In 2015 , 1.25 million refugees applied for protection in the EU. More than half came from Syria, Afghanistan or Iraq. All of these states have experienced Western military interventions or Western-backed attempts at regime change through the use of force over the past 15 years. A similar fate has befallen Libya , which in 2010 housed 1-2 million non-Libyans, often on their way from Africa to Europe. States that the West has interfered with in the last 15 years are thus countries of origin or transit for the majority of refugees to Europe.
- What is the recent prehistory of the interventions of the 21st century?
- Is the migration crisis in Europe due to Western military interventions in the Middle East?
- Are those seeking refuge “regime change refugees”?
- Does the West have itself to thank for the refugee crisis?
2: The prelude
Western policy towards the countries in Europe’s marginal zone to the south and southeast has, after the Cold War, been largely governed by Western self-interests . In the 2000s, Western countries have directly or indirectly caused regime change in countries in the Muslim belt to the south, with clear security policy benefits for the West.
The Cold War ended with the Soviet Union withdrawing from the Middle East and Afghanistan. In Afghanistan, Russia’s Afghan allies were left to a civil war that raged until the Taliban captured large parts of the country in 1996. In the Middle East, the Soviet Union withdrew generous agreements with allied regimes, but close ties were maintained between Russia and the regimes in Libya and Syria.
The Americans had come to the Arabian Peninsula after the Iranian revolution in 1979 .
The United States’ dependence on oil from the Middle East peaked in 1986, and in 1991 the country moved in – with a UN mandate – to drive occupier Iraq out of Kuwait. When the war ended, however, the US military remained in Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and Bahrain. Unbelieving American soldiers on holy Muslim soil in Saudi Arabia to support an unholy alliance between the United States and monarchies in the Gulf! That’s what a lot of Muslims thought. In particular, this motivated Saudi Arabia’s Osama Bin Laden to declare war on the United States in 1996. The rich son of bin Laden himself had been central in an American-backed Saudi network of jihadists.in Central Asia in the 1980s. There they had fought against unbelieving Soviet forces in Afghanistan. However, after the resistance movement (mujahedin) had “won” the war against the Russians in Afghanistan, the clients had suddenly changed the rules of the game.
For a new era had come. Democracy and human rights had prevailed in the Cold War; it was these values that would now dominate the world. Weapons of mass destruction , on the other hand, were going away.
3: Axis of Evil
The main argument for a connection between Western interventions and the refugee crisis is that the underlying motives for Western intervention have been to strengthen Western security interests . Interventions for our own security have contributed to the destruction of state apparatus in several countries. It has weakened the security of the people of these countries.
But in the Middle East, weapons of mass destruction gained new traction after 1990. Israel’s “nuclear ambiguity” had led Egypt, Syria, and Libya to stick with poorer versions of weapons of mass destruction — chemical and biological weapons. When the 1990s came with the disarmament of chemical weapons, Egypt, Libya and Syria chose to stay out. The motive was to maintain a terrorist balance with Israel. These states demanded that disarmament in the Middle East apply to all types of weapons of mass destruction, including Israel’s (assumed) nuclear weapons.
Iraq and Iran had also developed and used weapons of mass destruction during the Iran-Iraq war in the 1980s. Over the next decade, Iran and Iraq participated in international agreements banning biological and chemical weapons, but there was strong doubt as to whether they actually complied with their obligations. Relations between Iran and Syria became closer, and it became clear that Syria’s weapons of mass destruction also served as Iran’s first-line defense against a possible Israeli attack on Iran. In the middle of the web of weapons of mass destruction in the Middle East stood Israel. In the 1990s, therefore, the key to removing weapons of mass destruction in the Middle East lay simply at peace with Israel. Repeated attempts notwithstanding; as is well known, it never quite reached its goal. And the peace process between Israelis and Palestinians has been virtually dead since 2001.
Following the attacks on the United States in 2001, the fight against international terrorism became one of the foremost Western security priorities, including in the Middle East. The Americans entered Afghanistan to neutralize Al Qaeda. They wanted to prevent Afghanistan from once again becoming a free port for international terrorist organizations.
The ability to destroy that international terrorists had shown through 9/11/2001 raised the question of whether there was a link between terrorists and weapons of mass destruction. The security threat to western countries was considered to be particularly in the link between enemy regimes with weapons of mass destruction that could go hand in hand with terrorists. In 2002, after the Taliban were driven out of Afghanistan’s capital by a coalition of US forces and Afghan warlords, President George W. Bush presented his security doctrine for the new millennium.
Regimes that could represent a threat to the United States and allies as a result of a combination of hostility (or alliance with terrorists) and dealing with weapons of mass destruction stood on an axis of evil , and were to be rendered harmless. It included the states of Iraq, Libya, Syria, Iran and North Korea.
