A Little Bombing Is Not Going to Stop Refugees

To suggest Europe can stem the influx of migrants by dropping bombs in Libya and Syria is reckless.

A German Tornado jet takes off from Rostock-Laage Airport, May 20, 2015
A German Tornado jet takes off from Rostock-Laage Airport, May 20, 2015 (Bundeswehr/Oliver Lang)

The American Interest has a bizarre piece that suggests European countries should do more “icky things like dropping bombs” to stem the refugee flow from the Middle East and North Africa.

The publication’s Nicholas M. Gallagher criticizes European Union plans to boost aid spending for the region, arguing that such plans in practice mean “bribing the local government to do the kind of deterrence work Europe would rather not do itself.”

There’s something to this. Consider the EU deal with Turkey, which gave the latter €6 billion in financial support to cope with refugees as well as the promise of visa liberalization.

But Gallagher oversimplifies. Turkey is housing and providing for nearly one million war refugees from neighboring Syria. It actually needs the money. You can call it a bribe; it’s still supposed to end up helping people. (Whether or not the Turks will use the money the way they’re supposed to is another matter.)

Moreover, the deal with Turkey has had an effect. Gallagher neglects to mention this, but the number of people reaching Greek shores from across the Aegean has fallen dramatically since Turkey started taking back migrants who made the journey.

There is plenty to criticize here. I have too. No one is saying this is a perfect solution by any stretch. It’s a stop-gap measure at best.

Bombing for peace

But Gallagher goes one further and claims the EU wouldn’t even be in this situation if it had only pursued “rational military strategies” in Libya and Syria.

He doesn’t elaborate on what those strategies are, nor why they would be “rational”, but notes that the Russians are “spending something in the neighborhood of $3-15 billion per year in Syria, to great effect.”

To great effect! Mind you, we’re talking about a military operation that involves Russian warplanes discriminately targeting civilian populations in Syria to help protect a regime that has already murdered hundreds of thousands of its own people and created this very refugee crisis in the first place.

There’s even a good chance Russia is deliberately aggravating the crisis in order to put pressure on Europe, divide its internal politics and distract attention away from its other little war, in Ukraine.

Never mind all that, to Gallagher’s mind the Russians are having a great success.

Man up!

“Even now,” he writes, “direct intervention in and engagement with Libya or Syria could do more to help than these costly yet desultory proposals.”

But that would involve Europeans doing icky things like dropping bombs, rather than handing out “aid.”

This is lazy analysis. Has Gallagher forgotten that only a few years ago we did what he advocates in Libya? Why should “dropping bombs” pan out any differently this time?

It probably wouldn’t. Which is why European countries aren’t going to.

This is not due some European disinclination to use military force. That’s of the same level of simplicity as Europeans claiming gung-ho Americans always use force as a first resort; there’s a bit of truth in that — see Gallagher — but on balance just not true.

Europe’s migrant crisis is a huge and complicated challenge. There is no easy solution that European leaders are refusing to pursue. Suggesting that there is one, and that it requires European politicians to man up and bomb away, is frankly reckless and only adds fuel to the nativist, anti-establishment fire that is raging here.

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