives and hundreds wounded. France immediately began flying regular sorties against ISIS. It is also trying to form a strong anti-ISIS coalition.

Of the European great powers, Germany is the most important in terms of population and economy. But because of its history, both Germans and non-Germans have doubts about Germany playing a political role commensurate with its economic position. Now Germany, rather welcoming in regard to refugees, is facing an influx of more than 1 million mostly Muslim refugees, largely from Syria, in 2015 alone. It also has agreed to supply military support, though less than all-out combat help, in the coalition fight against ISIS after the latter’s attacks on Germany’s NATO ally, France.

British policy toward the European Union has always been ambiguous. The United Kingdom is the only non-euro major country in the EU, and it expects to hold a referendum in 2016 on its continued membership in the EU, including perhaps some changes requested by the United Kingdom. On the other hand, after the second round of Islamic attacks on Paris and a difficult fight in Parliament, Great Britain has begun flying sorties over ISIS in Syria. Like Germany, this is to aid its NATO ally, France.

Things have recently become even more complicated: France, a NATO country, is trying to persuade Russia to join in France’s coalition, while Turkey, another NATO country and a large Muslim state to boot, shot down a Russian bomber over the Syrian-Turkish border after possible Russian aerial border violations. The Russians for now seem to be responding by diplomatic moves and economic sanctions — they, too, seem to realize the enormous danger involved for everyone if they, the Russians, should undertake military measures against NATO-member Turkey.

As for Europe, the refugees from Syria and elsewhere would be in addition to the millions of largely unassimilated Muslim immigrants accepted in recent decades by many European countries. This lack of social integration encourages the growth of anti-Western attitudes and now Islamic terror, and could also happen to new arrivals.

Almost certainly, jihadis are using the refugee process to get to Europe. All of this is causing many Europeans to call for the reimposition of national border controls largely done away with by the Schengen agreements. Many of the new refugees might prefer to go home when the fighting in Syria and Iraq ends. But others, such as those from Africa, have come to Europe for economic reasons.

Ironically, the European Union has just announced, after the Turkish shoot-down of the Russian plane, that it is willing to pay Turkey $3 billion over the next year or two, allow Turkish citizens visa-free access to the Schengen zone, and renew talks aimed at Turkey’s possibly joining the EU. This will occur if Turkey takes a stronger line toward stopping the Syrian refugee flow to Europe by way of Greece.

In sum, despite these internal and external challenges, is Europe still capable of providing greater security within and without? The short answer is definitely yes, if the international community adopts the truly ecumenical message of Pope Francis during his latest trip to Africa: “Together, we must say no to hatred, no to revenge and no to violence, particularly that violence which is perpetrated in the name of religion or of God himself. God is peace, salaam.”

Yonah Alexander and Patrick Murphy are co-directors of a project on European security concerns at the Inter-University Center for Terrorism Studies, administered by the Potomac Institute for Policy Studies.

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