The Ba’athist regime in Iraq was removed by a US-British military invasion in 2003 . They then referred to a danger of weapons of mass destruction in the country. Saddam Hussein was executed by the new regime in 2006, not for using weapons of mass destruction, but for crimes committed against Shiites in Iraq when Saddam was still a man of the United States. The allegations of weapons of mass destruction in 2003 were based on indications that did not hold water.
Libya’s Muammar Gaddafi saw the drawing. He put his weapons program on the shelf in 2004, the year after Saddam Hussein was removed and then taken into the heat of the West. However, the fate of the regime was sealed with the Arab Spring. A NATO-led air force operation helped various Libyan groups capture the capital Tripoli in 2011. The operation was mandated by the UN Security Council to ” protect civilians ” in Libya by enforcing a no-fly zone and a boycott of weapons. Gaddafi was eventually captured and executed by rebels.
A process of regime change similar to that in Libya was mobilized for Syria without success. The Security Council did not authorize the use of force against the Syrian regime, and the armed struggle against the Syrian regime therefore had to be waged by Syrian groups with outside support. Many foreign fighters also went to Syria to fight.
Eventually, the struggle became a war of attrition with several unintended effects, including ISIL – the Islamic State , which brought the regime in Damascus to its knees. When weapons of mass destruction were used in a major attack in Damascus in 2013, it did not result in rapid regime change with full American force. Instead, the United States joined forces with Russia to disarm Syria’s chemical weapons arsenal under the auspices of the Security Council. The regime persisted and the war continued, but the weapons of mass destruction of Syria (and Iran), which could pose a danger to the West (and Russia), were destroyed .
In 2016, the status is that potentially hostile regimes in the Middle East have been removed and their weapons of mass destruction largely destroyed, without going through a demanding peace with Israel. A crucial underlying motive has been security for western countries. At the same time, relatively stable regimes have disappeared and their state apparatuses have been disbanded .
4: Guardians in neighboring countries to Europe
A next argument for a connection between the refugee crisis and interventions lies in the fact that western countries have failed on a very important point. They have not been able to establish stable and effective security structures in countries where they have intervened. Safety devices are not only suitable for dealing with safety problems and ensuring order and stability. They also help to prevent the creation of new refugees and to manage migrants in transit.
For Afghanistan and Iraq, Western intervention meant that the security apparatus was disbanded , and new apparatus had to be established from scratch . The security apparatus was also the key to regime change in Libya and Syria. Very different challenges have arisen in these countries. However, miserable end results are common to all. The state’s monopoly on violence, its ability to provide security for its own citizens and to prevent migrants from passing through has been significantly weakened in the wake of Western interventions in all countries – despite Western attempts to rebuild security forces.
AFGHANISTAN had 20 years of occupation and civil war behind it in 2001. There was no security apparatus in the Western sense; it had to be built from the ground up. Here, the West was to fight terrorism, fight against insurgency and build peace in one and the same lift ! The Taliban, which has particular support from Afghanistan’s large ethnic majority, the Pashtuns, were not allowed to join . Afghan warlords in opposition to the Taliban were our allies. They were granted amnesty (exemption from punishment) and key roles in the new security apparatus.
The main building blocks of the new “legitimate” security apparatus thus consisted of some of the most notorious war criminals of the latter half of the 20th century. Many of the West’s allies were even good friends of neighboring Iran, which the United States had placed in the middle of the axis of evil. The number of Western soldiers was also far too few, and private security contractors from all over the world eventually came in to take part in and earn a living. With selected Afghan warlords (but not the Taliban) and contractors from all over the world, the country was to be built!
In Iraq , on the other hand, there was a security apparatus . However, it dissolved the Americans after the fall of the Hussein regime. The Americans wanted to purge Saddam of loyalists and allies in the state apparatus. Iraq had been a one-party state, where all important government employees had to be affiliated with Saddam’s Ba’ath party. The result was that the entire state apparatus in what was a reasonably modern state was dissolved. About. 1.6 million Iraqis lost their main income.
When the Americans realized that it was impossible to build the new Iraq without the Iraqis, certain Iraqis were invited back into the heat. It only lasted until the United States handed over control to the Iraqis themselves in 2004. The new regime consisted of Iraqis with a lot of revenge on the Ba’athists, and many who had been in power, now stepped out for the second time . The dissolution of the security apparatus had plunged Iraq into a violent inferno in which the right of the strongest prevailed. The security apparatus that was piled on its legs was increasingly linked to political groups on the Shiite Muslim side, where several Iraqi politicians eventually had their own militia .
