Some in Brussels openly refer to an arc of instability in the neighbourhood. To the east, an assertive Russia is seeking to carve out a new global role for itself. An unstable Middle East with a failing Syria at its heart and, to the south, the chaos that is Libya – which is spreading to its neighbours to the west and the east – completes a sense of encirclement.
Squeezed between these three regions is rich and stable Europe with its ageing population, high standards of living, democracy, protection of human rights and the rule of law.
Many Europeans perceive the current situation as an existential challenge that cuts to the core of Europe’s identity as a largely Christian (or at least culturally like-minded) grouping of countries. For centuries, when not fighting one another, they have fought and launched innumerable wars to fend off or combat Islam. The fact that both the extremists and refugees are largely Muslim inevitably factors into the picture.
Can the European island of prosperity continue to resist the internal and external forces that weigh so heavily upon its future? The challenge of a potential Greece exit, or Grexit, has not been fully dealt with at a time when British Prime Minister David Cameron has set out his four-point agenda for the United Kingdom to cut off its nose to spite the European Union (EU) face.
A mere 10 years ago, the EU was held up as an example for all – of how collaboration and integration could foster development instead of war. Now, in the absence of much deeper integration, the European project is faltering.The current migration, refugee and security crises, with their high death toll and protection costs, reflect all of these challenges.
No country can simply throw open its borders and allow the unregulated inflow of others – particularly as many moving to Europe are economic aspirants, not political refugees.
Erecting barriers and squeezing the huge smuggling network that has since emerged may be an uncomfortable assault on many European values of humanitarianism and assistance. It is, however, as necessary as real efforts to respond to the developmental and governance challenges that drive migration and also terrorism.
Eventually, only a consistent and European-wide approach will be able to stem the tide on all these fronts. Intense engagement with the governments from where the refugee flood originates, including many in Africa, is as much of a requirement as far greater engagement on supporting solutions in Syria and Libya.
The EU is a cumbersome machine when it comes to setting out foreign policy priorities and taking coherent action. It is an immense challenge to get it to deal with the drivers of migration, instability, poor governance and inclusive economic growth in a common and integrated manner.
A forthcoming study by the Institute for Security Studies (ISS) and the Global Initiative against Transnational Organized Crime points to some elements in such a strategy in focusing on the opaque networks that have sprung up to facilitate the flow of refugees. ‘Smugglers are responding to a prevailing need; aspirational migration. This is fundamentally a development challenge and, accordingly, requires development solutions,’ the report, which will be published early in December, explains.
The search for better opportunities is as old as mankind itself. Constraining movement, on the other hand, is a relatively recent development which followed the consolidation of territories into formal states with fixed borders. Given the pressures from Europe’s arc of instability, evidence and theory indicate that migration will continue to increase.
By our estimate, Europe is already spending around €12 billion per annum on responding to migration (if we include the large amount of funds allocated to deportation).
Still the flood continues with no sign of abating. At what point will the further tightening of controls and clamping-down come into conflict with the very core of the European way of life? And are liberal Europeans prepared to live with the response?
No single European country is able to drive a response to problems that originate far beyond its borders, but which affect the entire region. On the one hand, these challenges simply underpin the need for either deeper integration, even if initially only among a core group of EU member countries (the fast track). On the other, it calls for cooperation between governments from sending, transit and destination countries.
This will require an extraordinary sense of leadership and collective action. Clearly the situation will likely get much worse, before clarity will emerge regarding the direction that Europe will embark upon. Much depends on the ability for Brussels to provide leadership towards greater, not less, integration; and common responses at a time when the popular reaction is to retreat into national enclaves, to erect barriers and undo the common European project.
And to rub salt into the wound, the main sources of today’s refugees — Somalia, Syria, Libya, Iraq and Afghanistan — were all targets of Europe’s most important partner, the United States (US). The latter’s interventions left devastation, chaos, deteriorating domestic security and extensive displacements in their wake.
With the wisdom of hindsight, these actions – then supported by many in Europe – served to delegitimise Western values, including secular democracy and the free market. The US invasion of Iraq, in particular, paved the way and accelerated a global shift in power and influence towards the East, whilst detracting from previously important core international principles including human rights, the rule of law and international justice.
We should, of course, not be overawed by these developments. Previous work by the ISS points to the fact that a more crowded, hot and flat world in an era of globalisation inevitably seems more turbulent than it actually is. The proportion of people dying due to unnatural causes, war and conflict in particular, continues to decline generation after generation. The risk today of dying due to armed conflict, including terrorism, is significantly lower than it was during previous generations. Yet current developments should serve as a wake-up call for a different vision of the future – a future that requires new systems of global coordination and governance.
As we become more connected and integrated, the world is also becoming more brittle. The sense of drift, uncertainty and crisis is set to increase exponentially, placing inordinate pressure on politicians to ‘do something’.
The world has at once become more integrated and more fragile. It is too early to speculate what form an institutional response to such developments could take. But reform and greater action by global institutions, such as the United Nations Security Council, needs to be one of them. The composition of the Council limits its utility to working in Africa and other marginal regions where big power interests are not at stake. In the longer term, this is an untenable solution for an interconnected and integrated world that aspires to a rules-based system as an alternative to the Hobbesian system of the survival of the strongest.
A revolution in the approach to global governance is required; one that could simultaneously address right of passage in the South China Sea, Israeli oppression of Palestinians, proxy war in Syria, the territorial integrity of Ukraine and the future of Kashmir – never mind terrorism and cybercrime.
Earlier this year, the ISS launched an ambitious project to work towards a legitimate and effective Security Council. Based on a time-bound process of transition, the current system moves to one based on elected members. Important as it is, Security Council reform is, however, only a small part of the many areas of reform that will be required to deal with the reality of a globally interconnected future.
This article was first published by the Institute for Security Studies and is republished here with their permission.