The heinous act of multiple bombings across Brussels didn't come as a surprise. That it happened immediately after the capture of Saleh Abdeslam, the mastermind behind the Paris attacks, is unsettling. The Belgian authorities had a major security lapse after such a high-profile arrest that led to the carnage. The European Union -- embroiled in a battle for survival -- also shares the blame. Mishandling of the refugee crisis and over-reliance on the United States for solving the Syrian crisis gave way to a collective pessimism and heightened terror threats. All said, the EU can still emerge stronger and mitigate future threats. The approach calls for greater cohesion among member states.
The EU crisis is intrinsically linked with the Syrian civil war. Europe was essentially left to its own devices by the U.S., and an aggressive Russian policy further compounded the problems. The first four years of the civil war were still a manageable headache for the Europeans -- more of a moral agony than physical stress. The sudden onslaught of refugees and rise of ISIS made it impossible to remain a distant observer. The EU has since been under a slow implosion of sorts, with member states outdoing each other in trying to deflect responsibilities.
Paris and now Brussels have made it impossible to stay indifferent. One approach calls for accelerating the breakup of the EU with stringent border controls and greater state sovereignty. It also involves the use of force, however disproportional to the original losses, to send a strong message to the perpetrators. On paper, the strategy appears to be the most rational. The bombing campaign after the Paris attacks also reflects this thinking among the decision makers. Still, the policy didn't help in eliminating ISIS or containing future threats. It only added to the refugee outflow from Syria, where people were already fleeing the regime and Russian carpet bombing campaign.
The second approach involves the EU as the central decision-maker. It entails greater cooperation among member states, devising of a muscular foreign policy; and adopting a pragmatic approach to the refugee crisis and its catalyst. Although fraught with challenges, this appears to be the only way out for the EU. Borders can't be closed for long as Europe is a highly integrated region. Refugees can't be kicked out given the complexities involved. Threats can't be mitigated by a few bombing campaigns in Syria. The Paris bombings were not carried out by refugees in the first place. There could also be a homegrown element in the Brussels attacks.
The ghettoization of Muslims in France and other European states has created ideal breeding grounds for extremism. Europe was largely silent as Bashar al-Assad and his Iranian proxies kept obliterating the Syrian population. The eventual rise of ISIS and its indefatigable propaganda influenced some who already felt marginalized in their place of birth. Still, the extremists are few and far between. The incessant hate campaign led by the National Front and other right-wing parties can actually strengthen the hardliners. A better approach will be to empower the local communities and provide educational and employment opportunities to those living in the "banlieues." This, along with effective community policing can help in mitigate future threats.
Inaction on Syria led to the refugee crisis and the surge in terror attacks. The tenuous ceasefire is being undermined by Russia and the ISIS remains stronger. Europe thus needs to tackle the long-term threats by addressing the root cause of the problem. Britain can't wash its hands of the responsibilities by severing ties from the EU. It has to work with France and Germany to formulate a viable security policy for Europe. The continent can do well without an overt American support and can still weather the Russian onslaught and terror plots. Only if it opts for a more cohesive approach.