The war in Iraq became more costly and militarily demanding than expected, and the popularity of the war in the United States soon declined. This was them. During the invasion in 2003, the ratio of security contractors to military was 1:10; in 2007 it was closer to 1: 1. In Iraq, the security forces had been behind abuses and international crimes. Now human rights and new legitimacy were to be introduced – if necessary with a hard hand. New structures were to be established and kept in check with the help of foreign mercenaries, with the finger on the shutter button and no one to be responsible for. This was a model many Iraqis quickly embraced. The United States destroyed Iraq’s state-owned institutions by force, but was so discredited in the process that the Americans were no longer able to rebuild anything in the ruins.
Western intervention in LIBYA never went that far. The uprising, which began in 2011, consisted largely of non-military with improvised and flat structure. NATO air support to “protect civilians” made it possible for various groups to conquer territory, oil and gas fields and other valuable land, without any clear hierarchy between them. But when the regime had fallen, it was unclear who would be in charge and control the security apparatus. No one who had fought gave up without a fight! Western intervention left Libya in chaos and violence by armed groups .
SYRIA , on the other hand, had a comprehensive security system (one of the world’s stronger military powers) – partly a result of Russia’s renewed interest. Five years of war of attrition have brought the Syrian security apparatus to the brink of collapse and are heavily dependent on Russian aid. More than 50,000 young men from the Alawite minority (about 5% of male Alawites) have sacrificed their lives to keep the regime in power. Some estimates say that 470,000 people have been killed in the war so far. When Russia fully entered Syria in the autumn of 2015, it was to save the stumps of the Syrian state and security apparatus before it completely disintegrated. More than Moscow thought this intervention was good.
Western interventions have thus ruined the security apparatus in these countries. They were important foundations for the power of the regimes. They were also instruments for threats to western countries, and were used to oppress (parts of) their own population. But the same security apparatus also served as guarantors of security and order for their own people, and as an obstacle for migrants on their way to the West.
5: The burden of the West – the hopes that burst
A third argument for a connection between the refugee crisis and Western interventions lies in the hopes that burst , in the abyss between
- nice words and promises about new models of society that have accompanied the interventions, and
- what has actually been delivered.
For noble motifs and great views, it has not been lacking. All Western interventions in the Middle East since 2001 have taken place under the banner of democracy and human rights.
Towards the end of the 1980s, a democratic softening took place in several Arab countries. In the 1990s, however, democratization stalled. Not least, this became apparent when the Muslim Brotherhood was poised to win the parliamentary elections in Algeria in 1992. At that time, the ruling elite responded by overthrowing power with the help of France.
An estimated 150,000 lives were lost in the very brutal civil war that followed, which put a clear damper on the zeal for democratization in other Arab countries. As the rest of the world’s dictators stepped down, the authoritarian regimes in the Middle East tightened their grip. This gave wind in the sails of the jihadist movement to Bin Laden and other Islamist groups.
Throughout the 1990s, Europe worked to strengthen democratic forces in the Middle East. The Barcelona Process was to create markets and growth south of the Mediterranean, increase exports of goods from Europe and reduce the influx of people north. The long-term goal was democracy. Efforts were made to strengthen civil society, government and forces, which later became the foundation of the Arab Spring in 2011.
It was nevertheless a dilemma that too clear Western interference could bring the Arab democracy fighters into disrepute (delegitimize them) on their home turf. Another was that it was especially the fraternity movements – the Islamic alternative – that got wind in their sails during periods of democratic softening. Here Europeans meant to glimpse the contours of “one man, one voice, once.” The fear was that Islamists would use elections to come to power, but then abolish democratic elections.
6: Paleer democracy expectations
IN AFGHANISTAN , elections were to liberate the country from centuries in the clammy embrace of clans. But not everyone was allowed to enter the new age. The Americans were aware of the forces that were undesirable. This was Afghan democracy under American censorship.
During the invasion of IRAQ , the West pushed the former power elite, the Sunni minority, out into the cold, and the Shiite majority took over power. The new election model promoted sectarian affiliation . We replaced dictatorship with “sectarian democracy”. That was the beginning of the end for Iraq.
But neighboring countries took the hint after 2003 and opened up for more elections . In the ensuing landslides in the following years in Iraq, Egypt, Jordan, Morocco and Yemen, parties affiliated with the Muslim Brotherhood experienced great progress. The election that received the most attention was the truly democratic election among the Palestinians. The election ended in victory for the Brotherhood Hamas. Europe shuddered and backed away.
It became increasingly demanding to engage in democracy processes that produced what Europe largely saw as anti-democratic and even dangerous forces. The controversy surrounding the Muhammad caricatures illustrated it all. Europe thus became even more skeptical about the forces that existed beneath the surface when flags from states such as Denmark and Norway burned all over the Middle East.
