Thursday, 21 May 2015

Boat Bombing: the "Humanitarian" Mission Impossible?

EU Member States have agreed on a naval mission to target the networks of people smugglers in the Mediterranean - a victory for the EU High Representative (Mogherini), who notes that the decision was made in record time. The mission will be run out of Rome by an Italian admiral and will include intelligence gathering on the smugglers' networks, "detection and inspection" of smugglers boats and, if granted UN authority, the destruction of the boats.
It may be a great victory for Federica Mogherini to have steered this decision through so quickly, but it sounds like a humanitarian policy by way of Michael Bay: lots of warships and action, but hardly much depth. What drives people to make this desperate crossing goes beyond smugglers' networks. These refugees hand over their savings to the smugglers because so much of Africa and the Middle East is in chaos, meaning that smugglers can afford to lose the dingy boats they send them off on in the first place. Neither government in Libya seems to be enthusiastic about the EU plan, and the BBC reports that local communities and the Libyan coastguard may be involved in these networks - how will this essentially military mission deal with situations where the networks aren't staffed by bad guys drawn from Hollywood blockbusters?
The smuggling is a key part of the current problem, but its only part of it. With the EU's near abroad in flames, does it have a strategy to deal with the breakdown of states in its neighbourhood?
It's a bit much to expect a new Neighbourhood Policy over-night to deal with these crises, but there doesn't seem to be much indication of trying to muster political will for such ideas, never mind much planning. The current Neighbourhood Policy, with its Union for the Mediterranean and Eastern Partnership, looks like it was created for a bygone age with Libya and Syria in flames and a proxy war in Ukraine.
Now that the Commission's asylum quota appears to have lost any traction it might have had, this naval mission could be the only common policy on this crisis. This is a real danger because it doesn't actually help solve the problem; at best, it just manages the symptoms. It's not hard to imagine that over time countries will slowly withdraw their support for the mission as a drain on resources, and the whole mess will re-assert itself. We should not be satisfied with mission, but start working on the difficult and long term issue of helping the countries in our neighbourhood build stable and open institutions and prospering economies.

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