At the same time, the caricature controversy was a “helpful reminder” to Muslims of what Western democracy and human rights were all about – freedom to mock the Prophet! The United States had been at the forefront of fighting for democracy through armed force, but eventually took a very pragmatic stance. The time had come for painful compromises, and the ambitions for democracy were considerably dampened.
Europe’s lower-key efforts to democratize our neighboring areas were also becoming quite demanding. Arab development reports after 2002 gave discouraging diagnoses and even clearer forecasts. Therefore, there was great relief that spread in European countries when the Arab Spring came in 2011. Here was the proof that there were power and environments inside these states that could take care of their own destiny. When Libyans asked for help to drop the yoke, Europe willingly lined up militarily to make short work of the process.
But if outside powers, old colonial masters or the United States intervened directly, there was a risk of bringing the whole process into disrepute. If it was forced from outside, it would also have to be driven forward by outsiders. The Arab countries were to own this themselves. The room for maneuver was therefore limited . In addition, it was the fraternity movement that seemed to want to earn the most in the spring.
7: Spring turns into winter
It became more disturbing when reactionary power elites fully mobilized. Both in Saudi Arabia and the Emirates, they threw themselves into the power struggle by supporting forces that could oppose the brotherhood in Egypt, Libya and Syria. Countries such as Turkey and Qatar had strategic interests in winning real elections (and thus the fraternity), and supported them. This was a power struggle between forces in the region , where the United States and Europe were eventually relegated to spectator seats .
The dramatic climax came in 2013. The president of Egypt, the fraternity Mursi, was then removed by the military , and Egypt’s military authorities massacred around 1,000 unarmed fraternity members in Raba. Europe’s lack of response shocked. A chemical weapons attack with around 1,000 dead in Damascus a week later ended neither with Syria’s intervention in the Security Council nor with the United States coming to the rescue. In 2013, the Arab Spring died, Europeans gave up and the Americans joined forces with the Russians to disarm Syria for chemical weapons. The region was left to itself.
In 2013, the refugee crisis in Syria went from crisis to disaster . At the beginning of 2013, the UN estimated that there were approx. 2.7 million displaced Syrians. One year later, the number was close to 9 million – an average of 9,500 new displaced people every day throughout 2013. In 2015, this wave reached Europe with full force.
Europe has surprisingly little power to stand by its ideals and visions in the face of a brutal reality in which the struggle between different forces of society is relentless . This is not our battle, we have few good tools, and it is unclear whether the result will serve our interests. Europe has chosen to concentrate on its own problems.
8: Too early to withdraw Western forces
According to SPORTSQNA, War did not come to Afghanistan or Iraq as a result of Western interventions. It was the Iran-Iraq war (Iraq attack in 1981) that started the misery in Iraq. In Afghanistan, it was the entry of the Soviet Union in 1979 that was the starting point. These wars were obviously not detached from what Western countries did, but it is incorrect to explain the effects with reference to “Western policy” alone .
Arguments that there are long historical lines that work here, and that Western intervention has only been minor, albeit relatively unsuccessful, interludes have clearly had something to do with it. Both Afghanistan and Iraq have been producing refugees for decades before Western intervention – even then mainly to neighboring countries. Again, the area is in a period of sharp increase in the number of refugees.
Although the invasion in 2003 may explain much of the misery in Iraq and to some extent Syria, it was nevertheless a military withdrawal from Iraq in 2011 that brought the country back to the brink of civil war, and facilitated the establishment of ISIL in 2014.
Also in Afghanistan, Western withdrawal coincided with higher levels of conflict in 2015 and increased refugee flows towards Europe. The common denominator for Afghanistan and Iraq is that it only breaks down when the West withdraws.
Libya and Syria are a different story. Here, Western interventions have helped to remove or weaken regimes in Europe’s marginal zone. Both countries had experienced unrest in neighboring countries, but even had regimes that ruled with a heavy hand. Libya under Gaddafi had agreements with European countries on “management” of migration pressure from the south (bilateral agreement with Italy 2009, cooperation agreement with the EU 2010).
In some ways, the restriction on intervention in Libya paved the way for chaos and the consequent lack of a security apparatus. This has made Libya the main artery to Europe in recent years. Likewise, the lack of Western intervention in Syria in 2013 brought the conflict into a massive proxy war , which really accelerated the flow of Syrian refugees.
From the United States’ side , global, realpolitik assessments lie behind their more withdrawn role in Libya and Syria. For Europe , however, it should all look different. Afghanistan is the periphery of Europe. It can not be said about the Mediterranean countries Libya and Syria, or about (almost) neighboring Iraq. For if Europe can fail its ideals, geography is still a given size. It provides a common destiny with the development of our neighboring countries in the south from which Europe cannot run. Only when Turkey opened the locks to Europe in the autumn of 2015 was Europe forced to take the consequences of its neighborhood.